April 12, 2016 Middle Grade Debuts

Football hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?  

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.

"An earnest first novel with a solid message about finding out who you are on your own terms."
-- Kirkus reviews
"A fresh and winning debut about the power of self-expression."
-- Booklist

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

"Thyme’s efforts to cope with the constant uncertainty and her feelings of insignificance in light of Val’s health issues illuminate the emotional impact a sibling’s serious illness has on the family... Thyme’s remarkable perseverance and resilience will inspire readers of Conklin’s compassionate tale."
-- Kirkus reviews
"Conklin successfully weaves together the shifting dynamics of a loving family under crisis with the less dramatic but equally heartfelt turmoil of coming of age in a new environment."
-- Publisher's Weekly

Sofia has never felt special. Not at school, or with her track team, and especially not since she’s become sick. 

She’s always been different, but this doesn’t make her stand out... it makes her invisible. Then something special lands right in Sofia’s lap. An ancient book that serves as a portal for the Greek philosopher, Xeno, one of Aristotle’s lost students. Sofia has been chosen to be the next Guardian. 

Suddenly Sofia is not only trying to survive middle-school cliques and first crushes, she’s in charge of protecting grotesquely beautiful, lonely monsters that have roamed the Earth for centuries. Drawn into Xeno’s violent and unpredictable world of mystery, Sofia learns that loving outsiders has a price.


An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even if it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!


Laura Shovan’s engaging, big-hearted debut is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.
 
Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
 
But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.

"Characters like Norah from Jerusalem; George, whose father recently left home; Shoshanna, dealing with a demanding friend (“When Hannah wins/ class president/ I’ll finally be free./ If she is boss/ of our whole grade/ she won’t be bossing me”); and Brianna, whose mother struggles to make ends meet, will inspire readers as they find the courage to save their school and make their voices heard, both as a united front and as capable, valuable individuals."
-- Publisher's Weekly

My review: This is an absolutely delightful story told through a series of lovely, heartfelt poems. Every student's voice is unique and interesting in its own way. Through their poems we get to watch them grow and change and adapt over the course of the school year, as they deal with not just the eventual closure of their school, but old friendships breaking up and new ones being made, parents divorcing or being deported, family members falling ill, crushes and disappointments and triumphs and so much more. 

The poems are funny and sad, silly and beautiful, charming and heartbreaking, sometimes all at the same time. I dare you to pick a favorite character from among the students. They're all too wonderful! It's impossible to choose just one.