Tag Archives: Middle Grade Books

Review : The Swap by Megan Shull

Middle-grade book review of

The SwapThe Swap by Megan Shull

Goodreads Blurb

“You be me…and I’ll be you.”

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Elli and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about the souls of a boy and a girl swapping into the bodies of the other.

One Friday afternoon during the last lesson, Elle and Jack happen to be in the nurse’s office at the same time. The next minute they find themselves in each other’s bodies. They have less than ten minutes to come to terms with the swap and agree to meet up on Monday morning to find that missing nurse-on-duty. In the meantime, they have to lead each other’s live for the weekend. Both agreed to lock themselves in their rooms all weekend. Except it was a lot harder to do that.

This book is written in alternate POVs. Elle has friendship issues with the mean girls at school. Jack trains hard at hockey with his four brothers. If you can look past the gender-stereotyped characters, the rest of the book is good fun. I enjoyed how the ‘typically’ male or female lingo flew over the heads of each other and how they had to guess their way through, making hilarious and embarrassing mistakes along the way. Because they live in such opposite worlds, they experience a whole universe and see a new perspective in life.

I would recommend this book, with a warning sign to the intended target audience about gender-stereotypes in the story. 4/5

Review : The Chessman Thief by Barbara Henderson

Middle-grade book review of The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson

The Chessmen Thief with Lewis Chess Pieces

The Chessmen ThiefGoodreads Blurb

Win. Lose. Survive.

I was the boy with a plan. Now I am the boy with nothing.

From the moment 12-year-old Kylan hatches a plan to escape from his Norse captors, and return to Scotland to find his mother, his life becomes a dangerous game.
The precious Lewis Chessmen pieces—which he helped carve—hold the key to his freedom, but he will need all his courage and wit to triumph against Sven Asleifsson, the cruellest Viking in the realm.
One false move could cost him his life.

Barbara Henderson has woven a thrilling origin story around the enduring mystery of the Lewis Chessmen, their creation in Norway, and how they ended up buried in the Hebrides before being discovered on Lewis in 1831.

My Thoughts after Reading

This story is perfectly pitched for middle-grade.

Our protagonist is a slave boy determined to return to his roots and find his mother. His ability to speak Gaelic and carve ivory into chess pieces convinces a prominent man to take him away from Norway on this journey to Scotland.

This books has Vikings, pirates and sea adventures. It also has plenty of heart: a young slave separated from his mother, seeking his freedom.

I love it that this story was inspired by the famous 12th century Lewis chess pieces found on a Scottish beach. A must read for chess and history lovers. 4/5

If you are looking for middle-grade books with a chess theme, also check out Check Mates.

Review : The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

Middle-grade book review of The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

The Ghost of Gosswater

Goodreads Blurb

A thrilling Gothic tale from the author of Our Castle by the Sea, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

1899. The Earl of Gosswater has died, and twelve-year-old Lady Agatha has been cast out of her ancestral home – the only home she has ever known – by her cruel cousin, Clarence. In a tiny tumbledown cottage, she struggles to adjust to her new life and the stranger who claims to be her real father.

And on the shores of Gosswater Lake, the spirit of another young girl will not rest. Could the ghost of Gosswater hold the key to Aggie’s true identity?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is about a girl’s new life as a lowly goose farmer’s daughter.

Lady Agatha has been the daughter of the Earl of Gosswater all her life, until he dies and she finds out she was never his daughter. Furthermore, as with the law at the time, a nasty male cousin inherits everything. He even threw her out of the mansion, telling her she has to live with her real father.

Naturally a shock like that would get any reader to root for our heroine rightaway. I was right behind her when she adjusts to her new life. I shared her need to understand where she came from. With this intrigue great, the author has pacing is spot-on. I kept turning the pages. The author also has some lovely and poetic lines. My favourite has to be when Agatha struggles to accept her new life. She compares herself to being midnight, being neither day nor night.

