On After the Last Page, we give a lot of focus to Young Adult lit, clearly because A and I have an intense passion for it. But there are lots of other excellent titles out there that we read that don’t get much mention on the blog… namely, children’s books.
I run a book group with a group for kids ages 8 to 12, and I read a lot of middle grade chapter books (which, I think, is a pretty awesome requirement of my job). It seems only fair to me that books for that age group should get a nod, too. So in the spirit of fairness, here are my favorite children’s chapter books from the past year* (in no particular order).
*Note: Not all of these were published in 2011… I just finally got around to reading some of them in 2011.
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (2011)
You can read my full review of Because of Mr. Terupt here, but this has to be my favorite book of 2011, hands down. Heart-wrenching and touching, this story teaches the value of friendship, trust, individuality, and recognizing who and what it truly important. It has a wonderful moral without being preachy. (Suggested reading level: Grade 5 and up)
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Subsitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2009)
Never have I seen a more hilarious plot for a graphic novel. The Lunch Lady (and her sidekick, Betty) kick butt and take names (and lunch orders) as secret crime fighters. When Hector, Dee, and Terrence notice something off about their new substitute teacher, the Lunch Lady notices, too, and whips out some of her best gadgets (including a spatu-copter and a lunch tray laptop) to get to the bottom of what’s going on. The Cyborg Substitute is book 1 in the six book series, and it’s one I’d recommend to any middle grader. (Suggested reading level: Grade 3 and up)
The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn (2011)
This is a classic, creepy ghost story in typical Hahn style. Florence, an orphan, moves into Crutchfield Hall with her long lost aunt and uncle. Shortly after her arrival, she begins hearing voices, seeing shadows, and feels like she’s being watched. Things become clearer after she discovers a picture of her cousin who looks exactly like her, and died not long before she arrived. Spooky, suspenseful, and a solid, explainable ending will intrigue and satisfy ghost story lovers. (Suggested reading level: Grade 5 and up)
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (2011)
It may seem impossible to have a story written for children that is both hilarious and disturbing. But by gosh, by golly, both of those things are found in A Tale Dark and Grimm. In this retelling of Hansel and Gretel which revisits many original Grimm fairy tales (which are not the fluffed up Disney versions we all know so well), you’ll find humorous warnings to make sure young children are out of the room before proceeding to chapters that are…well, dark and grim. (Suggested reading level: Grade 5 and up)
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (2011)
Ben and Rose live 50 years apart, but both are longing for the missing things in their lives. With Ben’s story told in words and Rose’s in pictures, Wonderstruck intertwines their lives in a heartwarming and beautiful way. Selznick’s artwork is quite possibly more incredible than the story, which I will must admit left me a little misty eyed. While Wonderstruck does not pack as much punch as Selznick’s Caldecott Award winning (and now major motion picture) The Invention of Hugo Cabret, it’s still an excellent story. And, at 500+ pages, it’s actually a surprisingly quick read since half the book is composed of illustrations. (Suggested reading level: Grade 4 and up)
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (2008-2011)
I was not a fan of graphic novels. I never had anything against them, they just weren’t my thing. I love art, but not in a book I’m trying to READ. I wanted to see words on a page, not pictures and thought bubbles. And then I read Amulet. And wanted to slap myself in the face for being so wrong. It’s a fantastic adventure that takes readers to mystical lands with engaging characters and all boils down to an intense battle between the good guys and bad guys. Kids will love the action and suspense, and I don’t care how old you are… if you don’t love Miskit, you have no soul. (Suggested reading level: Grade 4 and up)
School of Fear series by Gitty Daneshvari (2010-2011)
This series is not for the faint of heart. Funny, enjoyable, and sometimes downright gross, School of Fear follows four children who are whisked away to a private school to help them overcome their paralyzing fears. Lots of twists and turns will keep readers at the edge of their seats, and the characters’ many quirks are good for lots of laughs. Book 3 in the series (School of Fear 3: The Final Exam) was released in October. I haven’t been able to read it yet, but I’m hoping to soon so I can see how the series wraps up in the last book of the trilogy. The website is interactive and lots of fun. Kids who love the series would have a blast with all the different activities and videos. FYI: It’s also rumored that the School of Fear series has been picked up to be a major motion picture. (Suggested reading level: Grade 5 and up)
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (1944)
An oldie but a goodie. I never knew much about this book, but it’s on every required school reading list I come across, so I thought I had to give it a try. The Hundred Dresses is the story of Wanda Petronski, a young immigrant who claims to own 100 dresses even though she wears the same shabby dress to school every day. She is mocked my schoolmates, who eventually learn the error of their ways. A touching story of bullying, friendship, and redemption, The Hundred Dresses is one that should be in the hands of every young reader. It has an important moral which still rings true today, perhaps even more so than it did when it was first published. (Suggested reading level: Grade 3 and up)
Olympians series (2010-2011)
If you’re into Greek gods and goddesses and are looking for a healthy dose of comic book mythology, look no further than the Olympians series. Each book in this ongoing series features the history and well-known legends of the gods and goddesses of Olympus in a beautiful graphic novel representation. Zeus: King of the Gods, Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, and Hera: The Goddess in Her Glory are currently available. Hades: Lord of the Dead has a release date of January 31, 2012. (Suggested reading level: Grade 5 and up)