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Best Middle-Grade Historical Fiction of 2015

Deeply moving and powerful: unforgettable.

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ADAM AND THOMAS

Two Jewish boys are caught up in the horrors of Nazi persecution.

The story opens when 9-year-olds Adam and Thomas are each brought to a deep forest and left there with meager supplies. The boys find each other and soon realize that they will be in hiding for a very long time. Practical, resourceful Adam is very familiar with the forest, and quiet, studious Thomas learns to respect him and follow his lead. In order to survive hunger and cold and to avoid capture, they establish a hideaway in a tall tree and forage for food and water. From their aerie they witness Nazis chasing and shooting at other fugitives, and the boys give help when they can. There are a few miracles. Adam’s dog, Miro, finds them bearing a note from his mother. Mina, a schoolmate now in hiding on a farm, bravely brings them food, as does Sergei, a peasant who becomes another helper. Throughout these harrowing ordeals, the children speak and act as adults, comparing philosophies and religion, encouraging each other, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. With this story, Appelfeld recounts a version of his own history in descriptive detail, conveying suffering and lasting damage without self-pity. The fablelike tale ends without concluding; it is obvious that there is more uncertainty, fear, and hope to come. Finished, full-color illustrations not seen.

Deeply moving and powerful: unforgettable. (Historical fiction. 10-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60980-634-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

A perfect storm of suspense and fine character building.

FINDING SOMEPLACE

Anticipation, fear, excitement, and dread coalesce as a girl’s 13th birthday collides with a terrible force of nature: Hurricane Katrina.

Teresa Arielle Boone is a high-spirited girl living in the 9th Ward of sultry New Orleans. In this summer of 2005, Reesie can’t wait to celebrate her upcoming birthday. However, upon overhearing tourists discuss a hurricane that has devastated parts of Florida, disbelief and fear bubble up inside Reesie. Now the storm is heading for New Orleans. When Reesie's parents argue over whether or not to leave town to avoid the storm, she feels shaken, yet she’s still determined to prepare for her party. Readers will feel the twinned pulls of elation and apprehension. The anticipation is palpable. So is the desperate, futile hope that everything will be all right. When the storm finally hits, Lewis slams readers and Reesie alike with an impact that reverberates long after the skies have cleared. Reesie has inherited her Ma Maw’s style as well as her sewing machine. She’s a girl with dreams and ambition who can’t imagine being derailed by anything, and readers will understand her aching vulnerability as she confronts a force even she can’t control. Patrick builds to the climax beautifully and delivers a character who puts readers in the moment.

A perfect storm of suspense and fine character building. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8050-4716-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

This powerful introduction to a great warrior and leader invites readers to ponder the meaning of “hero.” (author’s note,...

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  • American Indian Youth Literature Awards Winner

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE

School bullies claim Jimmy McClean’s blue eyes, fair hair, and Scottish surname mean he’s not a real Indian; to validate Jimmy’s Lakota heritage, Grandpa Nyles suggests a road trip in search of another Lakota with fair hair and skin: Crazy Horse.

Their journey takes them across the Great Plains to where Crazy Horse first witnessed attacks on his people and where he fought to end white appropriation of their homeland. Accounts of battles and stories of his integrity and commitment to providing for the weak and elderly in need bring Crazy Horse into focus. The Lakota author’s first book for children (The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, 2007, etc.) doesn’t airbrush tragic events; they are here, placed in context. At each site, Nyles tells the story (set in italics) of what happened to Crazy Horse there. Between stops, Nyles answers Jimmy’s questions in conversations that allow readers distance to process often bleak events and to reflect on their meaning today (the art’s storybook sensibility helps here). The story’s heavy in losses and defeats, but it’s also uplifting in ways seldom addressed in children’s fiction. Crazy Horse could have led his last small band of warriors to a heroic end in battle. But great leadership mandates a different kind of courage. He chose surrender as the best hope for protecting his people—the vulnerable children, women, and elderly.

This powerful introduction to a great warrior and leader invites readers to ponder the meaning of “hero.” (author’s note, glossary, bibliography) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0785-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

In her acknowledgments, the author states that Mimi is “for anyone who has big dreams but is short on courage.” By the...

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  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner

FULL CICADA MOON

Perhaps a few books manage to capture tweendom's chaos, but too few catch its poetry.

Hilton offers readers the indelible character of Mimi, a half-Japanese, half-black seventh-grader who travels with her mom, Emiko, from their old home in Berkeley, California, to Vermont, where her dad, James, works as a college professor. She’s the new kid at her school during the second half of the 1969 school year—around the time the U.S. starts withdrawing troops from Vietnam and lands on the moon. As Mimi hitches her career dreams to the lunar landing, microaggressions—those daily intentional and unintentional slights, snubs, and insults aimed at people solely because they belong to a marginalized group like Mimi and her interracial family—drag her back to Earth. Spare verse viscerally evokes the shattering impacts these everyday forms of bigotry from family, teachers, neighbors, townspeople, and schoolmates (“I’m trying hard to smile… / and pretend I don’t see… / that kids are making squint-eyes at me”) cause even as Mimi makes fast pals with Stacey, the Southern white girl with “that accent / as fragrant as lilacs,” and a slower, deeper bond with Timothy, the white boy living next door.

