Tag Archives: middle grade books

Welcome the New Year

The Reading Café is changing a little bit. Instead of only addressing middle school students, I’ll be addressing jFIC (a.k.a. juvenile or middle grade fiction) fans of all ages. I’ll continue to share book lists, personal recommendations, and useful online resources, but all posts will have a jFIC focus and will be intended for a wider audience. I’ll also continue to include tea and coffee quotes.

So let’s begin:

Hello, jFIC fans,

Happy 2019! I’ve read approximately 45 jFIC titles published in 2018. Most were good and some were great. Here are my favorites:

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis


Twelve-year-old Charlie is forced to pay off a family debt by working for a terrible man who is tracking down fugitives. When Charlie discovers what’s really happening and who the fugitives are, he has to choose between conscience and survival.

Christopher Paul Curtis brilliantly combines humor and heartbreak in his historical fiction stories. He does it again with this outstanding novel.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Sixth grader Merci Suárez deals with difficult middle school and family issues in this highly entertaining novel full of humor and insight. The writing is delightfully peppered with Hispanic American sayings and idiosyncrasies.

The Assasination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson

Elfin historian Brangwain Spurge’s mission is to deliver a peace offering to the goblin kingdom, but also to spy on them in the process. Goblin archivist Werfel’s mission is to serve as Brangwain’s host and enthusiastic tourist guide. But their ridiculously different cultures and conflicting historical perceptions result in dangerous consequences for the two of them and their kingdoms.

The novel alternates between illustrations showing Brangwain’s secret messages to the elfin kingdom and Werfel’s differing narrative, and delivers a funny, clever, and timely social commentary plus the story of a unique friendship.

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Boy is a fearful outcast with a large hump on his back, a gift of talking to animals, and no recollection of his past. A mysterious pilgrim named Secondus notices his climbing abilities and takes him on as his servant on a journey to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy reluctantly agrees in the hope that Saint Peter will answer his prayer and take his hump away. Extraordinary adventures follow, and the reader soon realizes that neither Boy nor Secondus are what they seem.

The Book of Boy is a unique and surprising story about discovering and valuing your identity and gifts.

Nightbooks by J.A. White

Alex loves to watch, read, and write scary stories. When he is trapped by witch Natasha in her magical apartment, he discovers that his hair-raising tales can keep the witch and her home happy, which can buy him time to figure out how to escape. But he soon realizes that escaping—even with the help of two other captives—may be impossible. As he well knows, terrifying stories like the one he’s now a part of, hardly ever have happy endings.

Nightbook is sure to delight young writers and readers of dark and creepy tales.

Granted by John David Anderson

Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a Granter-in-training fairy. A Granter’s job is to leave their magical land called the Haven, fly out into the dangerous human world, and grant a previously selected human wish. Wish-granting is crucial to the fairies because it releases the magic that protects the Haven, so being a Granter is a huge responsibility. Ophelia is given her first assignment, and she enthusiastically sets out to complete her mission, but wish-granting turns out to be far more complicated and difficult than she expected.

Dangerous adventures and a heroine with a noble heart are what make this fantasy novel truly special.

Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley

The fairy queen and her court have gone away and left Nix behind. He concludes that it’s because he was given the important job of protecting the forest from humans until the queen and the rest of the fairies return. So when a trespasser arrives, Nix tries to scare him away with fairy tricks, but to no avail. Who is this trespasser, and what’s the real reason for the fairies to have left Nix behind?

Themes of home, family, identity, and belonging make Wicked Nix a unique and unforgettable fairy tale.       

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Chimney sweep Nan Sparrow’s protector has disappeared, but has left a creature made from soot and ash–a golem–in his place. Nan and the golem form a unique friendship and together find ways to survive and protect each other and other chimney sweeps.

Sweep is a fascinating historical/fantasy story full of wonder, friendship, heartbreak, and hope.

