THE 2022 NERDIES: Middle Grade Fiction Announced by Colby Sharp
The first thing I do each year when Donalyn Miller sends me the list of Middle Grade Fiction winners is count how many I have read. I have currently read 16 out of the 22 winners. The second thing I do, is add the rest to my to-read list. The first book I plan on reading in the new year is a book from this list. I’d love to know in the comments how many of these books you have read, and which books you are adding to your to-read list. Without future ado, here are your 2022 Middle Grade Fiction Nerdie winners.
(Book descriptions taken from Goodreads.)
A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow
Sure enough, the sea woman will come for what’s hers.
Ever since her mother’s death, Kela feels every bit as broken as the shards of glass, known as “mermaid’s tears,” that sparkle on the beaches of St. Rita. But when she discovers a different kind of treasure, she accidentally summons an actual mermaid—the wrathful Ophidia.
Ophidia makes Kela a bargain: her ancient comb, in exchange for a wish. And though Kela knows that what she wants most is her mother back, a wish that big will exact a dangerous price…
A Rover Story by Jasmine Warga
A middle grade novel about the journey of a fictional Mars rover.
Meet Resilience, a Mars rover determined to live up to his name.
Res was built to explore Mars. He was not built to have human emotions. But as he learns new things from the NASA scientists who assemble him, he begins to develop human-like feelings. Maybe there’s a problem with his programming….
Human emotions or not, launch day comes, and Res blasts off to Mars, accompanied by a friendly drone helicopter named Fly. But Res quickly discovers that Mars is a dangerous place filled with dust storms and giant cliffs. As he navigates Mars’s difficult landscape, Res is tested in ways that go beyond space exploration.
As millions of people back on Earth follow his progress, will Res have the determination, courage–and resilience–to succeed… and survive?
Answers in the Pages by David Levithan
A bold, timely novel about speaking up and coming out as parents lobby to ban a beloved book from the school curriculum by New York Times-bestselling author David Levithan.
When Donovan left his copy of The Adventurers on the kitchen counter, he didn’t think his mom would read it–much less have a problem with it. It’s just an adventure novel about two characters trying to stop an evil genius…right?
But soon the entire town is freaking out about whether the book’s main characters are gay, Donovan’s mom is trying to get the book removed from the school curriculum, and Donovan is caught in the middle.
Donovan doesn’t really know if the two boys fall in love at the end or not–but he does know this: even if they do, it shouldn’t matter. The book should not be banned from school.
Interweaving three connected storylines, David Levithan delivers a bold, fun, and timely story about taking action (whether it’s against book censors or deadly alligators…), being brave, and standing up for what’s right.
Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King
Award-winning author Amy Sarig King takes on censorship and intolerance in a novel she was born to write.
Everyone in town knows and fears Ms. Laura Samuel Sett. She is the town watchdog, always on the lookout for unsavory words and the unsavory people who use them.
She is also Mac’s sixth-grade teacher.
Mac and his friends are outraged when they discovered that their class copies of Jane Yolen’s THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC have certain works blacked out. Mac has been raised by his mom and grandad to call out things that are wrong, so he and his friends head to the principal’s office to protest the censorship. Her response isn’t reassuring — so the protest grows.
In ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES, acclaimed author A.S. King shows all the ways truth can be hard… but still worth fighting for.
Chester Keene Cracks the Code by Kekla Magoon
Cracking the code isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in this scavenger hunt adventure from a Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author.
Chester Keene takes great comfort in his routines. Afterschool Monday to Thursday is bowling, and Friday, the best of days, is laser tag! But besides Friday laser tag, Chester has one other very special thing—he gets secret spy messages from his dad, who must be on covert government assignments, which is why Chester has never met him.
Then one day at lunch, Chester’s classmate, Skye, approaches him with a clue. They’ve been tasked with a complex puzzle-solving mission. Chester takes their assignments very seriously, but Skye treats it like a big game. Skye proves to be a useful partner and good company, even if her haphazard, free-wheeling ways are disruptive to Chester’s carefully curated schedule.
