July New Releases

July is simply exploding with sparkly new books! As a budding “tangler,” I’m especially excited about TANGLES by Abby Huff, and of course, I can’t wait to dive into Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls by our own Beth McMullen! Be sure to tell us in the comments what books you’re looking forward to this summer!

Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen from S&S/Aladdin (July 4) After a botched escape plan from her boarding school, Abigail is stunned to discover the school is actually a cover for an elite spy ring called The Center, along with being training grounds for future spies. Even more shocking? Abigail’s mother is a top agent for The Center and she has gone MIA, with valuable information that many people would like to have–at any cost. Along with a former nemesis and charming boy from her grade, Abigail goes through a crash course in Spy Training 101, often with hilarious–and sometimes painful–results. But Abigail realizes she might be a better spy-in-training than she thought–and the answers to her mother’s whereabouts are a lot closer than she thinks…

Tap into your artsy side with TANGLES! Kids of all drawing abilities can have fun and unwind with tangles — simple, repetitive patterns that combine to form beautiful and elaborate drawings called zendoodles. And with TANGLES as your guide, it’s easy to dive into this doodly art style. Explore over sixty awesome drawing projects in Animals, Fairy Tales, Nature, and Lettering and Embellishments themes. Doodle prompts plus space for coloring and tangling will ignite your imagination, and bonus craft ideas will inspire you to create a DIY zendoodle masterpiece. Packed full of step-by-step tangle instructions and extra tips, you’re sure to have fun getting creative. So sharpen your pencils and get lost in the twirls, curls, and swirls of tangles!

Bubbles by Abby Cooper from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (July 3) Twelve-year-old Sophie Mulvaney’s world has been turned upside down. Mom lost her job at the TV station and broke up with Pratik, whom Sophie adored. Her teacher is making them do a special project about risk-taking, so Sophie gets roped into doing a triathlon. And to top it all off, she’s started seeing bubbles above people’s heads that tell her what these people are thinking. Seeing other people’s thoughts seems like it should be cool, but it’s actually just stressful. What does it mean that Pratik wishes she and Mom were with him to eat dinner? Is her best friend Kaya really going out with their other best friend, Rafael, whom Sophie also has a crush on? And can Sophie’s mom ever go back to her old self? In this funny, heartwarming novel from Abby Cooper, BUBBLES shows readers that people are more than what they seem or what they think. A Margaret Ferguson Book

Walking With Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy from Nancy Paulsen Books (July 4) A poignant middle grade debut about the friendship between a white girl and an elderly black woman in the 1960s South. Alice is angry at having to move to Rainbow, Georgia–a too small, too hot, dried-up place she’s sure will never feel like home. Then she gets put in charge of walking her elderly neighbor’s dog. But Clarence won’t budge without Miss Millie, so Alice and Miss Millie walk him together. Strolling with Clarence and Miss Millie quickly becomes the highlight of Alice’s day and opens her eyes to all sorts of new things to marvel over. During their walks, they meet a mix of people, and Alice sees that although there are some bullies and phonies, there are plenty of kind folks, too. Miss Millie shares her family’s story with Alice, showing her the painful impact segregation has had on their town. And with Miss Millie, Alice is finally able to express her own heartache over why her family had to move there in the first place.

Overboard! Survivor Series by Terry Lynn Johnson, illustrated by Jani Orban from HMH Books (July 4) Eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale watch off the coast of Washington when disaster strikes. The boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold chaotic waves. Separated from their families and struggling to stay afloat, Travis and twelve-year-old Marina must use all of their grit and knowledge to survive.
With seventeen years of hands-on experience and training in remote areas, survival expert Terry Lynn Johnson (Ice Dogs; Sled Dog School) creates on-the-edge-of-your-seat storytelling featuring the real skills that kids need to survive a disaster. This book includes Coast Guard-approved cold-water survival tips; you may have a better chance of surviving a real-life cold-water disaster after reading this book.

