Barnett, Mac and John, Jory The Terrible Two
220 pp. Abrams/Amulet 2015. ISBN 978-1-4197-1491-7 Ebook ISBN 978-1-61312-763-6
Illustrated by Kevin Cornell. Forced to leave behind his proud reputation as class prankster, Miles Murphy dreads starting over in a new town. Miles finds himself paired up with do-gooder Niles at Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy and is disappointed to discover that an impressive, anonymous prankster already attends the school. Miles must either out-prank this character…or join forces. Punchy line drawings magnify the text’s well-timed comedy and clever details.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Humorous stories; Moving, Household; Jokes; Schools; Practical jokes
Beasley, Kate Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
250 pp. Farrar 2016. ISBN 978-0-374-30261-0
Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Gertie lives with her great-aunt in coastal Alabama while her father works on an oil rig. Gertie wants to become the “greatest fifth grader in the whole…universe” in order to prove something to her absentee mother and herself. Standing in her way is the prissy new girl at school. Slice-of-life fans should enjoy the homespun humor. Personality-rich illustrations help set the scene.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Alabama; Family—Mother and daughter; Family—Father and daughter; Family—Great-aunts; Schools—Elementary schools; Self-perception
Burg, Ann E. Serafina’s Promise
298 pp. Scholastic 2013. ISBN 978-0-545-53564-9
Serafina lives in modern rural Haiti. Food is scarce, and her mother is pregnant again. Serafina longs to attend school and become a doctor like Antoinette Solaine, who tried unsuccessfully to save Serafina’s baby brother, Pierre. Woven into the spare first-person free-verse poems is the history of Haiti and Serafina’s family. Rich details of everyday life add texture to this emotional, fast-moving tale. Glos.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Haiti; Poetry; Family; Natural disasters—Earthquakes
Clements, Andrew Troublemaker
143 pp. Atheneum 2011. ISBN 978-1-4169-4930-5
Illustrated by Mark Elliott. Clay can’t wait to tell his older brother Mitch — a troublemaker in his day — about his latest trip to the principal’s office. But Mitch has just gotten out of jail, and he doesn’t want Clay following in his footsteps. How does Clay go about reinventing himself? Clements has fashioned another fine school story, this time about second chances and the possibility of change.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Behavior; Family—Siblings; Drawing; Schools—Elementary schools; Self-perception
Fleming, David The Saturday Boy
263 pp. Viking 2013. ISBN 978-0-670-78551-3
Fifth grader Derek is having a hard time. His former best friend now bullies him, his mother is moody, and his beloved father is serving in Afghanistan. A role in a school play introduces Derek to a supportive group. When Derek learns devastating news, he garners comfort and strength from unlikely sources. Readers whose lives are similar to Derek’s will find a comrade here.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Plays; Family—Mother and son; Family—Father and son; Behavior—Bullying; Friendship; Letters; History, Modern—War in Afghanistan
Hahn, Mary Downing Where I Belong
226 pp. Clarion 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-23020-0
Foster kid Brendan finds refuge in a tree house he builds. He also builds tentative friendships with Shea, a fellow outsider at school, and with an old man whom Brendan believes has supernatural abilities. This is quintessential middle-grade realistic fiction, with an unvarnished depiction of the miseries that can be visited upon a quiet sixth grader and the succor that can be found in hard-won friendships.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Foster homes; Friendship; Behavior—Bullying; Schools—Middle schools; Tree houses
Humphrey, Anna Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea
131 pp. Simon 2013. ISBN 978-1-4424-8027-0 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4424-8031-5
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Ten-year-old Ruby Goldberg sets her sights on finally winning the gold medal at her school science fair, which has gone to her rival, Dominic, two years running. She eventually joins ideas with Dominic and learns the value of teamwork. Ruby’s growing pains feel consistently authentic. Newton’s black-and-white illustrations capture the playful energy of the narrative.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Behavior—Teamwork; Family—Grandfathers; Inventions and inventors; Science projects; Competition; Science
