Salom has Kyle tell the story and uses fantastic
dialogue to let this coming-of-age tale shine.
Middle-grade readers will relate to Kyle’s
missteps and the frequently overwhelming
environment of middle school. —J. B. Petty
By Elaine Vickers.
Oct. 2016. 272p. Harper, $16.99 (9780062414311).
Right from the start of this endearing debut,
readers will feel the heartache and the exhilaration of what it means to be 10. Shy poet
Grace is dreading starting fifth grade without her best friend. Outspoken painter Jada,
meanwhile, uprooted from New York City, is
trying her best to make a new home in Utah
with her dad, while secretly searching for the
mother who abandoned her. And sensitive
musician Malia anxiously awaits the arrival
of her new sister, worried that the baby will
take her place in her mother’s heart. When the
girls discover a treasure box at the local library
and anonymously begin to share treasures of
their own, they also begin to find comfort and
friendship. Told in alternating chapters, Vickers gives each girl a unique and engaging voice,
allowing each character’s artistic passions to
play a key role in overcoming her personal
struggles. The Salt Lake City setting and
gracefully embedded ethnic differences add
freshness to a story with a message that will
stand the test of time: friendship is like magic.
Midnight without a Moon.
By Linda Williams Jackson.
Jan. 2017. 320p. HMH, $16.99 (9780544785106).
It’s 1955 in Mississippi, and 13-year-old
Rose has a dream: to leave the cotton fields, follow her mama to Chicago, go to an integrated
school, and then head to college to become a
teacher or doctor—thereby having the means
to take care of her family. But then her harridan
of a grandmother decrees that Rose won’t be
going back to school, even though she’s only
finished seventh grade. So much, it would seem,
for her dream. Meanwhile, the larger world intrudes when a young neighbor is murdered for
registering to vote and then a 14-year-old boy
visiting from Chicago, named Emmett Till, is
also murdered. Will the deaths be meaningless
or will they presage change, both for Mississippi and for Rose? Jackson’s debut does an
excellent job dramatizing the injustice that
was epidemic in the pre–civil rights South
and capturing the sounds and sensibilities of
that time and place. Her sympathetic characters and their stories will make this thoughtful
book especially good for classroom use.
By Michael Dante DiMartino.
Oct. 2016. 384p. illus. Roaring Brook, $16.99
(9781626723368). Gr. 5–8.
Giacomo is a 12-year-old orphan who lives
in the sewers of Renaissance-inspired Virenzia.
His prized possession is a sketchbook, though
drawing is risky as the Supreme Creator, or
dictator, has outlawed art. When his personal
Genius—a birdlike creature that enhances artistic abilities—finds him, he is dangerously
marked as an artist. Shortly thereafter, a trio of
other artistic children find him and take him to
a safe house where they are allowed to flourish.
There they are taught sacred geometry and how
to use their creative energies as weapons. When
an evil artist begins hunting for the three Sacred Tools of the Creator, with the intent of
destroying the empire, Giacomo is called upon
to lead his new compatriots on a quest to stop
him. This debut novel, by the cocreator of the
animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, is
the first in a planned fantasy series. While some
of the combined magic and geometry falls flat,
there is action and adventure galore, including
narrow escapes, surprising twists, and stunning
turns. —Jeanne Fredriksen
Ryan Quinn and the Rebel’s Escape.
By Ron McGee.
Oct. 2016. 368p. Harper, $16.99 (9780062421647).
