Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Librarian's Quick Picks: Middle School Edition

The PS Brothers
by Maribeth Boelts
Genre: Fiction


Sixth-graders Russell and Shawn, poor and picked on, work together scooping dog droppings to earn money for a Rottweiler puppy to protect them from bullies, but when they learn the puppy's owner is running an illegal dog-fighting ring, they are torn about how to respond.

Why you'll love it:
  • Russell and Shawn are wonderfully realistic characters with emotions that ring true.
  • The boys genuinely want to do the right thing, and they are creative and resourceful in accomplishing their goals.
  • Short chapters, plus ample suspense and humor, will keep readers turning the pages.
  • The dog-fighting operation that the boys discover doesn't appear in the book as just a topical reference; the crime is one part of a larger story. 

by Gordon Korman
Genre: Fiction


Griffin Bing is in big trouble when a Super Bowl ring disappears from his middle school's display case, replaced by Griffin's retainer, and the more he and his friends investigate, the worse his situation becomes.

Why you'll love it:
  • Clever humor permeates almost every scene, often delivered through carefully chosen details and the clash of characters' points of view. For example, Detective Sergeant Vizzini, who has visited the Bing household on several occasions to investigate Griffin, remarks on the color of the new curtains, and Savannah can't understand how animal control officials can miss the "kindness and passion" in her gigantic Doberman's "big, beautiful eyes."
  • While Gordon Korman masterfully juggles complicated plot threads laced with unexpected twists and turns, the action and meaning are always clear.
  • This fast-paced kid-pleaser is just as strong as the first two capers, Swindle and Zoobreak.

The Dead Boys
by Royce Buckingham
Genre: Thriller


Timid twelve-year-old Teddy Matthews and his mother move to a small, remote desert town in eastern Washington, where the tree next door, mutated by nuclear waste, takes its energy from children, and the friends Teddy makes turn out to be dead.

Why you'll love it:
  • The premise of a tree consuming twelve-year-old boys because it was mutated by exposure to waste from a nearby nuclear plant is unusual and creepy, yet surprisingly plausible.
  • A fast-paced and tightly constructed plot. The suspense begins immediately and builds as Teddy meets the other boys in town and can tell that something isn't quite right. 

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Historical fiction


Separated from his friend Isabel after their daring escape from slavery, fifteen-year-old Curzon serves as a free man in the Continental Army at Valley Forge until he and Isabel are thrown together again, as slaves once more.

Why you'll love it:
  • This worthy sequel, part of a planned trilogy, has a complex, engrossing plot that contains abundant action, daring, and pathos.
  • Deeply moving, with characters whose fates readers will care about and a strong overall message about the meaning of freedom and free will.
  • Whereas Isabel narrated Chains, Curzon is the storyteller in Forge, providing a new perspective. Curzon's voice feels authentic, and his account includes plenty of comic relief, despite the brutality of his life.

The Crowfield Curse
by Pat Walsh
Genre: Fantasy


In 1347, when fourteen-year-old orphan William Paynel, an impoverished servant at Crowfield Abbey, goes into the forest to gather wood and finds a magical creature caught in a trap, he discovers he has the ability to see fays and becomes embroiled in a strange mystery involving Old Magic, a bitter feud, and ancient secrets.

Why you'll love it:
  • William lives in a fantastic realm where magic and religion combine, and only some can see all that the world really holds. Pat Walsh uses this eerie setting--as much a character as any other in the book--to great effect, heightening William's sense of unease.
  • Walsh's precise, detailed writing is wholly immersive, making it easy for readers to put themselves in William's place.
  • Jacobus Bone and Shadlok are wonderfully complex antagonists, in large part because they continuously shift between being villainous and sympathetic.
  • The book's ending hints at a sequel continuing William's surprising, intriguing adventures.

by Cornelia Funke
Genre: Fantasy


For years, Jacob Reckless has been traveling into another world through a magic mirror. When his young brother Will follows him and becomes cursed, they must find a cure.

Why you'll love it:
  • Jacob's desire to save his brother Will, together with his feelings of guilt for his part in bringing about Will's curse, provide Jacob with compelling motivations.
  • The story begins in the middle of the action, filling in the backstory as necessary, making Reckless a fast and exciting read.
  • At certain points, such as Jacob's confrontation with a character called the Tailor, the story is thrillingly scary.
  • Readers will enjoy identifying the reimagined fairy tales incorporated into the novel. 

Brain Jack
by Brian Falkner
Genre: Science Fiction


In a near-future New York City, computer genius Sam Wilson manages to hack into the Telecomerica network and sets off a chain of events that have a profound effect on human activity throughout the world.

Why you'll love it:
  • Smart, likable characters fill the book with colorful, quick-witted dialogue.
  • A fascinating look into a future in which video games are the street drug of choice and a terrorist attack has wiped Las Vegas off the map.
  • Brian Falkner has a talent for bringing technology to life. He writes about hacking in terms that make it exciting, visceral, and easy to visualize.
  • Brain Jack encourages readers to think about the hidden costs of new technologies.
  • The cyber-thriller's twists and turns will keep even the least tech-savvy reader entranced. 

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton
by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
Genre: Biography


Discusses the personal life, correspondence, and other details of the life and work of American writer and designer Edith Wharton.

Why you'll love it:
  • Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge recreates the staid, hierarchical world of Edith Wharton's youth. Readers will sympathize with the stultifying expectations to which Wharton was subjected and will root for her to overcome them.
  • Wharton's curiosity and humor come across clearly, both in anecdotes told about her and through the use of quotes.
  • Edith Wharton's friends and family members are vividly portrayed. Wharton herself is shown to be a loyal and devoted friend.
  • The risks that Wharton took in order to be a writer show both reading and writing to be exciting, potentially transformative activities. 

by Brendan Halpin
Genre: Fiction


Fourteen-year-old Amanda and her best friend Lena start high school looking forward to playing on the varsity soccer team, but when Lena makes varsity and Amanda only makes junior varsity, their long friendship rapidly changes.

Why you'll love it:
  • Amanda's blended family is involved in her life in a refreshing and realistic way.
  • Effectively contrasts the coaching styles of "scary, crusty" Ms. Keezer and the tough but understanding Coach Beasley.
  • The reader feels the intensity of Amanda and Lena's friendship and experiences its painful unraveling up close, from their first awkward silence, to Lena's carelessness toward Amanda's feelings, to Amanda's confusion and anger.


ImageNations said...

A long list of books. Interesting... most I have not heard before. I promote African Literature on my blog.

raidergirl3 said...

I have loved Gordon Korman books since my 5th grade teacher read us a book written by a 14 year old - This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall, and we all fell out of our chairs laughing at Bruno and Boots antics. I've kept my Korman books and now my children enjoy his books as well.

Ms. Yingling said...

The PS Brothers is really popular in my library, and you mention a couple here that I'll have to read. Thanks!

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