A great read. 4.5/5

Review : Elsetime by Eve McDonnell

Middle-grade book review Elsetime by Eve McDonnell

Elsetime  Goodreads Blurb

A haunting story of friendship, courage, time-travel and a very special crow. It is January 6th 1928, a few days before the Great Flood. Glory Bobbin, a twelve year-old orphan, works at The Frippery and Fandangle Emporium creating jewellery with her secret assistant, a peculiar crow. The river is about to burst its banks and a snow storm has engulfed the town when she meets treasure-hunting mudlark, Needle Luckett, who has travelled through time to reach Inthington. Can two children and a crow save the fourteen lives endangered by the flood? Can they change the future?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade book is a heart-warming time-travel story.

In 1864, Needle and his mother are struggling to make a living after his father’s disappearance. He spends his days by the river banks with his pet crow scouring for little treasures he could turn into pretty ornaments. In 1928, Glory lies about her age so she can work and contribute to the family’s poor income. Glory is a talented jewellery designer frustrated with her wooden hand.

As both protagonists struggle with their hard lives, the story grabs you right from the start. The pacing is good and the antagonists are every bit detestable. A lovely ending where everything is tied up.

A very enjoyable read. 4/5

Seven Books for World Music Day

In books, when characters hum melodies or talk about their favourite songs, it can be a hit or miss, depending on whether you’ve heard of the song or band. However, when well-written, you can feel the magic of the music regardless. As it’s World Music Day on 21 June, I’ve compiled seven middle-grade books with a music theme for the occasion.

1. Love from Lexie by Cathy Cassidy

Love from Lexie (The Lost and Found, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Ever since Lexie’s mum vanished, her world hasn’t stopped spinning. A new home, a new school – even a new family but Lexie never gives up hope that her mum will come back and writes her letters every day to tell her all about her new life.

There’s plenty to tell – the new group of misfits she calls friends, the talent for music she never knew she had and the gorgeous boy with blue eyes and secrets to hide. But her letters remain unanswered and she’s starting to feel more alone than ever.

Lexie’s about to learn that sometimes you need to get lost in order to be found.

The first in a gorgeous new series from the bestselling author of the Chocolate Box Girls and the perfect next step for fans of Jacqueline Wilson.

My review : Love from Lexie

2. Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersGoodreads Blurb

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible. So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – the address of the cello maker. Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers – urchins who live in the sky. Together they scour the city for Sophie’s mother before she is caught and sent back to London, and most importantly before she loses hope.

3. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

The Clockwork ThreeGoodreads Blurb

Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events…

Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician from Italy, who was sold by his uncle to work as a slave for an evil padrone in the U.S. But when a mysterious green violin enters his life he begins to imagine a life of freedom. Hannah is a soft-hearted, strong-willed girl from the tenements, who supports her family as a hotel maid when tragedy strikes and her father can no longer work. She learns about a hidden treasure, which she knows will save her family — if she can find it. And Frederick, the talented and intense clockmaker’s apprentice, seeks to learn the truth about his mother while trying to forget the nightmares of the orphanage where she left him. He is determined to build an automaton and enter the clockmakers’ guild — if only he can create a working head.

Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.

My review : The Clockwork Three

4. Viva Durant and The Secret of the Silver Buttons by Ashli St. Armant

Viva Durant and The Secret of the Silver ButtonsGoodreads Blurb

Viva Durant, New Orleans’ youngest detective, is on a quest to solve a jazzy mystery involving hidden treasure, while exploring the city’s unique culture, history, and music. This family-friendly audio original features original jazz music from the creator, Ashli St. Armant, and an enthusiastic performance from Audible Hall of Fame narrator, Bahni Turpin.

