End of the Year: Top Middle Grade Picks of 2011

When I started looking through my books trying to determine my favorite picks for 2011, I kept wanting to add books to recommend.  This one...no this one.  Finally, I just selected the ones that seemed to mean the most to me this year and the ones that I always have at the tip of my tongue ready to recommend.  If you are looking for 10 new books for your library, then I would pick up each of these.

My Top 5 Middle Grade (and in most cases YA too) Non-fiction - listed in no particular order:

Witches! The Absolute True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer - This small book is fascinating to read.  I couldn't put it down.  I hadn't read about the Salem Witch Trials in years but Schanzer's book was filled with so much great information. 

Wheels of Change:  How Women Rode Their Way Into Freedom by Sue Macy - I discovered Macy's work this year and really love her books.  She made my top 25 picture books with Basketball Belles and now is coming up in my top 5 non-fiction books for the year.  Great information and great photographs. 

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg - Just the title draws you in and then when you start reading this book you can't put it down.  The perfect balance between "ick" factor and great facts. 

America Is Under Attack by Don Brown - I discovered this book when I was searching for something to share with my students for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.  It was a powerful read-aloud.

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'Keefe by  Susan Goldman Rubin - I am always looking for strong biographical works to recommend to teachers.  Goldman Rubin does a great job with this one.  Interesting to read, great illustrations and photos, and great facts.

And the drumroll please...My Top 5 Middle Grade Fiction - listed in no particular order:

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger - If kids were to vote for the Newbery, then Angleberger would definitely be a winner.  It is one of those books that I must have multiple copies of or I would never get to see it.  One of the best sequels that I have read. 

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban - When I read this book, I just kept thinking of all of the students that would benefit from reading it.  Mattie's story is powerfully and simply told.  Buy lots of copies, hand them out, do a book club, but whatever you do - keep recommending it.  Urban is an amazing writer and I hope Hound Dog True gets all the recognition it deserves.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu - This modern day version of the Snow Queen is wonderful on so many levels.  A powerful story of friendship, loss, courage, and transformation.   For fans of both realistic fiction and fantasy fiction. 

Bigger Than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder - Realistic fiction with the touch of the fantastical makes for a perfect middle grade read.  And Snyder does this SO WELL!  In Breadbox, the reader gets the very real sense of all the emotions of parents separating and dealing with a sudden move to a new area along with a touch of the magical (in the form of the breadbox) and the consequences of all of it.  I would love to see this book get adorned with some heavy medal bling.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai - If you had told me two years ago that I would be reading novels in verse, I probably would have laughed.  And yet, I have discovered that some of my favorite and most touching stories have been told in verse.  This story of a young girl and her family's departure from Vietnam and subsequent adjustment to living in the United States is powerful and moving.  Truly, one of the outstanding books of the year. 

Keep an eye out for the final End of the Year post.  I still have a few more books that need talking about.