Middle Grade Book Wisdom 2016, Part Two

I’ve already filled one post with quotations from middle grade fiction of 2016, mostly from the fantasy books I’m reading for Cybils. And now here’s another installment of proverbs, maxims, and wisdom nuggets from middle grade fiction of 2016. Enjoy, and feel free to tweet.

“Just when you think you don’t have it in you to bloom anymore, you do.” ~The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

“You are living an extraordinary life, day by day by glorious day. Never doubt your starry aim.” ~The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.

“When something seems like an unbelievable coincidence, then consider that it might not be a coincidence.” ~Once Was a Time by Leila Sales.

“Sometimes the greatest power comes from showing mercy. Especially to those who may not deserve it.” ~Neverseen by Shannon Messenger.

“To a truly creative mind, ‘can’t be done’ just means ‘look for another way.'” ~Mysteries of Cove: Gears of Revolution by Scott Savage.

“Our memories make us who we are. . . Choose one moment in every day that is worth cherishing. Welcome that moment into your memory palace, nurture it always, and it will never leave you.” ~Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford.

“Even magic cannot create something out of nothing. It is possible to change matter from one form into another, but you can’t hold things in the wrong shape for long. Physics doesn’t like it.” ~The Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers.

“The only way I know to find inspiration is to put in the time and effort. Art doesn’t appear in the world as a finished masterpiece. It always begins like a lumpy mound of clay.” ~Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino.

“Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin.

“You can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.” ~Ghost by Jason Reynolds.

“Don’t forget how to be gentle. Don’t let the hardness of the world steal the softness of your heart. The greatest strength of all is daring to love.” ~Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Trends and Themes in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction 2016

Settings where (fantasy) stories come true
The town of Fortune Falls, where superstitions are the laws of nature.
An alternate universe/earth where mythological creature are real.
A congenital condition in which the words that people use to describe you appear in print on your arms and legs.
A Dream Shop in which dreams are bought and sold and made alive.
A summer camp where paranormal talents are the norm.
A wrinkled mountain village where “stories have a way of coming true.”
A world of paintings lives “behind the canvas”.
A library where books involving supernatural elements are “finished” as they are lived out in the real world.

Kids with father issues
Not as many mother issues in 2016, although they do show up in one or two books.
The Luck Uglies: Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham. Rye must decide whether to follow in her outlaw father’s footsteps or not.
My Diary From the Edge of the World. A hapless and neglectful father leads his family to the edge of the world.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Benjamin Hogan Putter talks to his dead father and tries to carry out his dad’s dying wishes.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Jamie’s father is an evil troll, and Annie doesn’t have a father.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie’s father has “checked out” since his mother died.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia’s father is missing, and only she can find him.
Furthermore by Teherah Mafi. Alice feels rejected by her mother and abandoned by her father.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler. Bee starts with no parents and ends up with two fathers, or at least two father figures.
Edge of Extinction: The Ark Plan by Laura Martin. Sky’s father fled the North Compound five years ago when she was only seven years old, but Sky is determined to find out why and what happened to him.
This Is Not A Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Raul feels deserted by his father, who is grieving over the loss of Raul’s mother.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Rueben is fatherless.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
Red Moon Rising by K.A. Holt. Rae can’t relate to her father and becomes bonded instead to her captors, an alien race called The Cheese.

Death and Dying
My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson. The Dark Cloud of Death is coming to get someone in Gracie’s family.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben’s dad is dead, but dad’s ashes are speaking to Ben from beyond the grave.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny’s best friend, Sayra, is dying, and Linny must find a medicine that will cure her.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie and his little sister Imogen find a parallel world where their deceased and much-missed mom is still alive.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Ship’s cat Jacob Tibbs loses his mother in a storm, and other lives hang in the balance when mutineers try to take over the ship.
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd. Emma lives next to a graveyard and gives guided tours of said cemetery. She also talks to ghosts and misses her recently deceased mother with a feeling she calls The Big Empty.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone. Haleigh wants to keep her friend Kevin’s grandmother from dying by going back in time.
Red by Liesl Shurtliff. Red will do almost anything to find the secret of eternal life for her granny.
School of the Dead by Avi.

Science and logic versus stories and magic
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. People on the wrinkled, magic side of the river are in an ongoing conflict with those who live on the plain, scientific side.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his nerdy friend Theo argue over whether supernatural events are real or can be be explained scientifically.

