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Jay’s Holiday Shopping List: Books for Upper School Readers

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Hi, everyone! Happy Holidays! You will notice that the format of this year’s holiday book list is a bit different. Instead of giving a summary of all of the books, a selection of books is highlighted by a synopsis. This makes for a hopefully neater and less lengthy version. Just a reminder that these are only suggestions and not anyone’s idea of a “best of” anything or “must-read” assignment thingy list. Also, the ages are only a suggestion. Any of these books would be appropriate for a myriad of ages. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at jfung@manhattancountryschool.org.

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez - In this exciting and action-packed adventure by an award-winning author, a young girl discovers her secret ancient bloodline. The fate of her family, and the world, may rest in her hands. Cassie Arroyo, an American studying in Rome, has her world ripped apart when someone tries to kill her father, an art history professor at an Italian university. Is she their next target? Cassie sets out to uncover what is happening, only to learn that she is a member of an ancient bloodline that enables her to use the Spear of Destiny—a legendary object that can alter the future. Now running from a secret organization intent on killing those from her bloodline, Cassie must—with the help of some friends—decipher the clues that will lead her to the Spear. (Ages 9-14)

Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah - Eleven-year-old Ambra Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamoto (please, just call her Amber) navigates middle school embarrassments, awkward friendships, a first crush, an intimidating bully, and the realities of being a biracial tween in this smart and funny middle-grade debut, first published in the United Kingdom. Half Italian and half Japanese, Amber has always felt a bit different than her peers in South London. Her loving and free-spirited mum; maternal grandmother, Nonna; and boisterous little sister, Bella, keep Amber on her toes. But she longs to know more about her Japanese ancestry. Unfortunately, Amber’s father left the family when she was six, and it’s a loss that feels like a “black hole” in her very center. Determined to protect her younger sister from the pain she feels, she begins forging letters from her father to Bella. Things quickly spiral, and what seemed like a white lie intended to help may wind up causing more harm than good. Shevah breathes life into this middle schooler, her lively family members, and her classmates and teachers. Amber confronts racial insensitivities (for example, students comment on her “exotic” appearance and ask her to “say something in Japanese”) with frankness and realistic annoyance. (Ages 10-14)

The Marvels by Brian Selznick - In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories—the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose—create a beguiling narrative puzzle. The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage. Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family and the past. A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, The Marvels is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation. (Ages 9-14)

Shadows of Sherwood (A Robyn Hoodlum Mystery) by Kekla Magoon – The night her parents disappear, 12-year-old Robyn Loxley must learn to fend for herself. Her home, Nott City, has been taken over by a harsh governor, Ignomus Crown. After fleeing for her life, Robyn has no choice but to join a band of strangers—misfit kids, each with his or her own special talent for mischief. Setting out to right the wrongs of Crown’s merciless government, they take their outlaw status in stride. But Robyn can’t rest until she finds her parents. As she pieces together clues from the night they disappeared, Robyn learns that her destiny is tied to the future of Nott City in ways she never expected. Kicking off a new series with an unforgettable heroine, readers will be treated to feats of courage and daring deeds as Robyn and her band find their way in this cruel, new world. (Ages 10 – 14)

Secret Coders by Gene Yuen Lang - Welcome to Stately Academy, a school, which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved. The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend, Eni, are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes. From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot. (Ages 9-14)

The Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics - For readers of Unbroken, out of the depths of the Great Depression comes the astonishing tale of nine working-class boys from the American West who at the 1936 Olympics showed the world what true grit really meant. With rowers who were the sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew was never expected to defeat the elite East Coast teams, yet they did, going on to shock the world by challenging the German boat rowing for Adolf Hitler. At the center of the tale is Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, whose personal quest captures the spirit of his generation—the generation that would prove in the coming years that the Nazis could not prevail over American determination and optimism. This deeply emotional yet easily accessible young readers adaptation of the award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller features never-before-seen photographs, highly visual back matter and an exclusive new introduction. (Ages 13 and older)

Airman by Eoin Colfer - Born in the basket of a hot-air balloon at the end of the nineteenth century, Conor Broekhart is intrigued with flying. At age 14, after witnessing the murder of his tutor, Conor is sent to prison. He hopes to escape by means of a flying machine. While Conor is in prison, Keating adds a flinty edge to his voice, indicating Conor’s maturation. A malicious though high-spirited prison guard is rendered in whining, wheedling speech patterns. And the more sarcastic the guard sounds, the meaner his actions. Conor’s cellmate, an older, blind magician, is portrayed in a raspy voice. Keating speaks in a French accent to represent Conor’s tutor (before his murder) and uses an Irish brogue for the remaining characters. This swashbuckling tale should appeal to historical-fantasy fans and others who love adventure tales with smart heroes. (Ages 12 and older)

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau - Nothing exciting happens on the Hill of Dust, in the remote mountains of Mexico, in the 1950s. There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no cars, just day after day of pasturing goats. And now, without his sister and mother, 11-year-old Teo’s life feels even more barren. And then one day, the mysterious young Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning, rolls into town like a fresh burst of color. Against all odds, her caravan’s Mistress of Destiny predicts that Teo and Esma will be longtime friends. Suddenly, life brims with possibility. With the help of a rescued duck, a three-legged skunk, a blind goat and other allies, Teo and Esma must overcome obstacles—even death—to fulfill their impossible destiny. Inspired by true stories derived from rural Mexico, The Lightning Queen offers a glimpse of the encounter between two fascinating but marginalized cultures—the Rom and the Mixtec Indians—while telling the heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship that spans generations. (Ages 12 and up)

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz - Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions. (Ages 13 and up)

The Trap by Steven Arntson - It’s the summer of 1963, and something strange is afoot in the quiet town of Farro, Iowa. The school district’s most notorious bully has gone missing without a trace, and furthermore, seventh-grader Henry Nilsson and his friends have just found an odd book stashed in the woods by Longbelly Gulch—a moldy instruction guide written to teach the art of “subtle travel,” a kind of out-of-body experience. The foursome will soon discover that out-of-body life isn’t so subtle after all—there are some very real, and very dangerous, things happening out there in the woods. The science fiction inventiveness of Madeleine L’Engle meets the social commentary of Gary Schmidt in this thrilling tale of missing persons, first crushes, embarrassing pajamas and thought-provoking dilemmas. (Ages 13 and up)

Fiction

Circus Mirandus by Carrie Beasley
My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson
George by Alex Gino
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm (Graphic novel)
MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester
Brilliant by Roddy Doyle
The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon
Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco by Judith Robbins Rose
Star Wars: A New Hope by Alexandra Bracken
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back by Adam Gidwitz
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by Tom Angleberger
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall
Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgaard by Rick Riordan
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Untwine by Edwidge Danticat
Fast Break by Mike Lupica

Nonfiction

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson