From golems to pirate kings, dragons to wilderness quests, these action-oriented middle-grade novels featuring strong boy protagonists are packed with magic, intrigue, and page-turning plot twists.
Sammy is a victim of bullying in Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple’s B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy). Things improve when he starts a band with a new student named Skink. But when Skink is beaten by the same bullies, Sammy creates a golem bodyguard so lifelike that it attends school and plays the drums. Though utterly far-fetched, this likable tale has a laudable message about friendship and fighting your own battles. (8–13 years, Dutton)
An attempted assassination leads new king Jaron’s advisors to consider regency until he comes of age in Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Runaway King. Forced into hiding, Jaron crosses enemy lines, challenges a pirate king, emerges victorious, and confronts his feelings about a girl. This solid middle volume of the Ascendance Trilogy has its own arc, but still ends with the cliffhanger, a villain on the loose, and a potential love triangle. (8–13 years, Scholastic)
In Patrick Matthews’s Dragon Run, dragons have nearly unlimited power. When human twelve-year-olds are tested to earn the dragon-mandated rank that determines their position in society, Al receives a shameful score of zero. On the run, he finds help from a mysterious society that plans to loosen the dragons’ stranglehold on humanity. Colorful characters and a snowballing plot propel this tale to a whiz-bang conclusion. (11–13 years, Scholastic)
As outsiders in their mid-1940s Maine prep school, Jack and Early are each mourning someone: Jack, his mother; Early, his older brother. Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early is as observant as her Newbery–winning debut, Moon over Manifest; however this book has a stronger trajectory, developed by the classic quest structure that emerges when Vanderpool sends the boys into the wilderness on a search that changes both of their lives. (8–13 years, Delacorte)
From the March 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.