Spring 2020 Middle School Featured Books Summaries

Time Bomb

Diana, Frankie, Tad, Cas, Z, and Rashid couldn’t be more different, but they all have reasons to be inside their high school before the semester begins.  Before the morning is over, however, they will all find themselves trapped in a building rocked by a bombing. Trapped in the wreckage, the students learn that law enforcement believes more explosions are likely and that the bomber is still inside the school.  Is the perpetrator Diana, the popular daughter of a congressman, biracial and newly out Tad, star athlete Frankie, socially awkward musician Cas, bad-boy rebel Z, or Rashid, a Muslim student who wants people to see more than just his religion? As more bombs explode and the chance of rescue grows slim, fragile alliances are threatened by distrust and paranoia.  A powerful page-turner that will keep readers engaged to the end of this terrifying thriller. 

The Trail

Twelve-year old Toby and his best friend, Lucas, had made a list of ten accomplishments they wanted to complete.  Unfortunately, Lucas is killed when he jumps off a rope into the local quarry, one of the ten challenges. Determined to fulfill the last item on the list, Toby gathers the gear, food, and money he will need to hike the 400 plus miles of the Appalachian Trail through Maine.  Feeling prepared for this most difficult stretch of the trail, Toby is soon faced with the real dangers of living in the wild. Out of food and subject to hypothermia, he must overcome his own fears and the threats of nature if he is to survive. Perfect for fans of wilderness adventure stories like Hatchet, this exciting story of survival, courage, and friendship will entice even the most reluctant of readers. 

New Kid

Jordan Banks is anxious about being the new kid at Riverdale Academy, especially since he wanted to attend an art school instead.  He’s even more nervous when he realizes that, unlike his school in Washington Heights, this new one at the other end of Manhattan has very few students of color.  Riverdale may have a beautiful campus, rigorous academics, and a wide offering of extracurriculars, but it is distinctly lacking in diversity. He sees white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, hears white classmates use black slang in an attempt to seem cool, and notices that the teachers often mistake the few minority students for each other, evidence of the racism that is invisible to many of his teachers and classmates.  Told in graphic novel format, this story is about much more than being a new kid at school. Exploring the many ways in which racism manifests itself in even the most “enlightened” environments, this Newbery and Coretta Scott King award winner, is a must-read for readers committed to transforming their worlds into ones where diversity is lauded and intentional.  

Lifeboat 12

An escape from war-torn Great Britain becomes a struggle for survival in this richly detailed historical fiction account of a little-known event in World War II.  Hoping to save many of its children from the encroaching terror of the Germans, the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) sets out to transport 20,000 children from England to countries across the ocean where they will be safe.  Chosen as one of the lucky ones from 200,000 applicants, thirteen year-old Kenneth Sparks is one of the children who will travel on the luxury liner, the City of Benares, to Canada where he will live with an aunt. Distracted by the delicious and abundant food, new toys, and soft beds of the boat, the young travelers seem unaware of the ever-present threat of torpedo-equipped German submarines combing the Atlantic.  Three days into the voyage, the ship is torpedoed, sending the crew and passengers into lifeboats and the sea. Kenneth, five other boys from the program and forty adults make it aboard Lifeboat 12, one of the only ones still afloat after an evening of gale force winds. With very little food and water, they have only a razor thin chance of survival. Told in verse and based on extensive research, this is a captivating re-telling of an often-overlooked event in history.

