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Middle Grade Fiction

  • Semi Finalist

    The League and the Lantern

    by Brian Wells

    Rating: 10.00

    You couldn’t ask for a more appealing trio of middle-school misfit heroes: insecure motormouth Jake; TJ (the T is for Thelonious), a geeky fencer with hyper memory; and multilingual Lucy, adept at Budokai-do. During their orientation sleepover at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the three stumble onto a robbery with world-shattering potential. The author, a master of the cliffhanger chapter break, describes the kids’ ingenious derring-do so vividly, it’s like watching the movie version that surely deserves to follow.

  • Semi Finalist

    Misha Alexandrov

    by Jan Karol Tanaka

    Rating: 9.75

    In Tanaka's outstanding novel, 10-year-old Misha Alexandrov is orphaned and sets sail -- with his father’s friend Demitri -- to Alta, Calif., in 1827. The duo travel to Fort Ross to work, where Misha is challenged by foreman Tarasov, who calls him a half-breed and says he is bad luck because of his descent. The writing is fluid and engaging, allowing the reader to appreciate the history of Fort Ross, while the characters are fully realized and the book well plotted. The use of metaphor relays the book's strong message, making this story one to be used for discussion among readers. 

  • Semi Finalist

    The Illuminator's Gift

    by Alina Sayre

    Rating: 8.75

    This fantasy novel focuses on 12-year-old orphan Ellie, skilled in drawing and manuscript illumination and blessed with the gift of true Sight. Aboard a flying ship bound for a training school, she and her companions are enlisted to help save doomed islanders and fight the forces of the Enemy. Couching a fantasy novel in Christian symbolism, Narnia-style, can be awkward or didactic, but here the allegory is handled subtly and without distracting from dramatic, steadily building adventures set in a vividly imagined world.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Kingdom of the Sun and Moon

    by Lowell H. Press

    Rating: 8.00

    Set in Vienna’s Schonbrunn Palace, Nesbit, a weak and outspoken mouse, and his brother, Sommer, are forced into different lands where they must defend the kingdom as they encounter a variety of threats. The background and lore of the kingdom of mice are well crafted, though reluctant readers may find some of it overkill. Readers will enjoy the adventure and trouble that the two mice find themselves facing. Ending with a good message, this is a delightful story about the kinship of brothers.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Escape from Dorkville

    by Dean Ammerman

    Rating: 9.75

    Ammerman’s engaging and hilarious narrative of intergalactic plumber Cardamon Webb and his two sidekicks on a journey to save the universe is cleverly unpredictable in a way that will have both parents and kids eagerly reading more. An exceptionally strong voice deftly imbues every page with tension and humor. Despite the insanity of the plot, the book succeeds brilliantly on a Douglas Adams scale.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Search (Seek Book 1)

    by Candie Leigh Campbell

    Rating: 8.75

    In this fantasy thriller, Keira Donavan is a trained agent for SEEK, a covert government agency hunting mystical creatures called the Khayal. The way she slowly uncovers the truth about the Khayal and SEEK’s corruption and betrayal is masterfully plotted and executed. Jonathan Steed could use a little more depth, but Keira is a complex character, with needs warring with guilt, desires in conflict with what’s right. At heart, she’s just a 17-year-old girl who misses her family -- and her twisting story feels authentic and is thoroughly enjoyable.

  • Quarter Finalist

    This winning final volume of Pardoe's trilogy follows Star and Jasper (a young girl and a sea pebble) through beautiful crystal caverns on their long journey home. The prose is filled with adventures, and the skillfully drawn, fully realized main characters develop an even stronger bond in this installment. The well rendered scenery is evocative and educational as well.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Buss from Lafayette

    by Dorothea Jensen

    Rating: 8.50

    Fifty years after American independence, General Lafayette is visiting all 24 of the new nation's states and everyone is eager to catch a glimpse of the honored guest, even 14-year old Clara Hargaves. Jensen effortlessly weaves history together with the daily trials of a girl resenting her stepmother’s reminders to behave like a lady. Most schoolchildren know Lafayette’s role in the Revolutionary War only superficially, and Jensen makes him come alive in a way they will remember. Historical accuracy, character development, and engaging dialogue enliven this narrative and make it an enjoyable read.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Orion Poe and the Lost Explorer