As Chester and Skye get closer to their final clue, they discover the key to their spy assignment: they have to stop a heist! But cracking this code may mean finding out things are not always what they seem.
Ellen Outside the Lines by AJ Sass
Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school.
Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track. Except it doesn’t.
Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.
Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.
Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd
Bestselling author Natalie Lloyd returns with her most personal book to date, a story about a girl who—armed with her trusty, snazzy wheelchair—refuses to let her brittle bone disease stand in the way of adventure.
Twelve-year-old homeschooled Olive is tired of being seen as “fragile” just because she has osteogenesis imperfecta (otherwise known as brittle bone disease) so she’s thrilled when she finally convinces her parents to let her attend Macklemore Elementary. Olive can’t wait to go to a traditional school and make the friends she’s always longed for, until a disastrous first day dashes her hopes of ever fitting in.
Then Olive hears whispers about a magical, wish-granting hummingbird that supposedly lives near Macklemore. It’ll be the solution to all her problems! If she can find the bird and prove herself worthy, the creature will make her most desperate, secret wish come true.
When it becomes clear that she can’t solve the mystery on her own, Olive teams up with some unlikely allies who help her learn the truth about the bird. And on the way, she just might learn that our fragile places lead us to the most wonderful magic of all . . .
Jennifer Chan is Not Alone by Tae Keller
A story about a girl who is alienated by her friends . . . for believing in aliens.
Sometimes middle school can make you feel like you’re totally alone in the universe…but what if we aren’t alone at all?
Mallory Moss knows how the world works. After meeting the cool girl, Reagan, she finally has a best friend, and Reagan makes Mallory feel like she belongs, like she can fit in this infinite universe, as long as she follows Reagan’s simple rules: wear the right clothes, control your image, know your place.
But when Jennifer Chan moves into the house across the street, those rules don’t feel quite so simple anymore. Because Jennifer is different. She doesn’t seem to care about the laws of middle school, or the laws of the universe. She’s willing to embrace the strange, the unknown… the extraterrestrial. She believes in aliens—and what’s more, she thinks she can find them.
Then Jennifer goes missing. The adults say she ran away…but where is she going? And why? Using clues in Jennifer’s journals about alien encounters, Mallory attempts to find her. But the closer she gets, the more Mallory has to confront why Jennifer might have run … and face the truth within herself.
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
Welcome to The Golden Palace!
Maizy has never been to Last Chance, Minnesota. . . until now. Her Mom’s plan is just to stay for a couple weeks, until her grandfather gets better. But plans change, and as Maizy spends more time in Last Chance (where she and her family are the only Asian-Americans) and at The Golden Palace—the restaurant that’s been in her family for generations—she makes some discoveries. For instance:
• You can tell a LOT about someone by the way they order food.
• And people can surprise you. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in disappointing ways.
• And the Golden Palace has Secrets.
But the more Maizy discovers, the more questions she has. Like, why are her mom and her grandmother always fighting? Who are the people in the photographs on the office wall? And when she discovers that a beloved family treasure has gone missing—and someone has left a racist note—Maizy decides it’s time find the answers.
New From Here by Kelly Yang
An Asian American boy fights to keep his family together and stand up to racism during the initial outbreak of the coronavirus.
When the coronavirus hits Hong Kong, ten-year-old Knox Wei-Evans’s mom makes the last-minute decision to move him and his siblings back to California, where they think they will be safe. Suddenly, Knox has two days to prepare for an international move—and for leaving his dad, who has to stay for work.
At his new school in California, Knox struggles with being the new kid. His classmates think that because he’s from Asia, he must have brought over the virus. At home, Mom just got fired and is panicking over the loss of health insurance, and Dad doesn’t even know when he’ll see them again, since the flights have been cancelled. And everyone struggles with Knox’s blurting-things-out problem.
As racism skyrockets during COVID-19, Knox tries to stand up to hate, while finding his place in his new country. Can you belong if you’re feared; can you protect if you’re new? And how do you keep a family together when you’re oceans apart? Sometimes when the world is spinning out of control, the best way to get through it is to embrace our own lovable uniqueness.