Plucky 14-year-old Viva Durant heads to New Orleans every summer to spend time with her loving but stern grandmother, known as Gram. After Gram reads Viva an article in the local paper about a missing treasure related to the world-famous song, “Miss Mary Mack,” Viva traverses the Crescent City on an epic adventure to solve the mystery. Along the way she meets some of the city’s most colorful characters as her journey takes her to the French Quarter, a jazz club, a creepy cemetery, and even the circus. Can Viva rise to the occasion and solve this musical mystery? Listeners will find Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons a joy to listen to!

My review : Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons

5. Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

EchoGoodreads Blurb

An impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force from a treasured storyteller!

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, Echo pushes the boundaries of genre, form, and storytelling innovation to create a wholly original novel that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck

My review : Echo


6. The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo

The Mozart QuestionGoodreads Blurb

When cub reporter Lesley is sent to Venice to interview a world-renowned violinist, the journalist is told she can ask Paolo Levi anything about his life and career as a musician, but on no account must she ask him the Mozart question. Paolo has finally realised he must reveal the truth.

7. Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo

Twist of GoldGoodreads Blurb

Sean and Annie have one chance to escape the potato famine in Ireland, and after surviving a shipwreck they land safely in America in search for their father. But their new land is one of hardship and they live in poverty on the streets of Boston. However, their adventure is just beginning. After living aboard a steamboat they then join pioneers traveling across the prairies. Their music and dancing bring joy to all they meet, but their family “torc”—a golden necklace—brings both blessings and curses, and thieves prowl to get hold of it. Annie and Sean must protect their torc as they search for their father: their family’s survival depends on it.

You might have noticed the last two are both from the same author. Several of Michael Morpurgo‘s books feature a violin player. I have listed just two of them. If you know of any middle-grade books with a music theme, drop them in the comments below!

First published 20 June 20. Updated 6 June 21

Review : The Queen’s Fool by Ally Sherrick

Middle-grade Review The Queen’s Fool by Ally Sherrick

The Queen's FoolGoodreads Blurb

Cat Sparrow is on the road. She’s following her sister, Meg, who was torn from their convent home and sent to London. But Cat isn’t like other people – she thinks differently – and for a girl like her the world holds many perils. Luckily she befriends a young actor, Jacques, and together they follow Meg’s trail to a wondrous place called the Field of Cloth of Gold. But here, they discover that the kingdoms of England and France are both in terrible danger … 

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade historical fiction is set in the time of King Henry VIII, when he was still married to his first wife and his daughter was only a little girl.

Cat Sparrow runs away from the nunnery in search of her sister who was snatched away from her one day. She befriends a French boy who is part of a travelling group of actors on their way to London. At Greenwich, Cat inadvertently catches the attention of the Queen who takes her in as her ‘fool’. Cat Sparrow follows her Queen Catty to France on a royal trip.

The voice of both characters are distinct. Cat has a unique way of speaking eg dingy-dark. Jacques’ determination is seen through his thoughts and encounters. The descriptions are rich regardless of pageantry or mayhem. I also enjoyed the author’s notes at the end.

A good read. 3.5*

Review : Boy Everywhere by A. M. Dassu

Teen book review of Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu

Boy, EverywhereGoodreads Blurb

BOY, EVERYWHERE is the debut middle grade novel from writer A. M. Dassu. It chronicles the harrowing journey taken from Syria to the UK by Sami and his family. From privilege to poverty, across countries and continents, from a smuggler’s den in Turkey to a prison in Manchester, it is a story of survival, of family, of bravery.

Sami is a typical 13 year-old: he loves his friends, football, PlayStation and iPad. But a bombing in a mall changes his life. Sami and his family flee their comfortable home in Damascus to make the perilous and painful journey towards a new life in the U.K. Leaving everything behind, Sami discovers a world he’d never encountered – harsh, dangerous, but also at times unexpectedly kind and hopeful.

My Thoughts after Reading

This older middle-grade book is about a Syrian boy’s journey to UK seeking asylum.

Our protagonist was very settled in his school in Damascus. His life was thrown into chaos when his local shopping mall was bombed. His mother and younger sister were there getting his football boots for him when the bomb went off. His parents decided to leave the country for the safety of the family and they begin their harrowing journey for a safer life in the UK.

