Book List

Best Middle-Grade Books of 2018 for New & Transitioning Readers

For fans of Google, trivia, and family strength.

THE GREAT GOOGLINI

From the Orca Echoes series

A young Canadian boy copes with the news that his uncle has cancer in Cassidy’s early chapter book.

Filip Horvat, the son of two Croatian immigrants, is about to complete his “tenth orbit around the sun.” An avid collector of facts, Filip, along with his best friend, Ivan, spends hours on Google looking up everything he can. When the news that his beloved uncle has been diagnosed with cancer comes on the heels of his birthday party, however, Filip’s mind reels with worry and questions. As any researcher worth their salt would, Filip turns to Google, and after finding out some information about what cancer is and how it is treated, he asks the question that is foremost in his mind: “Will Uncle Mato be alright?” A moment later, the Great Googlini—a tiny woman of color who is one of the information scientists inside Google who answer all the questions people ask—appears in a puff of computer smoke to answer him. Cassidy has crafted a thoughtful glimpse into the life of an immigrant family, and despite the refreshingly straightforward look at cancer and the struggle of having a loved one undergo treatment, the narrative retains its slice-of-life focus. Chua’s spot art depicts Filip, his family, and Ivan as white, gives some visual depth to various scenes, and helps nascent chapter-book readers with comprehension and pacing.

For fans of Google, trivia, and family strength. (Fantasy. 6-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4598-1703-6

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Good, solid fantasy fun.

DRAGONS IN A BAG

Nine-year-old Brooklynite Jaxon meets a witch, becomes her apprentice, and protects baby dragons all in one eventful day.

As the story opens, Jaxon and his mom are being evicted. While Mama tries to secure a place to stay, she leaves him with Ma, the woman who raised her. Ma clearly doesn’t want Jaxon around, but it becomes apparent that’s at least partially due to a mysterious package she’s received. Jax soon discovers that Ma’s a witch, his mom used to be Ma’s apprentice (a mantle he takes up), and that Ma’s package contains…baby dragons! The dragons need to be taken to the magical realm, but a transport malfunction strands Ma while Jax is sent back to Brooklyn. Desperate to save Ma, Jax enlists the help of his friend Vikram, whose little sister, Kavita, tags along. Curious—or is it nosy?—Kavita discovers the dragons and does the worst: feeds them. This not only increases their size, but bonds them to her. Thankfully, Trub, Jax’s maternal grandfather, is a magic user and helps Jax find Ma and get the dragons to the magical realm, where (discerning readers won’t be surprised) they discover one dragon is missing….What a breath of fresh air: a chapter-book fantasy with an urban setting, an array of brown-skinned magic wielders, and a lovable black protagonist readers will root for and sympathize with. Geneva B’s black-and-white illustrations depict a cast of color and appear every few pages.

Good, solid fantasy fun. (Fantasy. 6-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-7045-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Utterly satisfying.

MEET YASMIN!

From the Yasmin series , Vol. 1

In Faruqi’s debut for children, transitioning readers watch a fun, curious, and creative Pakistani-American girl solve problems and have adventures.

Four separate sections give Yasmin lots of opportunities. “Yasmin the Explorer” makes a map of her neighborhood and uses it when she goes to the farmers market with her mother. “Yasmin the Painter” doesn’t know what to create for the art contest at school, but when she tinkers with a paint set gifted to her by her baba, she gets an idea that proves successful. “Yasmin the Builder” is once again stumped over a class project, but after a few false starts and moments of frustration, she comes up with a brilliant contribution. Finally, “Yasmin the Fashionista” is bored at home with her grandparents while her parents eat out together. She complains of having nothing to do, but when she stumbles into her mother’s closet, the hijabs and saris and a new kameez give her lots of ideas. Each episode spans two to three chapters. Each spread has full- or half-page art in attractive, bold colors. Readers will be charmed by this one-of-a-kind character and won’t tire of her small but significant dilemmas. Faruqi nails the child’s perspective, and illustrator Aly gives Yasmin life. Backmatter intended for child readers offers things to think and talk about from the stories, an index of Urdu words presented as a fun way to learn the language, facts about Pakistan, a recipe, and a craft.

Utterly satisfying. (Fiction. 5-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68436-022-2

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Picture Window Books

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

Wrapped in the chiaroscuro of film noir, kids will forget they are learning to read, focusing instead on the comic bits,...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE EYE

In five chapters spanning almost 200 pages, Selznick—here working with husband Serlin—manages to do for the early reader what he accomplished with the picture book: reinvent it.

The narrative unfolds in finely wrought, crosshatched compositions drawn in pencil and introducing the color red to reward readers as they hunt for stolen objects alongside the pint-sized simian detective. Though he’s as successful as his hard-boiled, cinematic counterparts, Baby Monkey is still a youngster, so after each client arrives for consultation, he playfully peers through his magnifying glass, scribbles findings, nibbles snacks, and attempts to dress himself. This structure provides the repetition that, when paired with brief sentences, visual clues, a large typeface, and clear dialogue bubbles, serves the format extremely well. Impish expressions and oversized trousers will amuse the audience throughout each of the several-page wardrobe sequences. Preceding each knock on the door is an office “scene change” inviting viewers to analyze objects and predict the visitor’s identity; for example, and in a nod to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the iconic image from Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon heralds an astronaut. An oversized bonnet and dress shroud the final guest in mystery until the loving denouement. Not to be missed are the sendups of a bibliography and index, and adult readers will enjoy the visual keys to the clues planted in Baby Monkey’s office.

Wrapped in the chiaroscuro of film noir, kids will forget they are learning to read, focusing instead on the comic bits, persistence, and vulnerability of an endearing hero. (Early reader. 4-9)

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-18061-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.