It's good to see that 'middle grade' fiction is making a come-back with the following selection of titles highlighting the range and quality of fiction available for readers aged seven / eight years to 11+, particularly stories focusing on 'real life' as well as some exciting adventure stories and historical fiction.

ISBN 9780007521586

Infinity Drake, or Finn as he is known, loves adventure and challenges - which is just as well because when he is accidentally shrunk to 9mm tall, the challenges become immense! Finn's uncle, a brilliant scientist, is called on by the government to help track and destroy a killer wasp, the Scarlatti, which could devastate the human population. His answer is to 'shrink' a crack team to the size of an insect so they can hunt it down and kill it. In the process, however, the team is betrayed and Finn is also shrunk. However, Finn's knowledge of insect life and his instinct for survival mean that he can hold his own and makes a valuable member of the team charged with destroying the Scarlatti. Seeing the world from a tiny person's point of view makes it a fascinating and deadly place and author John McNally, a screenwriter by trade, never lets up on the pace as Finn and his team face one challenge after another: bugs, raindrops and streams are all potentially deadly when you are just 9mm tall. There are some great characters, such as the Bond-like baddie Kaparis, and plenty of humour in the guise of Finn's Grandma as she homes in on the fact that her grandson is not at home going to school as he should be. As well as a thoroughly enjoyable adventure for those aged ten years plus, Infinity Drake offers a rare glimpse into the science of atoms and particles that will have children thinking very differently about their science lessons. 416 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

Temple Boys
Jamie Buxton

Egmont Books Ltd

ISBN 9781405268004

In Temple Boys by Jamie Buxton (Egmont), Flea is the smallest and mouthiest member of a gang that struggles to survive on the streets of Jerusalem at the time of the Romans. When a magician comes to town, the boys plan to play some tricks on him but instead find themselves drawn into his larger plans. So begins a compelling and dramatic retelling of the Easter story, with Jesus or 'Yeshua' (taken from his original Aramaic name) so driven by the idea of fomenting an uprising against the Romans that he is willing to sacrifice himself for this ambition. Therein, the seeds are sown for a new religion that will flourish and be shared by millions of people around the world and within the pages of the novel are many references to Biblical stories, making this an intriguing story that can be read on many levels. Buxton's premise, that Yeshua is a magician and political idealist with a great PR team, drives the plot but the reader's sympathy is always with Flea, a small boy with a great thirst for life, who does his best to stay alive and to keep his friends alive too, despite becoming a tool for a Roman general. Flea's confusion and determination to do the right thing in the end make him a very real and likeable boy while the life he and the boys live on the streets of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago are drawn with great realism. As well as a fast-paced adventure story, this is a great novel for those aged 10+ who enjoy historical fiction. 336 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

Temple Boys
Lara Williamson

ISBN 9781409570318

When 11-year-old Dan sees his father presenting a programme on television, he decides to set out and find him. His father left his family suddenly when Dan was seven and he hasn't seen him since; but Dan wants to know that his father still loves him. Dan gets into a number of comical scrapes during his quest to find his father but never gives up on his hope to find him. This is a stunning debut by Lara Williamson which will have readers laughing and crying as Dan, who narrates the story, works through his journey to discover what family really means. Williamson has a sure touch when it comes to developing her narrative voice and Dan comes over as a very real and likeable character. Dan's sister, Grace, is another well-drawn character who appears to be more difficult at first but gradually we learn how she attempts to protect her brother. Williamson's her work has been compared to authors including Annabel Pitcher and David Almond and this is a remarkable debut; we can't wait to see what she writes next. 304 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

Monkey and Me
David Gilman

Templar Publishing

ISBN 9781848773356

Beanie, a nine year old boy, is desperate to be one of his older brother's gang. The only thing is his older brother doesn't want him to be - he seems very protective over him; in fact, everyone does. When the gang's headquarters are demolished, Beanie hatches a plan to find a new meeting place. However, he gets more than he bargained for when he enters the 'haunted' building and discovers that he, too, can be very protective. The book is written in the first person and Gilman has done a fantastic job of tapping into the thoughts and feelings of a nine year old; it has a very authentic child's voice which will appeal to upper Key Stage 2 readers. The main character in the book is suffering from Leukaemia, but is oblivious as to why he has to visit hospital and why everyone worries about him so much. He has earned his nickname as he wears a hat to cover his bald head. These are great discussion points for children as Gilman only gives hints as to what is the matter with Beanie. The introduction of Malcolm the chimpanzee and Tracy, a deaf girl, also facilitate discussions about empathy and inclusion. However, this is not a book that over emphasises these themes. Beanie's adventures and escapades make for a fast paced, humorous and very boy friendly novel. The children who have read this in my class have had many discussions over the difference between bravery and unsafe behaviour and I think that is a very strong thread throughout the book. The ending, although very neatly tied up, left me wondering about how the relationships between Beanie, Malcolm and the gang would develop. I very much enjoyed this book and will continue to encourage children in my class to read it. 234 Pages / Age range: 8+ / Reviewed by Mikeala Morgans, teacher

