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Five Favorites from 2014

Happy December! I’ve decided to spotlight my top ten middle grade and chapter book reads from 2014. (Not all of these books came out in 2014, but all eighty-one MG and CB titles I read for the first time this year were contenders.) Five are highlighted here–the five with (sometimes small) elements of fantasy–and the other five are highlighted on the writing blog Thinking Through Our Fingers. So without further ado, here are five of my favorite middle grade and chapter books of 2014!

Frotunately the Milk book Cover

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.””Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”

This book is best only fully appreciated when you’ve been through it in two forms: the audiobook, fabulously narrated by the author himself, and in hardcover or paperback for the awesome illustrations. Our Backyard Book Club was crazy about it. Pirates and dinosaurs and time travel and maybe the most fun you’ll have reading all year.

The Fourteenth Goldfish book cover

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

I’m a big fan of science fiction done well, especially when it treats science well. Beautifully written and perfectly titled (and taglined!), I really enjoyed this book as a scientist, a writer, and especially as a fan of great middle grade. Another book that deserves all the accolades it’s receiving.

Stuart's Cape Book Cover

Stuart’s Cape by Sara Pennypacker

Stuart’s got problems. It’s raining. He’s bored. And worst of all, he’s new in town, so he’s got a lot to worry about. What does a kid like Stuart need in order to have an adventure? A cape, of course!

My kids and I absolutely adored this book, as well as its sequel, Stuart Goes to School (or you can read both together in The Amazing World of Stuart.) We are huge fans of Pennypacker’s Clementine books as well, and Stuart is an equally memorable and hilarious main character with his own memorable and hilarious escapades. So much fun!

Hook's Revenge book cover

Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

I read this just before reading the original–Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie–and was so impressed by how well they went together. A great classic-contemporary pairing!

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp Book Cover
The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathy Appelt

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man–the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp–is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Last but certainly not least, this National Book Award finalist was probably my favorite middle grade of 2014. For me, it was absolutely the perfect concoction of voice, character, plot, and just the right amount of magic. The way each of the plots tied together was so satisfying, and every time the story switched viewpoints, I thought, 

“Oh, this storyline. I LOVE this storyline!” The audiobook on this one is particularly wonderful.

What books did I miss in 2014 that I need to catch in 2015? (There were a lot of them!) What were your favorites–middle grade, chapter books, or otherwise?

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