Ethnic Diversity
Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung. Chloe Cho is tired of being the only Asian kid in town, but things are about to get a lot worse when she finds out the secret that her parents have been keeping about her family’s true heritage.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his two best friends, Annabella Lu, Chinese American, and Theo McLean, African American, work together to solve supernatural mysteries and lay ghosts to rest.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. I think the different animal kingdoms in this one are supposed to mirror human diversity, with “mixed heritage” characters.
The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow. A group of ethnically diverse middle schoolers gain individual and oddly specific superpowers.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. An ethnic Indian/British (Punjabi) setting and characters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen (African) and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing travel across France in the thirteenth century on a quest.
Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon.

Magical Child with Hidden Talents, Destined to Save the World
The Harry Potter theme.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia, recently freed from captivity in St. Agony’s Asylum, is half-morph and all-princess. Can she find the Silver Hammer which will help to free her grandfather Nicodemus who can in turn find her father, Fred McCrumpet Merrymoon?
Little D by A. ML. “In a world where magic has been all but extinguished, nine year old Donatella Lou Regent, the last of the famous Regent line, has no idea who she is or the power she holds.”
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier. Sophie and her friend Peter Nimble adventure across the Grimmwald and through the city of Bustleburgh to stop the villains who are planning to stop, destroy and immolate all nonsense (stories, magic, wonder, books!).
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny may be the prophesied Girl With the Lourka who will save the people of the divided city of Bend from ongoing warfare.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Little Annie Nobody is the child who is destined to be a Time Stopper, find the magical garden gnome, bring it back to Aurora, and defeat the evil Each Uisge and the Raiff.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Poor, lonely Reuben finds a hidden object, an object that bestows great power on its owner, but also an object that is sought for by a lot of very, very bad people, including the arch-villain of New Umbra who is known only as The Smoke. Can Reuben unlock the secrets of his newfound magical powers and save New Umbra before The Smoke finds him and takes his discovery away?
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance. Seventh grader Claudia Miravista finds that she is a magically talented Artisti who can save her friend Pim from a life trapped behind the canvas of the paintings of the world.
The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal. Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him, and he is the only one who can save his father and the world from the evil Clockmaker.
The Lost Compass by Joel Ross. Chess, the foggy-eyed tether boy, may have a gift that will defeat the evil Lord Kodoc and save the world.
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson. Sam is the one sent to save the world from the evil Vulture, El Buitre.

Shapeshifting:
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. Simon and his family are all Animalgams, people born with the ability to change into a certain animal at will.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano. Borderline shapeshifting.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Maybe Raul is not a werewolf, but he does shift into a wolf on the weekends.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.

Robots and Artificial Intelligence:
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger.
Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince by Jean Claude Bemis. A Pinocchio-like automaton.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.
Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer.

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Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo

On October 8, 1871 the deadliest fire in U.S. history killed an estimated 1500 people, possibly as many as 2500. No one knows exactly how the fire started, but it was fanned by strong winds into massive proportions and consumed an area approximately twice the size of Rhode Island, including the town at the center of the fire.

No, this deadly tragedy was not the Great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871 that everyone knows about, but rather the Peshtigo Forest Fire, on the same date in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin, the one that killed many more people and destroyed far more acres of forest than the more famous fire in Chicago. The two children who are the protagonists in Cinnamon Moon are survivors of the Peshtigo Fire. (“The fire jumped across the Peshtigo River and burned on both sides of the inlet town. Survivors reported that the firestorm generated a fire whirl (described as a tornado) that threw rail cars and houses into the air.Many escaped the flames by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River, wells, or other nearby bodies of water.” ~Wikipedia)

Oddly enough, twelve-year-old Ailis and her younger brother, Quinn, having lost their entire family in the fire, end up in Chicago, a city which is still recovering from its own fire. In the midst of all the destruction and confusion, the family friend who rescued Ailis and Quinn leaves them in a boarding house with the less-than-nurturing Miss Franny, who makes them work for her rather than go to school. In the boarding house Ailis and Quinn become friends with an orphan girl, Nettie, who has been placed temporarily in the care of Miss Franny, and when Nettie goes missing in a city full of human trafficking and exploitation of child labor, Ailis and Quinn must find her and rescue her.

This novel is historical fiction at its best, good for middle graders who are ready for an introduction to the seamier side of life for children and especially orphans in the nineteenth century. Nettie is enslaved and put to work killing rats in the sewers. She lives in a sort of Dickensian Chicago warehouse for captured orphans. Ailis and Quinn find that it’s hard to rescue someone who doesn’t understand the terms and limitations of her enslavement, but as it should be in a children’s book, all ends well for all three of the children. The story is just dark enough to show older middle grade children that this world is not always a safe place without depriving them of hope and faith in at least some of the adult around them.

