The past couple of years have reawakened my interest in middle grade books, and especially middle grade sci-fi and fantasy. Still, I didn’t have a real grasp on just how many books were being published in the niche each year. Spoiler alert: there are a LOT. Middle grade (for readers ages 8-12) is flourishing. As a CYBILS judge for middle grade speculative fiction, I am reading some great books, and the mini-reviews below feature three that I found entertaining.
Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell.
Flora & Ulysses is the story of an extraordinary squirrel (Ulysses), a youthful cynic (Flora), and their comic book-inspired adventures. A rather extraordinary chain of events transformed an average squirrel into a flying, poetry-typing, super-strong wonder. Even Flora, who looks for cracks in logic and is always prepared for the worst, believes that Ulysses is special. But every superhero has an arch-nemesis, and Flora and Ulysses must navigate obstacles, relationships, and anti-squirrel elements to eventually save the day. K.G. Campbell’s illustrations make this hilarious and clever story come to life, and its sly humor will make readers of all ages smile.
Recommended for: young (and old!) fans of comics and superheros, those who have loved Kate DiCamillo’s previous books, and readers interested in magnificent squirrels, delicious words and wonderful surprises.
Flora the pig was born for adventure: “If it’s unexplored and needs to get dug up, call me. I’m your pig,” she says. The day Flora spots a team of sled dogs is the day she sets her heart on becoming a sled pig. Before she knows it, she’s on board a ship to Antarctica for the most exhilarating—and dangerous—adventure of her life. This poignant novel of a purposeful pig is sure to become a favorite with any young readers who have ever dreamed of exploring the great beyond.
Chris Kurtz's The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage is the story of Flora, an unusual piglet with an even more unlikely goal - to pull a sled, alongside dogs. When Flora boards a trip to Antarctica, she believes she's finally on her way. Unfortunately, not everyone is on the same page. Flora's story is one of bravery, friendship, and unlikely partnerships that will end up inspiring and changing each person (and animal!) they touch. It's a cute, idealistic, and sweet 'talking animal' story that will appeal to young readers and their parents.
"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.
Neil Gaiman’s middle grade novel Fortunately, the Milk is a brief yarn of the rip-roaring variety, with mad-cap adventure, strange encounters and space-time jumps. It’s a sweet meditation on fathers and children and the stories that make up a family history. It’s also beautifully illustrated by Skottie Young, far-fetched-but-charming in content and composition, and a great length (short!) for reluctant readers.
Recommended for: kids who haven’t outgrown illustrated stories, the adult who hasn’t outgrown his/her childhood imagination, and Neil Gaiman superfans.