This year has got off to a stunning start for lovers of children’s fiction with some exciting debuts and highly anticipated new titles from established authors too. I have read and enjoyed some great books over the last couple of months and have finally found time to review them here. Here are my recent reads for the middle grade audience, children of about nine to twelve years old, suitable for a wide range of tastes.
Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold
This exciting debut, a mix of dystopian fiction and epic survival story, is beautifully written capturing the author’s love for the natural world and its important themes will inspire thoughtful discussion among young readers. This is highly recommended.
Juniper Greene and her younger brother, Bear, live in a walled city with their Grandma. Nature has been banished there, following the outbreak of a deadly man-made disease many years earlier. Most people seem reconciled to living in this sterile environment but the two children have always known about their resistance to the disease, and dream of escaping to the wild. They long to journey to the place where humans have survived outside of cities and to be reunited with their mother. When scientists discover that the siblings provide the key to fighting the disease, the pair must flee for their lives. As they embark into the wildness together they soon learn that there is danger in nature as well as beauty.
Juniper is a wonderful character who I quickly found both sympathetic and interesting. Her relationship with her little brother is tenderly and believably described by the author displaying that loving but at times frustrating bond between older and younger siblings. The landscape and the natural world is key to this story and, inspired by Nicola Penfold’s love of the Lake District, this felt both beautiful and familiar to me. Although set in a dystopian future there is a chilling air of possibility about the premise of this story which adds to its relevance to today’s audience.
The children’s journey is utterly gripping, full of danger and difficulties. This is an exciting read but also an extremely thoughtful one. Juniper and Bear show courage, persistence, loyalty and kindness. The reader fears for their safety and cares for their future. This is a powerful story which grips the reader and ultimately makes them care and would prompt thoughtful discussion. I loved this.
Thank you to Leilah Skelton and Stripes Pubishing for my Net Galley copy.
The BigWoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts
The first in the new Sticky Pines series this is a fast paced, extremely funny adventure with an endearing retro feel that should convert even the most reluctant of readers.
Twelve year old self confessed geek Lucy is obsessed with UFOs and following the disappearance of several people from her hometown of Sticky Pines she sneaks out one night to investigate. Unfortunately she finds more than she bargained for: a huge hairy creature! Together with her new friend Milo, Lucy finds herself involved in a mystery that threatens to engulf the whole town of Sticky Pines and its rather strange residents.
This is great fun. If you imagine a blend of Scooby Doo and the Goosebumps series with contemporary attitudes you would be fairly close. Lucy is a fabulous character, tenacious and given to outbursts of her own particular brand of curses such as “Crudberries” and there is never a dull moment as she and Milo, who form an unlikely friendship, try to solve the mystery. Their plans are hindered by creepy clowns and several close shaves with mysterious ‘monsters’. I have a suspicion that this book and the Sticky Pines series will be a hit with a wide audience.
Thank you to Nosy Crow publishers for my review copy.
Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm
This is a terrific, tense and entertaining sci-fi adventure that has completely converted this rather sceptical science -fiction reader.
The colony ship Orion is four months out of Earth when catastrophe strikes – leaving the ship and everyone on board stranded in deep space. Suddenly it is up to thirteen-year-old Beth and her friends to navigate through dangerous and uncharted territory to reach safety. But a heavily-damaged ship, space pirates, a mysterious alien species, and an artificial intelligence that Beth is unsure that she can trust means that getting home feels an impossible task.
I will be honest when I first read about Orion Lost I did not think that it would be a book that I would enjoy. Sci-fi is not generally a genre a choose. You are never too old to learn! This hooked me completely. No conversation distracted me and I was utterly engrossed. It is often said that authors remove parents from the story early on allowing children to take centre stage for the ensuing adventure and Alastair Chisholm manages this with some style. The relationships between the different characters, the twists and turns of the plot and the moments of high drama make this a compelling read. The personalities of the children are distinctive with differing types that ensure readers will find one with whom they can identify. The tensions between the children and their friendships and quarrels are recognisable and believable. At its heart, despite the setting, the aliens and the ‘Jumps’ through space and time, this is a story of conquering your fears, learning how to work successfully with others and discover what values are most important to us. I enjoyed this immensely, so much so I had that slight feeling of loss when it ended.
Thank you to Nosy Crow publishers for my review copy.
Other great titles for this age group that I have read this year include Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie and The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook. I have also read and reviewed Evernight by Ross MacKenzie for the School Librarian magazine, a darkly magical adventure with a brave and inspiring heroine at its heart and a truly terrifying villain.
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