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The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen

I am a fan of Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, beginning with The False Prince, and I read her historical fiction book set in East Berlin, A Night Divided, and enjoyed it too. But The Scourge just didn’t connect with me. I felt the prose and dialog were poorly written, and the plot was contrived and didn’t make sense a lot of the time.

Ani Mills is one of the River People who live up-country in a primitive and poverty-stricken culture, and she and her fellow “grubs” don’t have much to do with the townsfolk who they call “pinchworms”. Maybe that minimal contact is the reason that the Scourge, a deadly infectious disease that is rampant in the pinchworms, hasn’t yet infected the River People. When Ani is arrested and taken to the lowlands town to be tested for The Scourge, she knows it must be a mistake. But Ani’s River People are powerless in the governmental system of this world, and Ani may be infected after all. Anyway, she has little or no choice about what will happen to her, but she continues to fight against her fate and her oppressive society and government.

I liked the premise of this book, but it just didn’t go smoothly. I don’t mean that things needed to go well for the protagonist, Ani, or for her friends. Her situation goes from bad to worse, but that’s the way you make a story: take your main character and get her into trouble and then see what happens. However, with Ani, her lows are unbelievably low, and her hairbreadth-escapes are unbelievably fortuitous. The penal colony or quarantine island Ani is sent to is very poorly run, with prisoners running around all over the island with no supervision, yet it’s supposed to be inescapable and quite authoritarian.

Younger readers who want a “Hunger Games” experience, very political, in their reading might like this one and might be willing to overlook the far-fetched solutions and rescues, but I was not.

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All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Eleven year old Perry T. Cook has lived all of his life at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska—in other words, in prison. His mom is the one who committed a crime, however. She lives on Cell Block C. And Warden Daugherty, Perry’s foster mom, is the one who makes it possible for Perry to live in prison with his birth mom, sort of. The warden and the guards and the prisoners and Perry and his mom are all just fine with Perry living at Blue River, but when the new District Attorney gets a bee in his bonnet about the inappropriateness of Perry’s living situation, Perry’s life is turned upside down.

OK, the premise is a little improbable, but it does shine a light on the issue of children whose parent(s) are incarcerated. And All Rise is not just an issue-driven novel; it’s a good story about an extremely patient and compliant boy (Perry) who finally, through persistence and a little luck, manages to get the adults to look at the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Gary Schmidt calls the book “a deeply moving, even inspiring novel”, and the plot and characters remind me of Mr. Schmidt’s books. An innocent boy is caught up in the problems of the adults around him and finds a way to navigate those problems with kindness and perseverance.

There are a couple of problems with the book. First, Perry is a little too innocent and patient, never complaining even when his new foster father is manifestly blind and unfair. But the point of the story is that Perry has been trained to be compliant in his life growing up in a prison, just as incarcerated criminals are trained to be compliant and not necessarily to think for themselves or stand up for their own convictions. There are also a few instances of cursing (God’s name taken in vain) that may add to verisimilitude of a prison setting, but don’t add much to a middle grade novel. However, those instances were only a handful.

I found Perry’s story inspiring and moving myself, and it has a lot to say about the work of forgiveness and about rehabilitation and even our justice system and our foster care system. Children need and long for their own parents; when they are unable to be with their parents because a parent is in jail or prison, the child is serving a sentence along with the parent. And that’s sad. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a hopeful story, however, and one that might help children to understand some things about prisoners and the justice system and children in foster care jut a little bit better.

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Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Aim is a prequel to Ms. Hostetter’s two books about Ann Fay Honeycutt, Blue and Comfort. Aim is about Junior Bledsoe, a secondary, but beloved, character in those other two books. (Ann Fay is the minor character in this one.)

The story takes place in 1941-1942. Fourteen year old Junior Bledsoe of Hickory, North Carolina has a troubled life. His father is a drunk. Junior doesn’t like school and can’t really see the point of it. His cantankerous and sometimes cruel granddaddy has moved in and taken over Junior’s bedroom. And World War II is about to involve the United States of America, except according to Granddaddy, “That yellow-bellied president is too chicken to take us to war. He ain’t half the man the Colonel was.” (The Colonel, in Grandaddy’s jargon, refers to Teddy Roosevelt.)

