2011 Finalists: Middle Grade Fiction

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book
by Tom Angleberger
Nominated by: Madelyn Rosenberg

Read this you must. The students of Ralph McQuarrie Middle School are back in
the sequel to Tom Angleberger’s best selling middle grade novel The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, last year’s Cybils winner in this category. In Darth Paper, our hero, Dwight is suspended and it is up to Tommy and Kellen to save him from expulsion. Unfortunately for Dwight, Harvey and Darth Paper have other plans.

Written as a series of case files, Darth Paper continues the magic first found in Origami Yoda. Darth Paper has something for every reader: Star Wars references, humor, crushes, and a powerful ending.

–Colby Sharp, Sharp Read

Ghetto Cowboy
by G. Neri
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Alison

Cole has finally pushed his mother to the breaking point. His poor attitude, failing grades and truancy have left her no choice but to drive him from their home in Detroit to Philadelphia where he will live with the father he has never met. There, Cole’s father leads a band of cowboys who not only rescue horses but also guide local youth away from the mean streets that surround the stables. As Cole learns to care for the horses, he begins to understand the importance of growing into an honorable young man.

Based on a true account of Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, told in urban vernacular and complimented by Jesse Joshua Watson’s pencil-stroked illustrations, Ghetto Cowboy is an engaging and accessible coming of age story whose dedication page gets at the heart of its message: rise up and ride on.

–Cheryl Vanati, Reading Rumpus

Nerd Camp
by Elissa Brent Weissman
Nominated by: Jennifer Donovan

Gabe, 10, has been accepted in a prestigious 6-week summer camp, SCGE or the Summer Camp for Gifted Enrichment, which other kids in the school call the Smart Camp for Geeks and Eggheads. He’s excited about going, but he wants to impress his step-brother-to-be Zack, the ultimate cool guy, who he’s just recently met. He begins wondering how he’s going to look in Zack’s eyes. So, he does what any geek gifted kid would do –he makes a logic proof, which he adds to throughout the summer:

Problem: Am I a nerd who has only nerdy adventures?
Hypothesis: No

Gabe and his new camp friends Wesley and Nikhil are sweet, funny, and self-aware. They’re proud of their brains, and if that makes them a bit nerdy, so be it. Nerd Camp is full of both humor and heart and reinforces the beauty of loving yourself for who you are.

–Jennifer Donovan, 5minutesforbooks.com

The Friendship Doll
by Kirby Larson
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Mary Ann Scheuer

Take four stories spanning more than a decade of the Great Depression—each of which captures a pivotal moment in the life of a child—link them through the awakening heart of a Japanese doll, and you have one of this year’s most compelling books for middle grade readers. At the heart of the book is Miss Kanagawa, one of 58 Ambassadors of Friendship sent by Japan to the United States in 1927. Each part of the book focuses on the story of a different girl, interwoven with Miss Kanagawa’s own experiences and snippets of news articles. The narrative voices are rich, distinct and authentic, creating an effortless read with great pacing. The Friendship Doll’s four-part structure and seamless blending of the numinous with the everyday has a mesmerizing effect that makes this book hard to put down. An engaging book and timeless tale for 9-to-12 year olds.

–Grier Jewell, Fizzwhizzing Flushbunker

The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu
by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund

Lucy is going to have the best year ever in the 6th grade, but things get off to a rocky start. A great-aunt is going to come from China and live in her room, she has to go to Chinese school, and she has to deal with the evil Sloane who is challenging her to be captain of the 6th grade basketball team. Luckily, she has a great friend, a crush that just might work out, and a good sense of humor. This funny but surprisingly deep novel explores the painful process that so many adolescents go through–feeling a need to build “great walls” between themselves and their families, while still wanting to love and be loved by them.

–Karen Yingling, Ms.Yingling Reads

Warp Speed
by Lisa Yee
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: Sarah Wendorf

Meet Marley Sandelski: seventh-grader, A/V club regular, major Star Trek fan (Original Series, of course), and, as he notes in his Captain’s Log, “invisible” to everyone but the school bullies. His single line of defense? Running. Running very, very fast. When his
speed puts him on the track coach’s radar and he makes an unexpected connection with a girl (if he can just stop bursting into Klingon around her), he starts feeling all too visible. The time is coming for Marley to stop running and stand up for himself. With quirky yet realistic situations and characters (including cameo appearances by characters from Yee’s other novels), Warp Speed addresses the very serious issue of bullying with compassion and humor without ever getting bogged down as a “message” book. Readers of all ages will feel like they know the kids of Rancho Rosetta, and they will be rooting for Marley to “live long and prosper”.

–Beth Gallego, Points West

Words In The Dust
by Trent Reedy
Arthur A Levine
Nominated by: Greg Leitich Smith

“Donkey face.” That’s what the local boys call 13-year-old Zulaikha, an Afghan girl with a cleft lip. At home, Zulaikha is constantly harried by her strict stepmother, so very different from Zulaikha’s own mother, who was killed by the Taliban. Enter the Americans. A convoy, traveling through the village, spots Zulaikah. They return with a medical officer–a woman, much to the dismay of the Afghans–who tells Zulaikah’s father that she thinks the girl’s lip can be fixed. The American-Afghan relationship is shown in all its complexity, with the understanding that, for the Afghans, the Americans are strange creatures, powerful yet uncomprehending of even the simplest of Afghan cultural courtesies.

The debut novel by Trent Reedy, who served in the U.S. military in Afghanistan, will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. The setting and the understanding of Afghan customs and life are so well drawn, you will find it hard to believe that this novel wasn’t written by a young Afghan woman herself.

–Michael Gettel-Gilmartin, Middle Grade Mafioso