Chapter books for middle readers

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011

“Little Joe,” by Sandra Neil Wallace: When Eli Stegner gets his first calf to raise, he’s over the moon. He names him Little Joe and sets about making friends with him, even though his father warns him not to. After all, Eli is raising Little Joe to be a Blue Ribbon winner at the County Fair, and the biggest and meatiest bulls bring top dollar at the sale after the fair. But it all seems so far away to Eli as he learns about ear-tattooing, weaning, feeding, and showing his calf, that he forgets, and by the time the fair rolls around, Eli and Little Joe are inseparable. Full of details about small farm life, this is a warm family story.

“Museum of Thieves,” by Lian Tanner: Goldie has never walked alone down to the park to play, never run to the store on an errand for her mother, never even slept in bed without a fine silver chain attaching her to it. Like all children in the city of Jewel, she’s been chained to a parent or Blessed Guardian her entire life, even indoors, to protect her against drowning, poisoning, kidnapping or worse. And now, just minutes before the ceremony that will release her from her chains, a bomb has rocked Jewel and Separation Day has been cancelled. Goldie is furious and heartbroken and she does something rash… she runs. She finds herself in the Museum of Dunt, taken in by a motley crew of museum caretakers. But the Museum isn’t just for physical artifacts: it’s also full of all the moods and dangers that used to live in the Jewel and are eager to reinfect the populace, if only they could find a way out.

“Penny Dreadful,” by Laurel Snyder: Penelope Grey is rich and usually bored, and lives her life through books. She even begins playing a game with her books: she closes her eyes, chooses a book, opens it randomly, and does whatever the characters are doing. One day, the book Penelope chooses prompts her to make a wish in the decorative well (designed by a famous architect)… and: her dad quits his job, runs out of money, and the house becomes a pit of despair. Not good. So Penelope makes another wish, and... her mom inherits a house in the country! When the family moves out to the country, things aren’t quite what she imagined, mostly because Penelope never dreamed she’d meet a small, friendly lion named Twent, make friends like Luella and Jasper, or change her name to Penny. Fans of The Penderwicks will enjoy this story in which every day is an adventure for Penny and her friends.

“The Other Half of My Heart,” by Sundee T. Frazier: Eleven-year-old twins Minni and Keira are one-in-a-million: Minni looks like their dad, who has strawberry-blonde hair and pale skin, while Keira takes after their mom, with dark, kinky hair and skin the color of hot chocolate. When they were born, they made the news around the world. Now, Mama’s mother has asked them to come visit her in North Carolina and participate in a preteen pageant for young black girls. Minni hates being in front of people, and she’s worried she won’t be black enough, but Keira’s excited enough for both of them. To their surprise, ten days in the South away from their mostly white suburb of Seattle, is plenty of time for the girls to learn family stories, experience the other side of the racial divide, and strengthen the bond between them.

“The Shadow Hunt,” by Katherine Langrish: Wolf is running away from Brother Thomas, his abusive master at the monastery where he was raised, when he sees something he thinks at first is a young child, but it is so odd-looking that he realizes she is a young elfgirl. When she disappears into a cave on the moors and Wolf gets caught up in the middle of Lord Hugo’s hunt, his penance for losing Hugo’s quarry is to go fetch the elf out of the cave. Everyone is unhappy when Wolf appears with the child, except Hugo, who is convinced that she can tell him where his wife is. The problem is: the little elf can’t — or won’t — speak. Hugo gives Wolf until Christmas to get her to talk — or else! Taken in, temporarily, to Lord Hugo’s household, Wolf’s one ally is Nest, the lord’s daughter. Together, they work on teaching the elfchild to speak, but time is running out! Once again, Langrish, author of the Troll Mill series, has created a fast-paced adventure set in the eerie, desolate Welsh moors and full of fairy-tale elements.

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