School is out for the summer, but I recently finished three middle grade books I can’t wait to recommend to students in the fall:
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Spending time with the Vanderbeeker family in this book was an absolute delight–one that I did not want to end. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street follows 5 siblings– Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney–on a mission to stay in their beloved brownstone in Harlem. It is a few days before Christmas and their curmudgeonly landlord, Mr. Beiderman has informed the Vanderbeeker parents that he will not be renewing their lease. Interwoven between the siblings’ schemes to change “the Beiderman’s” mind we get to experience life in this loving, rambunctious household, within a tight-knit neighborhood. This heartwarming story would make a fantastic classroom read aloud for fourth and fifth graders, one that would completely draw them in and have them begging to hear “just one more chapter!”. The book also offers windows and mirrors for students, the Vanderbeekers are a biracial family and we meet a diverse cast of characters in the story. Like the Penderwicks, the Fletchers, and most recently the Lotterys, the Vanderbeekers are another fictional family you will long to be a part of. I’m so happy to know that a sequel is on its way– The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is due out in September.
To hear from author Karina Yan Glaser, you can check out this interview on the Books Between Podcast, one of my favorite Kidlit podcasts:
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
I had been hearing a lot of buzz about this new book by Kelly Yang and it did not disappoint! Set in 1993, Front Desk is the story of Mia Tang, a 10-year-old who has immigrated to the US from China with her parents and is doing her part to help them run a motel in California. Mia is strong and smart and takes her responsibilities checking visitors in and out at the front desk very seriously. What I love most about Mia is the way she tirelessly fights for what she believes in–whether that is helping a fellow Chinese-American immigrant who is being mistreated by his boss or coming up with creative ways to help her family escape their current situation, working night and day for a miserly motel owner and barely scraping by. Based on author Kelly Yang’s own experiences as a child, this book is full of so much heart and I cannot wait to put into as many students’ and teachers’ hands as possible in the fall.
You can watch Kelly Yang share her inspiration for the story in the book trailer:
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is another semi-autobiographical middle grade title set in the not so distant past. It’s the late 1970s and Zomorod Yousefzadeh, who is originally from Iran, has moved to a new place with her parents, yet again. Zomorod is determined that being “the new girl” at school will be different this time–she will have friends beyond her favorite book characters. She decides to call herself “Cindy” (after the Brady Bunch character) and starts middle school in Newport Beach with high hopes. Cindy begins to settle in and make new friends, but life becomes even more complicated after a revolution in Iran and the hostage crisis lead to anti-Iranian sentiment. Based on author Firoozeh Dumas’ own experiences, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is funny, compelling and sure to stay with you.
Up next in my stack of library books is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. I have a feeling this middle grade title will also rise to the top of my recommendation list:
From the Publisher: “When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?”
Check out the book trailer featuring author Varian Johnson: