NEW MIDDLE YEARS’ BOOKS: Published in 2023

The ten titles listed below are recent purchases of fiction and nonfiction titles for middle years’ readers.  These titles were published in 2023 (except for 1).


FREEWATER by Amina Luqman-Dawson (2022)

Freewater is the winner of the Newbery Medal 2023. There are many fine pieces of historical fiction that deal with the plight of slavery and the escape to the North (e.g., Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat) but Luqman-Dawson has done remarkable research to tell the story of those who lived deep in the swamps, societies created by formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children. The author has presented a rich cast of characters who lived in the mythical maroon community of Freewater.  Homer and his sister have fled the Southern Plantation and are determined to be reunited with their mother who remains a slave; Sanzi is a brave freeborn citizen of Freewater who, Nora, a daughter of the plantation owner, wants to fight for justice even through the social events of her sister’s wedding. The chapter titles help to organize the different points of view of stories of enslavement.  This wouldn’t have been my choice of Newbery winner, but having said that, this adventurous debut novel is a rich contribution to stories of courage and survival of Black slaves. 

NOTE; secret communities like the ‘Freewater ‘were known as ‘maroon communities and the people who resided in them as ‘maroons’. Tbis novel tory is drawn from the history of the Great Dismal Swamp and the enslaved souls who found refuge within its confines.


THE IN-BETWEEN: A memoir in verse by Katie Van Heidrich

This is a heartfelt (and often a heartbreaking story) about a young adolescent girl who is caught in between two homes when her parent get divorced. Her mother is out of a job and strives to keep her family together and do her best for her three children. But for Katie, being forced to live in a cramped hotel room is a harsh reality. Her father, now remarried, has good intentions about caring for his children but Katie, Josh and Haley hope that he could do better. That this story is based on true incidents in the author’s life make this story particularly poignant. The free verse style and journal notes enrich this reflective stance of Katie Van Heidrich’s, memoir. Reading the author’s bio (she graduated from Brown University, was a fifth-grade teacher, and is an assistant principal today) make The In-Between a special story of perseverance, resilience and hope.




MONKEY: a 12 year old orphan who joins a caravan of traders and becomes servant to SAMIR

SAMIR: a corrupt swindler who lives on lies and dreams, a huckster trade merchant whose dealings arouse anger in every village he’s passed through

A COLLECTION OF MURDERERS (as listed in the book jacket) a Viking berserker, a Rogue legion, a Persian mystic, a Bedouin clan, A Mongolian gunner, a Chinese ablutionist and a mythic terrifying killer known as ‘Cid”

SETTING: The Silk Road which Nayeri in the Afterward describes as “the most magical place I can imagine. I have dreamed of it for most of my life.

THE PLOT: attempted assassinations on Samir and Monkey and how they survived them

I was quite eager to read this novel, since I was knocked out by Nayeri’s award-winning autobiographical book Everything Sad is Untrue: A true story. The Many Assassinations the Seller of Dreams reveals the author’s storytelling potential, but alas, the narrative didn’t grab me (and with al of Monkey’s and Samir’s adventures, and escapes from assassinations, it should have. This book is recommended for Middle Age readers and I have a bit of a problem with that. Not that there won’t be some keen readers of this age group who will be drawn to this expansive, rather exotic tale.but I think it it’s appeal is  for a narrow audience of 9-14 year olds.  I myself was wowed by the way Daniel tells a story but found alas I wasn’t as intrigued in the Silk Road adventures as I hoped to be. 



Eighth grade student, Zoe Washington is a fighter. Zoe Washington is determined to fulfill her dreams and is committed to finding ways to accomplish her goals. One character says of Zoe “You can do anything you put your mind to. You have the power to make change.”When we first met Zoe in the book From The Desk of Zoe Washington she put forth a mighty effort and succeeded to get her biological father exonerated from prison for a crime he didn’t commit. . In this sequel, Zoe dreams of becoming a baker of renowned, opening a restaurant with Marcus, of having a successful podcast (“On Air With Zoe Washington”)  to bring the struggles of the exoneree experience to light and raising $30 000 on Kickstarter fundraiser so that Marcus can open up a food truck.  Knowing that what Zoe wants, Zoe gets doesn’t make the ending of this novel a surprise. How this ‘take action’ teenager gets there is the fun of the book as readers cheer her on. 


PENGUIN DAYS by Sara Leach; illus. Rebecca Bender (chapter book/ grades 2-4)

This book is one of the titles in a series by Sara Leach (Slug Days; Duck Days) that features the endearing character of Luaren who lives with Autism Spectrum Disorder and is mostly comfortable with routines. Her social skills are sometimes lacking but she is forthright and honest even when she has trouble  understanding the jokes that people tell.   In this story, she is assigned the role of flower girl in her aunt’s wedding. A scratchy dress, meeting strange cousins and an encounter with cows add to her stress, but Lauren strives to control her anxieties and make the most of adventures that come her way.  Young readers may see themselves or come to understand the thought porcesseces and behaviour of this young girl with ASD.  This chapter book was first published in 2018 but the paperback version was released in 2023.


