Saturday, January 2, 2016

Peanut Butter and Jelly - The Best Middle Grade Children's Books - 2015

What looks like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in this picture is actually a peanut butter and jelly cake made in the Food Nework Test Kitchens. Sometimes a plain peanut butter and jelly sandwich is just what a kid wants, sometimes it's not. My daughter took a PB & J sandwich and either an apple or a pear to school for lunch every single day for eight years.  She absolutely refused to deviate from what she loved. If I'd seen this cake then I might have tried to tempt her with it. She may not have liked variety in her lunches, but she loved to read a variety of books.  She adored most genres including Beverly Cleary's domestic delights, Roald Dahl's fantasies, and Cynthia Voigt's historical adventure Jackaroo (now titled The Tale of Gwyn).  

Whatever your favorite young reader fancies, this year's best books will provide some fine reading. 

The Best Middle-Grade Books of 2015:
  • Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
  • Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Good-Bye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
  • My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp
  • Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  • The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
The Best Middle Grade Book (That Some Might Call a Young Adult Book):

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter broke my heart. Joseph is a “bad” kid. He’s thirteen. He’s been in jail, assaulted a teacher, and fathered a daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen. When 12-year-old Jack’s family takes Joseph in as a foster child, most people think it’s a bad idea. A few teachers and Jack look carefully and see light in Joseph. Told in Jack’s straight-forward, calm voice, this never gets maudlin. Prepare for a good cry. I want everyone over the age of ten to read this wonder. Some might consider this a young adult book because Joseph has had sex and they might not feel some preteens should know about it. If a kid is ready for the nativity story of Jesus birth, he or she can handle this one too. Any adult who reads it will become an evangelist for it. I picked it up to write this review and read the entire thing again - and I cried - again.  Orbiting Jupiter, I love you. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Soul Food, Book Club Ages 10 - 14

The Best Middle Grade Book for Ages 10 and Up and the Best Middle Grade Debut:

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
After Suzy’s friend drowns, she convinces herself that a jellyfish sting must have caused the drowning and sets out to prove her hypothesis. She, like so many kids, feels that there must be a reason for everything that happens. Suzy’s poignant determination and intelligence will appeal to thinkers. It’s a touching ode to grief. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Soul Food, Ages 10 and up

The Best Historical Fiction Middle Grade Book:

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (Read the complete review here.) 

Echo is a wonder. It shows how music propels and enriches the lives of three children. Combining a magical fairy tale with 20th Century history, it’s a brass band, cymbal-clapping winner that ties the three tales together gloriously. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Pigeon Pie/Super Nutrition, Book Club, Ages 10 - 14

Runner Up for Best Historical Fiction and Best Debut Middle Grade Book:
My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp (Read the complete review here.)
Eleven-year-old Stan’s mother and grandmother cook for lumberjacks at a camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the late 1800s. When Stan learns that his father isn’t dead, things get interesting. Stan is hilarious and boys will love him. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Pigeon Pie, Ages 8 - 12

Runners Up - Best Middle Grade Books:

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate 

Crenshaw is an imaginary cat who comforts ten-year-old Jackson when his life is falling apart. Jackson’s dad has MS and has lost his job and his mother’s lost her job as a music teacher as well so things are tough. Jackson and his sister are hungry. They may not have enough money for rent. Will they have to live in their minivan again? This is an honest rendering of a real problem that shows that kids are resilient. Humor helps and it’s a winner. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Super Nutrition, Ages 9 - 12

Good-Bye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Stead, the winner of the Newbery Award for When You Reach Me, hits a home run with this true portrait of adolescents and their problems. Three seventh grade girls navigate friendship via their “No Fighting” rule. It also shows how sweet a developing young romance can be. This book is profound, bighearted, humorous, and quite simply a winner. It also illustrates the dangers of innocent middle school-aged kids and their cell phone usage. If I were a parent of kids this age, I'd listen to or read it together and use it to discuss privacy. I listened to this and while I didn't enjoy the narrator's voice, I loved listening to the characters. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Road Trip, Ages 10 and up

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