Friday, January 10, 2014

BEST OF 2013: Middle Grade/Tween Books

From gut-busting humor to historical adventures to captivating fantasies, middle-grade authors had a lot to offer readers in 2013. My personal favorite so far? I think I'll have to go with either Counting by 7s or Better Nate Than Ever for their strong narrative voices and unique character perspectives. I also LOVED Look Up!, although I have no interest in birdwatching. Or at least I didn't until recently...

Of course, I might give you an entirely different list of favorites if you ask me tomorrow ;) Each of the books listed below appealed to me for different reasons. (Also, I am still reading From Norvelt to Nowhere, the sequel to Jack Gantos's darkly comic, Newbery winning Dead End in Norvelt... Plus there may be another wonderful title I've yet to discover. But don't worry; I will update this list to add any deserving titles I may have missed this time around.)

So, without further ado, my favorite middle-grade titles of 2013 (that I've read so far!) are:


Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
In this hilarious romp full of Broadway references and misadventures, an eighth grader (with the encouragement of his best friend Libby) concocts a plan to run away to New York and audition for a new musical adaptation of E.T. Nate's inner monologue and offbeat personality are laugh-out-loud funny, but the story also dexterously addresses deeper issues, such as bullying, disappointment, family, religion and sexuality. However, all of this is handled with a light touch, so that Nate is allowed to shine all on his own, without judgment or labels. Ages 9–13.

Bluffton by Matt Phelan (graphic novel)
In 1908, when a troupe of vaudevillians turn up for the summer in his sleepy Michigan town, young Henry is fascinated—particularly by a young prankster named Buster Keaton. Ages 9–13.
Read Tracy's Review

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance is not your usual twelve-year-old. She's fascinated by medical ailments, is an avid gardener, and counts by sevens for fun.Most people think she's strange, but at least she’s always had the support of her parents… until everything changes. Luckily, an odd assortment of characters—including her sad-sack school counselor and a Vietnamese family living below the poverty level—are there to help her. In turn, Willow changes their lives as well. This transformative story about loss, community, and resilience is both heartwarming and surprisingly funny. Ages 10–14.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
An eerie ghost story combines with a tale of friendship, adventure, and growing up in this wonderfully imaginative book from the co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles Ages 10–14.

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
This story about a comic-reading cynic; a poetry-writing, superhero squirrel; and a temporarily blind boy all begins with an out-of-control vacuum cleaner. It’s a smart and sensitive tale of friendship and forgiveness, but there are plenty of laughs and adventures along the way. Ages 8–12.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
In this sequel to The Hero's Guide to saving Your Kingdom, the League of Princes (and their princesses) reunite for a new adventure in bumbling heroism. Perfect for lovers of humor and fairy tales of all ages. Ages 8 and up.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood
When he is abandoned in the deep, dark forest by his stepfather, Jinx is adopted (sort of) by a mysterious wizard who may or may not be evil. But as he grows up to learn more about the magic and the world outside of the Urwald, Jinx begins to see that life and magic are more complicated–and more dangerous!– than he thought. First of a new trilogy. Ages 9–13.

Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool
Reality and imagination overlap in expected ways in this epic, Odyssey-like quest wherein two young teens track a bear in the wilds of Maine. Both boys have suffered recent losses, but through strange encounters with pirates (sort of), hurricanes (sort of), and buried secrets discovered along the Appalachian Trail, they come to a new understanding of one another, themselves, and the people they love. Ages 10–14.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Every four years, two children—one nice child and one nasty child—are spirited away from Gavaldon by the mysterious School Master to be trained as heroes and villains, eventually graduating into fairy tales of their own. But when princess wannabe Sophie and her witchy, loner friend Agatha are selected, the girls find that their presumed destines are flipped and the school is far more dangerous than they anticipated. Ages 8–13.
Read Tracy's Review

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Twelve-year-old Summer nearly died from malaria last year, her weird younger brother can’t make any friends, and just when things can’t get any worse, her parents have been called to Japan to take care of dying relatives. Which just leaves Summer, her brother, and her aging grandparents to do the family’s annual harvest work and earn enough money to make the mortgage. As they travel with the harvesting crew, Summer goes on her own journey of self-discovery, examining her feelings about life, death, her family, and who she truly is. Ages 10–14.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Tall tale meets ecological fable in this folksy romp full of humor and heart.When he learns their landlord plans to evict his mother and destroy his beloved swamp to build a alligator-wrestling theme park, twelve-year-old Chap is determined to save Paradise Pies CafĂ©. Meanwhile, Bingo and J’miah, two raccoon brothers guarding the swamp, must locate the ancient, sleeping Sugar Man to stop a rampaging horde of feral hogs headed their way. Ages 8–12.


Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone*
Through fascinating photos and engaging, conversational text, Stone introduces readers to the history and character of the United States's first black paratrooper unit. Ages 10 and up.

Emancipation Proclamation by Tonya Bolden
This browsable commemorative title has the look of a scrapbook, with facsimiles of numerous period documents, drawings, and photos. Together with the accessible text—with its passionate, personal tone—this book offers a dramatic and informative portrait of abolitionism and the nation leading up to the Civil War. Ages 10 and up.

Look Up! by Annette LeBlanc Cate*
This chatty, humorous beginner's guide to birdwatching uses hilarious, tongue-in-cheek cartoons to build enthusiasm and explain to readers how they can begin in their own backyards. Simply wonderful, from the 'Bird Watching Do's...and Don't's" on the front endpapers to the very end.

*Please note that some titles are still on order and are not yet available for checkout at BCPL.


Kimi Barra said...

I've been looking great preteen books for my younger sister. Thanks for this! :)

Tracy said...

You're welcome, Kimi! I hope your sister enjoys :)

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