The author has captured much of what we’ve heard in the news, and more. I learnt a lot from this book, not just the journey, but what happens when refugees arrive in the UK. If you are looking for similar books, I can also recommend The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson and and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon.

Eleven Numeracy-related Books

For National Numeracy Day on 19 May, here are some middle-grade books somehow related to numeracy, or with numbers in their titles. I’ve included their Goodreads blurb.

numeracy-books.jpg

The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge

The Jamie Drake EquationThe Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge
Jamie’s dad is an astronaut. This is a good thing – because how cool is that? And a bad thing – because he’s going to be orbiting the Earth for several months and Jamie already misses him badly. Doing his homework at the observation lab one night, Jamie inadvertently picks up a weird signal on his mobile phone. Could it be from an alien civilisation with a message for humankind, a message that Jamie has to get to his father before it’s too late? But how do you rescue an astronaut without heading into space yourself? My review

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation. My review

 

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue by Sarah Rubin

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue (Alice Jones, #1)Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue by Sarah Rubin

Maths-whizz Alice has already solved a mystery or two. Persuaded by wannabe sidekick Sammy to investigate a scientist’s disappearance, she’s soon entangled in her trickiest case yet. Dr Learner is reputed to have invented an invisibility suit, but is whacky science really to blame for his vanishing? With the unlikely help of erstwhile nemesis Kevin, Alice solves the puzzle – only to face another. Should she reveal the truth, or protect her most devoted friend?

#1. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1)One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

In a humorous and breakout book by Williams-Garcia, the Penderwicks meet the Black Panthers.

#3. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J Kirby

The Clockwork ThreeThe Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events. .  .

Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician who sees no way to escape from his ruthless master, until the day he finds an enchanted violin.

Frederick is an apprentice clockmaker with a past he cannot remember, who secretly works to build the most magnificent clockwork man the world has ever seen.

Hannah is a maid in a grand hotel, whose life is one of endless drudgery, until she encounters a mystifying new guest and learns of a hidden treasure.

As mysterious circumstances bring them together, the lives of these three children soon interlock, and they realize that each one holds the key to the others’ puzzles. Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.

#5. Five Things They Never Told Me by Rebecca Westcott

Five Things They Never Told MeFive Things They Never Told Me by Rebecca Westcott

Five Things They Never Told Me is story to be felt and not forgotten, from Rebecca Westcott, author of Dandelion Clocks and Violet Ink . . .

It’s a glorious summer and Erin and Martha are both stuck at Oak Hill Home for the Elderly. Misunderstood and feeling ignored, they are equally frustrated by the situation. But as Erin learns to listen to Martha, she discovers some very important lessons about making her own voice heard.

#7. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life…until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

#13. 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison

13 Treasures (Thirteen Treasures, #1)13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison

No one else can see the evil fairies that rouse Tanya from her sleep, torturing her at the slightest mention of their existence, but they are as real to the 13-year-old as anything she’s ever known. She cannot rid herself of them, nor can she ignore them. But it is her insistence on responding to them that has her banished to her grandmother’s secluded countryside manor.

There is much to explore and even more to fear in the woods surrounding the estate. But, the forest isn’t the only source of dark secrets, and Tanya soon finds herself entangled in a mystery that could trap her in the fairy realm forever.

#14. The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

 

#43. The Boy who Fell Down Exit 43 by Harriet Goodwin

The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 by Harriet Goodwin

For a millionth of a second the car grazed the drenched moorland. If it had come down on any other patch of ground Finn would simply have been another statistic. Death by dangerous driving. But the car hit the surface of the Earth at Exit 43. It slid through the membrane like a hot knife through butter, plunging into the darkness and catapulting Finn from its shattered windscreen as it fell. Finn Oliver knows he’ll never come to terms with his father’s death, but joy-riding over the moors in his mum’s beat-up old car is a quick fix of freedom and forgetting. Until the accident happens – and Finn finds himself hurtling through the wafer-thin divide between the worlds of the living and the dead. Adventurous, charming and poignant by turns, “The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43” is a quirky debut novel laced with humour and a dollop of magic.

