Summer 2016’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: Puppies, Floating Schools, Fairy Tales, and More

Summer 2016’s Best Children’s and Middle Grade Books: Puppies, Floating Schools, Fairy Tales, and More

Summertime is all about adventures, and these books take readers to places beyond their wildest dreams. Author and illustrator Ben Hatke weaves a tale of a goblin searching for his best friend, and young adult author Tahereh Mafi tries her hand at middle grade and delivers a colorful story reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If your little reader appreciates realism, we’ve got books for that too. There’s a picture book perfect for readers who sometimes struggle to behave, and a heartwarming middle grade novel about a boy and his dog. No matter where this season takes you, you’ll want to have some books to keep you company and these are the best ones out there.

Picture Books

Nobody Likes a Goblin

When someone asks you if you’re a king, you say yes!

Goblin is minding his own business, relaxing in his dungeon with his friend Skeleton when a group of pesky adventurers storms in. They take everything they can get their hands on: gold, books, and even Skeleton! Though he is small and a little scared, Goblin vows to get his friend back. Armed with nothing but Skeleton’s golden crown atop his green head, Goblin sets out. He very nicely asks for help, but the farmers and elves that he encounters don’t like goblins, no matter how friendly or polite. Luckily, Goblin finds that he does have friends in very unexpected places. The oft-maligned Goblin is a hero, while the wizards and elves are sent scampering in this delightful picture book. Expertly drawn and written, Nobody Likes a Goblin is classic Ben Hatke: enchanting, funny, and heartwarming.

On shelves: June 7

Steamboat School

The Floating Freedom School

The year is 1847, the place is St. Louis, and the problem is that James doesn’t want to go to school (some things never change). But that was before he met his teacher, Reverend John Meachum. Rev. John encourages James to do his best, and shares with his students stories from his own life: his years spent as a slave, working in the mines to earn his freedom, and the time he walked hundreds of miles to free his wife. With the help of Rev. John, James takes a liking to school. He’s devastated when the police barge into their classroom and tell everyone that Missouri outlawed education for African Americans. Not one to ever give up, Rev. John works with James to build a boat that they can sail along the Mississippi—keeping their classroom safely away from the discriminatory law. Author Deborah Hopkinson skillfully crafts this reimagining of historical events, and Ron Husband’s illustrations make this inspiring tale come alive.

On shelves: June 7

The Storyteller

Once upon a time…

Author and illustrator Evan Turk weaves a mystical story about a kingdom in Morocco threatened by a powerful dessert djinn. A thirsty boy wanders his drought-stricken village in search of a cup of water. Instead, he finds a storyteller. The storyteller promises the boy that if he sits and listens to a single tale, his thirst will be quenched. Sure enough, by the time the storyteller has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is filled with water. When a desert djinn comes to threaten the kingdom, the boy decides to use the magical storytelling he experienced to drive the djinn away. An author’s note expands on the importance of storytellers in Morocco and the recent resurgence of storytelling culture. Turk has created a unique book that highlights the magic inherent in stories. This is a book meant to be read aloud over and over again.

On shelves: June 28

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion

The better to trick you with, my dear

There are plenty of fairy tale retellings out there, but Alex T. Smith’s version is too delectable to miss out on. The hungry and ferocious lion is on the prowl for his next meal, and he thinks Little Red would be a perfect appetizer before he gobbles up her sick Aunt Rosie. But Little Red doesn’t fancy being on a dinner menu, and though the lion is the king of the savanna, he didn’t count on Little Red seeing through his disguise. Forget the hunter with his axe; Little Red can save herself, thank you very much.

On shelves: July 26

Return

Where you lead, I will follow

Readers will be delighted to return to the fantasy world created by Caldecott Honoree Aaron Becker. In this final volume, the lonely girl and her magic red crayon pass through the enchanted door in her bedroom after once more being neglected by her busy father. Unlike the events of the first book, this time her artist father takes note of her absence and decides to follow her and bring her back home. But all is not well in the fantasy kingdom. A warrior invades and steals the magic crayons. The girl and her father must work together to save this magical land. The Journey books are wordless, told entirely in pictures, and budding artists will be moved by Becker’s ability to craft an engaging story with only images. If you and your child have yet to be bewitched by this captivating story, head to your local bookstore and pick up the entire series.

On shelves: August 2

The Snurtch

It wasn’t me

Author Sean Ferrell and illustrator Charles Santoso stole our hearts with I Don’t Like Koala, and now they’re back with the tale of a little girl with a big problem. Everywhere Ruthie goes, the Snurtch (and destruction) follows. The Snurtch throws pencils, belches, and gets Ruthie in trouble with her teacher and classmates. The Snurtch, a wild-eyed creature drawn in crayon that looks a bit like a feral cat, seems untameable until Ruthie decides to share her problem with her classmates. This book cleverly tackles the topic of a child with behavioral problems, and shows that the other students in the class have Snurtches of their own. Parents of little readers with big emotional reactions are sure to find a lot to love in this quirky tale, and kids will want to head straight to the drawing board to sketch out what their Snurtch looks like.