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacquelin K. Ogburn, illustrated by Rebecca Green from Houghton Mifflin (July 4) For years people have claimed to see a mysterious white deer in the woods around Chinaberry Creek. It always gets away. One evening, Eric Harper thinks he spots it. But a deer doesn’t have a coat that shimmers like a pearl. And a deer certainly isn’t born with an ivory horn curling from its forehead. When Eric discovers the unicorn is hurt and being taken care of by the vet next door and her daughter, Allegra, his life is transformed. A tender tale of love, loss, and the connections we make, The Unicorn in the Barn shows us that sometimes ordinary life takes extraordinary turns.

Our Story Begins edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (July 4) Simon and Schuster From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today. Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.
For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.
For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.
For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories. Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?

The Secrets of the Superglue Sisters by Susie Day from Penguin (July 6) Best friends Georgie and Jem aren’t just new at school; they’re new at being full-time sisters too. Georgie’s mum and Jem’s dad have finally bought a house together, and they get to share a home at last, just like they always wanted. But being full time sisters is maybe a tiny bit harder than they expected. At school, there are new friends to make and a new class project to complete. Everyone must write down their deepest secret so that their teacher Miss Eagle can set a giant ball alight and they can all watch their worries disappear. But the ball of secrets mysteriously disappears and everyone’s secrets are revealed. Can Georgie and Jem discover who the secrets thief is and learn how to stick together in their new family? 

The Wild Bunch by Jan Gangsei from Aladdin (July 11) Three unlikely friends–brainiac Hector, bullish Jack, and sarcastic Paul–find themselves braving the wilderness in search of the mythical Beast of Bear Falls in this hilarious MAX novel.As far as Paul Adams is concerned, the idea of a weekend camping in the nearby state park with his dad’s two college friends and their sons, Hector and Jack, sounds like a nightmare. But even he finds the myth of the Beast of Bear Falls–a legendary Bigfoot creature–intriguing.The trip gets off to a rough start, and calamity and disaster follow catastrophe. Against all odds, arguing most of the way, the crew face all sorts of obstacles natural and man-made. Can the three boys make it to Bear Falls and uncover the truth about the Sasquatch living there?

It All Comes Down To This by Karen English from Clarion (July 11) It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life–and her own place in it–is even more complicated than she’d once thought. Leavened with gentle humor, this story is perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia.

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis from Dial (July 11) Twelve-year-old Olivia Hales has a foolproof plan for winning a million dollars so that she and her little sister, Berkeley, can leave behind Sunny Pines Trailer Park.But first she has to:
– Fix the swamp cooler and make dinner and put Berkeley to bed because her mom is too busy to do all that
– Write another letter to her dad even though he hasn’t written back yet
– Teach Berk the important stuff, like how to make chalk drawings, because they can’t afford day care and Olivia has to stay home from school to watch her
– Petition her oddball neighbors for a circus spectacular, because there needs to be something to look forward to at dumb-bum Sunny Pines
– Become a super-secret spy to impress her new friend Bart
– Enter a minimum of fourteen sweepstakes a day. Who knows? She may already be a winner. Olivia has thought of everything . . . except herself. Who will take care of her when she needs it? Luckily, somewhere deep down between her small intestine and stomach is a tiny voice reminding her that sometimes people can surprise you–and sometimes your family is right next door.

The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry from Roaring Book Press (July 13) Young dairymaid Begonia has lost her cow Alfalfa. So she has set off on a search across the countryside even though she has nothing but a magical map to guide her. Along the way she meets a mother and baby, a woodcutter, a very dirty young man, and an eight-foot ostrich. Meanwhile, the emperor has gone missing from the royal palace in a most mysterious manner. Was it murder? Was it magic? It will take all of Begonia’s wits to save the empire and get Alfalfa home safely.