#60. House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong

The House of Sixty FathersThe House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong

Tien Pao and piglet he names “Glory-of-the-Republic” after baby sister “Beauty-of-the-Republic” drift free in storm downriver back to Japanese territory. Following tiny mountain trails back to parents, he meets American aviator. Guerillas sneak them free. Based on real story of boy adopted by squadron of sixty flyers in bunkhouse. My review

Do you know any books that will fit into this list? Drop your suggestions below and I’ll check them out.

IMG_8546

    Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

First published 15 May 2019. Updated 2 May 2021

Review : Rendezvous in Russia by Lauren St. John

Middle-grade book review by Rendezvous in Russia by Lauren St. John

Rendezvous in Russia (Laura Marlin Mysteries, #4)Goodreads Blurb

The fourth Laura Marlin mystery from the Blue Peter award-winning author of DEAD MAN’S COVE

When Laura Marlin’s Siberian husky, Skye, saves an actress’s life in Cornwall, she and her best friend, Tariq, receive a surprise invitation to work as extras in a film about an art heist in St Petersburg, Russia. But what promises to be the coolest holiday ever quickly turns deadly as a series of accidents threaten both cast and crew, and Laura finds herself at the centre of a deadly game.

Meanwhile, the Straight-A gang are dead set on revenge and Laura is at the top of their hit list. As the doors open on a lavish film party at the legendary Hermitage Museum, Laura and Tariq have to decide who and what is real. Could art be about to imitate life?

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade mystery is about a two friends’ adventure in Russia when their pet husky is selected to star in a movie.

Laura and her best friend tag along as extras on the set and enjoyed the experience of the world of movie-making, even if all is not as glamourous and exciting as it seemed. There are little clues that all is not right, but Laura had promised she would not go looking for trouble. However trouble came looking for her.

I liked both the Russian setting and the story being set around making a movie. The characters are likeable and who wouldn’t fall in love with a three-legged husky? The pacing in this story is good; the writing is easy to read, hence turning the pages to find out what’s next comes naturally. 3/5

Review : The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

Middle-grade review of The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

The Ship of Shadows (The Ship of Shadows, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Aleja whiles away her days in her family’s dusty tavern in Seville, dreaming of distant lands and believing in the kind of magic that she’s only ever read about in books. After all, she’s always being told that girls can’t be explorers.

But her life is changed forever when adventure comes for her in the form of a fabled vessel called the Ship of Shadows. Crewed by a band of ruthless women, with cabin walls dripping with secrets, the ship has sailed right out of a legend. And it wants Aleja.

Once on board its shadowy deck, she begins to realize that the sea holds more secrets than she ever could have imagined. The crew are desperately seeking something, and their path will take them through treacherous waters and force them to confront nightmare creatures and pitch-dark magic. It will take all of Aleja’s strength and courage to gain the trust of her fellow pirates – and discover what they are risking everything to find.

My Thoughts after Reading

This middle-grade adventure book is about a girls-only pirate ship sailing the oceans blue in search of a treasure map.

Our heroine discovers a secret and this knowledge puts her life in danger. In the chase she meets a captain who offers to hide her in her ship for a few hours. Unfortunately it was still unsafe for Aleja to disembark and she ends up travelling to the far lands with the crew.

This book has everything: a magical ship, an ancestor with a mysterious legacy, cryptic puzzles, strange beasts from the sea and land, exotic locations of towns and deserts and of course, swash-buckling life at sea. What I liked about this book is how all the characters have their own strengths eg linguist, chemist, technologist, soldier, strategist. Together they made a great team.

If you like the sound of this, you might be pleased to know that this is the first book of a series. 3/5