Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley; illustrated by Jillian TamakiFiction. Gertie Reece Foy is "one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome," and she's ready to prove it. Sure, her mom walked out and moved to the other side of their Alabama town when Gertie was a baby, but that's all the more reason to show her what a great daughter she's missing. Gertie's progress toward becoming the greatest fifth-grader in the universe, however, is thwarted at every step by the rich new girl in class, Mary Sue Spivey. Even when her never-quit attitude lands her in trouble, you'll be rooting for Gertie in this slice-of-life story featuring spirited artwork by award-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki.
Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel by Chris Grabenstein; illustrated by Brooke AllenMystery. Like his grandpa Walt, 11-year-old P.T. Wilkie is a born showman. It's a good thing, too, because with the loan coming due on the Wonderland – the old Florida motel where the Wilkies work and live -- P.T. will need every ounce of his outsized confidence. Combining his smooth talking with his friend Gloria's business savvy, P.T. launches several desperate schemes to save the motel, stirring up a local mystery along the way. If you like this series opener about an optimistic Florida kid hustling to keep his family afloat, you may also want to try Jennifer L. Holm's Full of Beans.
Garvey's Choice by Nikki GrimesNovel in Verse. Why do so many people seem to want Garvey to be someone he's not? Kids at school tease him for being fat, and his family (especially his dad) is disappointed that Garvey isn't athletic like his sister. Only his friend Joe understands that Garvey prefers science fiction and music to sports -- and it's through music that he's finally able to find new friends and chance to share who he really is. Written in short yet powerful tanka poems, Garvey's Choice is a sensitive, honest read that's just right for fans of Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon Creech, and Kwame Alexander.
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace LinFantasy. Pinmei doesn't really have a choice: the Tiger Emperor has kidnapped Amah, her beloved, storytelling grandmother, and the only way to rescue her is to find the legendary Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Aided by her friend Yishan, Pinmei sets out in search of the Stone and plunges into a captivating world of Chinese folktales come to life. Although you can read this vivid, poetic adventure on its own, readers of Grace Lin's earlier books (When the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky) will relish finding the threads that bind all three books into one sweeping, satisfying saga.
Isabella for Real by Margie Palatini; illustrated by LeUyen PhamFiction. Everyone at her expensive private school believes that 11-year-old Isabella Antonelli comes from royalty, and she's never bothered to correct them. She'd totally forgotten about her cousin Vincent's video project about her real family, a loud, eccentric, definitely-not-royal clan of Italian Americans. When Vincent's videos go viral, however, Isabella is left scrambling to hide the truth from her upper-crust friends. Told through a page-turning combination of words and comics, Isabella's tale of accidental internet fame, middle school embarrassment, and quirky family mishaps will ring true for anyone who's ever struggled to fit in.
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali BenjaminFiction. Suzy Swanson doesn't talk. You don't need to talk to learn about jellyfish, and ever since last summer, when her former best friend Franny drowned at the beach, Suzy has been obsessed with the dangerous sea creatures. Convinced that Franny must have been stung by the rare Irukandji jellyfish, Suzy throws herself into the scientific method, letting its soothing, logical steps guide her (and readers along with her) toward the truth…no matter how painful or complicated it might be. For another heart-twisting story about the search for answers after a friend's death, try Elana K. Arnold's The Question of Miracles.
Paper Things by Jennifer JacobsonFiction. Eleven-year-old orphan Arianna knows that she's too old to play with paper dolls. Still, she finds comfort in her beloved paper "family," because the only relative she's got left is Gage, her 19-year-old brother. But Gage doesn't have a job or an apartment, which means that he and Ari are constantly couch surfing or sneaking into shelters. As the stress of hiding their situation begins to strain her friendships and her schoolwork, Ari is forced to consider how much she's willing to lose to stay loyal to her brother. Those who enjoy this bittersweet story about family homelessness may also appreciate Katherine Applegate's Crenshaw.
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia KadohataFiction. Luck has been in short supply for Summer and her Japanese American family. Usually they spend harvest season traveling the American Midwest, harvesting wheat to earn money. But with her parents suddenly called away to Japan, Summer and her brother Jaz have to spend harvest season with their old-fashioned grandparents instead. Jiichan and Obaachan may be caring (and sometimes even funny), but they're also frustrating, and their health isn't great -- which means that when things go wrong, it's up to Summer to make her own luck. If you love realistic yet offbeat characters, you'll definitely want to spend time with Summer and her family.
The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren MagazinerFantasy. Fed up with his terrifying fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Frabbleknacker, and irritated by his mom's rules about avoiding the local witches, Rupert Campbell defiantly decides to become a witch's apprentice. Witchling Two is a bit unusual -- she loves lollipops, has a pet sack, and stumbles through her spells -- but Rupert agrees to help her with her witch exams if she'll help him deal with the fearsome Mrs. Frabbleknacker. Similar to the stories of Louis Sachar and Roald Dahl, The Only Thing Worse Than Witches is a funny, easy-to-read brew of everyday events mixed with fantasy and over-the-top silliness.
The Book of Bad Things by Dan PoblockiHorror. Spectral dogs, creeping shadows, and bloodthirsty ghosts…suburban Whitechapel, New York, has gotten a lot weirder since city girl Cassidy's last summer visit. This summer, Cassidy is determined to get to the bottom of the strange happenings. Writing down each new horror in her notebook of "bad things," Cassidy bravely investigates, beginning with the mysterious death of old lady Ursula, whose hoard of eerie possessions seems to have supernatural qualities. Filled with action and shivery terror, The Book of Bad Things is a perfect pick for horror fans -- just don't blame us if you have to sleep with the lights on!
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