While Junior worries about school and the draft and impending war and that fact that his father seems distant and stern most of the time, Junior’s dad manages to go on a drinking binge and get killed in a accident. Or was it an accident? How can Junior go back to school when he’s not sure what really happened to his Pop? And what are they going to do about Grandaddy who’s becoming more verbally abusive and demanding every day? Should Junior drop out of school and get a job? Or join the army? Or investigate the moonshiners who may have been involved in Pop’s death?

This story is really all about a boy who’s trying to find his way to adulthood without the guidance of a father. However, the wonderful thing is that the community steps in to work together and separately to help Junior find his “aim” in life. Even when Junior Bledsoe makes some really poor choices and gets himself into what could become serious trouble, members of his extended community help his now-single mother guide Junior back to the path of good sense and responsible moral judgement. Junior is a good kid, but he’s looking for a way to deal with his father’s death and a way to earn the respect of his family and his friends. It’s not easy for a fourteen year old boy to lose his father, especially not the way Junior Pop dies. It was inspiring to read about how ordinary, ind neighbors, teachers, and friends help Junior to process his father’s death and to decide which parts of his father’s legacy he wants to continue and which parts he wants to leave in the grave.

Aim is an excellent coming-of-age novel, and I would also recommend Blue, about Ann Fay and her encounter with the dreaded disease of polio about a year after the events in Aim have taken place. I have yet to read Comfort, the sequel to Blue, but it is definitely on my TBR list.

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The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal

The Lost Property Office, Baker Street Branch, in London is just a front for the secret Ministry of Trackers. And our hero, thirteen year old American boy Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him. Can Jack use his newfound tracking skills to find his father, who disappeared in London a few weeks ago without leaving a trace behind?

This fantasy adventure was exciting, but sometimes hard to follow. I almost wished for the movie version so that I could see the action, instead of trying to picture it myself from the descriptions in the book. If you’ve read this book I’d be curious to know whether you had the same problem. Maybe I just wasn’t a very good reader.

Jack teams up with a junior apprentice clerk named Gwen, and the two of them go off to save the world —and find Jack’s dad. The Macguffin is something called the Ember that may or may not have started the Great Fire of London back in 1666. So Gwen and Jack end up investigating the fire as well as looking for the Ember as well as attempting to rescue Jack’s dad. It’s all a little frustrating since Gwen is evasive and withholding of information. And Jack has just discovered his tracker abilities, which include being able to “spark” or see visions of the past by touching an object and channeling his thoughts into the history of that object. Jack is just learning to use his tracker talents, and Gwen is supposed to be helping him, but there’s a lot of stuff she’s not telling him.

I found Gwen’s “we’ll talk about that later” and “change the subject” when asked a direct question just as annoying as Jack did in the book. I wanted her to sit down and explain all about underground ministries and trackers and the number 13 and sparking all in one clear, concise speech, but I suppose that would have shortened the story considerably. At 387 pages, it could have afforded some cutting. I did like the historical aspects about the Great Fire and how it started.

Nevertheless, I recommend this book for fans of Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society or Jonathan Auxier’s Peter Nimble. It’s a good romp, and as I said, some of my issues may have been due to inattentive reading.

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

Gertie deserves a place alongside Clementine and Ramona Quimby as one of the spunkiest and most adventuresome of girl characters in middle grade fiction. She comes across as a little immature for her ten years of age, but if she’s a bit sheltered and innocent, it just means that her aunt and her father have done an excellent job of raising her after her mother deserted the family.

Gertie Reece Foy is always on a mission, but her mission for fifth grade is to be the greatest fifth grader ever so that her mother, whom Gertie has never even met, will be impressed and wish that she had paid more attention to Gertie Foy. Gertie’s two best friends, Jean the Jean-ius and Junior, help, mostly, and hinder her on her mission. And Mary Sue Spivey, the new girl from Los Angeles, is the fly in the ointment, so to speak. Can Gertie be the best when Mary Sue so easily steals the popularity (not to mention Gertie’s seat!) that Gertie longs for?

One thing about Gertie Reece Foy: she never, ever gives up. And reading about exactly how Gertie doesn’t give up, how she keeps pursuing her mission, despite environmental concerns about her daddy’s oil rig job and Mary Sue’s conniving, is a delight and a wonder. Gertie certainly does “give’em h—“, just as her great-aunt tells her to every morning as Gertie leaves for school.