Jukes, Mavis The New Kid
277 pp. Knopf 2011. ISBN 978-0-375-85879-6 LE ISBN 978-0-375-95879-3
Jukes crafts a moving, hilarious, and artful story of nine-year-old Carson, the new kid at school. Carson is adopted and his dad is single, but there is nary an issue in this story, just real, kind, hugely likable people in situations that ring funny and true. Jukes captures perfectly the loopy, borderline-absurd perceptions of a third-grade boy.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Moving, Household; Schools—Elementary schools; Friendship; Family—Single-parent families
Mlynowski, Sarah, Myracle, Lauren and Jenkins, Emily Upside-Down Magic
200 pp. Scholastic 2015. ISBN 978-0-545-80045-7 Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-80047-1
Nory’s father, a Flicker (he turns things invisible), is headmaster of Sage Academy of Magic and Performance. Nory’s own magic is wonky, and after a disastrous showing at her Sage Academy entrance exam, Dad sends her to a school that offers a special program. This seamless collaboration is light but not inconsequential; its multicultural and differently-abled cast will be welcomed by a broad audience.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Magic; Schools; Family—Aunts; Fantasy
Pennypacker, Sara Waylon!: One Awesome Thing
197 pp. Disney/Hyperion 2016. ISBN 978-1-4847-0152-2
Illustrated by Marla Frazee. The boys in Waylon’s fourth-grade class are being divided into two teams by king-bee Arlo. Waylon is relieved to be selected for Arlo’s team but worries what will happen if he is kicked off. Using heart and brain, aspiring scientist Waylon tries to make sense of the situation while staying true to himself. This Clementine series spinoff features another likable kid with lots of heart.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Family—Siblings; Schools—Elementary schools
Shovan, Laura The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
247 pp. Random/Lamb 2016. ISBN 978-0-553-52137-5 LE ISBN 978-0-553-52138-2 Ebook ISBN 978-0-553-52139-9
Eighteen students will be in Ms. Hill’s last fifth-grade class, before bulldozers destroy Emerson Elementary to make room for a grocery store. The kids in her racially diverse classroom voice their opinions about their beloved school’s closing through poems in a range of styles. The poems are easy to read, in authentic-sounding language capturing the poets’ personalities. A helpful guide to poetic forms is appended.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Poetry; Schools—Elementary schools
Weeks, Sarah and Varadarajan, Gita Save Me a Seat
232 pp. Scholastic 2016. ISBN 978-0-545-84660-8 Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-84662-2
Used to being the top student, fifth grader Ravi (“fresh off the boat” from Bangalore) is furious when he’s sent to the resource room with Joe (whose auditory processing disorder makes school challenging). Determined to prove his superiority, Ravi befriends bully Dillon, while Joe hopes to get through the day without humiliation at Dillon’s hands. Short chapters alternate between Joe’s and Ravi’s distinctive, engaging voices. Glos.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Behavior—Bullying; Schools—Elementary schools; Immigration; East Indian Americans
Yep, Laurence and Ryder, Joanne A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter
294 pp. Crown 2016. ISBN 978-0-385-39232-7 LE ISBN 978-0-385-39233-4 Ebook ISBN 978-0-385-39234-1
Illustrated by Mary GrandPré. Winnie (A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans) is newly enrolled in a magic academy. But Nanette, niece of Winnie’s dragon-caretaker’s “self-proclaimed rival,” is also attending—and proclaims herself Winnie’s rival. Lighthearted episodes of unusual lessons and field trips, illustrated by winsome spot art, are grounded by more serious encounters with Winnie’s grandfather’s goons in this buoyant second entry.
Subjects: Intermediate Fiction; Schools; Dragons; Magic
From the August 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good School Story?” For more recommended school stories, see “From the Guide: First-Day-of-School Picture Books” from the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.