Northwind Gary Paulsen
The story of a young person’s battle to stay alive against the odds, where the high seas meet a coastal wilderness.
When a deadly plague reaches the small fish camp where he lives, an orphan named Leif is forced to take to the water in a cedar canoe. He flees northward, following a wild, fjord-riven shore, navigating from one danger to the next, unsure of his destination. But the deeper into his journey he paddles, the closer he comes to his truest self as he connects to “the heartbeat of the ocean . . . the pulse of the sea.”
Shine On Luz Veliz by Rebecca Balcarcel
Have you ever been the best at something . . . only to lose it all?
Luz Véliz is a soccer star—or rather, she was a soccer star. With her serious knee injury, it’s unlikely she’ll be back on the field anytime soon. But without soccer, who is she? Even her dad treats her differently now—like he doesn’t know her or, worse, like he doesn’t even like her. When Luz discovers she has a knack for coding, it feels like a lifeline to a better self. If she can just ace the May Showcase, she’ll not only skip a level in her coding courses and impress Ms. Freeman and intriguing, brilliant Trevor—she’ll have her parents cheering her on from the sidelines, just the way she likes it.
But something—someone—is about to enter the Vélizes’ life. And when Solana arrives, nothing will be the same, ever again.
Unforgettable characters, family drama, and dauntless determination illuminate Luz’s journey as she summons her inner strength and learns to accept others and embrace the enduring connection of family. Through it all, Luz’s light is a constant—a guide for others, a path forward through the dark, and an ineffable celebration of her own eternal self.
The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
In a fantasy adventure every bit as compelling and confident in its world building as her Newbery Honor Book A Wish in the Dark, Christina Soontornvat explores a young woman’s struggle to unburden herself of the past and chart her own destiny in a world of secrets. As assistant to Mangkon’s most celebrated mapmaker, twelve-year-old Sai plays the part of a well-bred young lady with a glittering future. In reality, her father is a conman—and in a kingdom where the status of one’s ancestors dictates their social position, the truth could ruin her. Sai seizes the chance to join an expedition to chart the southern seas, but she isn’t the only one aboard with secrets. When Sai learns that the ship might be heading for the fabled Sunderlands—a land of dragons, dangers, and riches beyond imagining—she must weigh the cost of her dreams. Vivid, suspenseful, and thought-provoking, this tale of identity and integrity is as beautiful and intricate as the maps of old.
The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart
An extraordinary story about a family of runaways who take up residence in a small town, and the outcast boy who finds his voice and his people.
In the dead of night, a truck arrives in Slaughterville, a small town curiously named after its windowless slaughterhouse. Seven mysterious kids with suitcases step out of the vehicle and into an abandoned home on a dead-end street, looking over their shoulders to make sure they aren’t noticed.
But Ravani Foster covertly witnesses their arrival from his bedroom window. Timid and lonely, Ravani is eager to learn everything he can about his new neighbors: What secrets are they hiding? And most mysterious of all…where are the adults?
Yet amid this shadowy group of children, Ravani finds an unexpected friend in the warm and gutsy Virginia. But with this friendship comes secrets revealed—and danger. When Ravani learns of a threat to his new friends, he must fight to keep them safe, or lose the only person who has ever understood him.
Full of wonder, friendship, and mystery, The Midnight Children explores the meaning of “home,” what makes a family, and what it takes to find the courage to believe in yourself.
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
A fantasy about the power of generosity and love, and how a community suffers when they disappear.
Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the people to lose their library, their school, their park, and even their neighborliness. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever children of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town’s problems are.
Then one day a child goes missing from the Orphan House. At the Mayor’s suggestion, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The Orphans know this can’t be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen.
But how can the Orphans tell the story of the Ogress’s goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbors see the real villain in their midst?
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
The riveting story of a heroic girl who fights for her belief that water should be for everyone.
