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Middle-school capers

Middle school can be a time when kids broaden their horizons, explore new talents, and form more grown-up opinions. But it can also be a time for mischievous adventure, social snafus, rule-breaking, and guerilla-style activism — and these middle-school capers abound with such madcap antics.

hilmo_skies like theseTwelve-year-old Jade, star of Tess Hilmo’s Skies like These, would never describe herself as adventurous, but that’s about to change: her parents ship her off to Wyoming to visit her aunt, and her first friend there, Butch Cassidy–worshipping neighbor Roy Parker, insists she help him rob a bank so his parents can reopen their hardware store. Though Jade’s summer adventures don’t end up including larceny, she does find herself being unexpectedly brave and resourceful, taking actions with invaluable consequences for her aunt, for Roy, and for his parents. Hilmo’s small-town setting is affectionately portrayed, as are her characters — all of whom turn out to have hearts of gold. (Farrar/Ferguson, 10–13 years)

mata_kate walden directsKate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens introduces readers to a snappy seventh-grade filmmaker whose current project — see book title — earns her chicken-poop jokes at school, the new unfortunate nickname “Crapkate,” and social-outcast status at lunch. Worse still, popular girl Lydia seems to be stealing Kate’s best friend Alyssa. After an angry fight with Alyssa, Kate writes a script revenge-dreams are made of. Author Julie Mata humorously and sympathetically captures the emotionally complicated situations Kate gets herself into. Accessible writing complete with middle-school vernacular and realistic friend and family drama should secure debut novelist Mata a rank in the pecking order. (Disney-Hyperion, 10–13 years)

acampora_i kill the mockingbirdIn I Kill the Mockingbird, eighth-grade Catholic schoolgirl Lucy is pumped that her favorite book is on the high school summer reading list. In honor of her recently deceased teacher, who also loved it, Lucy and her two best friends hatch a scheme “to turn To Kill a Mockingbird into forbidden fruit.” They re-shelve copies in libraries and bookstores, making them nearly impossible to find, and alert people to their guerilla campaign via old-school flyers, then social media and their own website. Fans of the Harper Lee classic — and book nerds everywhere — should flock to Paul Acampora’s uplifting, unabashed tribute. (Roaring Brook, 12–16 years)

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn AcademyIn Kate Hattemer’s The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy, a reality show competition for the title of “America’s Best Teen Artist” comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, and his best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising.” Ethan gets fired up by Luke’s idealism, so he feels profoundly betrayed when their scathing long poem (à la Ezra Pound) lands Luke a spot on For Art’s Sake…Luke’s apparent objective all along. Ethan’s voice — self-deprecating, witty, and full of both literary and pop-culture references — makes him an appealing narrator for the madcap comedy, and readers will cheer as he takes a leading role in his own life. (Knopf, 12–16 years)

From the July 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is managing editor of The Horn Book Guide.

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