2016 Finalists: Middle Grade Fiction

Full of Beans
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: PragmaticMom

Beans Curry is going to give it to you straight. He knows that when grown-ups don’t always tell the truth. So when his mom says everything is going to be okay even though there are no jobs for anyone on the island of Key West, he knows she’s lying to make him feel better. He can hardly blame her for it seeing as how he lies to make his little brothers feel better. The truth is life isn’t easy in Key West, Florida in 1934. No one has a lot of money, but Beans is enterprising enough to come up with his own ways of making a little extra money for his family. Though some of his monkey-making efforts have unexpected consequences that leave Beans looking to make amends by way of cleaning up Key West with the New Dealers.

From the very first sentence in which Beans declares all grown-ups liars, Full of Beans draws readers in with humor and heart as it brings a charming cast of characters to life in a fascinating time and place. An author’s note with historical details and photographs closes out this entertaining novel.

Mindy Righer, Proper Noun Blog

Ghost (Track)
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Abby Johnson

Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw can run. He may not have any formal training, but he’s counting on his natural talent to get him where he wants to be. Track isn’t a real sport anyway, he thinks. It’s just a way for him to show off. When an attempt to show off lands him a spot on an elite youth track team, he assumes he’ll be a star. After all, he’s been running for years. That’s what kept him safe when his father came after Ghost and his mother with a gun three years ago. His father may be in jail now, but that doesn’t mean that the trauma of that night is past for Ghost. He’s still running away from the memories and the anger he feels, but being on the track team shows him that there may be a way forward for him. There may be something worth running toward.

Ghost is a candid coming of age story starring an endearing but imperfect character that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Mindy Righer, Proper Noun Blog

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
by Joseph Marshall
Nominated by: Sussu Leclerc

The road trip is an American tradition. Road trip stories most often are treated as a rite of passage for young white men. Here, though, it’s a chance for a Lakota grandfather to help his bullied grandson, Jimmy, to learn his people’s history and gain the self confidence he needs to face his bullies. Woven into the modern day trip through historic sites is the tale of Light Hair who faced his own adversity to become the leader and hero, Crazy Horse. Superior writing, great place descriptions of historical sites and a warm and supportive relationship with a grandfather make In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse a welcome addition to the list of road trip books.

Sarah Sammis, Puss Reboots

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
by John David Anderson
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Brenda

Ms. Bixby is the type of teacher that students remember long after the school year has ended. She is the type of teacher that makes kids feel like they matter, and when she falls ill and is unable to complete the school year, her students are left without the opportunity to say goodbye. In this touching, powerful book, three students (Topher, Brand, and Steve) set out to make sure that their one-of-a kind teacher, Ms. Bixby, knows exactly how much she means to them. And she means a lot. The boys embark on a risky, often hilarious day-long journey to give her the “last day” she had wished for. The writing in this novel is authentic, and has the perfect marriage of humor and heart. A reader will not get through this remarkable story of a teacher’s impact without a box of tissues nearby.

Ryan Hanna, Reading Rocks!

Save Me a Seat
by Sarah Weeks
Publisher not defined
Nominated by: Maria Gianferrari

Joe has lived in New Jersey his entire life. Ravi has just moved to New Jersey from Bangalore. As they start grade five, both face new challenges. Ravi discovers he is no longer a star pupil as he was in India. His attempts to befriend Dillon Samreen (an American-born Indian) don’t go over as he expects. Joe’s best friends have moved away and his mom now supervises lunch, giving Dillon an additional excuse to pick on Joe beyond his auditory processing disorder. Over the course of one hectic week, Joe and Ravi move beyond misunderstandings and snap judgements to overcome their common challenge – Dillon. Narrated in alternating chapters by the very real voices of Ravi and Joe, Save Me a Seat offers a fresh take on bullying and friendship narratives.

Jenna Grose, Falling Letters

by Gordon Korman
Nominated by: Amy

Cameron is an avid video gamer, but when he is so concentrated on a game that he doesn’t take a casserole out of the oven and the local firemen respond and ax through the front door, his parents are NOT pleased. They insist that Cameron participate in other activities and get out of the basement. His attempt to get around this develops into a huge community project and lots of laughs. Video gaming is big with students, but there are few books that portray tweens with this interest. The brilliance of Slacker is that it includes the subtle message that kids can change the world, delivered with a large dose of humor that includes an elderly beaver and immolating ziti . Korman’s many years of middle grade writing are evident in Slacker’s great balance of knee-slapping humor and social issues.

Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

Some Kind of Happiness
by Claire Legrand
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: CDwivedi

There’s no denying that anxiety and depression is prevalent in the lives of our young people today, which makes Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand both a timely and important novel. Beyond this, it is simply a exquisitely-crafted work that deals with secrets, new-found friends, and a longing for a place within one’s own family. Finley, a young girl who often finds herself sad, finds solace by writing in her notebook about a magical world called the Everwood. She is sent away to her grandparents’ home for the summer while her parents work out their marital problems. Upon arrival, she is thrust into an extended family, people she barely knows. During the summer, Finley makes new friends, explores the mysterious woods behind her grandparents’ home, and helps uncover a family secret that allows her to better understand both herself and her family. The novel weaves between the events in Finley’s life and her imaginative writings about the Everwood. This is simply some of the most beautiful writing of the year.

Ryan Hanna, Reading Rocks!