2020 Finalists: Middle-Grade Fiction

Echo Mountain (AmazonIndieBound)
by Lauren Wolk
Dutton Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deb Nance at Readerbuzz

The Great Depression impacts twelve-year-old Ellie and her family. Losing everything forces them to move from town to the wilds of Echo Mountain. Her father, a tailor by trade, must now learn a new life and become a rugged “mountain man.” Her mother tries her best to make things work and hold the family together. Ellie explores the vast richness of her surroundings reveling in nature and finding joy by discovering this new world and its secrets, but when a terrible accident injures her father, Ellie takes unfair and silent blame from her family. She feels she must make it up to them, so she seeks out the help of a healer far up the mountain known only as “the hag.” Whispered about by the locals, the “hag” has become a mysterious (and feared) legend. Ellie believes her father’s only hope lies in a natural treatment the healer is sure to provide. In her quest to find the hag, Ellie finds her own inner strength.

Prose as beautifully resplendent as the mountain setting, Wolk delivers in this brilliant tale of resilience, determination, and finding yourself. Echo Mountain is the rare coming of age story that will resonate with readers of all ages. Recommended for any classroom reading group or book club, and Echo Mountain would be a fine read for background history of The Great Depression.

P. Thompson McLeod, Young Adult Books–What We’re Reading Now

Efrén Divided (AmazonIndieBound)
by Ernesto Cisneros
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: GayAnna

Like many American seventh grade boys, Efrén Nava spends his days hanging with his best friend, wolfing down his mom’s delicious cooking, dealing with annoying younger siblings, and obsessing over looking just right. Unlike most of his peers, Efrén lives in fear that his parents’ illegal immigrant status will be discovered. When his worst fears come true and his mother is sent back to Mexico, Efrén has to keep things together at home while his father takes on extra work. Between wrangling his rambunctious siblings, trying to keep up with his schoolwork, and helping his BFF with a school election that is quickly going off the rails, Efrén is exhausted, terrified, and in need of the kind of help he’s too scared to ask for. Can he keep it all together so no one finds out what’s really going on in his life? Will his family ever be reunited? How will Efrén cope when his whole world is falling apart?

Susan Jensen, Bloggin’ ’bout Books

Fighting Words (AmazonIndieBound)
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books
Nominated by: Joella Bagshaw

Ten-year-old Delicious “Della” Roberts (“I answer to Della, not Delicious, thank you.”) has experienced enough trauma to last a lifetime. Thankfully, Della has always had a fierce protector in her older sister Suki. But after their mother is sent to prison for a drug-related accident, leaving both girls with an abusive man, the pair are placed in foster care where they cope with the aftermath in diverging ways. Della’s deadpan humor and nascent hope shine through this difficult yet deeply necessary story about speaking up and fighting back.

Emma Kantor, Goodreads

From the Desk of Zoe Washington (AmazonIndieBound)
by Janae Marks
Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated by: Susan (Bloggin’ ’bout Books)

Zoe Washington has never met her father. So when she accidentally discovers a letter from her incarcerated father on her twelfth birthday, she decides to reply. As their correspondence continues, the racism and flaws of the justice system are uncovered, inspiring Zoe to begin an investigation of her own. This heartwarming novel, filled with hope, love, and resilience tackles important issues alongside the traditional complications of growing up.

Haley Shaffer, Teachers Who Read

King and the Dragonflies (AmazonIndieBound)
by Kacen Callender
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: literacyedprof

Ever since Kingston James’ older brother Khalid suddenly passed away King and his family have been struggling with grief. King wishes he could talk to his best friend Sandy Sanders about the fact that King thinks Khalid turned into a dragonfly after his death and that King visits the bayou each day on his way home from school in hopes of connecting with his deceased brother. However, one of the last things that Khalid told King was that he needed to end his friendship with Sandy so that others wouldn’t think he was gay. When Sandy suddenly goes missing, King finds his emotions constantly turning as he tries to figure out who he is, what is most important to him, and what he wants to do for himself and those he loves who are still confronting tragedy and grief.

Joella Peterson Bagshaw, Provo Library Children’s Book Reviews

Show Me a Sign (AmazonIndieBound
by Ann Clare LeZotte
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Mary Lambert has lived a sheltered life in her 19th century Martha’s Vineyard home. She, like many others in her community, is Deaf, which attracts the attention of a scientist who seeks to discover why so many of the island’s residents are Deaf. Mary must navigate rising tensions between colonial settlers and the island’s Wampanoag people, the death of her brother, and the scientist’s cruel plans as she seeks to save herself.

Ness Shortley, Instagram

The Land of the Cranes (Amazon, IndieBound
by Aida Salazar
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: NoNieqa Ramos

Betita Quinteron is a young Latinx girl in Los Angeles who loves to write and create picture poems. When her Papi is deported to Mexico, she and her pregnant mother try to visit, but miss a crucial highway exit and end up detained. Despite the difficult conditions and the despair over their family being separated, Betita and her mother find community with other asylum seekers. Betita uses her creativity to share the truth about the ICE detention centers with others and share the dream her family has to “fly free.” This novel in verse is emotional, passionate, and timely, taking a complex problem and humanizing it.

Laura Gardner, Goodreads