The Novice by Taran Matharu (2015)

noviceSolid fantasy of the classic variety, heavy on both action and politics.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   355 (for ISBN 9781250067128)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy

Tone/Style: epic

Pace: moderate

Topics: race relations, women’s rights, class struggle, war, demons, magic, magic schools

Themes: inequality, social justice, perseverance, friendship

Summary: Fletcher is working as a blacksmith’s apprentice when he discovers he has the rare ability to summon demons from another world. Chased from his village for a crime he did not commit, Fletcher must travel with his demon, Ignatius, to an academy for adepts, where the gifted are taught the art of summoning. Continue reading

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostAn up-and-coming rockstar of a writer takes on a younger audience in this quick, charming book about the healing power of a track team.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   192 (for ISBN 9781481450157)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, sports, diverse, African-American protagonist, award winner

Tone/Style: conversational, African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

Pace: fast

Topics: running track, shoes, stealing, traumatic past experiences, incarcerated parents

Themes: opening up about difficult life experiences, accountability, causes of misbehavior, hard work and determination, new friends

Summary: Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. (Source)

Who will like this book?: At 192 pages and with a sports theme, this should appeal to many reluctant readers. The book also has a fabulously diverse cast that offers representation to readers who may not see enough of themselves in literature. Castle (aka “Ghost”) is an honest and relatably flawed narrator. Ghost weighty enough that teachers should like it, too, making it a great choice for book reports.

Who won’t like this book?: It’s more of a character development book (though an unusually fast-moving one) than a plot-based book, and certain types of readers may reach the end and feel that not much happened in it.

Other comments: I read this as a physical book, but my coworkers tell me the audiobook is excellent. It won an Odyssey Honor this year. Ghost is also a National Book Award Finalist. It looks like this will be the first of several books about different members of the track team.

Sequel(s): Patina (expected August 2017); two more titles forthcoming (presumably called Lu and Sunny).

Readalikes: Jason Reynolds exploded onto the scene a few years ago and hasn’t stopped since. His  When I Was the Greatest and The Boy in the Black Suit are a good choices about urban black boys for slightly more mature audience (recommended for grades 7 and up). Ghetto Cowboy and Chess Rumble by G. Neri and Riding Chance by Christine Kendall are also books about black boys who find outlets in new hobbies. Readers interested in track can also try the ever-popular The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28954126-ghost

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I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest (2015)

17408897This unique book integrates comics into a mystery perfect for the internet generation.

Recommended grade level: 6-12

Pages: 232 (for ISBN 9780545620857)

Genre(s) and keywords: mystery

Tone/Style: modern, investigative

Pace: moderate

Topics: investigations, comics, hackers, the internet, escape, secrets

Themes: friendship, perseverance

Summary: Once upon a time…two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure.

Once upon a few years later…Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her. Continue reading

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (2012)

titanic

The tragedy of the Titanic is brought home through the stories of people who were there.

Recommended grade level: 6-10

Pages: 289 (for ISBN 9780545116749)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, history, survival

Tone/Style: informational, personal

Pace: moderate

Topics: Titanic, ships, disasters

Themes: sacrifice, selfishness, perseverance, courage, mistakes resulting in loss of life

Summary: Critically acclaimed nonfiction author Deborah Hopkinson pieces together the story of the TITANIC and that fateful April night, drawing on the voices of survivors and archival photographs. Continue reading

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)

Wonder_Cover_ArtHere’s a book that needs no introduction.

Recommended grade level: 4-8 (younger is fine for kids who are reading up)

Pages: 320 (for ISBN 9780375869020)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, Kylie’s favorites

Tone/Style: hopeful, personal

Pace: moderate

Topics: facial differences, new schools, making friends, fitting in, overcoming bullies

Themes: being different, familybetrayal by friends, perseverance, trying something new

Summary: August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. Continue reading

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart (2016)

some kindA classic-style Western for a new generation.

Recommended grade level: 4-8

Pages: 234 (for ISBN 9780545665773)

Genre(s) and keywords: adventure, Western, historical fiction

Tone/Style: determined, folksy

Pace: moderate

Topics: human/animal relationships, the Wild West, friendship

Themes: loyalty to family, grief, doing the right thing, never giving up

Summary: Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony-fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her. Continue reading

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (2012)

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An atmospheric novel-in-verse about self-sufficiency and strength of will.

Recommended grade level: 3-6

Pages: 240 (for ISBN 9781582463933)

Genre(s) and keywords: historical fiction, survival, verse

Continue reading