Minni lives in the poorest part of Mumbai, where access to water is limited to a few hours a day and the communal taps have long lines. Lately, though, even that access is threatened by severe water shortages and thieves who are stealing this precious commodity—an act that Minni accidentally witnesses one night. Meanwhile, in the high-rise building where she just started to work, she discovers that water streams out of every faucet and there’s even a rooftop swimming pool. What Minni also discovers there is one of the water mafia bosses. Now she must decide whether to expose him and risk her job and maybe her life. How did something as simple as access to water get so complicated?
Those Kids From Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly
Every day in Fawn Creek, Louisiana, is exactly the same–until Orchid Mason arrives. This contemporary school story set in small-town Louisiana is about friendship, family, deception, and being true to yourself and your dreams.
There are twelve kids in the seventh grade at Fawn Creek Middle School. They’ve been together all their lives. And in this small factory town where everyone knows everything about everyone, that’s not necessarily a great thing.
There are thirteen desks in the seventh-grade classroom. That’s because Renni Dean’s father got a promotion, and the family moved to Grand Saintlodge, the nearest big town. Renni’s desk is empty, but Renni still knows their secrets; is still pulling their strings.
When Orchid Mason arrives and slips gracefully into Renni’s chair, the other seventh graders don’t know what to think. Orchid–who was born in New York City but just moved to Fawn Creek from Paris–seems to float. Her dress skims the floor. She’s wearing a flower behind her ear.
Fawn Creek Middle might be small, but it has its tightly knit groups–the self-proclaimed “God Squad,” the jocks, the outsiders–just like anyplace else. Who will claim Orchid Mason? Who will save Orchid Mason? Or will Orchid Mason save them?
Troublemaker by John Cho
Troublemaker follows the events of the LA Riots through the eyes of 12-year-old Jordan as he navigates school and family. This book will highlight the unique Korean American perspective.
12-year-old Jordan feels like he can’t live up to the example his older sister set, or his parent’s expectations. When he returns home from school one day hoping to hide his suspension, Los Angeles has reached a turning point. In the wake of the acquittal of the police officers filmed beating Rodney King, as well as the shooting of a young black teen, Latasha Harlins by a Korean store owner, the country is at the precipice of confronting its racist past and present.
As tensions escalate, Jordan’s father leaves to check on the family store, spurring Jordan and his friends to embark on a dangerous journey to come to his aide, and come to terms with the racism within and affecting their community.
Tumble by Celia Perez
From the award-winning author of The First Rule of Punk, a dazzling novel about a young girl who collects the missing pieces of her origin story from the family of legendary luchadores she’s never met.
Twelve-year-old Adela “Addie” Ramirez has a big decision to make when her stepfather proposes adoption. Addie loves Alex, the only father figure she’s ever known, but with a new half brother due in a few months and a big school theater performance on her mind, everything suddenly feels like it’s moving too fast. She has a million questions, and the first is about the young man in the photo she found hidden away in her mother’s things.
Addie’s sleuthing takes her to a New Mexico ranch, and her world expands to include the legendary Bravos: Rosie and Pancho, her paternal grandparents and former professional wrestlers; Eva and Maggie, her older identical twin cousins who love to spar in and out of the ring; Uncle Mateo, whose lucha couture and advice are unmatched; and Manny, her biological father, who’s in the midst of a career comeback. As luchadores, the Bravos’s legacy is strong. But being part of a family is so much harder—it’s about showing up, taking off your mask, and working through challenges together.
Two Degrees by Alan Gratz
Fire. Flood. Ice.
Three natural disasters.
Three kids who must fight to survive—and change things for the better.
In California, Akira Kristiansen is driving through the mountains with her mom when a wildfire sparks — and grows scarily fast. In just moments, Akira and her family have to evacuate… but which way is safe with fire all around them?
In Churchill, Manitoba, Owen Mackenzie is running a tour for travelers who’ve come to see the polar bears. Lately the bears show up more and more as the ice thins. When Owen and his friend see a bear much too close for comfort, they end up in a fight for their lives.
In Miami, a hurricane bears down on Natalie Torres. That’s not so uncommon… but everyone’s saying this could be it. The Big One. Natalie and her mom don’t have anywhere to run to, so they hunker down to ride out the storm.
