Reading Roundup: Three Middle Grade Standouts

It’s hard to keep up with all the exciting new releases in middle grade fiction that have crossed my desk in the last few months. But there are three from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, I need to crow about. They couldn’t be more different from one another. But each has a plot that will leave young readers breathless and each has characters that will win hearts and minds.

I’ll start with CHECKED by Cynthia Kadota, because although I’m not usually interested in sports books or hockey, I loved it! To the story’s protagonist, eleven-year-old Conor, nothing is more important than playing hockey – and his policeman dad, who was a hockey player himself, supports his son’s dream of playing professionally. But when Conor’s beloved Doberman, Sinbad is diagnosed with cancer, everything begins to change. The dog’s treatment is barely affordable and Conor begins doing odd jobs around the neighborhood to help out with the costs. Soon he begins noticing other people’s problems, like those of his elderly neighbors. Conor is the kind of kid you’d want your kid to be. And his dad is the kind of dad you wish every kid had. The relationship between them is real and totally heart-warming. You can’t help believing in these two. What great role models for young readers!

  The electrifying ESCAPE FROM ALEPPO by N.H. Senzai, takes place at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010. It’s the story of twelve-year-old Nadia, who becomes separated from her family as they flee the bombing of Aleppo. Her harrowing journey to reunite with them at the Turkish border brings readers deep inside the danger and uncertainty of the escape. Together with Ammo Mazen, a mysterious old man who takes her under his wing, Nadia makes her way through the city where soldiers and rebel gangs threaten their existence. But as Ammo Mazen weakens, Nadia must develop the courage and resourcefulness to help herself and her friend. It’s a hopeful ending, but young readers won’t soon forget this emotionally wrenching exploration of the war in Syria and its awful cost.

  At the beginning of Avi’s book, THE PLAYER KING, a 15th century scullion named Lambert Simnel is working in a rough tavern in Oxford. Lambert has no family he knows of. He isn’t even sure of his age, which he guesses at “nine, ten or even thirteen.” But because of his resemblance to young Prince Edward, the missing heir to England’s throne, Lambert is purchased by two villains, Brother Simonds and the Earl of Lincoln, who forcibly educate him in the ways of royalty. The villains’ purpose is to have Lambert claim Prince Edward’s identity as the true king, opposing King Henry VII, who sits on the throne in Edward’s stead. It’s an Avi tale for sure—the kind in which the Newbery Award-winning author brings the twisted history of Medieval England to life with all the intrigue and color of the times. Fast paced and action-packed, this new release is sure to please the author’s many fans!


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Annabelle Fisher
Annabelle Fisher is the author of The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper and Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter. Under the name, Phyllis Shalant, she’s written ten other books for middle graders, including Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi. She lives in Westchester County, NY, not far from where the Headless Horseman takes his midnight rides. For more information visit her on Facebook @AnnabelleFisherbooks or at her website,
  1. These all sound great!

  2. I just loved The Player King. Thanks for the heads up on the others.