The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond

A tiny angel appears in the pocket of Bert, a bus driver. He takes “Angelino” home to his wife, Betty, and they both become his doting parents. Tiny Angelino charms and cheers up everyone he meets, or rather, almost everyone, for in any happy story, there’s always a meanie who wants to spoil things. But Angelino is not going to let anyone foil his mission of spreading goodness and gladness and of being a special blessing to Bert and Betty.

Angelino Brown is a delightful little story that will bring joy and hope to all who read it.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night with the cry “The day of reckoning has arrived!” and whisks her off on a road trip to wherever the gasoline left in their old car will take them. Their destination turns out to be a small Georgia town where Louisiana makes some unexpected friends while Granny stays in bed recovering from an emergency dental procedure. Louisiana’s difficult situation worsens when Granny unexpectedly takes off, leaving her with nothing but a shocking good-bye letter. What will happen to Louisiana now? Will she find a way back to her best friends, Raymie and Beverly? Most importantly, will she ever find a place to call home?

Great writing, humor and surprise, unique characters, and themes of kindness, friendship, resiliency, belonging, and forgiveness make Louisiana’s Way Home an oustanding story.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Louie is determined to save the sickly newborn donkey that his father has brought home. No one expects the donkey, whom Louie names Winslow, to survive, including his prickly new friend, Nora. But Winslow surprises everyone. He not only survives and grows, but also proves to be a valuable companion to the children and even a hero of sorts.

Saving Winslow is a sweet story full of tenderness, friendship, love, and the hopeful message of finding your place and purpose in the world.

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay

Love to Everyone is the story from birth to adulthood of smart, kind, and loving Clarry Penrose. Clarry wants to get an education and discover her place and purpose in the world, but it’s not easy with a distant father who doesn’t believe that girls need to be educated and it being the early twentieth century. Fortunately, Clarry has the support of her brother Peter, her cousin Rupert, her grandparents, and her friends. But then World War I happens and everything changes for everyone.

Love to Everyone is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resiliency, perseverance, and steadfast love. (My absolute favorite 2018 jFIC read!)

More 2018 jFIC novels you may like:

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson ****

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden****

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown****

Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac****

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender****

The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins****

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome*****

The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor*****

The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter****

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson****

Otherwood by Pete Hautman****

Very Rich by Polly Horvath****

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson****

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras****

Bob by Wendy Mass*****

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty*****

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel****

Miraculous Miranda by Siobhan Parkinson ****

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr*****

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed****

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab****

The Collectors by Jacqueline West*****

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr *****

Front Desk by Kelly Yang ****

Happy reading, and love to everyone!

“Home is where the tea is.” —Js Devivre


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New School Year!

Hello, Sweeteas,

Happy first day of school!

Lots of new and not-so-new awesome books are waiting for you in our lovely library. Here are links to sites you  should become acquainted with this year (if you haven’t done so already) so you can find books you’ll love:

1- Lion: Search for books and other library resources (including online databases) in the Denver Public Schools library system.


2- DPL website: Search for books and other library resources  (including online databases) in the Denver Public Library system. (The NoveList K-8 Plus database is fantastic! [You must have a library card.] Go to the DPL homepage; click on research; enter NoveList K-8 Plus in the search bar; click on search; explore the site.)


3- Follett Shelf: Search for ebooks and audiobooks in our school’s digital collection.


4- AR Finder: Find information about books with Accelerated Reader quizzes.


I’ve read several outstanding books this summer that I plan to order for our library. Come visit me, and I’ll tell you about them (no spoilers, don’t worry.)

The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge *****

The Chimes by Anna Smaill ****

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman ****

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett****

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown*****

Raymie Nightingale by Kate Di Camillo****

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee****

The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne****

See you all at the library!

“Teapot is on, the cups are waiting, favorite chairs anticipating. No matter what I have to do, my friends, there’s always time for you.”  –Author Unknown


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Feelin’ Groovy

Hello, Sweeteas,

Exciting things are happening at our library this month!