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Magical Fantastical Animals 2016

Not imaginary creatures like mandrakes (Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard) or jinn (The Eye of Midnight) or chamelons (The Secrets of Solace), but rather animals that talk or communicate with humans or take on anthropomorphic characteristics:

Bats
Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park.
Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan.

Foxes
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker.

Hamsters
Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon.
Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford.

Squirrels
The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika Dhariwal.
The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long.
Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines by Charlotte Bennardo.

Rats and Mice
Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlman.
Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
Brightwood by Tania Unsworth.
The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder.
A Tail of Camelot (Mice of the Round Table #1) by Julie Leung.

Dogs:
The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan.
Foxheart by Claire LeGrand.
Making Mistakes on Purpose (Ms. Rapscott’s Girls) by Elise Primavera.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz.
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance.
The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Gale.

Tigers:
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

Cats
Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Colin Busby.

Wolves
Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter.
The Wolf’s Boy by Susan Beckhorn.

Rabbits
Ember Falls by S.D. Smith.

Sharks
Stingray City by Ellen Prager.

Pigs
Liberty by Darcy Pattison.

Bears
The Growly Books: Haven by Philip Ulrich.

Hyenas
The Bolds by Julian Clary.

Skunks
The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez by Robin Yardi.

Snakes and Other Reptiles
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson.
Dragonbreath: the Frozen Menace by Ursula Vernon.

Dogs win, with wolves, and rats and mice coming in a tied second. If you or your child have your own animal avatar or interest, you just might be able to pick a recent book related to the animal of your choice.

Timeline of Middle Grade Fiction 2016

1242: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing. These children may be saints, or they may be using evil magic to do wonders that will deceive the faithful. And the dog, Gwenforte, who once saved a child from a deadly serpent, may be resurrected, but can a dog really be a saint?

1606: Caravaggio: Signed in Blood by Mark Smith. For fifteen-year-old Beppo Ghirlandi, an indentured servant accused of murder, there is no one to turn to. The only person who will help him is the painter from across the piazza, the madman genius known as Caravaggio—-who, unfortunately, has serious troubles of his own.

1781: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. The third book in the Seeds of America Trilogy chronicles the adventures of Isabel and Curzon after the winter at Valley Forge.

*1812: The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford. Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault must find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. But they are in America, where the Americans have just declared war on the British, and the engine is a prize that all three countries will fight to own.

1816: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire. In this steampunk alternate history sci-fi novel, the evil Sir Titus takes Edward’s parents hostage to help him find a lost dragon tomb—on Mars. The political situation in the background of the story involves the British Empire on Earth as they fight the Napoleonic Wars.

1825: A Buss From Lafayette by Dorothea Jensen. Clara’s town is excited because the famous Revolutionary War hero, General Lafayette, is about to visit their state during his farewell tour of America.

1840-1877: In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall. Jimmy McClean learns about his Lakota heritage from his grandfather and from stories about the hero Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse.

*1847: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Jacob Tibbs, ship’s cat, chronicles the sometimes sad, sometimes exciting, adventures of the sailors aboard the Melissa Rae.

1866: Makoons by Louise Erdrich. Makoons, an Ojibwe boy, and his twin, Chickadee, travel with their family to the Great Plains of Dakota Territory. There they must learn to become buffalo hunters and once again help their people make a home in a new land.

c.1870: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. . Faith Sunderly is a proper Victorian young lady who has always been told, and who believes, that she is inferior in every way to men. Her father, the Reverend Sunderly is not only a cleric but also a world famous paleontologist. Faith, too is interested in science and in anything that will impress her father and get him to pay attention to her, but when she begins to learn more about her father’s research, she also finds herself enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that won’t let go.

1871: Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo. Three children displaced by fires (The Great Chicago Fire and another in Wisconsin on the same day) must find a way to survive and thrive.

*1887: A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson. Eleven year old Rocco must survive on the streets of New York City after his Italian parents sell him to a padrone who uses him to make money as a street musician.

1892: The Crimson Skew by S.E. Grove. Third book in the Mapmakers trilogy. Sophia Tims is coming home from a foreign Age, having risked her life in search of her missing parents. Now she is aboard ship, with a hard-earned, cryptic map that may help her find them at long last.

*1909: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Katharine Woodfine. Mysteries abound in an early twentieth century London department store.

1910: Race to the South Pole by Kate Messner. Ranger of Time series. A time-traveling dog, Ranger, helps out during Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica.

1920’s: Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey. 10 year old Isabel is obsessed with becoming a news reporter in 1920’s Chicago, where gangsters rule and the Tribune is the paper of record.