Monkey and Me
A Room Full of Chocolate
Jane Elson

Hodder Children's Books

ISBN 9781444916751

Grace's dad has moved out and her mum needs to go to hospital. Try as she might to convince her mum to let her stay, she is sent to live on a farm in Yorkshire with her temperamental estranged Grandfather. She quickly meets and forms a strong bond with the free spirited Megan, her pig - Claude - and their hap hazard family who live beyond the blue door with the peeling paint. This is not a friendship that Granddad Bradley approves of and lies abound in an attempt to protect her. However, Grace comes to realise that sometimes you need a free spirit to help you take matters into your own hands and solve the problems of the present and the past. I read this book in one sitting, whilst most of the time wiping away tears! It is brilliantly funny and emotional and tackles the very tough subjects of forbidden friendship, bullying and breast cancer in an accessible, child-friendly manner. The book is written in two genres – first person narrative and Grace’s diary entries. Therefore, it gives two perspectives: Grace’s experiences and her inner most feelings. This appeals to children, especially girls, as they are able to relate to her. Despite the difficult subject matter, A Room Full of Chocolate still manages to be funny and absolutely full of adventure. Megan is such a fun and alternative character; it is lovely to see someone like her letting children know that it is okay to be a bit different. Grace's inner turmoil is heart-breaking, but teaches the reader a lot about empathy. The journey the girls go on is immense, both literally and metaphorically and, although the ending is a bit twee, this is a brilliant book that I highly recommend. 250 pages / Age range: 10+ / Reviewed by Mikeala Morgans

A Room Full of Chocolate
Sarah Lean


ISBN 9780007512249

Sarah Lean's latest novel features a character familiar to her fans - the little dog called Jack Pepper. Leo is an ordinary young boy, who lives an ordinary life, dreaming of being a gladiator hero and facing peer pressure from the tough gang at school. When they succeed in leading him to do something he knows to be wrong, Leo finds himself caught in a web of regret and the reader wonders how he will be able to make everything right again. A dramatic turn of events involving the little dog Jack Pepper, leads Leo to act in a way which is truly heroic and enables him to make some important discoveries about himself. There is a strong backdrop of Roman history featured through Leo's imagination, his school topic and the real life events of the story, which may add appeal for some readers. Characters are warmly portrayed, with Leo, his family and friends drawing sympathy from the reader, and there are interesting conversations to be had regarding the moral dilemmas Leo faces, the mistakes he makes and the choices he makes which bring him redemption. 292 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Lucy Russell, Teacher

Stars in Jars: New and Collected Poems by Chrissie Gittins
Chrissie Gittins

A & C Black (Childrens books)

ISBN 9781408196939

The lovely, rhythmic opening poem ('Sky-High' p. 9) in this collection gives the book its title: William's rocket trip to the moon and beyond sees him returning with a 'trail of stars' that he brings home to keep them 'safe in jars'. It's an appropriate metaphor for the poems in this book as they are indeed the stars in jars. Here's an opportunity for the imaginative teacher to set up 'poetry star jars' round the classroom into which children could insert their favourite poems. There are familiar themes here but often with unfamiliar twists. The whole gamut of family characters are represented but grandma - in a surprisingly touching poem - is a nun: 'My grandma is a fun nun / and apart from God's, she's mine' (p.23). There's a twist on the well known rhyme with 'Sam, Sam, Quite Contrary' (p.11) which, in common with so many others in the volume has a memorable, lolloping rhythm. If you're worried about the demands of having to learn poems off by heart, where better to start with the downright absurd fun of 'The Hysterical Tulip' (p.7) which simply requires repetition of the same line...? There are poems that invite exploration of language. 'Birds 1' (p.89) offers a rich opening into the wonderful world of collective nouns. There are poems here that could provide potential starting points for children to write their own versions: there are lists to be written: 'Possible Presents' (p.35); 'For Christmas' (p.136); 'Food Sense' (p.59); there are poems that could be extended ('Boxes at Chapel Street Market', p.60; 'The Listening Station', p.68). I love poems about poetry itself so I was delighted to discover the final poem in the book: 'What does poetry do?' (p.141). A poem such as this can help children feel the power of poetry: It nosedives from the top of the fridge / Into a bowl of rapids, / it crawls along the floor / and taps you on the knee, / it changes the colour of a room, / it puts great wheezing slices of life / into bun trays with or without punctuation./ It manages this all by itself. 144 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Alison Young, educational consultant

Stars in Jars: New and Collected Poems by Chrissie Gittins
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Catherynne M. Valente