On shelves: August 30

Middle Grade

When Friendship Followed Me Home

Only me beside you, still, you’re not alone

Don’t be fooled by the happy dog on the cover; Paul Griffin’s latest is a tearjerker. After spending most of his life in foster care, 12-year-old Ben is tentatively happy when he’s adopted by a kind and loving older woman. His new home is on Coney Island and close to the beach, the boardwalk, and a great library where he meets and befriends Halley, the librarian’s daughter. They hit it off instantly, and whenever Halley isn’t at the hospital (receiving chemotherapy treatments) she’s hanging with Ben. But by far the best thing about his new life is Flip, the dog he finds and rescues. In an instant, though, Ben’s life changes again. His adoptive mom dies and he’s shuttled off to live with his aunt and uncle. Then Halley’s health begin to fail. Ben isn’t sure he can take any more heartache and his view of the world around him is bleak. With the help of Flip and Halley’s family, he might just see that he isn’t as alone as he fears that he is.

On shelves: June 7

Every Single Second

Tick tock

Can a second really make a difference? That’s the question Nella asks herself as she watches her community torn apart by the split-second decision her friend’s brother Anthony made to fire a gun. Now an African American man is dead, and racial tensions between the Italian and African Americans in the community are running high. The world around Nella is changing so fast that she can barely keep up, and there’s no chance of it slowing down. When Nella uncovers a secret about her father’s past, and a crime that changed his life forever, she begins to think about those small moments that can have a huge impact. Author Tricia Springstubb weaves an emotional tale about friendship, choices, and time.

On shelves: June 7

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story

Together we stand

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Young readers are sure to have questions about what happened and why, and Nora Raleigh Baskin’s sensitive novel serves as a good first step towards understanding the significance of that day. The story follows four diverse middle schoolers who all find themselves at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on September 9, 2001. Each is preoccupied with a major event occurring in their own lives: Will is grieving after his father’s death, Aimee is preparing to moving to Los Angeles, Sergio is celebrating winning a national math award, and Nadira is struggling to fit in at her new school, where classmates make fun of her head scarf. Each is touched by the attacks in a different way, and the book visits them again during the first anniversary ceremonies to show the aftermath for their lives and the country.

On shelves: June 28

Sticks & Stones

The healing power of words

Elyse is plagued by a unique affliction called congadjivisbilitis. Essentially, the words people use to describe her appear on her body like temporary tattoos. Kind words are soothing to her skin, while negative ones itch constantly. Readers will easily know that surviving middle school isn’t an easy task with the word “LOSER” printed on your arm. Elyse struggles to adjust and soon “PATHETIC” and “WORTHLESS” appear on her body, words that she thinks about herself. But then an anonymous note changes everything. The writer claims he or she can help Elyse, and Elyse willing to try anything. Abby Cooper’s novel is a smart and genuine tale about a girl learning to accept herself, and it’ll serve as a powerful reminder to readers that words can hurt, but they can also heal.

On shelves: July 12

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The monsters turned out to be just trees

The people of the Protectorate live in fear of the witch who lives in the forest. Each year they leave a baby in the woods as a peace offering to keep their village safe. Little do they know, the witch is a kind woman named Xan. She retrieves the abandoned babies, feeds them starlight, and passes them on to loving families on the other side of the forest. But one year she makes a mistake and feeds a baby moonlight instead and the child develops magical abilities. Xan decides to raise the girl and call her Luna. Years later, on Luna’s 13th birthday, the magic in her begins to surface and not a moment too soon—the villagers are preparing to kill the witch and Luna may be the only one who can protect her. Kelly Barnhill’s magical world is populated by an old swamp monster, a talkative dragon, and a multitude of characters who are more than who they appear to be. Fans of fairy tales are in for a spellbinding read.

On shelves: August 9

Furthermore

Tumble down the rabbit hole

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is known for one thing. No, it’s not her epic name. It’s the fact that she’s entirely devoid of color. Her world of Ferenwood is filled with both magic and color, two things that she desperately wishes she possessed. Alice tries to keep her head down, which is why she isn’t looking forward to her Surrender, the time when she’s meant to stand in front of everyone in Ferenwood and reveal her magical talent. When Oliver Newbanks approaches and asks for help with his own Surrender talent, Alice is tempted to say no, but she reconsiders when he claims to know where her missing father is. Cue a rolicking, dangerous, and vivid adventure through Furthermore, where everything Alice and Oliver know to be true is turned upside down and inside out. This is Tahereh Mafi’s first middle grade book, and readers will pray that it is not her last.

On shelves: August 30

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