1- We have a lot of new, wonderful books in our library. Too many to list on this post! I will, however, mention and rate a few gems:

Beneath by Roland Smith ****

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby *****

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell *****

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin ****

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman *****

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson ****

Noggin by John Corey Whaley ****

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee *****

The Trap by Steven Arntson ****

X: A Novel by  Ilyasah Shabazz *****

You will find summaries of these books in Lion (DPS Library Catalog). (See Blogroll.)

2- February is African American History Month (also known as Black History Month). We have many outstanding books written about or by African Americans. Come take a look!

3- February 14 is Valentine’s Day. We have several sweet books about tween and teen love. Plus I’ll be handing out candy!

4- The Feelin’ Groovy Scholastic Book Fair will take place in the library February 23-25 during the school day and during student-led conferences. The fair will also be online February 17 – March 1. You’ll receive a take-home flier with information soon. Start asking your family for money to buy groovy books! Remember: all sales benefit the school!

And now for some book news:

1- Neal Shusterman won the National Book Award for his YA novel Challenger Deep about a teenager battling a mental illness.

2- Gene Luen Yang, author of the award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese, was selected as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

3- The American Library Association Youth Media awards are in. It’s the first time a Hispanic author (Matt de la Peña!) wins the Newbery! Here’s a list of the winners:


Some of the above books are already in our library, and others will be coming soon!

Happy reading!

“Put on the kettle and make some tea,
It’s all a part of feeling groovy.” — mod band The Jam

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Happy 2015!

Hello, Sweeteas,

Happy 2015!

My reading goal for the year is to read 1-2 books per week, which is between 54 and 108 books per year. I read 60 books in 2014, which means I met my goal but didn’t do as well as in years past. (I normally read between 80-100 books per year.) I’m going to try to do better this year.

My favorite book of 2014 was The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: a Flavia De Luce Novel by Alan Bradley***** (BL: 6.5; Pts: 12.0). (I wrote about this mystery series on February 14, 2014. The post is titled “Flavia, Flavia.”) We have the first book in this series–The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie–in our library, and the rest will be joining it soon. A new installment (the 7th!) titled As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is is being published this week. I can’t wait to read it!

Today I’ll tell you about the book Greenglass House by Kate Milford **** (BL: 5.4; Pts: 15.0):

The story takes place over the winter holidays in a remote mountain inn (Greenglass House) that’s frequented mainly by smugglers. The inn’s owners, their 12-year-old son Milo, their employees, and several mysterious guests are trapped in the ancient house as a result of a snowstorm. The problem is not just the snow, but that someone is stealing the guests’ belongings. It’s up to Milo and his new-found friend Meddy to solve, not just the robberies, but also a mystery having to do with the house itself.

The mystery-solving story line is interesting by itself, but there are three other elements that make this novel a truly remarkable read. 1) Milo is an adopted Asian boy dealing with personal issues regarding his adoption. 2) Milo and Meddy solve the mysteries while playing an elaborate and empowering RPG (role-playing game). 3) The book has a thrilling surprise ending.

Greenglass House will be in our collection by the end of the week. If you’d like to read it, you can place it on “hold.”

“Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?” — From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

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Adding a Bit of Steam

Hi, Sweeteas,

We have a couple of new steampunk books in our library. What’s steampunk? Wikipedia defines it as a sub-genre of speculative fiction that “involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian-era Britain—and incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy.” Steampunk’s main sources of inspiration are the works of Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.) and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, etc.). Some examples of steampunk novels are: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.

The two new steampunk books in our library are Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger and The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody. They are both (hopefully!) first books in a series.

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger ****

Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter, fourteen-year-old Sophronia, to become a proper lady, so she enrolls her in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But what Mrs Temminick doesn’t know is that the academy will train Sophronia not just in the art of feminine elegance, but also in the art of espionage and murder (that’s what the “finishing” in this finishing academy means). Sophronia is of course not interested in learning how to to become an assassin, but she stays at the unusual  academy out of curiosity, practicality (some of the skills she’s being taught may prove useful), and a thirst for adventure. There are werewolves, vampires, flying highwaymen, zeppelins, mecanical creatures, fascinating inventions, intrigue, and a lot of humor in the steampunk world of Sophronia Temminick. Fun read!

