2012 Finalists: Middle Grade Fiction

Almost Home

by Joan Bauer

Nominated by: Sarah Potvin

Sugar’s life is not easy. She has a gambling father who comes and goes as he pleases and a mother who often crumbles under financial hardship and single motherhood. Eventually Sugar is stranded in a strange city with only her puppy, Shush, to cling to. Then Child Protective Services steps in and Sugar finds herself in a foster home and a new school.

The author skillfully weaves this story using Sugar’s narrative voice, emails, thank-you notes and poems. This beautifully combines into a full view of Sugar’s personality. Sugar and sweet she is, with a good amount of down-to-earth, funny thoughtfulness and caring for others sprinkled in, and bound with resilience. Compelling and multi-dimensional secondary characters make the story all the richer. The brisk pacing
keeps the pages turning right up until an ending that is hopeful, but realistic. Sometimes we have to have patience and understanding where family is concerned. In doing so, we can accept them for who they are without sacrificing ourselves.

— Deb Marshall, Reading and Writing for Children and Teens


by Carl Hiaasen
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Nominated by: June Morgan

Chomp is a novel set in the Florida everglades about Wahoo Cray, who lives in a private zoo and is missing a thumb from an alligator accident. His father is an animal wrangler with a headache that just won’t go away. Derek Badger is a reality show star who believes his own hype, even though his show is totally faked, and hired Wahoo and his father to provide animals for his show. Tuna is a classmate of Wahoo’s and is on the run from a bad home situation. Add these characters, mix with a storm and a manhunt or two, and what sounds like chaos is a funny, action-filled, and crazy story.

Full of colorful, larger-than-life characters, Carl Hiaasen’s Chomp is hilarious, even zany at times. Which characters will survive the storm, or even each other? The story draws you in to find out, and also to see what Badger’s next stunt will be. Hiaasen has written several middle-grade fiction novels that feature a large number of characters who come together in the end. In this one it’s clear how they all relate, and the fun is in finding out what will happen next.

— Art Spencer, Book Voyages


by Watt Key
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Nominated by: DLacks

Foster is still struggling with the death of his father, and is irritated that his mother is dating a volatile and unpleasant man who is cruel to his dog, Joe, rude to Foster, and controlling with his mother. One day, Foster meets Gary, a mysterious Army veteran walking across the US to get to Texas. Gary stays the night in the barn, and becomes indispensable to the family as they work through their difficulties. Told in spare but evocative prose, Fourmile has enough action and suspense to keep casual readers turning the pages, but is supported by a multilayered examination of identity, community and loyalty that will intrigue the minds of those who seek deeper meaning in books long after the unsuspected ending.

— Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

Liar & Spy

by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books

Nominated by: Monica Edinger

Georges (the “s” is silent) and his family have just moved from his childhood home into an apartment, and the fact that he’s still in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where he’s always lived doesn’t make the transition any easier. Georges feels picked on at school, but in his hours at home he befriends Safer, a boy his age who lives upstairs and who has undertaken a spy mission. As Georges gets involved in Safer’s increasingly risky surveillance scheme, he starts to adjust to his new normal and learn what it takes to stick up for himself–with bullies, classmates, friends and his family. This novel is equal parts funny, suspenseful and heartfelt, and readers can’t help but relate to Georges’ underlying hopefulness throughout a trying time in his life.

— Amy Koester, Show Me Librarian

The Adventures of Beanboy

by Lisa Harkrader
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Nominated by: Kyle

When it comes to superheroes, there are the loners like Superman and Spiderman, but then there are those with sidekicks, such as Batman and Robin. In The Adventures of Beanboy, the world is introduced to the next major sidekick. Tucker MacBean is a seventh-grader bearing up under his parents’ bitter divorce, a younger brother with special needs and a girl bully named Sam. To make matters worse, his favorite comic book is not being published for months.
Then he reads about a contest to find the perfect sidekick for the superhero. The grand prize is a college scholarship.

The Adventures of Beanboy is quirky. What made this book so enjoyable were the relationships between the characters. Tucker learns how his actions affect those around him, and appearances can be very deceiving. There are touching parts when Tucker realizes why his archenemy and tormentor acts the way she does. There are funny parts. Let’s get real–the superhero is called Beanboy, so you know what the superpower has to be.

— Kyle Kimmal, The Boy Reader

The Lions of Little Rock

by Kristin Levine
Putnam Juvenile

Nominated by: Teacher.Mother.Reader

Marlee lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. Laws are changing and African Americans are gaining rights they’ve never had before, but the segregationists of the south and the governor of Arkansas are against the integration of public schools. When Marlee meets Liz, a black girl “passing” as white, their friendship feeds the fire of discrimination and endangers Liz’s life.
Middle-grade readers will easily connect with the bond Marlee and Liz share. Their loyalty in the face of violence and familial hardships and their personal growth and sacrifice make these two characters memorable.
Race relations, abuses of gubernatorial power, family sacrifice, real danger, and the strength and conviction of two young girls makes this historical fiction worthy of a spot on the bookshelves.

— Ali Breidenstein, Literary Lunchbox


by R. J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Nominated by: Flowering Minds

August Pullman is an ordinary fifth grader who feels the same as everyone else on the inside; he loves Star Wars, he argues with his sister, he loves his dog, and he misses his best friend who moved away. The thing is, he was born with a facial deformity that has required over twenty surgeries but it still startles and frightens people. He has been homeschooled up to now, but his parents have decided it is better for him to join the mainstream school and learn to make his way in the world. Palacio does a brilliant job of drawing us into August’s struggles with friendships and the social hierarchy of middle school. What is really precious about this book is the courage, honesty and humor with which he faces all these challenges. Auggie is a regular kid with a one-of-a-kind winning combination of warmth, wisdom and quirky sense of humor. What makes this book unforgettable is the simple but truly precious way he has of showing the value of kindness.

— Andromeda Jazmon Sibley, A Wrung Sponge