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Recommended Page-Turners: Middle School Fiction and Nonfiction

bancks_on the runBancks, Tristan  On the Run
229 pp.     Farrar/Ferguson     2015     ISBN 978-0-374-30153-8

On the run from police, twelve-year-old Ben’s parents leave him and younger sister Olive on their own in a cabin in the Australian bush. Ben finds a copy of My Side of the Mountain, appropriate — and useful — reading since he and Olive are now in the midst of their own survival drama. The third-person narrative effectively laces the propulsive survival story with ethical questions.
Subjects: Family—Siblings; Australia; Wilderness; Survival; Crime

bartoletti_terrible typhoid maryBartoletti, Susan Campbell  Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America [nonfiction]
230 pp.     Houghton     2015     ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5

What was it like to be a servant, an immigrant, a woman in the early twentieth century? Bartoletti weaves the answers into the beginning of “Typhoid Mary” Mallon’s story — using Mary as a lens to view a wider swath of American society — then covers epidemiologist George Soper’s cat-and-mouse game of tracking Mary down. Excellent nonfiction with a novelistic trim size and narrative. Timeline. Bib., ind.
Subjects: Medicine, Human Body, and Diseases; Biographies; Diseases—Typhoid fever; Cookery; Epidemics; Women—Biographies; New York (State); Typhoid Mary

gantos_trouble in meGantos, Jack  The Trouble in Me [nonfiction]
208 pp.     Farrar     2015     ISBN 978-0-374-37995-7

By the summer before eighth grade, young Jack Gantos was a “drifty kid…easily led off course.” Trying to be somebody else, he fell into the orbit of juvenile delinquent neighbor Gary Pagoda. This volume acts as a preface to Hole in My Life; readers of both books will experience the full arc of Jack’s wild behavior, severe consequences, and, ultimately, his redemption.
Subjects: Individual Biographies; Moving, Household; Friendship; Behavior; Authors; Autobiographies; Florida; Humorous stories

hardinge_cuckoo songHardinge, Frances  Cuckoo Song
408 pp.     Abrams/Amulet     2015     ISBN 978-1-4197-1480-1
Ebook ISBN 978-1-61312-756-8

Eleven-year-old Triss Crescent wakes up confused after a terrifying accident. Her memories don’t feel like her own, and ravenous hunger devours all self-control. Seeking the explanation for her bizarre circumstances, Triss (with little sister Pen) uncovers a grotesque magical world existing in the shadows of her own 1920s town. This sophisticated, disturbing tale shivers with suspense and touching moments of bravery.
Subjects: Supernatural; Identity; Memory; Family; Magicians; England

johnson_to catch a cheatJohnson, Varian  To Catch a Cheat
248 pp.     Scholastic/Levine     2016     ISBN 978-0-545-72239-1
Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-72241-4

Jackson Greene (The Great Greene Heist) has retired from his con-man antics. Until…someone floods Maplewood Middle School, and a video surfaces incriminating Jackson and his diverse set of friends. Blackmail? Revenge? To clear their names, Jackson and “Gang Greene” are back in action. The smart, complicated mystery caper is reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, Mission: Impossible, and The Westing Game. Sheer fun.
Subjects: Mystery and detective stories; Schools—Middle schools; Adventure and adventurers; African Americans

lawrence_skeleton treeLawrence, Iain  The Skeleton Tree
281 pp.     Delacorte     2016     ISBN 978-0-385-73378-6
Library binding ISBN 978-0-385-90395-0
Ebook ISBN 978-0-307-97489-1

Chris, his “daredevil” uncle, and another boy, Frank, sail down the Alaskan coastline. The boat sinks, Uncle Jack with it, and the boys are left to survive in a rugged world, facing grizzly bears, wolves, and their own prickly relationship. Lawrence’s muscular prose is a pleasure to read for the sheer enjoyment of active verbs and lively similes. An emotionally engaging and heart-pounding read.
Subjects: Survival; Wilderness; Family—Uncles; Family—Siblings; Alaska; Sports—Sailing; Shipwrecks

magoon_shadows of sherwoodMagoon, Kekla  Shadows of Sherwood: A Robyn Hoodlum Adventure
356 pp. Bloomsbury 2015. ISBN 978-1-61963-634-7
Ebook ISBN 978-1-61963-635-4

