Keeping It Real is Paula Chase’s latest upper middle grade offering. It follows Marigold Johnson, daughter of the media moguls who own Flexx Unlimited. Marigold’s friend and crush, Justice hates their private school where both kids are part of the token number of Black kids. Marigold on the other hand tries to conform to white expectations and fit in with the kids and both she and Justice quarrel about this regularly.
Jubilee and her Nan are always moving, on the search for their perfect place, and this time Jubilee has her heart set on Hope Springs, Texas. The small town is where her crafting heroine Arletta Paisely is from, and Jubilee is sure that if it’s good enough for Arletta, Hope Springs will immediately feel like home for them, too — because she’s honestly tired of moving and saying (or not saying) goodbyes.
Mystery on Magnolia Circle begins with what seems to be the worst summer ever. Ivy’s summer plans are disrupted when she breaks her leg at the start of summer. Her best friend Teddy is having it any easier as his dog is diagnosed with a terminal illness and has to be put down. But while Ivy is standing at her window, trying to make the best of the summer, she witnesses a possible burglary and that both kids off on a summer of solving a mystery — or is it?
Pawcasso is what 11-year-old Jo names the basket-toting dog in town when a group of kids at the library mistake her for the dog’s owner. Jo is a lonely kid bored at home during the summer holidays and missing her father who works in a different city and visits the family periodically. She’s seen the dog walking through her neighborhood several times. The dog goes grocery shopping and can find its way home through pedestrian traffic and everything in town. As the kids fall more in love with “Pawcasso,” and by extension, Jo, she begins to enjoy having friends in her life. But what happens when the lie is exposed?
The Best Worst Summer follows two sets of kids three decades apart. In the present, Peyton and her family have just moved from Minneapolis to a small town named Lake Springs, leaving her best friend and their summer soccer camp tradition behind. She’s having the worst summer! Her brother is always playing video games. Plus, her mom’s new job has her pretty occupied, just as her dad’s graphic design job. But her summer gains new life when she discovers a box of secrets: a cryptic note to a friend, half of a “best friends” necklace, a playlist and several other items.
Madi and her friends Jack and Aaron make a rescue at Lake Wild, saving two beaver kits, but they have a problem. Madi’s parents have said she cannot bring home any more strays. In fact, if she does, she’ll lose her trip to see acclaimed primatologist Jane Goodall. But neither Aaron nor Jack can take in the kits and their local shelter is full. Besides, the kids find that the kits’ parents have been shot dead. Madi takes them, hiding them in a shed on her parents’ property until she can figure out her next steps.
The Peach family is embarking on The Great Peach Experiment, their first one: making and selling pies out of a food truck! Oh, and they’ll be road tripping the whole summer too. Lucy, Freddie, and Herb have spent more time with each other than with their father since their mom died. But now one of their mom’s inventions has sold for a lot of money and their dad has bought a food truck and wants them to spend the summer traveling through the country as a family.
Starfish features Ellie, a fat girl who has been bullied for her weight since she wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash in the pool. Even her older brother and sister make fun of her weight. Her mom controls her diet, monitoring her portions and choosing lackluster “healthy” alternatives. Ellie is feeling more disheartened because her friend Viv who is also plus-sized is moving away.
Olive is excited to be going to summer camp this year, especially since her best friend Willow is also going. She’s looking forward to doing camp things and making new friends. As soon as the girls arrive, Olive jumps right into the friend-making and activities, but Willow is as adept as making friends and instead wants to follow Olive everywhere. Worse still, she tries to hold Olive back from making other friends or joining different activities, becoming sulky and giving her the silent treatment when she does.
At first, Olive handles things well, making compromises and forgoing opportunities to hang out with other campers just to keep Willow happy. Eventually, though, things start to get to her and the girls’ friendship becomes strained.
Today’s pick is Hena Khan’s most recent middle-grade book More to the Story, a retelling of the beloved Little Women. I’ve never read Little Women, but I adored this book, which was one of my best books in 2019. Sisters Jameela, Bisma, Maryam and Aleeza are distraught when their father has to move abroad for work — and then one of the sisters falls ill. This is a truly heartwarming, feel-good book featuring a Pakistani-American Muslim family.
If you or your kids loved this book, here are more books like More to the Story.
Maryam (Mimi) has a thousand questions for her dad who left her and her mother when she was younger, but her mom seems to have moved on and won’t talk to her about him. Her mother Samia is an artist and money is often tight for both of them in the city. One summer, Mimi’s mom decides they will take a trip to Pakisan (!) where Mimi’s grandparents live. Imagine how thrilled she is to learn that her dad (globe-trotting journalist) is also currently in Karachi.
Ah, summer. Now that we’re wading into fall, I figured it’s a good time to share these middle-grade books set in the summer. There’s just a freedom about summer. Growing up in a tropical country meant it was warm all year round, but for us summer was about the time AWAY from school. It was in the late nights and sleep-ins and time with friends and nothing on the schedule. That’s what these middle-grade books set in the summer encapsulate.