The state of middle grade fiction for kids today is interesting. Unlike YA (Bitterblue, anyone?), there aren’t any sequels on the horizon, aside from the odd Riordan, that folks are really looking forward to. On the one hand it’s a disappointing state of affairs, implying that chapter books have sort of ground to a slow halt in the aftermath of the Harry Potter phenomenon. They’re just not garnering the same buzz they used to. When a mainstream news outlet like Entertainment Weekly wants to look at what’s going to be hot in 2012, they inevitably just chose YA titles. That said, there are some books out there that have caught my eye and that I’m personally really looking forward to reading. Obviously they’re all spring and summer releases. To wit:
Giants Beware! by Jorge Agruirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado (April 2012)
I never said the novels had to be entirely text-based, did I? So I start us off with a middle grade graphic novel, just for kicks. I’ll be talking this one up a little more thoroughly when I write up the Macmillan Spring 2012 Librarian Preview but until then let’s just say that this is a First Second creation about a girl who wants to slay giants even though there are none in sight.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce (March 2012)
I confess to you that I have never read Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, nor have I seen the movie. This is one of those stories where you hear bits and pieces over the years but they get all muddled in your brain and you never really figure out what’s going on. If you were to ask me to describe the plot of the original book I’d tell you that it has something to do with a flying car, an evil toymaker (is that right?), candy whistles (??), two kids, and Dick van Dyke. Close? No, the real reason I’m excited about this is because Frank Cottrell Boyce is a genius with the pen. If he were writing a sequel to the phone book, I’d be first in line to get my own copy. You bet.
Merits of Mischief: The Bad Apple by T.R. Burns (May 2012)
There are books that you’re excited to see because they have cool covers and there are books that you’re excited to see because of good word of mouth. This title has both. I brought it home, truth be told, because it was square. The book has four equal sides to it. For some reason, this format was so novel that I simply had to see what the deal was. After I put it on my shelf a friend saw it sitting there and said that it was actually a fun bit of writing. They were surprised that it was going to print so soon. Boo-yah!
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (January 2012)
Well, duh. First off, amazing cover. Amazing. It’s not hiding the fact that the protagonist is black, nor is it ashamed of the fact that it takes place in the past. Even if Curtis were not the author of this book I’d be reading it first and foremost because I liked the cover so much. THAT is how you sell a book, people.
Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans (April 2012)
Like the Burns title, I chose this one to come home with me (not everything I get sent makes it that far) based on cover alone. There’s something vaguely Edward Gorey-ish about it. The fact that it was longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prinze in 2011 in the UK doesn’t hurt matters much either. I also rather like the first sentence. “Stuart Horten was small for his age – the smallest boy in his grade at school – and both his parents were very tall, which meant that when he stood next to them he looked about the size of an ant.”
Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley (April 2012)
This one is being pushed pretty hard by Penguin. Normally I don’t care one way or another when a book has a lot of early support (I’ve been burned before) but this one could work out. It has a premise I can get behind, certainly. In the town of Remarkable one girl turns out to be pretty ordinary. I like it. Sort of like those books where a kid turns out to be ordinary in a town full of superheroes.
The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks (March 2012)
Like Frank Cottrell Boyce my faith in Catherine Jinks is eternal. For me, she can do no wrong. And I love the American cover. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it online and I’m too lazy to scan it myself, so I’ve posted what appears to be the British cover of the same book. Trust me when I say that the American version is fantastic in its own way. With its very Adam Rex-ish look it manages to combine cute and creepy in some really enjoyable ways. It’s by one Scott Altmann, a fellow whose I’ve admired for years yet I continually blank on his name. For a fun time click through his website to see all the familiar jackets he’s done.
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Niesen (April 2012)
This makes for a nice contrast with the Jinks title. While with Jinks I was attracted to the cover and the familiar author, I include this book entirely because of the buzz I’ve heard around it. Several people I trust have assured me that this is a book to look out for. The jacket doesn’t do anything for me in particular, but that’s okay. I’m just glad I know folks willing to look beyond packaging to find the gems out there.
Cold Cereal by Adam Rex (February 2012)
Speaking of Mr. Rex, here’s his latest middle grade. Someone was complaining to me the other day about the fact that while his art is amazing and his writing quirky and fun, his covers don’t do it for some folks. I’m rather partial to this one (as opposed to his The True Meaning of Smekday) but I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince kids to read it. When I offered a copy to the kids in my bookgroup I had to tell them the premise before they warmed to it. Actually, all I had to do was tell them the hero’s name. It’s “Scottish Play Doe”. Got a huge kick out of that, they did.
Lone Bean by Chudney Ross (June 2012)
Yeah, I really just want to read this one because of the cover. Nuff said.