Editors gathered Friday morning to share their favorite middle-grade books (geared for ages 8-12) of the forthcoming season. Among the editors, David Levithan presented George (Scholastic, Aug.) by Alex Gino; Nancy Paulsen presented Last in a Long Line of Rebels (Penguin/Paulsen, Sept.) by Lisa Lewis Tyre; Martha Mihalick presented The Doldrums (Greenwillow, Sept.) by Nicholas Gannon; Elise Howard presented The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB (Algonquin, Sept.) by Adam Shaughnessy; and Andrea Spooner presented The Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown, Sept.) by Ali Benjamin.
In George, the 10-year-old eponymous character knows she’s a girl despite everyone seeing her as a boy. She takes an opportunity to act as Charlotte the spider in a school production of Charlotte’s Web to show the school who she is.
“90% of the booksellers who have stopped me at the conference, stopped me to tell me how much they loved George,” Levithan said. “I love all the books I work on, but this one was extraordinarily special. It dovetails with my own mission as a person, writer, and editor.” Citing what he feels is the groundbreaking nature of the book, Levithan said that George offers the message: “You are who you are, and that is wonderful. It’s such a hopeful message.”
In Last in a Long Line of Rebels, 12-year-old Louise finds the diary of a great great-great-grandmother, her namesake, and becomes embroiled in a historical family drama of her family’s involvement in the Civil War. Paulsen shared a quote from author Tyre, a Tennessee native, who said: “I grew up in a small town surrounded by crazy neighbors, where people had pet skunks. What else could I do but write?” For Paulsen, the book’s value comes from its treatment of big subjects with humor: Tennessee was one of the more divided states on the Civil War, where families and neighbors took different sides. The book shows the bravery of “people who stood up for justice during a necessary war,” and, according to Paulsen, teaches that “it’s good to be a rebel for the right reasons.”
In The Doldrums, character Archer longs for adventure but can’t escape his home, where his parents want to keep him so that he doesn’t get into trouble. But his grandparents were adventurers, and the call to adventure ultimately wins out. He attempts, with the help of friends Adelaïde and Oliver, to go to Antarctica. Author Gannon is also an artist, and the book features his full-color illustrations. Early reception to the book has been favorable, and it was one of two books on the panel selected as an Indies Introduce pick. Mihalick said, “When I got to the last page I wanted to start over. The book has language you don’t want to let go of. It was a book I forgot that I’m supposed to be editing, not just reading.”
In The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB – the second title on the panel chosen as an Indies Introduce title – 11-year-old Prudence Potts’s detective father has recently passed away, which has left her prickly and therefore difficult for her to make friends. She gets caught up in a mythological mystery, in which she join forces with a boy to save the world. This debut features “Viking gods, mystery, endearing and unique characters, puns, puzzles, and lots of clever wordplay,” Howard said. She added, “We fall in love with books for lots of reasons. In this case, it’s purely story. It is a natural, inevitable story, and I can’t believe someone hadn’t told it to me before.”
In The Thing About Jellyfish, 12-year-old Suzy deals with the grief that comes after she loses a friend, with whom she’d had a falling out and never had a chance to make amends. In processing her grief, she becomes obsessed with proving that her friend died from a jellyfish sting. Spooner was so taken by the story that she won a heated six-publisher auction to secure it, and felt almost a sense of “terror” as she edited it that she was dealing with something bigger than herself. “But that scary feeling turned to excitement and awe – you’re in the hands of a great writer that you just have to trust.”