    by Will Summerhouse

    Rating: 8.00

    Young Orion Poe discovers the fate of the Franklin Expedition in this unlikely, but highly entertaining middle-grade steampunk adventure. Sailing terminology, descriptive passages, and short cliffhanger chapters give the yarn great atmosphere, suspense, and pacing. The connection to a historical mystery adds dimension and interest, while Orion’s narrative voice is consistent and expressive. Characters are not terribly deep, but readers won’t care: the story’s the point and there’s plenty of that.

  • Pardoe's novel is a charming story of a young girl named Star who befriends a pebble and embarks on a magical adventure. Filled with scientific facts about geography and silly characters that adults wrongly believe to be inanimate objects, this book boasts strong prose, well developed characters, and a winningly original premise.

  • 978-0-9907512-2-9

    by J.E. Rogers

    Rating: 7.25

    The kangaroos in this children’s book teach about the impact our trash has on animals and the environment. The overarching lesson here is sappy and overly preachy, while the target age range feels overly broad. The vivid and well-done illustrations will hook younger children, but the text is too dense and difficult for those readers. Still, the earnest story is suitable as part of a larger lesson on environmental responsibility. 

  • The Blue Moon Narthex

    by N. J. Donner

    Rating: 7.25

    After his father’s death in 1918, 13-year-old Cole McCarthy discovers that his dad has left behind a secret with many responsibilities, including the Blue Moon Narthex, a stone that introduces him to the Karmanic Sovereign Legion. Despite laying necessary groundwork, Donner manages to keep the action moving. Primary characters like Cole are well-developed while secondary characters feel less genuine. The tech and trains give the novel a steampunk feel. Donner has left room for a sequel and left readers wanting more.

  • In this Australian animal fantasy, Waylond Ayers, a numbat,must face his power-hungry brother, Morlund, to reclaim the crystal that, once united with a special sword, will allow him to fulfill his destiny as the Guardian of the Forest. The author of this book clearly loves Australia, which shows in her lavish treatment of its flora and fauna. The scenes are laid out with exceptional detail, and the book is beautifully illustrated. Where it falls short is in the characterization: all the characters are a bit one-dimensional, Nedra the Tasmanian devil and Wulfgar the stoat have sudden changes of heart that are not well-developed, and the use of dialect feels forced. But on the whole, it’s entirely readable and engaging.

  • The Queen's Sceptre

    by Robbie Scott

    Rating: 6.75

    Nine-year-old Joey, his best friend, Gloria, and his father start a make-believe quest that turns into a magical disaster they have to fix in this perplexing adventure tale aimed at reluctant readers. After the initial slow start, the protagonists have little to do but worry over what's happened to their Maguffin, until the climax allows Joey to reveal his character development. Although the characters are unique and well developed, plot and pacing issues hamper a story with an interesting premise.

  • Rafe Rebellius and the Clash of the Genres

    by Joseph Lowery

    Rating: 6.50

    Rafe Rebellius is used to his family moving around, but when they move into a library, it’s the weirdest move yet—especially when Rafe has to travel through books in order to save the library from being turned into a Confederate museum. Rafe is an appealing narrator, and the extended cast is delightfully wacky, while the book walking—though the rules are never satisfactorily explained—is sure to charm.

  • In this humorous, well-written fantasy, sixth grader Will Allen calls upon the Monster Detective Agency only to find himself and his friend Jeannine Fitsimmons working for the agency themselves. Edwards has created a wonderful metaphor to help the fears of young people be revealed and resolved. Starting out on the right foot with humor, an interesting concept, and a fast-paced plot, the novel unfortunately morphs into more of a self-help book for youngsters who are facing divorce or bullies, which will limit the audience of the series.