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BEST OF 2017: Our Favorite Books for Middle-Grade Readers/Tweens
Unlike last year, we seem to have a few trends running throughout our favorite middle-grade reads of the year.
Oh, the poetry! Poetry had a good year in 2017, and not just in regard to MG books. But for this list, we were somehow able to narrow it down to just two titles—Kwame Alexander’s gorgeous celebration of poets and poetry itself, and Chris Harris’s hilarious romp that recalls the best of Shel Silverstein. We think both books have the potential to become classics, and we’re expecting some serious awards nods for Out of Wonder when Youth Media Awards time rolls around.
The graphic fantastic! Graphic novels were a big hit with us this year, though we couldn’t include all the books we loved on this list (sorry, Jennifer Holm). But our final selection does feature three of them—two standout, wonderfully illustrated tales about the perils of middle school and an otherworldly sci-fi adventure that has us anxiously awaiting the sequel this May.
That’s not to say we don’t have plenty of variety to choose from this year. There’s the wonderful humor of Posted and the breathless intensity of Refugee. The quiet mystery of Beyond the Bright Sea, and the fantastical adventures of The Shadow Cipher. From the magical tale of a tree determined to help a friendless child to the gripping realism of a boy finding peace in LEGO constructions after his brother’s murder, we hope every reader of middle-grade fiction or nonfiction will discover a book they love among our Best of 2017 list. We sure did!
The 2017 committee includes:
Brandy T., Children’s Programming and Outreach Library Specialist
Heather, BCPL Public Relations Administrative Assistant
Marianne, Reference Services, Ridgway Memorial Library
Tracy (that’s me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer
5 Worlds, Book 1: The Sand Warrior by Mark Segel Heather says: So adorable! The world building is AWESOME, and it’s a really exciting, fast-paced story.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson Heather says: So absolutely adorable! I loved this one. Perfect illustrations, and a story that really captures the innocence of being a tween—and how the real world can test that innocence.
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk Heather says: I love this book! Wolk is amazing. Tracy says: Wolk weaves an affecting tale full of heart and adventure, featuring an intrepid heroine, compelling relationships, and an intriguing setting.
Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter Heather says: The melting pot of this family and this life is SO real, especially for people who have experienced adoption and the foster system. A strong, vibrant voice and an effortlessly beautiful story. I devoured it in a matter of hours. Marianne says: This is a heart-wrenching and mind-boggling book about a little girl who has been in the foster care system and is now learning to be part of a family. It’s heart-wrenching because it happens all the time in real life…and it’s mind-boggling because there ARE REAL LIFE children who have to shoulder the same trauma and struggle as our 11-year-old narrator, Flora. Thought-provoking and moving.
Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis Heather says: This is a raw, violent story of fighting to survive and fighting for what’s right. I loved the story, which will be great for older tween readers. Steph says: Would you risk your life to save a baby gorilla? That is exactly what Imara and Bobo do. An inspirational story of courage and taking a stand, when what you have to lose is everything.
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly Heather says: A funny, clever tale with pieces that fit together perfectly like a predestined puzzle.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English Steph says: A wonderful coming of age story set in the 1960s. Sophie is dealing with relationships, both friendly and familial and trying to define herself amidst racism, sometimes even felt within her own home.
Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King Heather says: Obe is every twelve year old I knew. Obe is me, awkward but smart and compassionate, fine with being the outsider (mostly) but still a ball of anxiety over things he can’t control. He and his family are so real and dysfunctional; the way he stands for what he believes despite his parents’ dismissal resonates with me. This is a story about the devastation humans can bring about just by changing things. It isn’t a warning to stop changing. Just a warning to be more compassionate, to care about every step you take. So beautifully and wonderfully done. Steph says: This book is a reminder that we should cherish our environment. A must read for fans of Hoot.
Posted by John David Anderson Heather says: I love this book!!! I was blown away by how well-written this is, and how relatable the characters are.