The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody ****

The 1901 world of eleven-year-old steampunk explorer Tommy Learner collides with the modern world of twelve-year-old Jezebel Lemon. Together they must defeat the evil Dead Gentleman and save–not just planet Earth–but the entire universe. Classic steampunk gadgets abound in this novel, from mechanical weapons and creatures to a version of Jules Verne’s Nautilus. There’s also time and space travel, dinosaurs and vampires, and much more. Don’t miss this interesting and exciting read.

Happy November reading!

“Would you like an adventure now, or shall we have our tea first?” from Peter Pan

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Dragons and Magic Books

Hello, Sweateas,

I’ve been very busy getting the hang of my new job as librarian, so I had to put my writing and blogs on hold for a while, but here I am now, hopefully back on the writing and blogging saddle.

But have I been too busy to read? NEVER!

In the last four months I’ve read 35 books, which is a little over two books per week. My goal is to read at least two books per week, so I’m right on track in spite of being so busy. 🙂

Today I’m praising a couple of fantasy books new to our ebook collection (the Follett Shelf). They are:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman ***** is the first book in a new and exciting YA high-fantasy series:

In the mythical medieval kingdom of Goredd, dragons have the ability to take human form and live and work alongside humans, in spite of having a very different philosophy and code of conduct. Seraphina is a 16-year-old gifted court musician with a shameful secret: she’s half-dragon, half-human. This fascinating new series contains a lot of political intrigue and medieval action, a touch of romance, and some of the coolest dragons ever. Don’t miss it!

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens ***** is the first book in the fantastic new juvenile series: Books of Beginning:

 Kate, Michael, and Emma are siblings who were taken from their parents when they were very young to protect them from a powerful evil that’s threatening the world. They’ve spent the last 10 years hidden in a series of orphanages. While exploring the last–and strangest– of these, they come upon a magical green book which transports them 15 years into the past. Thus begins an exciting and dangerous adventure that includes an evil witch, grumpy dwarves, zombie-like monsters, and more. If you liked the Narnia books, you will definitely enjoy this series.

Come check out a spooky book at our library this week. We have several fun reads to choose from. And if you’re looking for an awesome high-level creepy book, try my favorite: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. We have several copies. Two other Bradbury Halloween gems are The Halloween Tree and From the Dust Returned. Those you’ll find at your local library.

Happy Halloween!

Ms. Pla

“Give me a good cup of coffee and a book I love, and I’ll be happy.”                               source: riseafterfalling.com

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New School Year!

Hello, sweeteas,

It’s been a while since my last post (June!). I’ve been busy with summer activities and writing projects, but I’ve managed to steal a bit of time to read a few gems.

Here’s a list of great middle grade books I read this summer (followed by my ratings):

The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi ****

(a futuristic fantasy adventure  – first book in a series)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate *****

(a delightful  story of an artistic zoo gorilla and his friends)

My Name Is Mina (prequel to Skellig) by David Almond *****

(a lovely portrait of Mina, one of the characters in the novel Skellig)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt *****

(a sweet and humorous story about appreciating and preserving nature)

Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt ****

(a beautifully written fable about the need to have beliefs)

100 Cupboards – Book 1 by N.D. Wilson *****

(a fantasy adventure about portals to other worlds – first book in a series)

The Stricktest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse ****

(a steampunk-like adventure about friendship and resourcefulness)

Doll Bones by Holly Black ****

(a murder mystery involving a creepy doll)

All the above books are great reads. My favorite from the list? My Name Is Mina (prequel to Skellig) by David Almond. The book is an intimate portrait of Mina, a creative and philosophical girl who loves to observe nature, reflect, and write.

Here’s an excerpt:

I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. Some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will be, it is a place of wonder.

I love it!

I also read a number of YA books which I will write about next month.

School has begun, and it’s time to set reading goals and create reading lists for the new school year.  The Horn Book has a list of recent publications recommended for each grade level:


Happy reading!

“When I grow up I will sit and drink tea in my tea-drinking tree.” –from art print by Joanna Bradshaw

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