Middle Grade Review: Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Genres: Middle Grade, Novel in Verse
Maturity Level: 2
Content Warning: Islamophobia
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.


This will be a short review. I don’t fully “get” free-verse poetry, so I’m not quite sure what all to say, but this book felt just amazing.

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Middle Grade Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Series: Tristan Strong
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?


I feel like in writing a review of a Rick Riordan Presents book it’s impossible to not compare the book to Percy Jackson. Tristan Strong was just about as different from Percy Jackson as possible while still falling under the same modern-mythology umbrella.

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Middle Grade Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.


THIS BOOK!!! WOW!!! I mean, what can I even say?, it won every award there is pretty much, and deserved it. It’s just so fabulous.

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Classic Remarks: Laura Ingles Wilder in School

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie has been criticized for its depiction of Native Americans as “primitive.” Should students continue to read this book in school?

I want to start by saying that, as a teacher-librarian, I think kids would better served reading fewer classics and more books they are going to be able to relate to and without old-fashioned language to decode. I don’t want to throw the classics out, but for elementary schoolers there’s not really a reason to read Little House in the Big Wood AND Sarah Plain and Tall AND Charlotte’s Web. If there’s nothing in your curriculum for kids under the age of 13 written since 2010, in my opinion your curriculum needs to be adjusted.

There’s a lot of reasons for this that aren’t the point of this post, but I’ll summarize by saying that the major points of doing a novel study in elementary school are 1) improving kids’ reading level by challenging them without challenging them so much they can’t get it, 2) teaching them to love reading, and 3) make connections with literary elements they’re learning about and see them in the wild. If the book has antique language, that can be an added element of difficulty that can prevent them from enjoying and understanding a book, which interferes with all three goals. AND if they aren’t being presented with books they love, kids won’t learn to love reading. It’s not that kids won’t love classics, but they may be able to connect more with some of the FANTSTIC kids’ lit being written today.

I also want to preface by saying that I loved the Little House books, especially the later novels, as a young person and read them more than once. While I now understand that it’s a pretty ethnocentric look at the past, I credit Wilder with starting my interest in Historical Fiction and history in general.

Moving on to the discussion.

No, there’s not a reason for teachers to be teaching Laura Ingles Wilder in 2020. While I don’t necessarily have *as* big of a problem with Little House in the Big Woods, and can understand why teachers would use it as an example of Historical Fiction, I think the problems with the series don’t outweigh the benefits of an actual first-person account of pioneer life.

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Middle Grade Review: Sweep

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 3 (Content Warning: Child Abuse)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on “climbing boys”–orphans owned by chimney sweeps–to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived–and a girl. With her wits and will, she’s managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again.

But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature–a golem–made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire.


Sweep is historical fiction set in Victorian London with just a touch of magic. This is not a happy story, but is brutal in its honesty. While I didn’t find it particularly inspiring or touching, it’s impossible to deny the power of the story.

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Middle Grade Review: Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo

Series: Charlie Hernández
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Charlie Hernández has always been proud of his Latin American heritage. He loves the culture, the art, and especially the myths. Thanks to his abuela’s stories, Charlie possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the monsters and ghouls who have spent the last five hundred years haunting the imaginations of children all across the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Central and South America. And even though his grandmother sometimes hinted that the tales might be more than mere myth, Charlie’s always been a pragmatist. Even barely out of diapers, he knew the stories were just make-believe—nothing more than intricately woven fables meant to keep little kids from misbehaving.

But when Charlie begins to experience freaky bodily manifestations—ones all too similar to those described by his grandma in his favorite legend—he is suddenly swept up in a world where the mythical beings he’s spent his entire life hearing about seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Hispanic folklore and into his life. And even stranger, they seem to know more about him than he knows about himself.

Soon, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an ancient battle between La Liga, a secret society of legendary mythological beings sworn to protect the Land of the Living, and La Mano Negra (a.k.a. the Black Hand), a cabal of evil spirits determined to rule mankind. With only the help of his lifelong crush, Violet Rey, and his grandmother’s stories to guide him, Charlie must navigate a world where monsters and brujas rule and things he couldn’t possibly imagine go bump in the night. That is, if he has any hope of discovering what’s happening to him and saving his missing parents (oh, and maybe even the world).

No pressure, muchacho.


Perfect for the fans of Percy Jackson and Aru Shah, Charlie Hernández is an action-adventure full of Hispanic and Latinx mythology and a good dose of humor.

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Middle Grade Review: Watchdog

Watchdog by Will McIntosh

Genres: Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating:
⋆⋆⋆

Thirteen-year-old twins Vick and Tara have built an incredible machine–a loyal robotic watchdog named Daisy. But, when local crime boss Ms. Alba schemes to add Daisy to her robot army, Vick and Tara must go to great lengths to protect their prized pet. Because Daisy is more than just any robot–she’s their constant protector, and together the three make a great team.

Vick and Tara are determined to stop the mob from tearing their little family apart. And they might just succeed! Sure, the evil Ms. Alba has more robot watchdogs, but none are as smart–or as faithful–as their Daisy. Plus, if things get too dangerous, Tara could always upgrade their pet. With her mechanical skills, she could make Daisy bigger, stronger, and a lot more intimidating!


This was a fun book, and a good first dystopian for kids. But it didn’t blow me away.

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Middle Grade Review: Finding Orion

Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Genre: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jelly beans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always onstage and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk. He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays, handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially since his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his funeral and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover.

He doesn’t know how right he is.


There’s not really a tactful way to say this, so I’ll be blunt. I didn’t like this book and I wouldn’t give it to a kid.

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Middle Grade Review: The Magic Misfits

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

Series: The Magic Misfits
Genres: Middle-Grade, Fiction
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating:
⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded illusionists. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they’ll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso’s villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.


I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. I loved everything about this book. I loved the writing, I loved the themes, I loved the puzzles and codes, I loved the magic, I loved the characters, I loved the friendship. It just made me feel so gosh darned GOOD.

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Middle Grade Review: Lafayette!

Lafayette! by Nathan Hale

Series: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
Genres: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Gilbert du Motier became the Marquis de Lafayette at a young age, but he was not satisfied with the comforts of French nobility—he wanted adventure!

A captain at eighteen and a major general by nineteen, he was eager to prove himself in battle. When he heard about the Revolution going on in America, he went overseas and fought alongside Alexander Hamilton and George Washington for America’s independence.


YOU GUYS! If you’re a teacher or librarian and haven’t heard of Nathan Hale, I can only assume you’ve been living under a box. He takes historical figures and events and makes them kid-friendly. They are graphic novels told with a sense of humor and historical accuracy.

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