One of my current reading goals is catching up on some recent middle grade releases. Here are four I’ve finished recently!
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall
Novel, Harry N. Abrams, 2015
Read 3/1/2022, print, first read
“Through stories of Lakota leader Crazy Horse, a boy learns about his heritage and himself in this American Indian Youth Literature Award-winning novel from acclaimed author Joseph Marshall III” (Storygraph)
The story interweaves historical stories of Crazy Horse with a boy and his grandfather visiting the sites associated with his life. While I think this is a valuable book, I wished that the present day story had been developed a little more. Still a great recommendation for any reader interested in identity or Native history.
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien
Novel, Henry Holt & Company, 2018
Read 3/5/2022, print, first read
“As the first students from the rural country of Shin to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout and her little brother Cricket have some pretty big skates to fill. They soon find themselves in a heated competition for top ranking.” (Storygraph)
Peasprout is a delightful main character and I enjoyed her voice a lot–it’s drily funny and sometimes melodramatic in a way that felt realistic. This is the first book in a series and I’ll definitely be recommending it to kids who are looking for an exciting adventure in a fantasy setting.
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon read by Sullivan Jones
Novel, Penguin Random House, 2018
3/11/2022, eaudio, first read
“Caleb Franklin and his big brother Bobby Gene have the whole summer for adventures in the woods behind their house in Sutton, Indiana. Caleb dreams of venturing beyond their ordinary small town, but his dad likes the family to stay close to home.
Then Caleb and Bobby Gene meet new neighbor Styx Malone. Styx is sixteen and oozes cool. He’s been lots of different places. Styx promises Caleb and Bobby Gene that together, they can pull off the Great Escalator Trade–exchanging one small thing for something better until they achieve their wildest dream. But as the trades get bigger, the brothers soon find themselves in over their heads.” (Storygraph)
Kekla Magoon is just a fantastic middle grade writer, and I loved the way she captures that time between being a child and being a teen. Caleb wants so badly to be grown up, to be free to make his own decisions, and we really see how that impacts his choices throughout the story.
At some points it’s a tough read, but there’s a kindness and generosity to the treatment of all the characters. They’re all three dimensional and I thought this gave a real richness to the plot and the story. I appreciated the way Caleb and Bobby Gene’s relationship unfolds, and how they both react to the first challenges of their young adult lives.
Also, the Children’s Museum shout-out was nice!
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
Novel, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2019
3/17/2022, eaudio, first read
“Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace’s love for all things outer space and science fiction–especially Star Wars and Star Trek. But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it’s decided she’ll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.”
I listened to the audiobook edition of this one, which is narrated by the author! Zoboi has a really nice reading voice and it was neat to hear her interpretation of her own characters. I appreciated the depiction of Ebony-Grace’s inner life a lot, and there were also points when I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her it was going to be okay. Her slow journey to finding her own place, both in Harlem and Alabama, was challenging at times, but it was also rewarding. I loved that she doesn’t compromise on the core of who she is, but does start to see the richness and culture of her Harlem neighborhood and the other kids her age.