I mentioned yesterday, many people associate middle grade books with
magic and fantasy, and indeed some our favorite books fall into this
category (think: Narnia and the early Harry Potter books). But the world
of make-believe for young readers is much broader than just wizards'
wands and talking creatures.
Although today's roundup starts with magical worlds it moves on to alternate history, mystery, and horror. Hold on to your pointy hat, and get ready for adventure, curses, and escape into new worlds.
Fantasy & Magic
- A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder is about two sets of sisters—water sprites and humans—who are as close as sisters can be. When circumstances threaten to separate the pairs of siblings forever, will the girls find a way to help each other? Major themes: sisters, family, magic, legends, and environmental issues. [Atheneum, September]
- The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shauhnessy is about what happens when 11-year-old Pru and her new friend Abe are selected by the Fantasy Investigation Bureau to help figure out why Viking gods are infiltrating their town and stealing from the museum. This magical adventure takes the pair on a clue-solving mission full of danger and excitement. Major themes: friendship, Viking mythology, trust, truth, and magic. [Algonquin Books for Young Readers, September]
- The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet is the story of how 12-year-old Linny leaves her rural home to seek a way to reverse an inadvertent curse placed on her best friend. If she and her travel companions can survive the many dangers of their action-packed journey to the city, they may in fact save not just one girl but the whole world. Major themes: the merging of magic and science, friendship, and fate. [HarperCollins, November]
- Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu reveals how 11-year-old Silly and her sisters cope with their mother's alcoholism: They've discovered portals into magical lands that, at first, offer peace and safety. But when one of the girls is trapped in the other world, the sisters realize they must find the magic in everyday life in order to bring her back. Major themes: sisters, alcoholism, parental meanness, and magical realism. Audience: older MG readers. [Katherine Tegen Books, September]
- The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon is an exquisitely illustrated alternate-history story about 11-year-old Archer, who longs to go on an adventure, despite the fact that his practical mother rarely lets him out of the house. But when Archer learns his grandparents may be stranded on an iceberg, he recruits his friends to help plan a rescue mission to Antarctica. Major themes: following one's dreams, finding compromise, friendship, and family. [Greenwillow, September]
- My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson is written in diary form and set in an alternative world in which mythical beasts and magic exist alongside the modern technology. When a dark cloud comes to take Gracie's younger, sickly brother away, the family sets off on a desperate road trip to find the fabled land with no magic, hoping to save Sam from an early death. Major themes: family, sibling relationships, helping others, and destiny. [Aladdin, November]
- Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage is an action-packed steampunk adventure set in a land that forbids invention. When young Trenton and Kallista discover clues to a new machine, they cannot resist secretly trying to build it, little knowing that the finished project will unveil deep truths about their world. Major themes: friendship, creativity, oppressive government, and young love. [Shadow Mountain, September]
- Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver and H. C. Chester takes us to 1930s New York City and a museum of oddities, which is also home to four specially gifted children who form their own kind of family. When paying customers start dying, the museum owner is accused of murder, leaving the kids to solve the mystery or be out on the streets. Major themes: family, loyalty, friendship, and being different. [HarperCollins, September]
- A Pocket Full of Murder by R. J. Anderson is set in a world in which the rich have powerful magic, but the poor have only common magic. When Vettie's father is accused of murdering a university official, can she—with the help of her sisters and a street urchin—find the true killer? Major themes: socioeconomic divide, religious differences, friendship, sisters, and finding one's talents. [Atheneum, September]
- The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands is a clever, multilayered mystery set in London in the 1660s. Young Christopher finally got some luck when he was taken from the orphanage to be apprenticed to a kindly master apothecary. But when his mentor falls victim to a serial killer, can Christopher work out the complex puzzle that will reveal the murderer and save his own future? Major themes: friendship, crafts guilds, politics, and cults. [Aladdin, September]
- Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith is a Southern Gothic story
about a boy named Hoodoo who dreams of being a conjurer, though he can't
seem to cast a single spell. He does, however, have crazy vivid dreams,
which get more intense after a stranger comes to town. Can Hoodoo keep
the stranger from harming his loved ones? Major themes: family, folk
beliefs, and the Jim Crow South. [Clarion Books, September]
- The Nest by Kenneth Oppel tells the creepy tale of how young Steve gets entangled with a mysterious winged being who claims to be able to help his deathly ill baby brother. The tension builds in this psychological thriller as Steve must figure out whom to trust and find the strength to overcome evil. Stark black-and-white drawings add to the mood. Major themes: family, good vs. evil, and manipulation. [Simon & Schuster, October]