Akira, Owen, and Natalie are all swept up in the global effects of climate change, each struggling to survive their individual disasters. But, as they will discover, the three kids are more deeply connected than they could ever imagine–in ways that will change them, and hopefully, can change the world
Just as Refugee brought awareness of the refugee crisis to young readers, this latest tour-de-force from bestselling author Alan Gratz will shed light on the increasingly urgent threat of climate change — while taking readers on a nonstop adventure that will keep them turning the pages, and making their own plans to better the world.
Wildoak by C.C. Harrington
Maggie Stephens’s stutter makes school especially hard. She will do almost anything to avoid speaking in class or calling attention to herself. So when her unsympathetic father threatens to send her away for so-called “treatment,” she reluctantly agrees to her mother’s intervention plan: a few weeks in the fresh air of Wildoak Forest, visiting a grandfather she hardly knows. It is there, in an extraordinary twist of fate, that she encounters an abandoned snow leopard cub, an exotic gift to a wealthy Londoner that proved too wild to domesticate. But once the cub’s presence is discovered by others, danger follows, and Maggie soon realizes that time is running out, not only for the leopard, but for herself and the forest as well.
Told in alternating voices, Wildoak shimmers with beauty, compassion, and unforgettable storytelling as it explores the delicate interconnectedness of the human, animal, and natural worlds.
Worser by Jennifer Ziegler
A bullied 12-year-old boy must find a new normal after his mother has a stroke and his life is turned upside down.
William Wyatt Orser, a socially awkward middle schooler, is a wordsmith who, much to his annoyance, acquired the ironically ungrammatical nickname of “Worser” so long ago that few people at school know to call him anything else.
Worser grew up with his mom, a professor of rhetoric and an introvert just like him, in a comfortable routine that involved reading aloud in the evenings, criticizing the grammar of others, ignoring the shabby mess of their house, and suffering the bare minimum of social interactions with others. But recently all that has changed. His mom had a stroke that left her nonverbal, and his Aunt Iris has moved in with her cats, art projects, loud music, and even louder clothes. Home for Worser is no longer a refuge from the unsympathetic world at school that it has been all his life.
Feeling lost, lonely, and overwhelmed, Worser searches for a new sanctuary and ends up finding the Literary Club–a group of kids from school who share his love of words and meet in a used bookstore– something he never dreamed existed outside of his home. Even more surprising to Worser is that the key to making friends is sharing the thing he holds dearest: his Masterwork, the epic word notebook that he has been adding entries to for years.
But relationships can be precarious, and it is up to Worser to turn the page in his own story to make something that endures so that he is no longer seen as Worser and earns a new nickname, Worder.
Colby Sharp is a husband and father of five. He teaches fifth grade in Parma, Michigan. Colby is the co-founder of Nerdy Book Club. He co-hosts The Yarn podcast with Travis Jonker. Colby co-authored Game Changer! Book Access for All Kid with Donalyn Miller, and he is the editor of The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection. His latest book, with Donalyn Miller, A Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library is now available.
I’ve read 13 that are on the list and will certainly add the others to my TBR. I think Thirst will be my next read. Happy New Year!
I’ve read 10 so far and 7 more are waiting on my kindle. Adding all the others to my to read list too! I love seeing books that I’ve never heard about, and there were a few on this list! I can’t wait to share them with my readers!
I’ve read 9 so far, but have several others lingering on my to-read list!
I have read 13 on the list and all are great choices.
What a way to kick off the new year. Honored that Maizy Chen’s Last Chance is on this list with so many incredible middle grade books. THANK YOU!!!
I’ve read (and LOVED) ten of them. I’ll add the rest to my reading list. Thanks!
I LOVE all these books! What a joy and honor to have SHINE ON, LUZ, VÉLIZ! in such wonderful company!
Read them all! Still not sure how I feel about Paulsen’s Northwind. It’s good to see at least one sports book on the list!
I am so honoured to see Wildoak included here, and in such incredible company! This is absolutely amazing to me. Thank you so much. I too have read a number of these titles, but not all… so I’m inspired and excited to add the others to my TBR list. Thank you all so much.