ISBN 9781780338446

In The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making - the first in the series - Catherynne introduced us to the characters in this novel and reading these novels in sequence will definitely make the understanding of them much clearer. Catherynne presents the story like a Victorian impresario, introducing the 'Dramatis Personae' and having chapter titles like 'Exeunt in a Rowboat, Pursued by Crows'. The style, storyline and characters are a cross between Lewis Carroll and Lemony Snicket with truly beautiful illustrations by Ana Juan. At the start of this novel we meet September, now 13 years old, who is itching to return to Fairyland where the year before she defeated an evil Queen with a wrench and saved a whole country from her wickedness. Whilst there, September met a number of witches, a soap golem, all sorts of creatures and made friends with a Wyverary, a Marid and a talking lamp. She also loses her shadow. Since then, life in the real world has seemed very dull to September and the girls at her school think of her as 'not one of them'. Eventually September finds her way back to Fairyland but discovers it quite changed. In Fairyland shadows have been taken by the 'Alleyman' to Fairyland Below, taking all their magic with them, and leaving magic rationed in Fairyland Above. When she does not find her friends she realises that she must set off on an heroic adventure alone to right wrongs which have come about from her previous visit. Whilst there, she trades her first kiss with a goblin, meets the shadows of her friends who are not all they seem, as well as adopting Aubergine, a Night-Dodo. September meets the Queen of Fairyland Below, Halloween, The Hollow Queen and discovers that she is really quite familiar, as is the Alleyman. Definitely worth the effort of sticking with it and getting into the swing of Catherynne's style of writing to find out how our heroine, September, will save Fairyland again. 328 pages / Ages: 10+ / Reviewed by Kerra Dagley, junior school librarian

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

ISBN 9781472110213

This is the third book in this excellent series (see my previous review). Falling into Fairyland like Alice into Wonderland, you cannot help but be drawn into a world in which strange characters teach us moral lessons and we learn more about ourselves than before. Beware, though - having visited Fairyland on a 'Persephone Visa' and having eaten there, one is compelled to return each year. As September embarks on her next adventure to Fairyland, the real world becomes less real than the Fairy one, lessons are learnt and adulthood looms nearer. September is now approaching 14 years old and learning how to become a grown up, hiding her adventures and feelings, from her teachers, neighbours and parents. She has been helping her father recover from his wounds in the war, going to school and doing jobs around the neighbourhood, trying to work out what she wants 'to be'. Is she getting too old and too big to return to Fairyland? Sure enough though, in the middle of the summer she once again finds her way back and this time must journey to the moon. She is not alone though; Aroostook,Mr Albert's old Model A Ford, has been stolen by Blue Wind and September frees her before journeying to the moon in Aroostook to deliver a parcel. Once there, she climbs into a whelk containing an entire city and travels by crab to deliver her parcel. Eventually she meets up with, A-through-L, her friend the Wyverary, who is working in a library. Saturday, she discovers, is now an acrobat with a paper circus and has learnt how practice makes perfect. Together they go off in search of Ciderskin, a Yeti who is trying to break the moon in half. 349 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Kerra Dagley, Junior School Librarian

MetaWars: The Freedom Frontier: Book 4
Jeff Norton

Orchard Books

ISBN 9781408314623

This is the fourth and final part of the Metawars series. The books are set in a world which is polluted, crowded and violent. Most people make life bearable by escaping to the Metasphere, a virtual space which allows people to adopt an avatar and live a fantasy life. The Metawars are being fought over the future of the Metasphere, between the Guardians, a secret society dedicated to keeping the Metasphere open and free and the Millenials, the organisation run by Matthew Granger, founder of the Metasphere, who want to continue to control the virtual world. There are four server farms in different parts of the world controlling the Metasphere and the book starts as the Guardians, having taken control of three of them, are about to start the battle for the fourth. Jonah Delacroix has been instrumental in the Guardians' success but he is disillusioned by the loss of life on both sides and is determined to end the cycle of violence. Matthew Granger also says he is looking for peace and when it becomes clear that a third and sinister force, intent on wiping out most of humanity, has infiltrated and all but destroyed the Guardians and Millenials, Jonah, his friend Sam and Matthew join forces in order to save the real world and millions trapped in the virtual world. This is an action-packed thriller with the trio fighting evil and making all sorts of unlikely escapes from captivity, bombs and fire with a strong emphasis on technology. The action is constant and fast-paced, much like a computer game, with most chapters ending on a cliff-hanger. Issues about the environment and the attractions and dangers of the virtual world are raised and there is also some love interest between Jonah and Sam. It is perfectly possible to enjoy the book without having read the previous books in the series and it should appeal to 11+ readers who are used to the excitement of science-fiction action movies (there are definite echoes of 'The Matrix') and computer games. 346 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Karen Poolton, College librarian

MetaWars: The Freedom Frontier: Book 4