THIRST by Varsha Bajaj

The world of poverty in Mumbai India is at the centre of this story about a young girl named Minni who is thirsty for clean water for her family, thirsty for a good education, and thirsty for justice to thr water mafia who are stealing water from ls, pipelines and tankers and are getting away the crime by bribing authorities. Narrative events that include caring for her sick mother, working as a maid for a rich family, preparing roti properly, winning a scholarship to a computer class and following the school rules are likely to engage readers who will cheer on this heroic young teenager. 

The author writes that “a staggering 784 million people world-wide live without basic access to clean water.” With Thirst, Varsha Basha encourages readers to learn more about the water situation and equitable water distribution in India and across the globe.  



YOU ARE HERE: Connecting Flights edited by Ellen Oh (Short Stories)

In the past few years, I’ve been collecting titles that deal with Anti-Asian racism.  The Front Desk series by Kelly Yang, Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee, and the Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang are particularly noteworthy. The newly released collection of short stories by 12 Asian authors, drawing from their own experiences, is worthy of a shout out. The setting is a crowded Chicago airport, where due to weather conditions, flights have been cancelled. Each story is centred on a character, who are themselves distinctly American,  awaiting departure to visit family (mostly to their parent’s homeland). We meet a Grandma who is held up in security when she tries to bring through a can of her husband’s ashes in a tin to take to Taiwan (Pink Lady whispers loudly, “Just our luck that we’d get stuck behind these people. They slow everything down). , a boy who is challenged with bringing his electric guitar through security (“Look there’s no way he plays guitar… Maybe piano.. or like violin. But not guitar.” ) Each story ignites with an incident of racism that encourages the characters to think about their identities, their heritage and what action they would take to confront racist comments. What should these young people do when they hear such gut-wrenching comments as “Nobody can hear you through those filthy masks”; ” Why is your Mom Chinese?… No, she’s Filipino; “If dude’s family is so broke, then how’d they even get to the United States? They stow away on a ship or something?; “Go back to where you came from.”These young adolescents have been advised by parents “Don;t make a scene. Don’t bring undue attention. Don’t cause trouble.” (p. 224) but how can the world change if we don’t disrupt, or confront racism. Editor Ellen Oh does a fantastic chop of interweaving the narratives of characters  from one story emerge in other stories. Stellar. 



SUPERPOWER?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution by Elaine Kachala; illus. Belle Wuthrich

This is an engaging, informative book that provides middle years’ readers with everything they need and want to know about wearable technology a phenomenon that  in recent years has improved the lives of Canadians and  how such inventions Brain Computer Interfaces (BCs) and Virtual Reality (VR)I as have changed the way we live. The author effectively outlines ethical questions surrounding technology and the importance of responsible design. The resource also gives focus to Steve Mann, the Canadian inventor who started the field of wearable computing.  Kachala reminds us that “technology is moving faster now that at any time in history” and young readers are sure to be fascinated – and well-informed – about wearable technology that’s on, in, or attached to the body.  Some wow facts are presented under such headings as “Helping People with Disabilities”; “Skin Interfaces”; “Fashion + Tech” and “Mind-Melding”. 

This is a terrific terrific specimen of a nonfiction title. Text features include  Table of Contents, appealing chapter organization of main ideas, colourful illustrations, an abundance of photographs accompanied by brief informative text, Clear headings and Subheadings (in coloured font); a glossary, and Text Boxes (i.e., “Text Bytes” and  “Move Slow + Think Human”)

Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution is a new title in the Orca Think nonfiction series presenting issues that inspire curiosity, raise questions, and inspire action for a better future. Some titles include: Finding Home: The Journey of Immigrants and Refugees; Shelter: Homelessness in our Community and Fresh Air, Clean Water: or Right to a Healthy Environment.


 >>> SHOUT OUT <<<


Inspired by the true discovery of a two-thousand year old Windey bog body in Northern Germany, award-winning author Lois Lowry transports readers into the Iron Age World with both facts and fiction to explain the what happened – and what might have happened – in the bogs. The unique hybrid format of this book is astonishing. In sections entitled HISTORY, the author presents fascinating research that inspired her to write two short novellas. Estrild’s Story, tells of a strong character who is determined to become the first girl warrior in her village and Varick’s Story relates the story of an orphan boy with a twisted back and a sharp mind . Each section  of the book is prefaced with  vivid black and white illustrations and photographs at the back of the book provide further information about this period in time.  Especially noteworthy is Lois Lowry’s reflection on how and why she came to write this book and her metathoughts (“Part of me is a storyteller…” / “I could have selected…”/ “I had to guess at possibilities…”/”Isn’t it interesting that the word history can be wrenched apart to become ‘his story’? (or hers?)…

         There is a saying that when people die, they continue to live as long as someone remembers them. I would add: “and tells              their story.” (p. 186)

Lois Lowry has written some fantastic books (Number the Stars, The Giver) and is a two-time Newbery Medal Winner. The Windeby Puzzle is the best of the best and I vote for a third medal honour for this special author. I love this book!