Take Five: Illustrated Middle Grade Novels
As part of our Mind the Middle project focusing on middle grade books, I’m going to try to do weekly Take Five lists, which is to say, five books on a certain theme. This is the first list, so I’m still thinking things through, but my intent is to focus on books from the past few years as well as very new or forthcoming books. I hope to also do one list per month that will feature books that came out/are coming out that month. These Take Five lists can help you with collection development, displays, reading lists, and more. I have a pretty giant list of potential Take Five themes, but if there’s something you’re desperate for a list for, let me know! All descriptions come from the publishers.
I’m starting with illustrated novels because year after year, the most popular books in the elementary libraries I’ve been in are the Wimpy Kid books and graphic novels. Nothing comes even close to the circulation levels of that series or those formats. So when kids are ready (or expected) to be reading books for slightly older readers (or are encouraged to try something other than endlessly rereading the entire Wimpy Kid series) or have read every graphic novel in the library and need something else (or–and don’t get me started–instructed by their teachers to get a “real” book and not “just” a graphic novel), where do we point them that still may feel familiar and help them feel success as readers? I mean, we’re basically training kids from birth on up to have books with pictures. But then suddenly they are faced with chapter books with long blocks of texts. That leap will not work for every kid. Including illustrations doesn’t somehow make a book less sophisticated or age-appropriate. Besides, all we should really care about is how do we grow readers and keep them reading as they grow up. And for many, that means being able to hand them books that provide a level of familiarity, that look a little like the books they’ve loved and been successful with. They can be a stepping stone AND a perfectly fine and wonderful place to land.
Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (ISBN-13: 9781250314116 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication date: 09/15/2020, Ages 8-12)
In Fly on the Wall, a moving and hilarious diary-style illustrated novel from the award-winning author of Pie in the Sky, a twelve-year-old boy goes on a (forbidden) solo adventure halfway around the world to prove his independence to his overprotective family.
A Best Book of the Year for Kirkus, Booklist, Chicago Public Library, and School Library Journal!
Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby. He’s not allowed to go anywhere without his sister/chaperone/bodyguard. And he definitely CAN’T take a journey halfway around the world all by himself!
But that’s exactly his plan. After his family’s annual trip to visit his father in Singapore is cancelled, Henry decides he doesn’t want to be cooped up at home with his overprotective family and BFF turned NRFF (Not Really Friend Forever). Plus, he’s hiding a your-life-is-over-if-you’re-caught secret: he’s the creator of an anonymous gossip cartoon, and he’s on the verge of getting caught. Determined to prove his independence and avoid punishment for his crimes, Henry embarks on the greatest adventure everrr. . . hoping it won’t turn into the greatest disaster ever.
Remy Lai takes readers on an adventure filled with humor, heart, and hijinks that’s a sure bet for fans of Jerry Craft, Terri Libenson, and Shannon Hale!
Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, Raïl the Third (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781534418165 Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books Publication date: 11/30/2021 Series: Stuntboy #1, Ages 7-12)
A Schneider Family Award Honor Book for Middle Grade
From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!
Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!
But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.
All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting all the time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.
Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.
Link + Hud: Heroes by a Hair by Jarrett Pumphrey, Jerome Pumphrey (ISBN-13: 9781324016090 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 03/07/2023 Series: Link + Hud #1, Ages 9-12)
Meet Link and Hud—brothers causing chaos in the first of a new middle grade series from real-life brothers Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey.
Lincoln and Hudson Dupré are brothers with what grown-ups call “active imaginations.” Link and Hud hunt for yetis in the Himalayas and battle orcs on epic quests. Unfortunately, their imaginary adventures wreak havoc in their real world. Dr. and Mrs. Dupré have tried every babysitter in the neighborhood and are at their wits’ end.
Enter Ms. Joyce. Strict and old-fashioned, she proves to be a formidable adversary. The boys don’t like her or her rules and decide she’s got to go. Through a series of escalating events—told as high-action comic panel sequences—the brothers conspire to undermine Ms. Joyce and get her fired. When they go so big that even Ms. Joyce can’t fix it, suddenly she’s out. Finally, success! Or is it?
With warm and authentic humor, Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey have blended prose and graphic novel-style illustrations to craft a unique and subversive new series full of brotherly mischief and mayhem.
Looking Up by Stephan Pastis (ISBN-13: 9781665929622 Publisher: Aladdin Publication date: 10/10/2023, Ages 8-12)
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Timmy Failure series comes a quirky and heartwarming middle grade novel about a girl struggling with loneliness and the curveballs of life—featuring black and white illustrations throughout!
Living alone with her mother in a poorer part of town, Saint—a girl drawn to medieval knights, lost causes, and the protection of birthday piñatas—sees the neighborhood she has always known and loved disappearing around her: old homes being torn down and replaced by fancy condos and coffee shops. But when her favorite creaky old toy store is demolished, she knows she must act.
Enlisting the help of Daniel “Chance” McGibbons, a quiet, round-faced boy who lives across the street (and whose house also faces the wrecking ball), Saint hatches a plan to save what is left of her beloved hometown.
The Misfits #1: A Royal Conundrum by Lisa Yee, Dan Santat (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781984830296 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 01/02/2024 Series: The Misfits #1, Ages 8-12)
When a notorious thief is out for priceless treasure (gems! cats! general decorum!)—who’re you gonna call? An elite team of crime-fighting underdogs, that’s who! The Misfits are on the case in this hilarious illustrated series from Newbery Honoree Lisa Yee and Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat!
“For any kid who’s felt like a misfit, this crackling adventure packs a wallop!” —Lincoln Peirce, creator of Big Nate and Max & the Midknights
Olive Cobin Zang has . . . issues. And they mostly aren’t her fault. (No, really!) Though she often slips under the radar, problems have a knack for finding her. So, imagine her doubts when she’s suddenly dropped off at the strangest boarding school ever: a former castle turned prison that’s now a “reforming arts school”!
But nothing could’ve prepared Olive for RASCH (not “rash”). There, she’s lumped with a team of other kids who never quite fit in, and discovers that the academy isn’t what it seems—and neither is she. In fact, RASCH is a cover for an elite group of misfits who fight crime . . . and Olive has arrived just in time.
Turns out that RASCH is in danger of closing, unless Olive’s class can stop the heist of the century. And as Olive falls in love with this wacky school, she realizes it’s up to her new team to save the only home that’s ever welcomed them.
Filed under: Take 5
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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