Princesses, Inc. by Mari Mancusi from Aladdin (July 18) Twelve-year-old Hailey and her BFFs are all big fans of Collin Prince, a YouTube star, and swoon-worthy crush. So when the opportunity to meet him at a local Comic-Con comes up, the girls jump at the chance. The problem? The convention isn’t cheap–and the girls don’t have the money to go. But Hailey isn’t ready to give up just yet. In addition to meeting Collin at the convention, there is a young writer’s competition that she is determined to enter–and win.The girls dream up Princesses and Pirates, Inc., a babysitting service where the girls will dress up in costume to entertain their charges. Of course, they aren’t as prepared as they thought they would be to deal with bratty kids, scheming older siblings (who are less than thrilled that their own babysitting jobs have dried up), and trying to balance their new “jobs” with school. And more responsibilities means less time for Hailey to work on her contest entry. Will their plan to make it to Comic-Con pay off…or could their business end up as shipwrecked as the pirates they portray?

Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell  from Atheneum (July 25) This spine-tingling sequel to Withering-by-Sea sees Stella sent away to the moldering old family estate, where she discovers two odd cousins–and a mystery.Eleven-year-old Stella Montgomery has always wondered about her family. What happened to her mother? And could she have a long-lost sister somewhere? Stella’s awful Aunts refuse to tell her anything, and now they have sent her Stella away to the old family home at Wormwood Mire, where she must live with two strange cousins and their governess. But dark secrets slither and skulk within overgrown grounds of the moldering house, and Stella must be brave if she’s to find out who–or what–she really is…

Refugee by Alan Gratz from Scholastic (July 25) JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .
ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .
MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .
All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.
This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.

Almost Paradise: A Novel by Corabel Shofner from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (July 25) Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life changes the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly jailed for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is an ornery nun who lives in the midst of a peach orchard on Paradise Ranch. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along, but Eleanor has secrets of her own―secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby. It’s not going to be easy for Ruby Clyde and Eleanor to heal old wounds, face the past, and learn to trust each other. But with enough little pieces of love, they might be able to bring their family together again, and learn that paradise isn’t a place―it’s the feeling of being home.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh from HarperCollins (July 25) We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh returns with Spirit Hunters, a high-stakes middle grade mystery series about Harper Raine, the new seventh grader in town who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. A riveting ghost story and captivating adventure, this tale will have you guessing at every turn.

Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely. The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of deja vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?

Seattle Area Librarians Talk About Summer Reading

It’s Memorial Day Weekend! (Well, almost…) And you know what that means. That’s right. Summer reading!

Nicole Porter, Children’s Services Librarian at Belleuve, Lake Hills and Crossroads Libraries in Bellevue, Washington says, “Summer reading is a chance to read for pleasure without other pressures or expectations playing as high of a role in book selection as it does during other times of the year. Kids will often take the opportunity to revisit favorite worlds, characters, and story lines.”

I was curious which books were likely to be popular with middle grade readers this summer, so I asked several of my local librarians. Nicole Porter said, “I expect to see a lot of familiar series and authors continue to be popular over the summer. Books by Riordan, Rowling, Telgemeier, Pierce, Kinney, and Kibiushi disappear from our shelves soon as they appear.”

Laura Simeon, Librarian and Diversity Coordinator at Open Window School in Bellevue, WA says, “The Netflix series has sparked renewed interest in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, for example among kids who weren’t yet born when the final volume was published! Rick Riordan’s new entry in the Trials of Apollo series has also captured my students’ attention.”

Gretchen Oates, Library Media Specialist at Kamiakin Middle School in Kirkland, WA says, “The most popular series in our library at the moment are Amulet, followed by the Lunch Lady, although Telgemeier’s books and those that are similar are also very popular. Any novel by Rick Riordan is also popular and the Harry Potter books are getting some renewed recognition with the new illustrated editions coming out. I think all of these are great and believe that above all children should have the freedom to choose what they want to read most of the summer, even though we librarians do tend to find ways to encourage them to try new things.”


That made me wonder which middle grade novels librarians would like to see kids reading this summer.

Nicole Porter said, “I would LOVE to see everyone reading Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan this summer! It has universal themes that many middle-grade readers  encounter such as shifting friendships, balancing family expectations with personal inclinations, and grappling with self-doubt. Readers will relate to sixth grader Pakistani American Amina’s engagement in these issues as well as see a mirror into their own diverse experiences and the world around them.”


