2012 Picks of the Year — Middle Grade Chapter Books

9781452104676

Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals
By Hearst, Michael
2012-09 – Chronicle Books (CA)
9781452104676 $16.99

Michael Hearst is a composer of unusual music, including “Songs for Unusual Creatures.” He gathered so much fascinating material that he also wrote a book about fifty very strange animals, their habits and oddities. As a man of imagination, he has included not only the weirder details, but also playful humor and wit.

9781423135005

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
By Marsh, Katherine
Hyperion Books
9781423135005 $16.99

Jepp is a dwarf teenager, and in 16th century Europe a dwarf is a curiosity of economic value. A greasy nobleman promises Jepp’s unsophisticated mother good things for him, and carries Jepp off to court, where a world of capricious luxury awaits. The beds are soft, but full of humiliation, and after initial wide-eyed excitement, Jepp and a friend try to escape. They’re partially successful, but find themselves in an even stranger situation.

9780385737432

Liar and Spy
By Stead, Rebecca
Wendy Lamb Books
9780385737432 $15.99

Georges (the s is silent) isn’t thrilled about his family’s move to a smaller apartment, but he understands his dad is unemployed, his mother is working extra shifts at the hospital, and he should do his bit to help. So Georges explores and meets Safer and Candy, two kids on another floor. Safer is a self-appointed spy looking for an assistant, since Candy is goofy and unreliable. Georges is wary but polite, and the results are funny, touching, and surprising.

9780375869020

Wonder
By Palacio, R. J.
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780375869020 $15.99

Human kindness isn’t simple, as Auggie Pullman learns when he leaves the safety of homeschooling for a regular fifth grade class. His severe facial deformity gives everyone pause.  Among his family, classmates, and teachers, some are able to recognize the smart, funny, brave boy beneath the odd features, and some can barely tolerate him.  When the chips are down, when kids from another school start picking on Auggie, will anyone stand up for him?  The answer will sing out like a Handel oratorio.  In the few months since it was published, we already see schools taking up the book as a must read.

9780374350956

Fourmile
By Key, Watt
Farrar Straus Giroux
9780374350956 $16.99

Foster and his mother aren’t able to keep up the farm since his dad died, and his mother is trying to sell it, although she knows 12-year-old Foster wants to stay. Dax, the man who calls on her, is no friend to Foster, and Dax positively hates Foster’s dog Joe. Things are tense and getting worse when a stranger walks up the road. The stranger is Gary, an Iraq war vet who asks to trade barn shelter for chores. In Foster’s eyes Gary is a model of strength and masculine virtue. But Gary seems to have something to hide, and Dax would love to see Gary gone. The fiery climax reveals several things, including a more mature Foster.

9780547738475

The Last Dragonslayer
By Fforde, Jasper
Harcourt Children’s Books
9780547738475 $16.99

Reading Jasper Fforde is like listening to Spike Jones: serious sounding stuff except that there’s always one more outlandish boink and tootle where you least expect it. It works so well in Fforde’s Thursday Next mysteries that he’s now created the character of Jennifer Strange, a teenage foundling, who heads up Mystical Arts Management and keeps a knife-toothed Quarkbeast. Mystical arts and their practitioners were once revered, but lately they’re lucky to get paid for rewiring houses and unblocking drains. The less people believe in magic, the lower its powers ebb. The impending death of Maltcassion, the last dragon, is about to reduce it even further, as humans scramble to claim the valuable real estate that belonged to Maltcassion. And what does that have to do with the prediction of Big Magic? Jennifer Strange will be at the center of the coming changes, changes that are surprising to the end.

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