Refugee by Alan Gratz Tracy: Three stories of refugees—separated by time, place, and culture—are skillfully interwoven in this breathless tale of suspense. Each of the stories is powerful and compelling on its own, but the combined tale of parallel adventures, tragedies, and triumphs is absolutely stunning. Gratz does a masterful job of bringing the experiences of refugees to life, across generations and across continents, in a way that is heartbreakingly real but ultimately inspiring.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore Tracy says:This is a novel that doesn’t shy away from complexities or fun, diverse characters, and the book is all the richer for it. Lolly’s anger and sadness as he tries to move past his brother’s death are stunningly real, and I was riveted by the poetic detail and vibrant characters that bring Lolly’s Harlem neighborhood to life. An engrossing story about grief, imagination, choices, and finding hope in the face of hostile circumstances.
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Tracy says: This is a nuanced, thoroughly enjoyable WWII-era fiction filled with wonderful characters and plenty of heart. The writing is so fluid and brimming with Ada’s personality, I felt like her troubles and emotions were my own. It’s a very quiet, character-driven story, and yet there is so much that happens, not to mention all of the inner struggles happening beneath Ada’s brave, determined surface. This is a sequel to The War That Saved My Life, but it didn’t even matter that I haven’t read the first book—though I certainly intend to do so now!
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate Tracy says: This book has a wonderful message about kindness, community, environmentalism, and speaking up in the face of injustice. Applegate has a way of infusing magic into the ordinary, and this quiet little book provides a near-perfect balance of humor and thoughtfulness.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby Heather says: Smart, funny, and overflowing with personality. The world is a fascinating, steampunk-flavored miracle of imagination. Stephanie says: I loved this adventure! This mystery/fantasy kept me captivated as I fell in love with Tess, Theo, and Jaime. Supported with facts, Ruby’s book will have you wanting to move to New York City!
Don’t Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True Stories by Anna Claybourne Tracy says: From vampire bats to haunted islands to alien species, this fascinating collection of facts and stories has something for everyone. And if the spine-tingling tales aren’t enough on their own, the full-color spreads, astounding photographs, and interactive quizzes make this a surefire winner for anyone interested in the paranormal, the creepy, or the unusual.
I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups by Chris Harris Tracy says: These poems are so fun, and the illustrations and playful asides are the perfect complement! I loved every bit of this wonderfully wacky compilation. I guess you can add me to the “immature grown-ups” list!
Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure Brandy says: This is a really great read. I was worried it would be way too factual and therefore boring, but I was wrong. I was worried about the science in this book being over my head and a turn off. Instead, I got a page-turning read and a better understanding of some of the science of Harry Potter. Also, 100% recommend the audiobook.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley & Marjory Wentworth Heather says: Stunning artwork in colors that speak as loud as the poems themselves. Some so beautiful they take your breath away. A short read; you could easily spend an entire day, soaking in the beauty of the words Marianne says: The Newbery Award-winning author has paid tribute to famous poets by adopting their style. This is an interesting and educational book (I had to harken back to my middle school English classes when we studied poetry) which is also filled with lovely artwork. My number one favorite on the list.
Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden Marianne says: For the category “People Marianne didn’t learn about in school.” Short and interesting biographies of fascinating people with big, bold dreams. I loved these history lessons!
Real Friends by Shannon Hale Tracy says: Achingly real and slyly funny, this graphic memoir from a beloved author provides an honest portrait of the ups and downs of childhood friendships and sibling relationships. I was particularly intrigued by the parts about Shannon’s inner imagination—perfectly conveyed by LeUyen Pham’s vibrant illustrations—and her journey as a young writer and storyteller.
Survivor’s Club: The True Story of A Very Young Boy in Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat Brandy says: This book will pull at your heartstrings for sure. It is a great place to start if you are interested in reading an account from a survivor of the Holocaust. It is as easy of a read as it can be for a Holocaust story. I highly recommend it!