See You in the Cosmos by Jack ChengFiction. Along with his dog, Carl Sagan, 11-year-old astronomer Alex Petroski is on his way to the Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival. He's recording the journey on his iPod (just like he records everything) with the hope that it can be launched into space and heard by aliens. Through the transcripts of Alex's recordings, you can follow along as he makes eccentric new friends, travels to Las Vegas in search of his supposedly dead father, and realizes that family is more complicated than he suspected. If you like the memorable narrator in this offbeat road trip story, you might also enjoy Sally J. Pla's The Someday Birds.
Last Day on Mars by Kevin EmersonScience Fiction. Years ago, when the sun went supernova and destroyed the Earth, humanity fled to Mars and began searching for a safer solar system. Now, as 13-year-olds Liam and Phoebe wait to board the last starliner to the human colony's new home on Aaru-5, an explosion knocks out their scientist parents. Before the shocked friends can report the sabotage, the starliner takes off without them, catapulting Liam and Phoebe into a pulse-pounding race to catch the ship -- and warn the colony -- before it's too late. Featuring spaceships, time travel, extraterrestrials, and an AI panda called JEFF, this fast-paced trilogy opener is sure to grab science fiction fans.
Scar Island by Dan GemeinhartAdventure. Twelve-year-old Jonathan has only just arrived at Slabhenge Reformatory for Troubled Boys when a lightning strike kills all of the cruel adults, leaving the juvenile offenders free to roam the island prison. Though Slabhenge is an eerie, ramshackle fortress filled with giant rats, Jonathan would rather stay there than go home to confront his guilt for the crime that got him sent away. The boys enjoy their wild, unsupervised lifestyle at first, but when a storm threatens the island and a ruthless new leader rises, they find themselves caught in a suspenseful, high-stakes struggle for survival.
Frogkisser! by Garth NixFantasy. Princess Anya's quest had just one goal: to collect ingredients for an anti-transmogrification lip balm. After her sister's suitor, Prince Denholm, was turned into a frog by the scheming Duke Rikard, bookish Anya promised she'd reverse the spell. But now that she -- along with froggy Denholm and talking dog Ardent -- is traveling the kingdom and meeting all kinds of transmogrified people, Anya's quest is getting more complicated. Encounters with wizards, witches, outlaws, and vicious weasel warriors add humor and intrigue to this clever, thought-provoking fantasy. For further fairy tale mash-ups starring intrepid princesses, try Megan Morrison's Tyme series.
Short by Holly Goldberg SloanFiction. She can't sing or dance, but middle school dreamer Julia Marks is just the right height to play a munchkin in a summer production of The Wizard of Oz. Skeptical about the theater and sensitive about being short, Julia's not exactly excited about the role -- at least not until she bonds with elderly costume genius Mrs. Chang, supportive director Shawn, and fellow munchkin Olive (an adult who's Julia's height), and she starts to see that being small can't stop her from dreaming big. Authentic backstage friendships make this upbeat read perfect for fans of Andrew Keenan-Bolger's Jack & Louisa series.
Books You Might Have Missed in 2016
Soar by Joan BauerFiction. Despite his love of the game, playing baseball isn't an option for 12-year-old Jeremiah -- not after his heart transplant. He can still coach, though, and that's just what he hopes to do as a newcomer to down-and-out Hillcrest, Ohio. Hillcrest's once-thriving school baseball teams are faltering in the aftermath a tragic scandal, but with Jeremiah's unflagging enthusiasm and the right mix of players, they might be able to bounce back and restore the town's morale in the process. Strong, well-drawn characters in tough situations fill the pages of this "triumphant and moving" (School Library Journal) underdog story.
Hour of the Bees by Lindsay EagarMagical Realism. "Once upon a time, there was a tree." That's how all of Grandpa Serge's stories begin, and each story is so fantastical that Carol -- whose family is visiting Serge in New Mexico to help him move into assisted living -- thinks they must by touched by his dementia. Yet as she learns more about the Mexican side of her bicultural family -- and as she begins seeing supposedly magical bees -- Carol's perspective changes, leading her to a deeper understanding of herself and making her wonder if Serge's impossible stories might be true. Similar to Laura Resau's The Lightning Queen, Hour of the Bees is a captivating tale that spans generations.
The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore FitzgeraldFiction. Oscar may be missing, but Meg is sure he isn't dead. Even though it's been months since she saw him (due to her family's move), and even though the evidence points to suicide, Meg knows that her warm, optimistic best friend would never kill himself. Chapters told from Oscar's point of view, however, describe the loneliness and bullying that began to break his spirit after Meg left. Readers will be riveted by both atmospheric, intertwining stories as Meg -- joined by Oscar's brother Stevie, who uses a wheelchair and shares Meg's steadfast belief -- tries to discover what really happened to her friend.
Compass South: Book 1 by Hope Larson; illustrated by Rebecca MockGraphic Novel Adventure. It's 1860, and after snitching on the Black Hook gang, twin thieves Alex and Cleo need to get out of town fast. Dressing Cleo as a boy, they try to fake their way onto a ship by posing as long-missing brothers…only to run into Silas and Edwin, twin con artists with the same idea. In the resulting fight, the pairs get mixed up and flung into separate adventures. Whether it's trekking through jungles or dodging storms and pirates at sea, the action never lets up in this swashbuckling 1st book in the Four Points series (Book 2, Knife's Edge, is due out in June).
The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia McCormickBiography. As a quiet, piano-playing young pastor in 1930s Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't seem like assassin material. Yet as he witnessed the Nazis' rise to power and their horrifying actions, Bonhoeffer's pacifist beliefs shifted into a different call to action -- to become a double agent in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler himself. Readers of all faiths and backgrounds can appreciate the drama of this "tragic, inspirational, and quite unusual tale" (Booklist). Of course, Bonhoeffer's story is just one of many; if you're curious about other resistance fighters in Nazi Germany, pick up Russell Freedman's We Will Not Be Silent.
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