Governor Crown kidnaps all Parliament members — including twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley’s parents — and declares himself leader of Nott City. Robyn is determined to find her parents but finds herself (accompanied by a band of parentless outlaws) on a mission greater than she imagined. Magoon cleverly weaves elements of the Robin Hood tale into this futuristic story about social justice, friendship, and identity.
Subjects: Robin Hood (Legendary character); Adventure and adventurers; Robbers and outlaws; Missing persons; Identity; Social reformers

mccoola_baba yaga's assistantMcCoola, Marika  Baba Yaga’s Assistant
132 pp.     Candlewick     2015      ISBN 978-0-7636-6961-4

Illustrated by Emily Carroll. After Masha’s beloved grandmother dies, Masha answers a help-wanted ad to become assistant to the child-eating folkloric character. To win the position, Masha must creatively accomplish challenges set forth by Baba Yaga. This graphic novel shines in its pacing, harmony of image and text, and use of flashbacks and stories-within-stories to advance plot. With vivid coloring, Carroll’s digital art establishes setting and tone.
Subjects: Graphic novels; Cartoons and comics; Baba Yaga (Legendary character); Folklore—Russia; Family—Grandmothers; Witches and witchcraft

miller_borden murdersMiller, Sarah  The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century[nonfiction]
288 pp.     Random/Schwartz & Wade     2016     ISBN 978-0-553-49808-0
Library binding ISBN 978-0-553-49809-7
Ebook ISBN 978-0-553-49810-3

Miller relates both the immediate events leading up to the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden and the legal proceedings against their daughter, Lizzie Andrews Borden. By giving a play-by-play commentary of this whole affair, Miller is able to also examine various swaths of late-nineteenth-century American social, cultural, and political history. Despite reading like a novel, The Borden Murders nevertheless scrupulously hews to the facts. Bib., ind.
Subjects: North America; Massachusetts; Law; Crime; Trials; Murder; Borden, Lizzie

oppel_nestOppel, Kenneth  The Nest
247 pp.     Simon     2015     ISBN 978-1-4814-3232-0
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3234-4

Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Steve’s baby brother is sick, so his parents don’t pay attention when Steve becomes afraid of the wasps in the backyard. In a recurring dream, a voice offers to make everything better, but the easy fix starts to look like too sinister a bargain. Oppel’s language is straightforward, but the emotional resonance deep. Klassen’s black-and-white drawings astutely capture the magnitude of a child’s imagination.
Subjects: Supernatural—Horror stories; Animals—Wasps; Babies; Family—Siblings; Emotions—Fear; Illness

philbrick_big darkPhilbrick, Rodman  The Big Dark
179 pp.     Scholastic/Blue Sky     2016     ISBN 978-0-545-78975-2
Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-78977-6

As the town of Harmony, New Hampshire, watched the aurora borealis, a solar flare caused the power to go out everywhere. Charlie Cobb’s first-person narration makes the global disaster personal; unadorned prose carries readers along on his mission to find diabetes medicine for his mom. Though Charlie’s world may lack energy, the book’s plot doesn’t, and readers will enjoy the ride.
Subjects: Astronomy—Auroras; Survival; Family—Mother and son; Disasters; New Hampshire; Diseases—Diabetes; Energy

thomson_deadly flowers Thomson, Sarah L.  Deadly Flowers: A Ninja’s Tale
270 pp.     Boyds     2016     ISBN 978-1-62979-214-9
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62979-563-8

Kata, a female ninja in feudal Japan, finds herself on the run with new acquaintance Saiko and her younger brother Ichiro. Someone is hunting the siblings to steal Ichiro’s wish-granting pearl, which also happens to attract paranormal creatures. This action-packed adventure blends historical fiction with intriguing supernatural elements drawn from Japanese folklore. An author’s note adds historical and mythological context.
Subjects: Magic; Japan, Ancient; Ninjas; Supernatural; Folklore—Japan

wishinsky_avis dolphinWishinsky, Frieda  Avis Dolphin
165 pp.     Groundwood     2015     ISBN 978-1-55498-489-3
Ebook ISBN 978-1-55498-490-9

Illustrated by Willow Dawson. Aboard the Lusitania, twelve-year-old Avis Dolphin befriends Professor Holbourn, who tells her a dramatic serial story of shipwreck, courage, and a girl-hero. When the Lusitania is torpedoed, Avis (a real-life Lusitania survivor) herself bravely lives out shipwreck and rescue. Avis’s mildly eventful shipboard life is counterbalanced by Holbourn’s ferocious adventure story, presented in wordless graphic-novel panels interspersed throughout the main text.
Subjects: Lusitania (Steamship); Shipwrecks

From the July 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good Page-Turner?”

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