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Middle-grade BFFs

The friends you make in childhood can be the best ones of your life. The following books highlight unlikely friendships that are made to last.

curtis_madman of piney woods   Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods (companion to Newbery Honor Book Elijah of Buxton) takes place in 1901, with the American Civil War a not-so-distant memory for Buxton’s elders. For thirteen-year-old black Canadian Benji Alston, though, daily life involves coping with two irritatingly gifted younger siblings and dreaming of becoming a newspaper reporter. Benji befriends Alvin “Red” Stockard, an Irish Canadian boy who lives in nearby Chatham, and the two uncover the mystery and tragedy surrounding the supposedly mythical Madman of Piney Woods. A profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel about family, friendship, community, and the power of words. (Scholastic, 9–13 years)

hahn_where i belong“How come some kids are lucky and others aren’t?” asks Brendan, the (unlucky) protagonist of Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn. Abandoned at birth by his mother and now, on the verge of failing sixth grade, living with an apparently unloving foster mom, Brendan finds refuge in a secret tree house he builds in the woods, and in tentative friendships with a girl named Shea and with an old man in the woods, whom Brendan initially believes is the “Green Man.” 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 the hard-won friendship of peers and the attention of understanding elders. (Clarion, 8–11 years)

french_my cousin's keeperWhen his cousin Bon comes to live at his house, eleven-year-old Kieran is mad: Bon is “weird.” He has a long braid and tattered clothing; smells of sweat and pee; and talks in an unnaturally precise manner, all of which make Bon a target of the cool-kid bullies at school (and ruining Kieran’s chance of hanging out with the cool kids himself). Bon’s only friend is another newcomer, Julia, and Kieran is jealous of their friendship: he wants to be friends with Julia. Bon keeps a notebook filled with fantastical drawings and tales of Bon the Crusader, Kieran the Brave, and Julia the Fair; as the protagonists grow into Bon’s roles for them, My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French becomes a story of kids who dare to imagine worlds and become who they need to be. (Candlewick, 8–11 years)

turner_circa nowIn Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner, main character Circa’s father is killed by a tornado while delivering an old photo he’s restored. Then Miles shows up on her family’s doorstep, a boy with amnesia whose only clue to his past is the photograph he’s holding — the very one Circa’s father was delivering when he died. As Circa and her mother care for Miles they uncover a strange series of coincidences, and Circa begins to think the digital changes she and her father made to photographs have come to exist in real life. Does this mean she can bring her father back? Gentle quirkiness and light humor appear throughout Turner’s tale of grief, healing, and friendship. (Disney-Hyperion, 9–13 years)

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

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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