2017 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists

Amina’s Voice
by Hena Khan
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Flowering Minds

Amina (AH-min-ah) lives near Milwaukee, and enjoys being with her friends, especially Soojin. She loves to sing, but doesn’t like to do so in public. Amina’s brother Mustafa is becoming an obnoxious teenager, and her father’s older brother is coming from Pakistan to stay with the family for three months. When a misunderstanding causes Soojin and Emily to stop speaking to her, Amina thinks things can’t get any worse… until the mosque her family attends is gravely vandalized. What do the vandals mean, “Go home!”? Amina is home, and has to reconcile how she sees herself with how others see her, not only regarding her Muslim background but her singing and her relationship with family and friends.

While this book will speak to students who share Amina’s Muslim background, it also addresses universal concerns that middle grade students have in a realistic and touching way. The details of Amina’s home life are wonderfully drawn, and the descriptions of food, clothing, celebrations and family relationships again serve as vivid mirrors or clear windows to a way of life. Her individual quirks, such as being afraid of speaking in public and having trouble eating when she is upset, are very common among middle school students, and are depicted with a light touch, making this an intriguing, timely and appealing book.

Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads

Armstrong and Charlie
by Steven B. Frank
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Nominated by: Greg Pattridge

Armstrong has been signed up for Opportunity Bussing by his parents. As the youngest and the only son, he’s grown up feeling like he doesn’t really have a place. Everything is hand-me-downs. His father runs the household, having lost his leg in the war, and now living with PTSD. Meanwhile, Mom works long hours in a local hospital.

Charlie attends Wonderland Elementary and is watching most of his friends flee for farther away schools for sixth grade. Their parents don’t want their children exposed to the bussed in students. Charlie though has other problems, a mother suffering from debilitating depression,  and an upcoming birthday that will make him older than his brother who died the year before of a severe asthma attack.

Told in alternating points of view, with a few asides by the yard duty officer, this Armstrong & Charlie is the story of a growing friendship between two reluctant sixth graders.

Sarah Sammis, Puss Reboots

Caleb and Kit
by Beth Vrabel
Running Press Kids
Nominated by: Mrs. Shh!

Caleb wants to be like every other twelve year old, but he isn’t. He is battling a life threatening disease that many have never heard of Cystic Fibrous. CF as many call it is affecting not just him but his whole family. From his annoying “perfect” older brother, to his divorced parents and countless trips to the hospital ER and hospital stays. He just wants to be like all the other kids he knows. He want’s to live life to the fullest and not do the daily treatments in order to breathe. One day Caleb meets Kit and she doesn’t treat him like he is a fragile boy, she doesn’t ask questions she just accepts him for who he is. She has a full vivid imagination and they create this magical world in the woods. Problem is Caleb is sick and he can’t keep up this charade for long with out his actions creating some serious consequences.

Caleb and Kit is the first middle grade book I’ve read that discusses Cystic Fibrous in a plain matter of fact manner. It doesn’t sugar coat the disease and shows the reader how life is like for the 30,000+ people living with it. The author presents the facts and intertwined it with a story of friendship, family, growing up and challenges of living with a chronic illness. Cystic Fibrous is the back story but not the whole story, we learn so much about Caleb, his family and Kit. Caleb and Kit is a heartwarming tale that will delight the reader.

Shannon Griffin, Picture Books to YA

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
by Dusti Bowling
Sterling Publishing
Nominated by: Heidi G.

Even though Aven was born without arms, she has never let that stop her from doing the same things as her classmates. She even entertains them with interesting stories about how she lost her arms. When her father gets a job managing Stagecoach Pass, an old west town in Arizona, Aven finds her new classmates judge her on sight and don’t want to give her a chance. Afraid to turn her classmates off completely by watching her eat with her feet, Aven seeks refuge in the school library. There she meets Connor, a boy with Tourette’s syndrome, and Zion, a shy overweight boy. Together they find a way to fight peer pressure and expectations while solving the mystery of Stagecoach Pass. A fun and heartfelt story about overcoming expectations and finding self-worth. Readers will love Aven and her friends and all of the interesting characters she meets at the park.

Stacy Mozer, It’s All About the Journey

by Alan Gratz
Nominated by: Wendy

Three children, three countries, three points in history.  Refugee is three stories in one.  

Josef a Jewish boy surviving in 1930’s Nazi Germany. Will his family be able to find a better life after they board a boat on its way to Cuba?  Isabel lives in Castro controlled Cuba in 1994. Her family and best friends board a makeshift boat and try to make it to United State soil before the US Coast Guard find them. The seas can be rough but living in Cuba is rougher. Mahmoud lives in Syria in 2015 where the war has been going on for as long as he can remember. His family will trek across many countries and face so many hardships and challenges. They will make unthinkable sacrifices until they get a to a safe place. Syria might have broken them but maybe not all is lost…

Refugee is a story of family, hope, survival and heartache. Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud experience more in their young lives than most people. You will cry for them, you will cheer for them, their stories will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Shannon Griffin, Picture Books to YA

by Gordon Korman
Nominated by: Deb

What happens when the school bully loses his memory? In a page-turning and readable book balanced with humor and serious Gordon Kormon takes on that question.

When Chase wakes up in the hospital he doesn’t remember what happened. He doesn’t remember falling off the roof and he has no clue who any of the people in the room with him are. He remembers nothing. So begins his journey to recovering his memory that becomes a chance to become a better person. Chase finds out he is a football star and also one of the most popular kids at school. And he also discovers he’s a bully. There are hints early on when his little half-sister clearly shows she’s afraid of him and soon there is no doubt. Chase was a nasty bully responsible for the tormenting of a student at school to the point that that student leaves and goes to another school. It won’t be easy for Chase to redeem himself if that is what he truly wants. It shouldn’t be.

What makes this standout is how Kormon manages to blend several voices in telling this story to show that Chase has a long way to go to prove he is not the guy he was before the accident. He is given a chance to start again, but not without a hard look at what he did and the pain he caused. And in writing the story the way he did, Kormon shines a light on everyone’s role in bullying, including parents, other students at the school and school administration,

Restart is stand out book with wide appeal , that will also generates some fine classroom discussion, this is a book that ticks all the Cybils Award boxes.

Deb Marshall, Read, Write, Tell

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
by Pablo Cartaya
Viking Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

Arturo lives in a very close knit community– his family owns an apartment building, and his family, his grandmother, and most of his aunts and uncles live there. His abuela runs La Cocina de la Isla, a restaurant where his mother is the head chef. When the slick Wilfrido Pipo comes to Canal Grove and threatens to tear down many of the buildings, Arturo must protect his comfortable world. As serious as the urban renewal is, however,  Arturo’s teenage concerns are paramount. Will he be taken seriously as a dishwasher? Can he care for his abuela? Does Carmen like him? Readers will identify with these concerns while having a window into what it would be like to live in a close knit Florida community.

This warm tale of family, food and friends, with the addition of a delightfully over-the-top villain, was a delightful change from the standard tales of gloom and doom coming out for middle grade readers, and the panelists gobbled this up… and got hungry for churros while reading this humorous and insightful tale.

Karen Yingling, Ms. Yingling Reads