In her acknowledgments, the author states that Mimi is “for anyone who has big dreams but is short on courage.” By the book’s end, readers will be moved by the empathetic lyricism of Mimi’s maturing voice. (glossary, pronunciation guide) (Verse/historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-5254-2875-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Funny, poignant, and reassuringly upbeat by the end but free of glib platitudes or easy answers.

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SUNNY SIDE UP

From the Sunny series , Vol. 1

Family troubles temporarily strand 10-year-old Sunny in a Florida retirement community. Imagine the recreational possibilities.

In the hands of the sibling creators of Babymouse and Squish, even a story inspired by troubling circumstances in their own mid-1970s childhoods offers hilarious turns aplenty. Instead of a trip to the shore with a friend, Sunny finds herself on a solo flight to stay with her genial grandfather—in a development where a trip to the post office is the day’s big outing, Walt Disney World is hours away, and her exposure to senior culture includes being fawned over by old ladies. Happily, there is one other child around: Buzz, a groundskeeper’s boy, who turns her on to superhero comics and joins her in starting up a moderately lucrative business recovering golf balls and residents’ (illegal) lost cats. Less happily, interspersed flashbacks reveal the reason for the sudden change of plans by tracking her older brother Dale’s increasingly erratic behavior and drug abuse, leading up to an intervention in the wake of a violent incident. Colored by Lark Pien in subdued hues that subtly reflect Sunny’s state of mind, the sequential panels present both storylines in a mix of terse labels, brief dialogue, and, particularly, silent, effective reaction shots.

Funny, poignant, and reassuringly upbeat by the end but free of glib platitudes or easy answers. (afterword) (Graphic historical fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-74165-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Beautifully written and earnestly delivered, the novel rolls to an inexorable, stunning conclusion readers won’t soon forget.

NIGHT ON FIRE

In 1961, riding a Greyhound bus was more than a way to get from one place to another. For some, the destination was freedom.

Told through the eyes of a white teen with a thirst for adventure, the novel takes readers on an aching journey of self-discovery at a time when figuring out the world meant facing devastating truths about where you lived and what you loved. Thirteen-year-old Billie Sims loves watching the sleek, silver Greyhound buses pass through Anniston, Alabama, reading the bus schedule the way some kids read the funny papers. She loves home, but she yearns for more, hoping and dreaming about taking the bus into her future. However, with parts of the South refusing to enforce segregation laws and civil rights activists refusing to back down, Billie soon learns that seeing the world is not as important as seeing what is right in front of her. Kidd writes with insight and restraint, creating a richly layered opus that hits every note to perfection. Readers who know the history will cringe at Billie's naiveté; those who do not will surely find themselves re-evaluating their worlds. For them, Billie’s coming-of-age could serve as a cautionary tale about where America once was and why we all need to stay vigilant, lest we return—as current headlines attest.

Beautifully written and earnestly delivered, the novel rolls to an inexorable, stunning conclusion readers won’t soon forget. (Historical fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8075-7024-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

A tale of the Jim Crow South that’s not sugar-coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and...

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STELLA BY STARLIGHT

When a young girl gains confidence from her failures and strength from what her community dreads most, life delivers magic and hope.

Stella Mills and her brother Jojo witness the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross late one starry night, setting off a chain reaction that leaves their entire community changed. During the Depression, North Carolina was less than hospitable for African-Americans forced to work more to earn less while being deprived of basic human rights. Through the perspective of Stella, young readers glimpse the nearly suffocating anguish that envelops this black community, illuminating the feelings associated with suppression. In a telling passage, Stella’s mother attempts to comfort her: " 'It's gonna be all right,' her mother whispered as she smoothed down Stella's hair. But Stella felt the tension in her mother's arms, and she knew that in reality, fear hugged them both.” Draper expertly creates a character filled with hope, dreams and ambition in a time when such traits were dangerous for a girl of color. While the use of language honors the time period, the author is careful to avoid the phonetic quagmire that ensnares lesser writers of the period, allowing the colorful idioms to shine.

A tale of the Jim Crow South that’s not sugar-coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and readers’ eyes. (Historical fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9497-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada’s personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration.

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  • Newbery Honor Book

THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE

Ada discovers there are worse things than bombs after she escapes her Mam’s cruelty during a children’s evacuation of World War II London.