Ryan Quinn’s life in New York is interrupted
when his father is reported missing and his
mother is kidnapped. Left with one message—
his father must deliver Myat Kaw or else his
mother dies—Ryan is left to trust Tasha, an associate of his parents, and his friends Danny
and Kasey to rescue them. Turns out Ryan’s
parents have been working for an emergency
rescue organization, and they have secretly been
training Ryan his whole life. McGee’s debut has
many hallmarks of the middle-grade espionage
thriller genre—a fake international location, a
young boy who suddenly can do extraordinary
things, the friend who can hack into anything,
and so on—and it is a solid volume for readers
looking for a fast-paced, nonstop adventure of
derring-do. Ryan is a likable character, Danny
is hilarious, Kasey is more than the dumb
blonde everyone assumes she is, and his bully
turns out to be a pretty decent guy with a soft
spot. While many loose ends are neatly tied up,
this bound-to-be-popular volume leaves plenty
of room for a sequel. —Lindsey Tomsu
The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle.
By Gabrielle Kent.
Oct. 2016. 336p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545869294);
e-book, $16.99 (9780545881807). Gr. 4–7.
Alfie Bloom is more than a little puzzled to
learn that he’s inherited a castle. For one thing,
he’s never heard of Orin Hopcraft, the druid
who left him Hexbridge Castle. The biggest
surprise, however, is the castle itself, full of hid-
den rooms and other wondrous magic. Alfie
and his twin cousins have great fun exploring,
but danger comes with a two-headed dragon
terrorizing the village and a pair of horrendous
headmistresses at Alfie’s new school. Kent’s de-
but has undeniable shades of that other magical
boy who finds himself unexpectedly in a magi-
cal castle—Alfie receives letters by raven, he’s
helped by an enigmatic man in a high tower,
he’s the sole bearer of powerful magic, and so
on—but Kent carries it off well, neatly inter-
weaving backstory, hints about Hopcraft’s tasks
for Alfie, comical interludes, and plot threads
about friendship and family that help keep
the narrative firmly grounded in reality. This
well-paced, engaging fantasy is tailor-made for
Harry Potter fans, who will be pleased to learn
there are more adventures in the works for Alfie.
Snakes and Stones.
By Lisa Fowler.
Nov. 2016. 240p. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $15.99
(9781510710313). Gr. 3–6.
It’s 1921, and Chestnut Hill has been traveling with her father and her younger triplet
siblings—Hazel, Mac, and Filbert—since the
day he took them away from their mother.
Together, the siblings help sell their father’s
snake oil elixir, but Chestnut is tired of having to lie to people every day about its powers.
While traveling, Chestnut leaves handmade
signs behind showing their next destination,
in the hope that her mother will track them
down. When she finally can’t take it anymore,
Chestnut steals money to buy a ticket home,
which leads to a series of troubles that result
in a reunion with her mother. But when she
witnesses an argument between her parents,
she learns a heartbreaking truth about them.
Fowler includes some period-appropriate
instances of racism, including some targeting the Hills’ friend, Abraham, although the
Hills are not depicted as racist themselves.
Chestnut’s first-person narrative, in an old-fashioned, rural dialect, might be a struggle
for some, but the fast pace and intriguing secrets in this debut will keep the pages turning.
A Tail of Camelot.
By Julie Leung. Illus. by Lindsey Carr.
Oct. 2016. 304p. Harper, $16.99 (9780062403995).
Like most mice in Camelot, young Calib
Christopher dreams of becoming a knight,
but when his name is mysteriously entered
into the annual Harvest Tournament (to determine his eligibility), his nerves threaten
to get the best of him. Shortly afterward, an
assassination interrupts the competition, and
the creatures grow convinced that the forest-dwelling Darklings are to blame. Calib is
sure they are wrong and taps into unknown
stores of courage to unite the animals and face
the true, and much more dangerous, enemy.
Leung’s debut is a charming blend of Arthurian legend and Brian Jacques’ Redwall series.
A subplot involving Galahad’s arrival as a boy
in Camelot parallels Calib’s struggles—and
eventual heroics—while integrating key characters from the legend. Exciting battles join
suspenseful animal alliances, such as Calib’s
diplomatic excursion to the owls, all while
Calib tests the limits of his bravery and learns
what being a knight truly entails. With likable
characters and a classic spirit of adventure,
this is a satisfying story of small heroes accomplishing great things. —Julia Smith