1929: The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach. On a stormy May day William and Maxine, cousins who hardly know each other, meet at the home of their mutual grandfather, Colonel Battersea. Soon after their arrival, Grandpa receives a secret telegram which takes the three of them to New York City. From there, the story rapidly becomes more and more frenzied, dangerous, and desperate as the children try to rescue Grandpa, find a lost package, decide whether or not to trust the courier, a girl named Nura, and work out their own new-found friendship.

1929: The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Twelve-year-old Martha works as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. The other servants say Rose Sewell is crazy, but Martha believes that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message about Rose and about the other secrets in the Sewell mansion.

1934: Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg. Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting the family from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska.

1939: You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carol Boston Weatherford. Verse novel about the struggles and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black air training program during World War II.

1940: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales. Time travel isn’t possible, is it? Or can time travel be the secret weapon that will allow the Allies to win World War II? And can friendship last over time when one friend gets displaced and can’t return to her own time?

1940’s: Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz. 13-year-old Irish boy, Michael O’Shaunessey, becomes a spy in Nazi Germany.

1940’s: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepard. Winged horses live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. But only Emmaline can see them.

1940’s: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. During the Blitz, Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson are sent north to a private school in Rookskill Castle in Scotland, a brooding place, haunted by dark magic from the past. But when some of their classmates disappear, Katherine has to find out what has happened to them.

1941: Bjorn’s Gift by Sandy Brehl. Sequel to Odin’s Promise by the same author. Mari, a young Norwegian girl, faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord during World War II.

1941: Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe struggles with school and with anger—-at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—-as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life.

*1942: Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer. Gustave, a twelve-year-old French Jewish boy, has made it to America at last. After escaping with his family from Nazi-occupied France, he no longer has to worry about being captured by the Germans. But life is not easy in America, either.

1942: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Then, new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks.

1942: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban. Ten year old Manami, a Japanese American girl sent to an internment camp with her family, clings to the hope that somehow grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again.

1942: The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough. Marcel, a French boy, dreams of someday competing in the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race. But ever since Germany’s occupation of France began the race has been canceled. Now there are soldiers everywhere, and Marcel bicycle may be useful for more important things than winning a race.

1942: Brave Like My Brother by Marc Nobleman. An American soldier in WWII England shares his war experiences with his 10-year-old brother via letters.

1952: Making Friends With Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood. Azalea Ann Morgan leaves her home in Tyler Texas to stay with her injured Grandma and help out for the summer. Although Azalea has difficulty making new friends, she and Billy Wong have adventures together in the small town in Arkansas where Azalea’s grandma lives.

1969: Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock. A North Carolina town hires its first African-American teacher in 1969, and two girls–one black, one white–confront the prejudice that challenges their friendship.

1973: Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben Hogan Putter just lost his dad to cancer. Now Ben has a permanent lump in his throat that he believes is an actual golf ball, and his barbecue-loving, golf-loving daddy is speaking to him from beyond the grave, asking Ben to take his ashes to Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous golf course in the world.

1975: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. If Raymie Clarke can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home.

*1978: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Zomorod Yusefzadeh is living in California with her Iranian family during the Iran hostage crisis. No wonder she wants to change her name to Cindy!

*1984: Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. On his twelfth birthday, Al receives two gifts: a hamster and a letter from his deceased dad. The letter informs Al that it might be possible for him to use his dad’s time machine to go back in time and prevent his father’s death. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for Al to even get to the place where his dad’s time machine is waiting, not to mention the difficulty of manipulating past events to change the future.

1989: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. Now, the family is headed for East Berlin, and Noah/Jonah mustn’t ask any questions.

2001: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Four children living in different parts of the country are affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

2001: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Actually set in 2016, this story is about three schoolchildren who are studying the events of 9/11 and who come to see its impact on their own lives.

2011: The Turn of the Tide by Roseanne Parry. Two cousins on opposite sides of the Pacific experience the 2011 tsunami.

A few notes about this list:

Some of the blurbs are taken from Amazon or from Goodreads and edited to fit my list.

My favorites of the ones I’ve read are *starred. No, I haven’t read all of these. Links are to Semicolon reviews of the books that I have read and reviewed.

Some of these are straight historical fiction, and others are time travel or other fantasy books set mostly in the time period indicated.

Finally, we need more (excellent!) books for middle grade readers set in ancient times and in the middle ages or at least before 1800. I know of lots of older books set in these time periods, but not many are being published now. Too much research required? Or just a lack of interest?