Crippled by an untreated club foot and imprisoned at home by Mam, Ada has survived, but she hasn’t thrived. Only caring for her brother, Jamie, has made life tolerable. As he grows, goes out and tells Ada about the world, her determination to enter it surges. She secretly begins learning to walk and joins Jamie when Mam sends him to the country. Ada narrates, recalling events and dialogue in vivid detail. The siblings are housed with Susan, a reluctant guardian grieving the death of her friend Becky. Yet Susan’s care is life-changing. Ada’s voice is brisk and honest; her dawning realizations are made all the more poignant for their simplicity. With Susan’s help and the therapeutic freedom she feels on horseback, Ada begins to work through a minefield of memories but still harbors hope that Mam will accept her. In interesting counterpoint, Susan also knows what it is like to be rejected by her parents. With the reappearance of Mam, things come to an explosive head, metaphorically and literally. Ignorance and abuse are brought to light, as are the healing powers of care, respect and love.

Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada’s personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4081-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s...

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ECHO

A multilayered novel set in turbulent times explores music’s healing power.

Sweeping across years and place, Ryan’s full-bodied story is actually five stories that take readers from an enchanted forest to Germany, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and finally New York City. Linking the stories is an ethereal-sounding harmonica first introduced in the fairy-tale beginning of the book and marked with a mysterious M. In Nazi Germany, 12-year-old Friedrich finds the harmonica in an abandoned building; playing it fills him with the courage to attempt to free his father from Dachau. Next, the harmonica reaches two brothers in an orphanage in Depression-era Pennsylvania, from which they are adopted by a mysterious wealthy woman who doesn’t seem to want them. Just after the United States enters World War II, the harmonica then makes its way to Southern California in a box of used instruments for poor children; as fifth-grader Ivy Lopez learns to play, she discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ryan weaves these stories together, first, with the theme of music—symbolized by the harmonica—and its ability to empower the disadvantaged and discriminated-against, and then, at the novel’s conclusion, as readers learn the intertwined fate of each story’s protagonist.

A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-439-87402-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

Time, grief, forgiveness, and love intersect in epic theater celebrating mysteries of the heart and spirit.

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THE MARVELS

In the final volume of a trilogy connected by theme, structural innovation, and exquisite visual storytelling, Selznick challenges readers to see.

Starting in 1766, the first portion unfolds in nearly 400 pages of pictures, rendered in pencil. A ship in shadows, a luminous angel, an abandoned baby in a basket—these are among the phenomena affecting five generations of London actors. Disguises and surprises reveal that what one sees is not always what is true. Fast-forwarding to the 1990s, the author describes in prose a runaway who peers longingly into a candlelit dwelling. Joseph is searching for an uncle and something more elusive—family. Observant readers will recall this recently viewed address. Inspired by the actual Dennis Severs’ House (where scent, sound, setting, and the motto “You either see it or you don’t” transport visitors to 18th-century London), Selznick provides a sensory equivalent throughout his eloquent and provocative text. The poetry of Yeats and references to The Winter’s Tale add luster. Carefully crafted chapters pose puzzles and connect to the prior visual narrative. In poignant scenes, the teen learns about his uncle’s beloved, lost to AIDS but present through the truths of the home’s staged stories. A powerful visual epilogue weaves threads from both sections, and the final spread presents a heartening awakening to sight.

Time, grief, forgiveness, and love intersect in epic theater celebrating mysteries of the heart and spirit. (notes) (Fiction. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-44868-0

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Rich in all areas, Delphine and her sisters’ third outing will fully satisfy the many fans of their first two.

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  • Coretta Scott King Book Award Winner

GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA

The coping skills of three sisters are put to the test as they leave Brooklyn for a rural summer in 1969 Alabama.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, the sisters who captured readers’ hearts in One Crazy Summer (2010) and P.S. Be Eleven (2013), are off to spend the summer in Alabama with Big Ma. This visit comes at a time of great awareness for almost-13-year-old Delphine as well as looming change in her family. Delphine is still in charge, but Vonetta seeks to step out of her older sister’s shadow. The trip also means the girls will confront their Uncle Darnell, who let them down during his stay in Brooklyn. Hurts and grudges go even deeper as the story of the girls’ great-grandmother and her estranged sister is gradually disclosed, revealing family dynamics shaped by racial history. All the conflicts fade when a tornado threatens an unbearable loss. Character development again astonishes, the distinctive personalities of the girls ringing true and the supporting cast adding great depth and texture. Indeed, the girls’ cousin JimmyTrotter is so fully realized it seems unfair to think of him as secondary. This well-crafted depiction of a close-knit community in rural Alabama works beautifully, with language that captures its humor, sorrow and resilience.

Rich in all areas, Delphine and her sisters’ third outing will fully satisfy the many fans of their first two. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-221587-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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