2015 is looking exciting on the chapter book front, with so many new titles for tweens (8-12 year old readers) being released, I had a hard time narrowing this list down to 21! These are chapter books in all genres, from realistic fiction to fantasy to humor, that you want to make sure you know about so you can hand them over to your reader. Today, I'm going to introduce you to seven titles, with more posts to come in the near future to complete the recommendations. Enjoy!
The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan
Hannigan takes the real-life historical figure Kate Warne of Pinkerton Detective Agency fame, and spins an adventure novel based around her fictional niece. (Warne was the first official female detective in the United States.) In 1859, young Nell works to help Aunt Kitty solve mysteries, while keeping up a pen-pal relationship with Jessa, a young girl whose family is active helping African-Americans escape slavery via the Underground Railroad. Readers will enjoy Nell's spunk, intelligence, and independence, as well as the ciphers that appear throughout the book. They'll also be swept away by the fast pace and edge-of-your-seat ending.
The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon
I'm hearing a lot of praise for this debut chapter book by established picture book author Liz Garton Scanlon. Main characters Ivy and her friend Paul are having a rotten summer. Ivy's mother has taken off to Florida with a charismatic preacher and Paul's dream of becoming an astronaut seems doomed by the closing of NASA's space program. The two concoct a plan to find Mama and see the space shuttle along the way. Hand this poignant novel about faith with a side of adventure to fans of Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie.
Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye
Ready for a dark, humorous adventure for kids who loved Lemony Snicket or The Mysterious Benedict Society? Siblings Tobias and Charlotte are dropped off at the Witherwood Reform School as punishment for playing a trick on their nanny. The scary headmaster makes sure their father magically forgets he's ever dropped the children off, and they quickly embark on an adventure to escape the eerie school. Kids who like detailed, intelligent adventures with plenty of creepy characters and dark humor are going to eat this one up!
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Stella is 10 years old when she and her brother witness a Klan meeting that takes place very close to her home in Depression-era North Carolina. Stella lives in a close-knit community that strives to overcome oppression and economic hardship with dignity and determination. She hopes to become a journalist when she grows up, and much of the novel consists of her journal entries. Her own journey is paralleled with an effort in the community to get three registered African-American voters to the polls. There are several qualities that make Stella by Starlight a beautiful and engaging novel. First, Sharon Draper is a fine writer. She knows how to tell a story that is difficult to put down. Second, she's created a character that is extraordinarily brave, yet immensely humble and likable. Modern kids will find Stella, who is based on Draper's grandmother, a wonderful role model for creativity, courage, and strength of character. They'll also rip through Draper's storytelling, unable to put this novel down.
The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Attention Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library fans! Chris Grabenstein has a brand new novel out this spring filled with more fantastic adventures based on books and reading. This time we meet Billy, who's dealing with his parents' impending divorce and anticipating a blasé summer. Especially in a lake cabin with no electronic entertainment! The only thing to keep him busy is a cabinet full of books that belong to the absent owner, Dr. Libris. But these are no ordinary books, for they lead Billy to a magical island where he encounters book characters brought to life, including the Sheriff of Nottingham, Pollyanna, Tom Sawyer, and Hercules. Things quickly get out of control as the characters interact in several dangerous shenanigans. Fast-paced adventure that kids will breeze through quickly.
Masterminds by Gordon Korman
Gordon Korman has legions of tween fans, and well he should, as he's an established and critically-acclaimed series and stand alone chapter book author. This spring he's published the first in a highly original new trilogy, and readers are raving. Serenity, New Mexico is a perfect town where everyone is perfectly behaved and perfectly happy. Thirteen-year-old Eli is more than content to live there, until his friend Randy gets in trouble and is forced to leave town. Eli and a few friends start asking questions, only to learn that the town factory doesn't manufacture traffic cones, but something much more sinister. As they discover that their lives are an overwhelming, artificially created lie, they also learn that they can trust no one, not even their parents. Kids are going to love the way this story is told in alternating voices by kids with varying personalities and points of view, that the plot is propelled forward by suspense and adventure, and that the cliffhanger ending means more will be learned in the next installment of Masterminds!
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
If you missed the first three Penderwicks titles, and you know a tween who enjoys family stories with a nostalgic, classic feel a lá Little Women, run quickly and hand them these. Fans have been waiting for this, the fourth installment, since 2011 and it looks like their patience has been rewarded! The Pendericks in Spring focuses on ten-year-old sister Batty, who discovers she has a talent for singing and plans a secret "Grand Birthday Concert" to share it with her family. Unfortunately, Batty overhears a family secret and succumbs to the belief that she is somehow responsible for her mother's death years earlier. The Penderwick family works together to figure out Batty's new sadness. Readers will enjoy the Penderwicks' honesty, warmth, and love for one another, and will be reassured by the way in which the family interacts to solve problems. Birdsall's charming writing and keen wit are immensely appealing and make this series a wonderful read-aloud for kids in a wide age group.
Coming soon ... we'll look at chapter books number 8-14 on my list of 21 tween novels not to miss in 2015!