"Forest sounds all around, but on the ground the sound of me grew. Echoed.
I heard a path I could not see."
~ from Skila Brown's Caminar
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGheeFantasy. On a snowy morning in Vermont, an unusual fox kit is born. At the same moment, 12-year-old Sylvie Sherman falls into the river and disappears. Devastated, Sylvie's sister Jules struggles to find her way in an "After Sylvie" world. She finds comfort in the forest, where she can sort her treasured rock collection and catch glimpses of a fox -- a fox whose spirit is connected to Jules in ways that neither of them understand...yet. Told from the perspectives of both girl and fox, this heart-wrenching yet hopeful book will appeal to mature fans of Sara Pennypacker's Pax.
Josh Baxter Levels Up by Gavin BrownFiction. "Summon Bully" isn't really a helpful achievement in the game of middle school, but it's the first one Josh Baxter unlocks when he starts at his third new school in two years. Due to his pathetic grades, Josh's mom has taken away all of his video games, so he decides to level up in real life: improve his grades, make friends with fellow gamer Maya, and maybe even best the bully. Complete with charts showing Josh's health status, remaining lives, and achievements, Josh Baxter Levels Up holds special appeal for gamers, as well as anyone who likes funny, realistic fiction.
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet FoxHistorical Fantasy. Going to school in a remote, crumbling Scottish castle has got to be safer than being in London during the Blitz, right? Clever 12-year-old Kat Bateson isn't so sure. It's 1940, and she's been sent to Rookskill Castle to escape the bombs, but what she finds there might be equally frightening: ghostly children haunt the twisty halls, a Nazi spy may be hiding in their midst, and the creepy headmistress doesn't seem entirely human. Part horror, part fantasy, and part spy thriller, this intricately plotted World War II story will grab readers of all kinds, especially those who love Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Where You'll Find Me by Natasha FriendFiction. Eighth-grader Anna has gotten pretty good at controlling her emotions. Lately, though, she can't quite ignore the feeling that her life is falling apart. First, there's her mom, whose suicide attempt and hospitalization forces Anna to move in with her dad, his beautiful young wife, and their new baby. Then there's her best friend Dani, who's decided to hang out with different (more popular) people, leaving Anna to sit with the other misfits at lunch. Smart, sarcastic, and genuine, Anna is the kind of character you'll root for as she fights her way through confusion and anger towards something like hope.
Focus on: Stories Told Through Poetry
The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderNovel in Verse. People might call him Filthy McNasty because of his sick skills on the basketball court, but Josh Bell is a good guy. He's pretty close with his parents as well as his twin brother and teammate, JB. So when their dad's health takes a turn for the worse and JB ditches his brother for his new girlfriend, Josh feels thrown off balance. From the swift, swaggering beats of a basketball game to the changing rhythms of family, the hip-hop flow of this story told through poetry will win over readers who "live for sports or music or both" (Booklist). For another moving, authentic basketball book, check out Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Caminar by Skila BrownNovel in Verse. In 1981, as civil war tears through Guatemala, one boy goes on a desperate trek to save a village. Government soldiers had warned young Carlos and his fellow villagers in Chopán to defend themselves against the Communist guerillas. Yet it was those same government soldiers who returned to massacre everyone in Chopán…except for Carlos, who escaped. Now, shattered by loss and survivor's guilt, Carlos realizes that it's up to him to journey up the mountain and warn his grandmother's village about the soldiers' approach. Using short, attention-grabbing free verse and concrete poetry, Caminar offers a "chillingly memorable" (Horn Book Magazine) look at growing up during wartime.
The Weight of Water by Sarah CrossanNovel in Verse. Two years after her father walked out, 12-year-old Kasienka and her mother move from Gdansk, Poland to Coventry, England to search for him. As if moving to a new country with only a single suitcase isn't bad enough, Kasienka is belittled at school for her shaky English and embarrassed by her mother's hopeless, door-to-door hunt for her father. Only when she's swimming does she feel like herself: "Water is another world: A land with its own language." Graceful, flowing free verse allows you to tap into Kasienka's raw emotions as she tries to stay afloat, and eventually wades into friendship and first love.
Rhyme Schemer by K.A. HoltNovel in Verse. Kevin is the king of the seventh grade -- or so he claims in his notebook filled with biting poetry. To Kevin, the other students are all "easy prey" for his cruel jokes and his poisonous pen. His attitude at school helps him hide what's going on at home…until one of his victims gets ahold of the secret notebook and decides to turn the tables on Kevin. Scribbles, doodles, and pages torn from other books give a realistic, lived-in feel to this story in verse that will make you mad, make you think, and might make you want to try writing poetry of your own.
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