Property of the Rebel Librarian

Twelve-year-old June Harper loves to read and is passionate about all types of books.  Luckily, she has an amazing school librarian, Ms. Bradshaw, who has lots of recommendations to feed her voracious appetite for the written word.  When her very protective parents find the school library title The Makings of a Witch in June’s bookbag, they deem it inappropriate and begin a campaign to remove books they believe their daughter and the other students at Dogwood Middle School should not read.  In addition to emptying Junes’ own personal bookshelf of many titles, they pressure the school system to remove Ms. Bradshaw from her job and to cancel an upcoming author visit she had arranged.  Always a rule follower, June becomes increasingly frustrated with these restrictions. Ignoring the advice of both her best friend and an eighth-grade boy she has a crush on, June uses books from a local Little Free Library and donations of banned titles from fellow students to set up a contraband library in an abandoned locker.  It now seems that everyone wants to read one of these titles and June is the most popular girl around. When the hidden library is discovered by the school administration however, June must decide what she is willing to do to stand up for the right to read. Both entertaining and empowering, this book examines the many perspectives on censorship versus the freedom to read and is a perfect choice for classroom discussions.

Fourth Dimension

Fifteen-year-old Emma, her ex-Marine mother, and younger brother have recently moved to Chicago.  They are living in a brand-new condominium, which explains the semi-regular power outages as workers complete construction of units around theirs.  The family isn’t initially concerned when the latest blackout occurs just as they are loading the car for a long weekend camping trip. When their car won’t start and cellphones appear dead, however, Emma’s mother decides they will use their rowboat to paddle to an isolated island off the mainland to wait it out.  Able to see across the bay, they realize that the power has yet to come back on and its residents have lost all modern amenities. While Emma and her family are at a relatively hidden site, they are far from safe. While her mother’s military and nursing background provides them with some of the knowledge and skills to find food and construct a shelter, most people are not equipped to face life without power.  As people become desperate to find food and protect their resources from others intent on taking them, chaos soon descends. When they stumble upon a community at the other side of the island, the family must decide whether they should let its residents know of their presence and explore the possibility of an alliance or stay hidden, unable to trust these unknown neighbors. The disintegration of life as they know it soon leads to violence, forcing every person to make decisions that may mean the difference between life and death.  A fast-paced, adventure-filled look at a society where none of the rules of order are in play any longer.  

I Am Drums

Sixth grader Sam has one obsession.  It’s not grades, it’s not boys. It’s the drums.  Determined to become an accomplished drummer, she seems to hear rhythms in her head all the time.  Unfortunately, the only time she gets to play a real drum is at school, and even that is on a single drum in the symphonic band.  With her father out of work, there’s no money to buy a real drum set or pay for private lessons. Forced to use a makeshift set made out of books and magazines, Sam secretly defies her parents and starts a lawn-mowing business to raise the money for lessons with a demanding but passionate instructor.  When she is teased by a male classmate about her belief that she can be an amazing drummer, Sam whacks the boy. Her principal leaves phone messages about the incident for Sam’s parents, messages she deletes before Mom or Dad can hear them. When she learns that the school music program is going to be cut for budget reasons, Sam’s frustrations escalate.  When the inevitable occurs and Sam’s deceptions are exposed, it’s time for her to face the music. Will her dreams fall victim to the poor choices she has made or can she find a way to make things right? A timely and relatable look at the consequences of doing the wrong thing, even when it’s for the right reason. 

Amal Unbound

Inspired by a favorite teacher to pursue her dreams of also becoming an educator, twelve-year-old Amal is frustrated that she, as the eldest daughter of a family in rural Pakistan, must stop going to school, staying home to run the household as her mother deals with postpartum depression.  When returning home from a trip to the market, she is grazed by the car of Jawad Sahib, a wealthy member of the ruling Khan family of her village. Responding with a spontaneous insult, Amal realizes that her comment will have consequences. The wealthy landowner insists that Amal leave her family and work as a servant for him to satisfy the loans her family cannot repay.  As she navigates the unfamiliar social hierarchy of life on the lavish estate, trying to please Jawad without threatening the roles of the other servants, Amal becomes increasingly aware of the deadly measures the ruling family will take in order to secure their hold on the town. With a strength bolstered by her books and learning, Amal realizes that the control of this wealthy family over the villagers will never loosen as long as everyone is afraid to challenge their power.  Can her ability to read be the key to exposing the corruption she sees and winning back her freedom? This story weaves the love of family and learning with the culture of a Pakistani village to deliver an empowering message to young readers.