Laura Simeon would love to see her students digging into Nikki Grimes’  One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. She said, “It’s an accessible, deeply moving, and gorgeously illustrated volume that shows off her masterful ways with poetry while also exposing middle-grade readers to the beauty and power of Harlem Renaissance writers. I also recommend Roddy Doyle’s A Greyhound of a Girl, a gentle, quiet book set in modern Dublin with a supernatural element. With humor and grace it worms its way into your heart and mind, leaving an indelible impression. Finally, I was fortunate enough to pick up an ARC of In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien at ALA Midwinter, and couldn’t put it down! It’s a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in contemporary North Korea, and O’Brien’s thorough research and personal knowledge of Korean culture really shine through.”

Debbie Pearson, Librarian at Seattle Country Day School, says her top choices this year have been a bit heavier and more introspective than usual. “Definitely not ‘beach reads,’” she says. “I just finished reading Ghost by Jason Reynolds about a boy who has had more than a few knocks in life and seems to find a crack in a window of opportunity through the school track team, but the problem is he can’t afford the running shoes that will take him to where he wants to go. What to do when he finds the perfect shoes in a shop one day? A great book to look at the many sides of individuals. Do we ever really know someone else? Can we risk telling the truth about ourselves? This year, I’ve also produced a mini-following for Pax by Sara Pennypacker about a boy and his pet fox in a time when the world is unsettled and war may be at his doorstep. The only one he can trust is his fox and even that gets taken from him. Allegorical, thoughtful, and tear-jerking.  Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate also tugged at my heartstrings this year. Who doesn’t remember relying on an imaginary friend for comfort and companionship? Crenshaw happens to be a gigantic cat who just may be real in so many ways and only comes when the need is the greatest. My final book is The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan, a master storyteller and weaver of words. I haven’t read anything by her in recent years, but picked this up and loved the tale of loss and newfound hope. The dog loses his beloved poet master, but finds two children in need of rescue in a snowstorm. The dog’s musings about his past life, while based on fantasy as the story of an anthropomorphized dog would be, ring so very true to the heart. We can experience loss, but find life in our beloved memories.

Nancy Palmer, a librarian at the Little School in Bellevue, WA would also like to see kids at her school reading Jason Reynolds’ Ghost because “it provides real insight into a life very unlike that of the kids at my school, in a multi-faceted portrayal that will help the kids see Ghost as a person, not a stereotype.” She’d also like to see them read Lauren Wolks’ Wolf Hollow because “anything that strengthens their bent toward kindness is a plus, and this is told in a direct, powerful way that will get to them, I think.” Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida “gives them a very personal look at the internment experience and helps them on the road to becoming world-minded.” Book 3 of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain is “such a well-written fantasy, with wondering characters, but can be too slow-starting for some kids. Here’s hoping they plow ahead to the terrific rest!” And finally, The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall is “an oldie but goodie. It’s a fantasy about the tiny Minnipin folk in the Slipper-on-the-Water, a nonconforming few of whom rise up as heroes to defend their village against an invading threat. It offers humor, wonderful characters and true courage and also celebrates independent thinking and a willingness to do the right thing in the face of authoritarian opposition.”

Stephanie Zero, Teen Services Librarian at the Redmond Library in Redmond, WA, is book-talking these books to sixth graders: Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (especially for readers who enjoy the mythology in Rick Riordan’s books). Pamela Turner’s Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune, which “documents the true story of the legendary samurai who was raised in the household of the enemies who killed his father before being sent to live in a monastery where, against the odds, he learned and perfected his fighting skills.” Deborah Ellis’s, The Cat at the Wall, which centers on the Israeli Palestine conflict as told by a talking cat. “A cat sneaks into a small Palestinian house on the West Bank that has been commandeered by two Israeli soldiers. The house seems empty, until the cat realizes that a little boy is hiding beneath the floorboards. Should she help him? After all, she’s just a cat. Or is she? She was once a regular North American girl, but that was before she died and came back to life as a cat.”  Caitlin Alifirenka’s, I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives, which is the true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.  Andrea Davis Pinkney’s, The Red Pencil, which is a Battle of the Books selection. “After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder.” Andrea Gonzales’s Girl Code. “The teenage phenoms behind viral video game Tampon Run share the story of their experience at Girls Who Code and their rise to fame, plus a savvy look at starts-ups, women in tech, and the power of coding. Dustin Hansen’s Game On! Video Game History, which covers video Game History From Pong and Pac-man to Mario, Minecraft, and More. Jazz Jennings’ Being JazzTeen activist and trailblazer Jazz Jennings–named one of The 25 most influential teens of the year by Time–shares her very public transgender journey, as she inspires people to accept the differences in others while they embrace their own truths. And finally, Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk and the Quest for A Fantastic Future, which is an authorized portrait of one of Silicon Valley’s most dynamic entrepreneurs evaluates his role in the successes of such innovations as Tesla and Space X while evaluating America’s technological competitiveness.”

