Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (2017)

InsignificantA smart and hilarious voice sets this apart from other books in its genre.

Recommended grade level: 4 and up

Pages:   262 (for ISBN 9781454923459)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, humor, mystery, ability diverse

Tone/Style: blunt, humorous

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: differently-abled people, theme parks, moving, making friends, new experiences

Themes: perseverance, independence, family, being different, friendship

Summary: Aven Green gets that question a lot. She loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again. Continue reading

Posted by John David Anderson (2017)

postedA thought-provoking look at bullying and changing friendships, with just a touch of silliness in the mix.

Recommended grade level: 4 and up

Pages:  384 (for ISBN 9780062338204)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction

Tone/Style: both light and serious, thoughtful

Pace: moderate

Topics: bullying, LGBT issues, new friends, friend abandonment, technology

Themes: change, friendship

Summary:  There was a war. This is where it ended.

I can’t tell you exactly when it changed, when it spiraled out of control like a kite twisting in the wind. When it stopped being something funny and clever and became something else. Maybe there was no single moment. Maybe underneath all the squares plastered on the walls and notebooks and windows there was the same message over and over. We just ignored it because it was easier to stomach that way.

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Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017)

long wayAn unforgettable novel in verse about one boy’s role in a cycle of violence.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up

Pages:   320 (for ISBN 9781481438254)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, verse, diverse, own voices, African-American, reluctant readers, award winners

Tone/Style: spare, hard-hitting

Pace: fast

Topics: inner city life, gangs, ghosts

Themes: revenge, grief, cycle of violence, decisions, family

Summary: An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds—the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.
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Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (2018)

aru shahA heartwarming fantasy steeped in Hindu mythology.

Recommended grade level: 4 and up

Pages:  355 (for ISBN 9781368012355)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, diverse, own voices, Indian-American

Tone/Style: epic, humorous, sincere

Pace: moderate

Topics: Hindu gods, quests, religion, mythology

Themes: responsiblity, destiny, heroism, friendship

Summary: Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? Continue reading

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale (2017)

unbeatableCute, funny, and a little bit corny, this is a celebration of being yourself.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   324 (for ISBN 9781484781548)

Genre(s) and keywords: humor, science fiction, adventure, superheroes

Tone/Style: humorous, goofy

Pace: moderate

Topics: superheroes, secrets, identity

Themes: being different, being oneself, friendship

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Doreen Green moved from sunny California to the suburbs of New Jersey. She must start at a new school, make new friends, and continue to hide her fluffy tail. Yep, Doreen has the powers of . . . a squirrel! Continue reading

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (2013)

Action-palockwoodcked, legitimately scary, and distinctly British.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:   390 (for ISBN 9781423164913)

Genre(s) and keywords: horror, mystery

Tone/Style: scary, dark

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: ghosts, psychic powers, agencies

Themes: young people vs. adults, self-reliance, guilt

Summary: There is an epidemic of ghosts in Britain. Their touch brings death, and only children have the power to fight them.

Lucy Carlyle, a young psychic investigator, joins London’s smallest agency, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood and his ever-hungry assistant  George Cubbins. Together the trio must investigate some of the spookiest and deadliest spectral hauntings in the city, armed only with the tools of the ghost-hunting trade (magnesium flares, iron filings, chains and salt bombs), their courage and a thermos of tea.

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Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson (2013)

steelGore! Explosions! Gigantic weapons! What’s not to love?

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:   386 (for ISBN 9780385743563)

Genre(s) and keywords: action, dystopian, science fiction

Tone/Style: dark, gritty

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: supervillains, rebellion

Themes: power, revenge

Summary: There are no heroes.

Every single person who manifested powers—we call them Epics—turned out to be evil.

Here, in the city once known as Chicago, an extraordinarily powerful Epic declared himself Emperor. Steelheart has the strength of ten men and can control the elements. It is said no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, no explosion can burn him. He is invincible. Continue reading