MIDDLE YEARS NOVELS (ages 9-13) : Summer 2020

Some great novels came my way this summer, many written in 2020, many helping to deal with a tough topic.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate (2020)

This book is a sequel to the award-winning The One and Only Ivan. I welcome any new Applegate and enjoyed reading about the feisty, independent dog, Bob, that we first met in the original story. The book is divided into three parts, where we learn i. about Bob’s life of being a pet, ii. a reunion with Ivan, a silverback gorilla and Ruby, a yound elephant, and iii. the search for his long lost sister. The central part provides the most adventure when a hurricane hits and Bob is involved with the rescue of sanctuary animals. The format (paragraphs are usually only two or three sentences) makes for a breezy read. T Perhaps Applegate was a dog in her previous life. She sure captures the voice , and knows the thoughts, feelings, and dreams of this canine.

STAND ON THE SKY by Erin Bow (2020)

The setting is Mongolia. The characters come from the nomadic Kazakh.  After her brother is injured, Aisulu embarks on the challenge of training an orphaned baby eagle for the annual Eagle Hunt competition. Kudos to Erin Bow who did her research by going live with Mongolian families and investigated encyclopedic information about eagles to help tell her story. Kudos to Erin Bow for presenting some thrilling scenes where characters swiftly ride on open plains, where families come together to care for an animal and each other and where  men – and one young girl – compete in a game where eagles soreThis book is a Governor General Award winner.

WE DREAM OF SPACE by Erin Entrada Kelly (2020)

Time: January 1986. Three central sibling characters CASH (repeating grade 7); FITCH (obsessed with going to the video arcade); BIRD (dreams of becoming NASA’s fist female shuttle commander) A Mom and Dad who always argue. Newbery Award Winner Erin Entrada Kelly writes good books (Hello Universe, You Go First, Lalani and the Distant Sea).  In her newest novel, she tells the storie and describes the frustrations of three sibling characters who are trying to find a place of belonging  in this big wide world. Important plot events emerge in  science classes where a caring teacher attempts to teach her students of the importance of space travel. The launching of the Challenger (January 28, 1986) is central to this novel.

RICK by Alex Gino (2020)

Just as the author successfully brought attention to the issue of gender indentity in the novel about a transgender young girl (George), they bring forth thoughts about tweenagers who might be questioning their own sexual  in this engaging title. Seventh-grader, Rick, isn’t sure if he likes girls or boys and considers that he may be asexual.  He decides to join the Rainbow Spectrum club in his middle school where kids of many genders and identities congregate. Rick hopes this club will bring him some answers and some new friendships, particularly since he is challenged with his friendship with Jeff known to be a bully and homophobic. A sub-plot involves a warm relationship with his grandfather where Rick learns more about keeping secrets. Gino expertly conveys not only the language of LGBTQIAP+ identities but provides insight and support through fictional characters that middle school readers can identify with, as they come to question their own sexuality as they approach adolescenthood.


Four cousins – The Mighty Muskrats – come from their rez life to experience life in the big city.  They plan to have fun at the Exhibition, to attend a rock concert (hopefully) and most of all, find some answers about the disappearnce of Grandpa’s missing sister who was ‘scooped up’ by the government and adopted out to strangers. Adventures include a visit to a mall, a pool-playing event, bullying harassment, volunteering at a street fair. Research takes the team to government agencies, including the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, where the Might Muskrats hope to unravel truths and answers about the residential schools and the fate of their missing auntie. This is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve encountered recently to help illuminate the history of Residential Schools. Through a mystery story that involves an investigation of facts, readers can learn about the history and impact of Residential schools on Indigenous cultures. This title is the second book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series by Michael Hutchinson who is a citizen of the Misipawaistik Cree Nation in the Treaty 5 territory north of Winnipeg. The Case of Windy Lake is the first title in the series.

INVISIBLE EMMIE by Terri Libenson (Emmie & Friends Series)

Libenson must be living inside the locker of a middle school because her observations and insights into the life of grade 7 and 8 students are  right on! (and funny).  Emmie’s modus operandi is to remain a rather  silent invisible participants the tweens around her carry on with school tasks, friendships and even infatuations.  When an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands, Emmie is humiliated and wants to hide even more.  But finding out who her true friends are gives her strength and by days end (spoiler alert) she comes out of her shell and changes for the better. Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid series,  Libenson’s books are heavily illustrated with cartoons and graphic pages and understandably have a wide appeal since young tweens can , identify with and learn from these true-to-life characters.  This title is the first in a popular series: Positively Izzy, Just Jaime, Becoming Brianna.

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee (ages 11- 13)

7th grader, Shayla (Shay0 gets itchy pals whenever trouble approaches.  Life in Junior High is abound with trials and tribulations: boy trouble, friendship trouble, following school rules trouble and track competing trouble.  But bigger trouble is happening in the city when the a white policeman is declared innocent after shooting a black person. A powerful protest that Shay and her family participates in has the young teenager her own Black identity./ To support the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla starts wearing an armband which means more itchy palms.  This is a book that will inspire readers to look at the world outside and inside themselves and as they strive stand up for what they believe in.

CLEAN GETAWAY by Nic Stone (2020)

Clean Getaway is a road trip story.  G’ma is white and she invites her black 11-year-old grandson, William “Scoob” (known as Scoob-a-doob to his grandmother) to join her on an impromptu trip in an RV.  The journey takes them to the southern states where the story of grandma’s past is slowly unravelled.  Along the way, G’ma has a chance to inform her grandson about historical injustices to black heroes (e..g Emmett Till,  Ruby Bridges). The author is best known for her YA novels (Dear Martin, Odd One Out)  and with this first novel middle -grade reader, illustrated by Dawaud Anyabwilean, she tells a story that is sure to appeal to 9-12 year olds. It is already a top ten title on the New York Times booklist.

CLICK: One Novel Ten Authors (various authors) (ten stories)

The stories in this book were written by various British, American and Canadian authors (e.g. Eoin Colfer, Deborah Ellis, Gregory Maguire, Linda Sue Park, Tim  Wynne-Jones.  The link to these stories is the character of George “Gee” Keane, a famous photojournalist who has travelled the world taking pictures of people at work, at war, in sports and at play.  The first story by Linda Sue Park launches the narrative when we learn that, upon his death, Gee leaves his grandson some photographs and his granddaughter a box with seven shells. How the camera and the shells and the photographs are connected is the premise of this book written in 2007.  As to be expected, I liked some stories better than others and sometimes felt the link between the stories was a bit of a stretch.



GHOST BOYS  by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]


A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven. I’ve just finished reading this book for the second time and I highly recommend it as a title that that empowers readers to make the world better and to prompt “meaningful change for all youth.” (page 208)