Rebecca Moore, Middle School Librarian at the Overlake School in Redmond, WA, says, “This is a golden age for middle grade and YA nonfiction, narrative and informational books.” She recommends Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming, Isaac the Alchemist: secrets of Isaac Newton, reveal’d by Mary Losure, Elon musk and the quest for a fantastic future: young readers’ edition by Ashley Vance, Women in science: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky, No better friend: young readers edition: a man, a dog, and their incredible true story of friendship and survival in World War II by Robert Weintraub and The Boy who harnessed the wind by William Kamkwamba.

Rebecca would also love for kids to read books that “present them with a greater variety of ‘windows and mirrors’ to build empathy and understanding of other cultures and ways of life, as well as to see their own experiences and situations reflected in books.” For instance: Flying lessons & other stories edited by Ellen Oh, Anything by Jason Reynolds (Ghost, As Brave as Youetc.), The War that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley), Makoons by Louise Erdrich, Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky and Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee.

She would also love for kids to pick up “books with unusual structures, to stretch their minds and their concepts of what constitutes a ‘story.’ Unusual structures also help the reader become more involved because they have to have a greater role in assembling and comprehending the story themselves.” She suggests, The Inquisitor’s tale, one story told in many sometimes contradictory voices by Adam Gidwitz, Booked a novel in verse by Kwame Alexander, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer an epistolary novel by Kelly Jones and the documentary novels, Regarding the… by the Klise sisters.

Finally, Rebecca would love for kids to pick up books with “lush world-building, complex characters, thoughtful narratives, no easy answers, and glimpses into something deeper than the typical action adventure fantasy. Complexity is not limited to fantasy, of course, but these are the titles that popped into my head: The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill, The Glass Sentence and sequels by S.E. Grove, When the Sea Turned to Silver and prequels by Grace Lin, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Anything by Robin McKinley or Frances Hardinge, The Naming and sequels by Alison Croggon, Sabriel and sequels by Garth Nix.”

If you’re like me and you like your summer reading lists to coming in actual list form, here’s a list (alphabetical by author) of above mentioned titles as well as other summer reading recommendations by other Seattle area librarians:

  • Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
  • Playbook by Kwame Alexander
  • Booked by Kwame Alexander
  • I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka
  • Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
  • Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
  • Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
  • World’s Collide (last book in the Land of Stories series) by Chris Colfer
  • The Naming (and sequels) by Alison Croggon
  • Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
  • A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
  • Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis
  • Makoons by Louise Erdrich
  • Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
  • Spy School Secret Service (book five in the Spy School series) by Stuart Gibbs
  • Panda-monium (book four in the FunJungle series) by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
  • Girl Code by Andrea Gonzales
  • One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
  • The Glass Sentence (and sequels) by S.E. Grove
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale
  • Game On! Video Game History by Dustin Hansen
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • The Warriors series by Erin Hunter
  • Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
  • Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings
  • Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
  • The Man Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
  • The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall
  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
  • The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
  • Regarding the… series by the Klise sisters
  • Restart by Gordon Korman
  • The Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
  • When the Sea Turned to Silver (and prequels) by Grace Lin
  • Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, reveal’d by Mary Losure
  • Point Guard by Mike Lupica
  • The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Sabriel (and sequels) by Garth Nix
  • In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien
  • Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh
  • Timmy Failure: The Cat Stole My Pants by Stephan Pastis
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Gracefully, Grayson by Ami Polonsky
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • The Dark Prophecy (book 2 of The Trial of Apollo series) by Rick Riordan
  • Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz
  • Samurai Rising by Pamela Turner
  • Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida
  • Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
  • Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
  • No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A man, A dog, and their incredible true story of friendship and survival in World War II by Robert Weintraub
  • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

That’s what we’re reading here in the Seattle area. Which middle grade novels are popular summer reading where you live?

