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BEST OF 2016: Our Favorite Books for Middle-Grade Readers/Tweens
From a shipwrecked robot story to the true tale of a child survivor of the Nagasaki bomb, our 2016 selections are all about variety. There’s the wonderful humor of The Best Man and the breathless intensity of The Plot to Kill Hitler. The heartwrenching beauty of Maybe a Fox, and the fun-filled adventure of Mighty Jack.
We hope every reader of middle-grade fiction or nonfiction will discover a book they love among our Best of 2016 list. We sure did!
The 2016 committee includes:
Allison, BCPL Outreach & Programming Supervisor
Cheryl, Assistant Branch Manager, Ridgway Memorial Library
Marianne, Reference Services, Ridgway Memorial Library
Tracy (that’s me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer
Allison says: Realistic characters, wonderfully developed. I am a fan of Reynolds, but I was worried since this is his first foray into middle-grade. He did a great job transitioning from YA; this was excellent.
Marianne says: A nice story about city kids (brothers) and a slow-moving summer spent with Grandparents on a remote farm in Virginia. They learn about family, friendship, and consequences.
I say: Anyone who loves words, books, or puns will be unable to resist Booked. It’s a fun and engaging read, a whirlwind of short poems that fit together to form the story of Nick’s eighth-grade experiences, from his parents’ breakup to soccer victories and his first crush. And who doesn’t love a story featuring a rapping librarian as a side character? Marianne says: I listened to the audiobook and was mesmerized by the style and rhythm of the poetry and enthralled with the story.
I say: There were so many wonderful middle-grade novels in verse this past year, including Booked (a fellow 2016 Best Book) and Catching a Storyfish (which just missed the cut). What makes this one stand out for me is the stereotype-breaking hero. I also really enjoyed the tanka poetry style, along with Grimes’s explanation at the end of the book.
Marianne says: A short and sweet coming-of-age story told in verse.
I say: Totally gripping from beginning to end. Reynolds covers so much in this relatively slim novel that clocks in at under 200 pages. The story feels both timeless and entirely modern. I am so excited that this is the beginning of a new series!
Allison says: I couldn’t put it down. Went to bed intending to read a chapter or two. Ended up not going to sleep and finished it in one sitting. I didn’t want it to end. I like the Canterbury Tales feel of different narrators, always making it fresh. The tension was nail-biting. Can we say medal-worthy?
Allison says: Powerful, inspiring, uplifting. I LOVED this one!
Marianne says: I’m a big fat mom, so I had to overcome my horror at the two sisters who were abandoned and left in the care of an abusive “stepmother”…once I was able to set that aside, I really was fascinated at the imaginations of those two little girls.
Allison says: I don’t cry reading books. Or watching sappy movies, or commercials. I bawled like a baby reading this. Which was even more problematic since I was reading it in public. This was gut-wrenchingly wonderful for me. If it doesn’t receive a Newbery, my faith in humanity is gone.
Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke Allison says: I really like this one, and the artwork is dramatically good. Is the next book in the series out yet??????
Allison says: MOVING is not the word. I don’t generally like to read about someone’s struggle with disease, but this one drew me in. Realistic fiction is not usually something middle-grade authors do well, but this is amazing!
Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illus. by John Klassen I say: Pennypacker writes with an insightful lyricism that is simply stunning. Also, I love that Pax perceives and acts like a real fox, not a standard children’s book animal who thinks and acts more like a human.
I say: Yet another standout middle-grade novel from two-time Newbery-winner Kate DiCamillo. The writing is crisp and energetic despite the quiet story. I adored Raymie and the quick, unexpected friendship she builds with her fellow baton-twirling students. There are so many small moments in this book to love.
I say: Oh my goodness, the illustrations in this book! The design of the book is simply beautiful, as is the story. A wonderful mix of reflection and action, with short, punchy chapters to keep readers in thrall.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk Allison says: I like the setting, the description of the town, and the way Annabelle’s parents take to Toby. There’s a bit of a To Kill a Mockingbird feel to the story and characterizations.
I say: The concept behind this book is so inventive! The illustrations are fantastic, and the (mostly) free-form poetry perfectly evokes the spirit of jazz music. Plus, the short bios and further reading suggestions in the back matter provide a path for those who wish to learn more. Allison says: I’m not usually a fan of poems, but this was neat. Each poem led to the next, adding up to tell the story of the gathering of the musicians from the photograph.
Allison says: HOLY cow!! I loved this. Faced-paced nonfiction/biography that reads like awesome fiction? Who knew it was not only possible, but that the reader would forget it was nonfiction? This book definitely left me thinking and wondering,
I say: Wonderful. Of all the spectacular poetic works I’ve read this year, this is the one that most stands out for me. It’s such a loving, fascinating tribute to Ezra Jack Keats and the impact of his work.
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson I say: This is such a powerful book that puts a face on an under-examined moment in US-Japanese history and the longlasting consequences for Japanese survivors in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The story is very readable, and the book is laid out perfectly to provide age-appropriate context with informative sidebars, photographs, etc. Important, harrowing, and beautifully done.
Allison says: FANTABULOUS!! The story flows from page to page, with bold artwork and personal commentary from White. This feels like you are sitting in someone’s living room looking at their—amazing!— personal scrapbook.
I say: I was so glad to see the late-90s classic guide updated to include the digital age! Curious kids who like building and technology or simply want to understand the way things work will love Macauley’s way of illustrating complex concepts. Engaging text and illustrations make it a joy to browse, or you can focus on whatever category interests you, from simple machines to digital devices and Wi-Fi,