The first one is called "The Orphan Band of Springdale" by Anne Nesbet. It's historical fiction but it's based on the author's family stories. It's set in World War 2 and I really loved that it tells the story of what it was like growing up in America at that time, with some of the ugly prejudices that people held as well as some of the social issues that have since been resolved. Gusta's dad leaves her on a train as they were heading to Maine because Gusta's dad is a socialist and believes that workers should have rights and he is being pursued by the police. Gusta ends up at her grandmother's house, which is a kind of an orphanage or maybe a group home. When Gusta starts school, they figure out that she needs glasses, but they're really expensive, so Gusta goes to work for the eye doctor, who is German and raises pigeons. The passages where Nesbet describes what it's like to put on her glasses for the first time brought me to tears because that's exactly how I felt when I first got my glasses. Gusta also unearths some family secrets that unravel in a really lovely way. I really liked this story and I think it would great to have it as a part of our historical fiction collection. It comes out on April 10, 2018.
The second one I read is called "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" by Stacy McAnulty. McAnulty is a prolific author and I really like a lot of her other work, but I think this might be her best one yet. This story is about Lucy, a girl who lives with her grandmother. Her uncle makes occasional appearances, but there's no real backstory about what happened to Lucy's parents. Apparently, it's not that important to the story because Lucy is a super interesting character. When Lucy was 8, she was struck by lightning and the effect of the lightning strike was to turn Lucy into a math savant. It also made her obsessive compulsive and went the story starts, she hasn't left the apartment where she and her grandmother live for 4 weeks. Lucy's grandmother and her uncle decide the best thing for her is to enroll in the local middle school. It's a difficult transition-the kids are for the most part mean about her obsessiveness but since Lucy doesn't want to tell anyone why she's so obsessive, I can see why they would be mean. But she does make friends and as a part of group project the kids do, Lucy and her friends end up volunteering at a local animal shelter, which also brings a new group of people (and animals) into Lucy's life. It's a really wonderful story about trusting people, what you do for friends, and accepting people for who they are. I think my students are going to love this one. It comes out in May 2018.
The last one is probably a stretch as middle grade fiction, but it would make a great read aloud in a middle grade classroom. It's a picture book called "Neema's Reason to Smile" by Patricia Newman. I'm pretty sure just about every American kid (and a lot of the teachers) would tell you that they would MUCH rather stay at home than go to school every day. But in some places, where school is more of a privilege rather than an obligation, kids really WANT to go to school. This is a story about a girl who really wants to go to school. She and her mother have big dreams of jobs and education but in order to help her small family survive, Neema must go and sell fruit each day. The coins that aren't needed to buy beans and rice or new needles for sewing are put into the dreaming basket, which is meant for Neema to go to school. The illustrations are strong and energetic and give you the impression that Neema is a hard worker. Reading this one would be a nice opportunity to talk about some of the blessings we have here that aren't as prevalent elsewhere. It might be a good one to connect with "Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park, which is a chapter book about two different kids growing up in Sudan at different times. This one comes out this week!