Words and Music

Since today is National Buy an Instrument Day, we’re tooting the horns of middle-grade books featuring musical kids, as well as some great biographies.

There is so much comedy and drama built into a band or orchestra story. I well remember the gut-twisting terror of pop band tests and the frustration of never being able to attain first-chair trumpet. But for all of the trials, come contest or concert time, pep band or parade, nothing was quite as thrilling as playing my part in creating a spectrum of sound.

Front and center is Second Fiddleby our own award-winning Roseanne Parry! 

The author of Heart of a Shepherd offers another sensitive portrayal of military families, this time stationed abroad, in the city of Berlin at that historic time just after the Wall came down.

When 13-year-old Jody and her friends save a badly beaten Russian soldier from drowning, they put into motion a chain of events that will take them from Berlin to Paris and straight into danger. Jody must quickly learn to trust herself, because in the time directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the border between friend and enemy is not as clear as it once was.

A fast-paced, coming-of-age story filled with adventure, music, friendship, and intrigue.

Band Geeks Seriesby Amy Cobb The band room. For band geeks at Benton Bluff Junior High, it’s the place to be. Their director, Mr. Byrd, may dress like he’s in the tropics, but he’s strict on the podium, getting his students to play like the musicians they are. These band geeks handle friendships, crushes, dances, fund-raisers, jealousy, divided loyalties, missing instruments, parents, grandparents, school dances, solo competitions, chair placement auditions, band camp, and more throughout the school year. Music is just the beginning!

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano, by Elizabeth Rusch and Majorie Priceman Award-winning biographer Elizabeth Rusch and two-time Caldecott Honor-recipient Marjorie Priceman team up to tell the inspiring story of the invention of the world’s most popular instrument: the piano.

Bartolomeo Cristofori coaxes just the right sounds from the musical instruments he makes. Some of his keyboards can play piano, light and soft; others make forte notes ring out, strong and loud, but Cristofori longs to create an instrument that can be played both soft and loud.
His talent has caught the attention of Prince Ferdinando de Medici, who wants his court to become the musical center of Italy. The prince brings Cristofori to the noisy city of Florence, where the goldsmiths’ tiny hammers whisper tink, tink and the blacksmiths’ big sledgehammers shout BANG, BANG Could hammers be the key to the new instrument?

At last Cristofori gets his creation just right. It is called the pianoforte, for what it can do. All around the world, people young and old can play the most intricate music of their lives, thanks to Bartolomeo Cristofori’s marvelous creation: the piano.

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis Bud Caldwell has been an orphan since he was six. After 4 years of foster homes and orphanages, Bud has had enough. He hops a train from Flint, Michigan to Grand Rapids. Armed with just an old flyer, his suitcase, and Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself,  he plans to find his father, the great jazz musician Herman Calloway and his band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. But once in Grand Rapids,  Bud begins to untangle the lies and secrets of his family history, all while falling headlong into the magical world of jazz. Like the music itself, Bud learns the truth is often complicated, both painful and joyful.

I am Drums, by Mike Grosso  Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people. But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud–even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high? An exciting new voice in contemporary middle grade, Mike Grosso creates a determined heroine readers will identify with and cheer for.

The Mysteries of Beethoven’s Hair, Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley At the time of Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, it was a common practice to take a lock of hair from the deceased as a remembrance, a sacred remnant of the person who meant so much when alive. One such lock of Beethoven’s hair survived through the years and eventually became the joint property of two men who, in 1995, opened the sealed frame that encased the hair and began the process of unlocking the mysteries of Beethoven’s life, death, and possibly his genius.

