Middle Grade New Releases, October 8, 2019

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY to these middle grade books making their rounds through our reviewers!

Thank you to @kidlitexchange for providing the review copies of these books. All opinions are our own.

img_8915HAZEL’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION – by Lisa Jenn Bigelow @lisajennbigelow
October 8th 2019 ~ HarperCollins

Photo and Review by Shan ~ originally on Instagram @shansalterwrites

From the author of DRUM ROLL, PLEASE comes this quiet, character-driven, middle-grade novel overflowing with heart and raw emotion. Introverted eighth-grader, Hazel, lives a peaceful life on a goat farm with her animal books, two moms, and her older brother. Her life takes an unwelcome turn when the school districts are redrawn and she finds herself in a new school without her best (and only) friend. On top of which, one of her moms becomes pregnant after two past miscarriages – a prospect which terrifies Hazel.

As the story unfolds, our heroine struggles internally and even experiments with ‘hiberbating’ her emotions in order to protect herself from the perceived threats of heartache in her life. Luckily, two new friends (a kind transgender girl and an outspoken wheelchair-bound boy) weave their way in at just the right moment: providing Hazel with some much needed humor, distraction, and kinship.

Hazel is the worrier in all of us and reader’s are sure to fall in love with her from the moment she discusses the importance of earthworms in Human Development class. Her journey of inner growth and self discovery is both empowering and believable. The handling of sensitive topics such as infant loss, sexuality, identity, and disability are expertly handled thanks to the first-person narration and Bigelow’s mastery of character-driven story telling. This book is not to be missed!

THE CLASS – by Frances O’Roark Dowell @francesdowellbooksimg_8918
October 8th 2019 ~ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Photo and review by Allison ~ originally on Instagram @howifeelaboutbooks

The Class is told by twenty different characters, all classmates in Mrs. Herrera’s class. Ellie is an aspiring author who needs an idea for her next book, so she starts taking notes about her classmates. She sees a student who used to be a goody-goody starting to turn bad. She sees boys labeled as “jocks” showing more depth and emotion than she would have expected. She watches everyone to see how they interact and what their relationships are like, because Ellie is struggling to find friends herself. When some of Mrs. Herrera’s special things go missing, all of the students have their suspicions of who took what, but all these students also have their own reasons why they might be the thief.

Because of the unique way of storytelling, the reader doesn’t get any foreshadowing, and can’t put all the pieces of the mystery together until the book is finished. Each character has a distinct voice that will make the reader think of students in their own classes – I know it did for me! I can’t stress the positivity of this enough – it makes you see things from other people’s points of view, including how and why they act the way they do. I think this is so important in building empathy, especially in a school setting when it’s so easy to dismiss others as “weird”, “loud”, “good”, or “bad”. I’m going to recommend this as a book club pick for the 6th and 7th graders at my school – or maybe even share as a group read-aloud. It’s very powerful and important, while still being an enjoyable book kids of all ages will want to read.

img_8919BANJO – by Graham Salisbury @grahamsalisbury
October 8th 2019 ~ Wendy Lamb Books

Photo and Review by Abbie ~ originally on Instagram @ms_d_reads

I live and work in the West. A lot of my students actually are interested in rodeo, their families participate in rodeo, or they’ve been to a rodeo. I already know this book will do well in our library!

Our protagonist in Banjo is a rising rodeo star who lives on a ranch in Oregon. He has a brother, a father, and a mother who left their family a long time ago. His family works hard for what they have, and they take pride in this.

Salisbury does a wonderful job creating a setting for young readers, from the smells, tastes, and different animals Danny encounters on his property. Danny’s relationship with his dog Banjo is well drawn, and when he has to separate from his dog due to unfortunate, very ranching specific circumstances, it’s heartbreaking. Young readers will empathize with Danny as he grapples with losing his dog, and what must come next. There is a very tidy ending with a blossoming, possibly more-than-friendship with a horse whispering girl who lives in the next town over. Additionally, Danny learns some hard lessons about truth, bravery, and standing up for himself. All important lessons for middle and upper elementary readers.

Will it circulate? You betcha. Kids gravitate toward books with animals on the cover, especially cute dogs. The fact that Salisbury writes another popular series, Calvin Coconut, that my younger students read, will help with promoting this one.

 THE STORY THAT CANNOT BE TOLD – by J. Kasper Kramer @jkasperkramerimg_8920
October 8th 2019 ~ Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Photo and Review by Kate ~ originally on Instagram  @kateteaching7and8

This is a beautifully written story that weaves together Romanian folklore and history. It tells the story of a young girl, Ileana, who is growing up in Bucharest during the Communist regime. Her father is a professor, her uncle is a poet, and Ileana is a storyteller. Ileana and her parents are not fans of the leader and one day Ileana tells her father a story that she cannot take back. When the family discovers their house is bugged and fears that the secret police will come for Ileana, they send her off to the mountains to live with her mother’s estranged parents. While in the mountains, Ileana’s story restarts and she begins to learn more about her family, country, and self. In the small mountain village, Ileana discovers her courage and voice.

This was an incredibly captivating story that had me from page one. I loved the way folklore was interwoven with history. It was masterful how Kramer managed to weave together so many stories. You have Ileana’s story line, her mother’s, Constanta’s, and then the folktales. These were all seamlessly woven together to create a cohesive story that conveyed a strong message about finding your voice and standing up for what you believe in. This is an interesting historical fiction book in that it isn’t told in the traditional manner. Additionally, it is about a time period and place that many of my students are unfamiliar with, which will offer them so much more to learn about. I enjoyed this book so much that I was able to finish it in two days. The Story That Cannot Be Told is definitely a story that needs to be told and needs to be shared. I can’t wait to share it with my students.

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