Book List

Best Middle-Grade Books of 2019 for Animal Lovers

Young readers will come away with fresh insights into both poo and peacemaking.

RABBIT'S BAD HABITS

From the Rabbit & Bear series

A bear’s kindness and generosity sweeten a grumpy rabbit’s sour outlook in this wintry woodland encounter.

Gough aims both high and low. On the one hand, he shows how the peaceable responses of Bear, equanimity unshaken despite discovering that her food stores have disappeared, to Rabbit’s rude comments and behavior gradually work a profound change in his character—and on the other, in the course of their exchanges, he has the long-eared lagomorph deliver a clinically explicit, hilariously extended disquisition on why his kind eats its own poo. Bear goes even further, saving Rabbit from an attacking wolf and then, when he shamefacedly produces the food that he had (yes) stolen earlier, inviting him to join her for a moonlit picnic and a snuggle in her cozy den. The narrative, laid out in short, well-leaded lines, likewise snuggles on every page with Field’s duotone cartoon scenes of the two furry figures meeting, parting, starting separate snowmen but ultimately coming together to finish one, and finally sharing a honeycomb and other goodies before bedding down in the warm den. When, showing a newly awakened sense of compassion, Rabbit wonders if the snowman is lonely, Bear has the perfect solution: “In the morning,” she murmurs drowsily, “we can make him a friend.”

Young readers will come away with fresh insights into both poo and peacemaking. (Animal fantasy. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68412-588-3

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Silver Dolphin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

Everything a fantasy should be and more. (Fantasy. 8-12)

BERNARD PEPPERLIN

In this spinoff of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Dormouse longs to escape “liv[ing] forever at half past teatime.”

His chance comes when, during an argument with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse is dropped in a teapot, and he is pulled by a strong current, swims through endless, bottomless liquid, and surfaces in a river beneath a bridge with huge, strange buildings on both shores. Of course this is modern-day New York City—or really two intertwining, parallel cities, one an accurate depiction of real places and the other populated by varieties of rodents, birds, bugs, and many other creatures, all living mostly unnoticed by almost all humans. They speak, wear clothes, have jobs, use their own transportation system, and enjoy interspecies friendships as well as share a dangerous common enemy. They welcome the Dormouse and introduce him to the delights and perils of this strange new world. Bernard, using his actual name for the first time ever, finds a sense of purpose in joining the fight to stop the dreaded Pork Pie Gang of weasels from achieving their goal of halting time. In this parallel New York City, Hoffman deftly creates a compellingly different kind of Wonderland, a place with its own set of realities and whose residents understand that, in spite of their differences, they are stronger together than apart.

Everything a fantasy should be and more. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-286544-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

This odd story is not for every reader, but those who enjoy it may find a friend for life

WILD HONEY FROM THE MOON

A determined mother embarks on a surreal adventure.

Kraegel’s format-defying tale is an unexpected story of love, determination, and parenting. Mother Shrew’s son, Hugo, is taken ill on the last day of January with a rare illness that makes him lethargic, with hot feet and a cold head. From “Dr. Ponteluma’s Book of Medical Inquiry and Physiological Know-How,” Mother Shrew learns that the only cure for this odd, unnamed illness is a spoonful of honey from the moon. Ferociously determined to cure Hugo, she sets out to save her son. In each new chapter, Mother Shrew faces a new obstacle or not-too-scary adversary as she braves the moon’s unusual environment—its verdant fields and lush forests make a stark contrast to the wintry landscape Mother Shrew has left behind—and its madcap inhabitants. Divided into seven heavily illustrated chapters, the story is one that will captivate contemplative and creative young readers. Caregivers may find this to be their next weeklong bedtime story and one that fanciful children will want to hear again and again. Kraegel’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations are reminiscent of Sergio Ruzzier’s but a bit grittier and with a darker color scheme. The surreal landscapes are appropriately unsettling, but a bright color palette keeps them from overwhelming readers.

This odd story is not for every reader, but those who enjoy it may find a friend for life . (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8169-2

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A splendid wildlife adventure skillfully conveyed.

THE MAGNIFICENT MIGRATION

ON SAFARI WITH AFRICA’S LAST GREAT HERDS

Montgomery journeys into the heart of the wildebeest migration with a wildlife biologist who has been studying these African mammals for more than 50 years.

Eleven chapters and a reflective epilogue chronicle a two-week visit to Tanzania’s northern plains with a small group led by Richard Estes, “the guru of gnu.” Montgomery, who has described many remarkable scientific field trips for the Scientists in the Field series, aims this report at older readers who can take in and act on her underlying message: “Throughout the Serengeti, our kind threatens the very survival of the migration we’ve come so far to witness.” Tension heightens as the wildebeest hordes elude them for days. Finally, a dramatic car breakdown in the wilderness is followed by “immersion” in an ocean of migrating gnus—a climax that would be unbelievable in fiction. Setting this particular safari in a larger context, and heightening the suspense, are interspersed short segments about Serengeti wildlife, poachers’ snares, the role of fire, “other magnificent migrants,” and more. The overall design is inviting and appropriate to the subject. There are maps, plentiful photos of African animals, and pictures and minibiographies of Montgomery’s all-white safari companions, both American and Tanzanian. Montgomery touches on the white-directed nature of much scientific research in Africa as well as pressures from colonialism and climate change but keeps her focus tightly on the wildebeest.

A splendid wildlife adventure skillfully conveyed. (acknowledgments, selected bibliography, note on wildebeest conservation and tourism, photo credits, index) (Nonfiction. 11-adult)

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-544-76113-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

Love might not last forever, but it can certainly teach an old dog new tricks.

I, COSMO

Cosmo has the soul of a dancer. There’s just one problem—dogs can’t dance…can they?

Ever since Mom and Dad picked him out of the litter 13 years ago, Cosmo has vowed to protect the Walker family, whom he loves more than anything, until his dying day. Trouble lurks, however, behind the household’s closed doors. Mom and Dad are fighting more and more, leaving 12-year-old Max, his younger sister, Emmaline, and Cosmo scared and confused, wary of the dreaded d-word, divorce, hounding their heels. When Mom’s brother, Reggie, returns from Afghanistan and brings Max and Cosmo to a special club for dogs, the inseparable pair discovers that dancing may be the only way to try and hold the family together. Cosmo must battle shyness, the pains of age, and demonic neighborhood sheepdogs (both real and imagined) to try and save what he and Max love most. Cosmo’s narration combines wit, heart, stubbornness, and a grouchy dignity, all ably tugging at funny bones and heartstrings alike. Sorosiak’s author’s note is a joyful celebration of dogs’ hidden humanity, one that’s reflected in her joyfully and painfully realistic tale of a struggling family and doggedly persistent canine companion. The family itself is biracial (white dad, black mom), and both kids have brown skin and curly black hair.

Love might not last forever, but it can certainly teach an old dog new tricks. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Dec. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0769-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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