CYBILS 2023 Middle-Grade Fiction Finalists

Farther Than the Moon
Lindsay Lackey
Roaring Brook Press
Nominated by: Anne-Marie Strohman

Lindsay Lackey’s Farther Than the Moon is the story of Houston and Robbie, brothers who dream of going to space. When Houston is accepted to a month-long astronaut camp, he’s over the moon. But Robbie’s cerebral palsy and epilepsy mean he must stay home. As Houston struggles with the program’s demands, he realizes getting Robbie to the cosmos might be impossible, but with the help of his new friends, he makes a plan that could change the way scientists think of space travel. Along the way, Houston learns the importance of intentions vs. actions and the value of giving everyone the chance to be seen. A diverse cast of wonderfully flawed characters come to life in this STEM-forward storyline that features themes of friendship, forgiveness and family.

Jessica Harrison, Cracking the Cover

Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen Books
Nominated by: Wendy

Hands by Tony Maldonado is a small book that packs a big punch. The main character, a 12-year-old boy, is concerned about the return of his abusive stepfather and wants to protect his mother and sister from him. However, through the course of the book, Maldonado challenges what it means to be Black and masculine, and what it means to protect others. Our main character, Trevor, embodies the conflict: he wants to be a man and protect his family, but is just a kid who just wants to hang with his friends, draw, and listen to music. A perfect book for younger and reluctant readers, Hands will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Melissa Fox, The Book Nut

No Place Like Home.
James Bird
Feiwel & Friends
Nominated by: Jen at Introverted Reader

James Bird’s novel, No Place Like Home, combines Ojibwe storytelling with a realistic portrayal of being unhoused as seen through the eyes of a child. Bird weaves the idea of being a warrior through Opin’s experiences in a compelling way, reminding readers how often humans tell ourselves stories to get through difficult moments. Opin’s mother teaches him Ojibwe words to help their language survive, but their family is struggling. Opin is the hero of his story and uses those stories and words to build the world he needs for himself and his newfound pet dog. This realistic portrayal of living out of a car and experiencing intergenerational trauma is equal parts heart-wrenching and hopeful.

Gabrielle Plastrik, X/Twitter

Simon Sort of Says
Erin Bow
Disney Hyperion Rick Riordan presents
Nominated by: Susan (Bloggin’ ’bout Books)

Simon may be the only kid excited to move to the National Quiet Zone. Not having internet access means the kids at his new school can’t discover the real reason he moved to town, and that’s precisely how Simon wants things to stay. With an extraordinary amount of skill, Erin Bow has crafted a story with a tragedy at the center, surrounded by moments of hilarity and levity. Strong themes of grief and PTSD are woven among tales of alpacas in church, a eucharist-eating squirrel, and the reality of truth in friendship while never diminishing the lasting effects of trauma. Simon is a realistic character grappling to find his way after a life-altering event while learning what it means to be cared for. The sensitivity given to Simon’s experience, balanced with laugh-out-loud scenes and empathic relationships, makes this exceptional story a must-read.

Amanda Sealey, @sealeycrew

Tethered to Other Stars
Elisa Stone Leahy
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Kasey Giard

In Tethered to Other Stars, Leahy explores themes of immigration both documented and undocumented microaggressions, standing up for oneself, and being compassionate to those around you. Leahy does all this while giving us a story of a first-generation American Latinx girl, Wendy, who has dreams of becoming an astrophysicist and who learns that keeping quiet about her family’s story and her desires and opinions is not the best way to change things for the better. This is an excellent novel that will delight all kinds of readers with characters who are interested in STEM, running for student council, and activism in the community. It’s sure to have readers of all ages cheering for everyone by the end.

Melissa Fox, The Book Nut

The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn
Sally J. Pla
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Kate Mccue-Day

Maudie spends the school year with her mom and step dad and summers with her dad at his cabin in the California woods. This summer, however, a wildfire forces them to escape down the coast to a friend’s trailer by the sea. Her summer with her dad by the water is not at all what she expected, and because she is autistic, change can be very difficult. Surprisingly, Maudie adjusts well, making friends, and learning about her dad’s own experiences growing up neurodiverse and Latinx. Despite all this, Maudie is struggling with a secret she promised her mother she would keep. Middle School kids will relate to Maudie struggling to fit in, adjust, and make friends in a new place. This extremely emotional story will keep kids riveted from the start and have them rooting for Maudie until the end. This story also has the ability to help readers build empathy for others who might be in similar situations as Maudie. Author Sally Pla writes her main character from the heart and from a first hand authentic neurodiverse voice.

Kate Mccue-Day , @Mrsmccueday

What Happened to Rachel Riley?
Claire Swinarski
Quill Tree Books
Nominated by: Missy Ewing

Thirteen-year-old Anna has just moved to a new school and notices that one girl, Rachel, seems to be ostracized from every one in the 8th grade. Determined to solve the mystery, she pursues gathering information for her podcast despite the fact that no one wants to talk about it. As little clues begin to emerge, Anna finds a website where the boys have been giving each other points based on harassing the girls – even though they say they’re “just joking.” In What Happened to Rachel Riley?, Swinarski has given us a mystery to solve along with Anna, while confronting the casual sexual harassment that girls of all ages encounter daily. This novel has high potential as a classroom or school-wide read beyond the individual readers it will gather on its own.

Cindy Mitchell, Kiss the Book