My Desert Island Top Five

June is finally here. School is out (or almost out), and everyone is ready for a long, relaxing summer.

This past year has got me thinking about summers when I was kid. Back then, summer vacation consisted of baseball games in the pasture, slip and slides, camping out in the back yard, and traveling only as far as your bike could take you in the hours between breakfast and dinner. A slow and easy summer like that meant two things – you hung out with the same small group of people day in and day out and you spent a lot of time making up games to keep you entertained. One of the games we played when the days got too long and we got too bored was Desert Island. Desert Island  consisted of naming your Top Five – the five songs, albums, movies, tv shows, and books (of course) that you’d want to have if you were stranded on a desert island.

Our Top Five lists shifted and changed week to week and year to year. Sometimes we’d steal from each other. Occasionally, an out of town relative would come for a visit and completely upend our idea of what was worthy. But mostly, every time we played, we got to think about what we loved and why we loved it – which isn’t a bad thing to do.

This past year, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I love and why. I reread old books (like Beverly Cleary’s Henry and the Clubhouse which still holds up and has a Ramona and her mom scene that completely cracked me up). I rewatched old movies (like Legally Blonde and Sense and Sensibility – both of which always make me smile), and revisited old tv shows (Parks and Recreation of course). And, I read a lot of books and thought about which ones stuck with me past the last page and why. It was thinking about what stuck that got me to write this post.

Enough talk. Let’s get to it. Here are my Desert Island Top Five Middle Grade reads this past year (in no particular order):

 

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

A lightning strike gave her a super power…but even a super genius can’t solve the problem of middle school. This smart and funny novel is perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by Sevens.

Lucy Callahan’s life was changed forever when she was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but the zap gave her genius-level math skills, and she’s been homeschooled ever since. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook ). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

 

 

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (Author) Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

From beloved Newbery Honor winner and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia comes a powerful and heartfelt novel about loss, family, and love that will appeal to fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander.

Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen–he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.

Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.

 

 

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

In this acclaimed novel by the author of the award-winning, bestselling The Thing About Jellyfish, being the new kid at school isn’t easy, especially when you have to follow in the footsteps of a legendary classroom prankster.

When Caitlyn Breen begins her disorienting new life at Mitchell School–where the students take care of real live goats and study long-dead philosophers, and where there are only ten other students in the entire seventh grade–it seems like nobody can stop talking about some kid named Paulie Fink.

Depending on whom you ask, Paulie was either a hilarious class clown, a relentless troublemaker, a hapless klutz, or an evil genius. One thing’s for sure, though: The kid was totally legendary. Now he’s disappeared, and Caitlyn finds herself leading a reality-show-style competition to find the school’s next great Paulie Fink. With each challenge, Caitlyn struggles to understand a person she never met…but it’s what she discovers about herself that most surprises her.

Told in multiple voices, interviews, and documents, this funny, thought-provoking novel from the bestselling author of The Thing About Jellyfish is a memorable exploration of what makes a hero–and if anyone, or anything, is truly what it seems.

 

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar

An Indian American girl navigates prejudice in her small town and learns the power of her own voice in this brilliant gem of a middle grade novel full of humor and heart, perfect for fans of Front Desk and Amina’s Voice.

As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

 

 

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough

A girl with a passion for science and a boy who dreams of writing fantasy novels must figure out how to get along now that their parents are dating in this lively, endearing novel.

Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton–almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday.

Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild.

Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?

 

So, that’s my Desert Island Top Five (for now). What are your Desert Island Top Five Middle Grade – of all time, of the past year, or even of the last month? I’d love to steal, so please share in the comments below.

 

 

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Patricia Bailey
Patricia Bailey is the author of the middle-grade historical novel The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan. She blogs here and at her website www.patriciabaileyauthor.com.
2 Comments
  1. This is a fun post. I like your list. I would want to take a boxed set of Gary D. Schmidt’s books and a boxed set of Lauren Wolk’s books, but that’s kind of a cheat, so I will name five — Orbiting Jupiter, Okay for Now, Wolf Hollow, Beyond the Bright Sea, and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Thanks for the post.

    • Ooh. This is a good list. I was just thinking of Wolf Hollow the other day. It’s one of those books that stick, isn’t it? I’m stealing Orbiting Jupiter, Okay for Now, and Beyond the Bright Sea from my TBR pile. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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