Follow the trail of Beethoven’s hair as it was passed on from the boy who cut it to his son and down through the years, as it was safeguarded from Nazi Germany and eventually sold at auction in 1994. Through careful forensic testing, the hairs in the lock revealed the causes of Beethoven’s deafness and his many illnesses. This fascinating story is not only a study of the secrets that forensics can reveal, but a moving history of many people’s devotion to Beethoven’s music. Husband and wife team Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley follow the success of Martin’s adult book, BEETHOVEN’S HAIR, with this retelling for younger readers.

The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel Moxie Roosevelt Kipper has endured thirteen years of being an ordinary girl with an unordinary name. Now that she’s entered boarding school, the time is ripe to reinvent herself. She’ll become unusual, outlandish, unexpected, sassy? someone worthy of a name like Moxie. But who exactly? From Mysterious Earth Goddess to Hale and Hearty Sports Enthusiast; from Detached, Unique, Coolly Knowing Individual to Assertive Revolutionary Activist, Moxie tries them all, while keeping her true talent for piano-playing a secret. But at boarding school, Moxie isn’t the only one who isn’t what she claims to be.

The Way to Stay in Destinyby Augusta Scattergood Theo Thomas has two passions: baseball and piano. Ripped from his life on his grandparents’ farm, and plunked down in Destiny, Florida with his cantankerous Vietnam vet uncle, Theo’s not sure how he’s going to survive past the sixth grade. But then there’s Miss Sister and her piano, and Anabel and her Hank Aaron project, and suddenly Destiny might not be so bad after all. As long as his uncle doesn’t find out what he’s up to.


A Crooked Kind of Perfectby Linda Urban Zoe Elias has a mother who is never home and a father who refuses to leave home. Ever. The odds are stacked against her. But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. Fortunately for Zoe, her father is listening. Unfortunately, he’s easily distracted and that’s how Zoe ends up the proud new owner of the Perfectone D-60 organ. Now not only is she stuck playing the organ, but suddenly there’s the Perfect-O-Rama Annual Organ Competition. And the strange boy Wheeler Diggs following her home from school everyday. Life for Zoe Elias is about as far from perfect as it can gets. She thinks.

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick Steven has a totally normal life (well, almost). He plays drums in the All-City Jazz Band (whose members call him the Peasant), has a crush on the hottest girl in school (who doesn’t even know he’s alive), and is constantly annoyed by his younger brother, Jeffrey (who is cuter than cute – which is also pretty annoying). But when Jeffrey gets sick, Steven’s world is turned upside down, and he is forced to deal with his brother’s illness, his parents’ attempts to keep the family in one piece, his homework, the band, girls, and Dangerous Pie (yes, you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is).

The Mozart Season, by Virginia Euwer Wolff When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her―that the music was hidden inside her instrument. Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She’s the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians’ Competition. She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn’t realize is she’ll also learn―how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart.

Vanished, by Sheela Chari  Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.

When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?

The Drum of Destiny, by Chris Stevenson The year is 1775 and twelve-year-old Gabriel Cooper is an orphaned patriot stuck living in a house of loyalists. But when the boy discovers a discarded drum in the East River, he sees it as a call to leave his home in New York and join in the fight for freedom in Boston. With rich, historic details, Gabriel’s adventure will captivate readers as they join the boy on the difficult journey to his destiny


I Heart Band Series, by Michelle Schusterman and Genevieve Kote Holly Mead’s first day of seventh grade isn’t going as planned. Her brother ruins her carefully chosen outfit, she’s almost late, and her new band director has some surprisingly strict rules. Worst of all, it seems like her best friend, Julia, has replaced her with Natasha, the pretty, smart, new French horn player! Holly is determined to get first chair, but Natasha is turning out to be some pretty stiff competition—and not just in band. Band might be a competition, but friendship isn’t—and Holly needs to figure it out before she loses Julia for good.

Looking for more composer biographies? Check out this list by the American Musicological Society. What books can you recommend for middle-grade music lovers?