I’ve read a few really good new middle grade and YA books and wanted to take a moment to share.
I love when an author tricks me into reading science fiction. (Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me also did this to me–I was hooked before I realized it was sci fi.) I just don’t prefer sci fi, but I will try most any mystery.
Fuzzy Mud by the reliably great Louis Sachar (author of Holes, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom and many, many others) reads like a realistic fiction mystery but is actually science fiction. If your middle grader doesn’t like science fiction, don’t tell them this–ha. Sixth grader Tamaya and sort-of-friend seventh grader Marshall normally walk home from school together through town every day; a shortcut through the woods is off-limits. But when class bully Chad promises to beat Marshall to a pulp after school, Marshall’s only choice is going through the woods, and this leaves Tamaya with little choice but to follow him. Unfortunately Chad tracks them down anyway, and they have to defend themselves and escape Chad. While there, Tamaya spots an odd layer of fuzz on the mud in the woods, but doesn’t think much of it even when a strange rash starts on her hand where she grabbed mud and threw it in Chad’s face. But the next day when the rash begins spreading and blistering, she can’t ignore it. And when she finds out that Chad never got home yesterday afternoon and is still missing, she becomes fearful. Did the strange mud do something to cause his disappearance? Excellent choice for about 4th through 8th grade.
Next up is the latest installment in a favorite series. Big Game, by Stuart Gibb, follows the original book, Belly Up, and the sequel, Poached.
Each of these has been a very well-done mystery revolving around 12-year old Teddy Fitzroy. Teddy lives at a zoo (FunJungle) in Texas; his mom is a world-renown primatologist and dad is a famous wildlife photographer. Bad things happen in this zoo. If your middle grader is interested in animals at all–wildlife, conservation, extinction issues, etc.–these books have so much to offer. Teddy is also a really good kid (despite what zoo security officer and nemesis Large Marge thinks) and tries to do the right thing; he is respectful to his parents and models a good relationship with them. I recommend starting with the first book, Belly Up, in which zoo mascot Henry Hippo (an actual hippo) is found dead. Teddy begins to think someone actually killed the hippo and gets dangerously involved with solving the mystery. In Big Game, someone has taken a shot at the zoo’s pregnant rhino, Rhonda. Teddy and his parents fear that the poacher is after the extremely valuable rhino horn, widely mistaken to be a curative of diseases and therefore a hot item on the black market. But a lot of the circumstances surrounding the attempt and further attempts don’t add up in Teddy’s mind. Big Game finds him in the usual exciting and scary situations involving dangerous zoo animals and deeper in friendship with his crush, Summer, who also happens to be the daughter of zoo owner and millionaire J.J. McCracken. Highly recommended for about grades 5-7.
I’m now reading David Lubar’s Sophomores and Other Oxymorons, which is a sequel to one of my favorites, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie.
These are more young adult than middle grade fiction, although Freshmen worked for about 6th grade and up. I’m going to say Sophomores is going to be best for 7th or 8th grade and up from what I’ve read so far. These books revolve around Scott, another good kid with a respectful and healthy relationship with his parents who is starting high school in Freshmen; he also discovers his parents are going to have a baby (!) in that book, and begins writing a manual on growing up for his future sibling. So many great characters and lessons in these–not judging others by their appearances or even how they act; getting involved in activities to try new things and make new friends; bullying and facing down fears–just to name a few of the issues addressed. Doesn’t that sound good?
And hey, have you heard that middle grade and YA books aren’t just for kids anymore? Impress your kids (or mortify them–that’s fun too!) by reading one or all of these yourself! Read on, everyone!