October was a middle grade month for me – don’t ask me how but I was able to finish five titles over the past 31 days! Many established authors released new chapter books this fall for grades 3-6 (approximately). The books listed below have compelling characters and language that captures the power of storytelling.
Check out what I read during October in the list below and at any Heights Libraries.
The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Mason Buttle is deliberate, takes things slowly and literally, he’s bigger than any other kid in his grade, and he sweats A LOT. He has trouble reading and writing (probably due to dyslexia but it’s not directly named) and is in mourning. The previous school year his best friend, Benny, died in an accident at their tree fort. Mason and Benny had built the fort together and it’s still unclear what exactly happened the day Benny died. The local sheriff wants Mason to write down everything he knows about the day of the accident and events leading up to it, something that’s just not possible for a kid like Mason. Instead Mason is encouraged to work through his grief and tell his story using a new technology in the school’s social worker’s office, he can record his words into a computer program that then transcribes it for printing. At school in the office Mason makes a new friend, small, smart, Calvin. Mason and Calvin quickly become inseparable working at Mason’s orchard and creating a new kind of fort, a safe space just for the two of them. A haven from the bullies is needed. The two are often chased home by three other boys hurling apples and lacrosse balls. When Calvin suddenly goes missing after one such afternoon the town, sheriff, and Mason are panicked. Could Mason lose another friend? Can he figure out what happened to Benny and Calvin? Many characters are introduced by Connor but each feels whole and complete. There is a friendly, neighborhood dog, the clumsy, kind social worker, the annoying, shop-a-holic living in his old bedroom (a random his uncle brought home), his grandma and uncle, and the orchard itself. Each is written with care and consideration making a moving story with Mason at it’s core.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Readers were first introduced to Louisiana Elefante and her kooky Granny in 2016’s Raymie Nightingale. Here we meet the two (Louisiana and Granny) fleeing Florida in the middle of the night so that Granny can reckon with her family curse. As one might predict, hijinks ensue. They run out of gas, Louisiana must drive the car (after they fill the tank), Granny loses all of her teeth at an emergency visit to the dentist, Louisiana makes friends with a boy, his crow, and is finally abandoned at the Good Night, Sleep Tight motel while Granny continues on alone. Not before, however, she reveals important secrets about Louisiana’s past. It sounds like a lot happens in this book and there are quite a few memorable events but the characterizations are what will stick with me the most. Louisiana is winsome and a little world-weary for a young girl. She has many questions about her place, her identity and family, and is clearly longing for stability. Questions most people can relate to. Most importantly, the story never feels hopeless. In fact, although Louisiana may have left her home at the beginning of the story, by the end it feels like she ends up where she’s meant to be. DiCamillo is a superb writer and at only 240 pages this book really impressed me with the amount of emotion and charm conveyed on every page. Readers can expect funny moments and sad moments, anger and forgiveness, uncertainty and also certainty, much like what one can expect from life.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
Candice Parker is spending the summer in small town Lambert where her grandmother used to live. It’s a summer of transition for Candice. Her parents are finalizing their divorce after being separated for years, their home in Atlanta is for sale, and her mother is trying to meet three writing deadlines to bring in extra money. They head to Lambert, a town filled with secrets and family history, for a break from their routine. Candice and neighbor turned new friend Brandon discover an old letter to Candice’s grandmother claiming their is a fortune hidden in Lambert and one only needs to follow the clues and uncover the past to find the money. Candice’s grandmother, the first black city manager of Lambert, was promptly fired after she tore up the park’s tennis courts without permission looking for the hidden treasure. Candice and Brandon decide to take up where her grandmother left off, possibly clearing her name and helping the town in the process. What they don’t expect to uncover is a story from the 1950s of a black family run out of town and a young tennis star gone without a trace. The chapters go back and forth between the past and present deliberately showing the connections between historical racism, injustices and contemporary times. Johnson does a wonderful job of showing how complicated our history is and introduces topics such as racism, colorism, segregation/integration, passing, LGBTQ identities, gender roles, and more in a way that is accessible and age appropriate. All of that wrapped up in a fun, fast-paced, puzzley, treasure hunt creates an in-depth, eye opening reading experience with two thoughtful, well-developed characters at the helm.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
Merci Suárez is a charming 6th grader dealing with school and family issues. She is raised by a close-knit family, so close they are all next door neighbors, in Miami. Her Abuela and Lolo and her Tía and young cousins live on either side of her parent’s home. The family dynamics make for laugh out loud moments. The main rule the Suárez family lives by is honesty. There are no secrets allowed. As a new year starts, Merci knows that 6th grade will bring changes, but she’s not necessarily ready for all of the changes. She’s forced to participate in a buddy program to welcome new students but is paired with a boy (gasp)! Bossy, frenemy Edna Santos is constantly competing with her. She can’t try out for the soccer team because she has to babysit her cousins. And the biggest changes of all are the ones she sees in Lolo, who is forgetting things, falling, misplacing his glasses. Merci handles every challenge in a believable 6th grade way, which is to say she makes mistakes but tries to do the right thing or at least learn. She is smart, independent and her family is warm, supportive, and understandably frustrating. Throughout the book she grows as a character, she makes friends and makes apologies, deals with disappointments and happy surprises. A fantastic read with a diverse, caring family and an endearing protagonist.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
It’s amazing how Woodson can create 6 well-drawn characters in under 200 pages. Six students (5th or 6th grade) are placed in a special, experimental class separate from the rest of their grade due to their special learning needs. This is not the focus of the story it’s more about how they come to support and care for one another. A compassionate, understanding teacher sets aside one hour every Friday for the group to talk alone with each other, no teachers, no interruptions, just a time to talk and connect. As each Friday passes and they gather in the ARTT (a-room-to-talk) we learn more about the students, best friends Haley and Holly, Estaban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago. Haley begins to record the group and readers learn about the character’s different struggles, home life, etc. through snippets of recordings or their interactions with Haley. It’s a quick read that is full of heart and empathy on timely topics such as immigration, race, and the prison system. My favorite lines are presented by the teacher, Ms. Laverne, and which, I think, show Woodson’s main message, “everyday we should ask ourselves, ‘if the worst thing in the world happened, would I help protect someone else? Would I let myself be a harbor for someone who needs it?’ Then she said, ‘I want each of you to say to the other: I will harbor you,'” (page 34). It’s a story that lets kids know they are not alone and that everyday they can act as a harbor and/or seek out a harbor.
Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin
Knights vs Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan
Lu by Jason Reynolds
Front Desk by Kelly Yang