This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's chapter books. Enjoy!
The Assassination Of Brangwain Spurge
5th-9th grade. Fantasy. Brangwain Spurge, elfin historian, embarks on a peace-making mission to the goblin kingdom, where the two kingdoms have been embroiled in war for 1,000 years. Brangwain bears an important gift and secret orders to spy on his enemies. Unbeknownst to him, the gift he carries is an assassination device. Meanwhile, his goblin host, archivist Werfel, has seen to every detail so that Spurge will be welcomed and comfortable during his visit, but disappointingly finds that Spurge is snobbish and untrustworthy. Can these two disparate characters overcome their differences and bring peace to their kingdoms? Multi-page pen and ink illustrations portray Spurge’s spy transmissions. These alternate with letters from the elfin Lord Spymaster and prose chapters that advance the story. This funny and utterly odd fantasy explores how prejudice and misunderstanding can tear people and countries apart, and how friendship can help them heal.
4th-7th grade. Animal Story, Fantasy. How would it feel to be the last of your kind, alone in the world? Byx is a dairne, one of the six governing species of the kingdom of Nedarra, and she has always felt safe in her pack. Suddenly, though, her family is killed and Byx is propelled on a journey to discover whether she is the endling, the last of her species. On her journey, Byx will learn what she is capable of—and that, sometimes, we make our own families. This adventure, from the author of The One and Only Ivan, transports readers to a fully realized world full of interesting creatures and customs. Rich themes of family, friendship, extinction and compassion are skillfully woven into a gripping, suspenseful quest. The Last is the first book in the Endling series.
Sweep : The Story Of A Girl And Her Monster
3rd-7th grade. Fantasy, Historical Fiction. Nan Sparrow knows her time is running out—before long, she will be too big to sweep chimneys for her Dickensian master, Mr. Crudd. When she finally gets stuck in a narrow chimney, she thinks it’s her end, but instead she wakes up in an attic. And she’s not alone; the special lump of char left to her by the Sweep, her beloved former master who disappeared, has come alive as a golem. As she and “Charlie” make a new life together in Victorian London, she worries about the climbing boys she left behind, whether Mr. Crudd is still looking for her and what will become of her beloved Charlie. Fortunately, she has friends in very different places that she can trust; Toby, the mudlark, and Miss Bloom, the seminary teacher, are both looking out for her. This sweeping historical fantasy is rich in period detail and treats the bleakness of child labor with compassion and hope.
Drum Roll, Please
3rd-7th grade. Realistic Fiction. Right before heading to sleepaway music camp, 13-year-old Melly’s parents tell her they’re getting divorced. Wrestling with that knowledge, Melly faces two weeks at Camp Rockaway where she has to process her parents’ divorce, her changing best friendship and her first crush on a girl. Quiet in her everyday life, Melly joyfully lets loose behind the drumset. Bigelow has given us a delightful summer camp “crushmance,” where long days are filled with self-discovery. Frequent music references fill the pages as drummer Melly and her bandmates learn how to listen and support each other. Realistic characters and witty dialogue make this a compelling and entertaining tween read.
Ivy Aberdeen's Letter To The World
5th-7th grade. Realistic Fiction. Ivy Aberdeen is having a too-eventful year. Her parents and big sister are busy with infant twins, she’s confused by the fact that she’s never had a crush on a boy—and then the family home is destroyed by a tornado. Crammed into a hotel room with her family, she always seems to be in the way. Meanwhile, her secret notebook is missing, and she doesn’t know who has it. Ivy’s struggles to find her place in her family and among her friends, while worrying about whether they will accept her if she comes out, ring true. The ultimate resolution of the mystery correspondent who has her notebook is satisfying and fitting. Any kid who’s had a crush, been curious about crushes, drifted apart from a friend or felt out of place at home will identify with and cheer for Ivy.
Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish : A Novel
5th-6th grade. Realistic Fiction. Eighth grader Marcus Vega is a giant boy with a couple of homegrown businesses, including charging kids a fee for escorting them on guaranteed bully-free walks to school. Business is booming, until Marcus gets into trouble for slugging a school bully who insulted Marcus’ brother, who has Down syndrome. After he is suspended, Marcus’ mother decides to take the family to Puerto Rico to visit relatives. During the trip, Marcus can’t focus because he is preoccupied that he might get to reunite with his father who lives on the island. This sweet, accessible novel about familial love and identity will reassure readers who may feel like misfits, leaving them with warm fuzzies and hope.
3rd-7th grade. Historical Fiction. The year 1946 has meant loss for Langston. First, he lost his Mama to illness. Then when his father packs them up and puts them on the train to Chicago, he loses everything else he loves—his grandmother, magnolia trees, his cousins. Home is a grimy one-room apartment, and at school, he’s bullied for being “country.” But when Langston gets lost running from bullies and stumbles into the George Cleveland Hall branch of the Chicago Public Library, he finds the place where he belongs. He’s surprised to be welcomed, since the libraries in Alabama were only for white people. As he learns surprising truths about his classmates, the stern neighbor across the hall and his parents, Langston finds that maybe he can build a new life in Chicago after all. This brief, lyrical historical novel is an ode to the power of poetry and remaking a family after loss.
4th-7th grade. Fantasy. Beware! Shadows are not always what they seem. In this chilling fantasy, it is dangerous to have special powers, and Emmeline has been gifted with the ability to weave shadows. She keeps her magic hidden, until the day a noble family arrives and offers to cure Emmeline of her magic. However, as she learns more about how they cure other children, she realizes something is very wrong, and she flees with her own shadow, Dar. But as she learns more about the danger she is in, Emmeline begins to question everyone, including her own shadow. Connolly grabs readers’ attention with spectacularly creepy characters who will leave readers squirming. The writing flows seamlessly and successfully, weaving a lyrical story. Readers will be captivated by this dark, fast-paced thriller.
The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle
4th-7th grade. Mystery, Realistic Fiction. Seventh grader Mason Buttle has the biggest heart around. He also has, as his uncle says, “a trifecta of troubles,” including dyslexia and overactive sweat glands. Grieving his best friend’s mysterious death, Mason is dismayed to realize that he has fallen under suspicion. With help from a kind social worker at his school, Mason finds a way to tell his story and uncover the truth. This is a deeply moving and ultimately uplifting exploration of a true-hearted kid. Connor has filled this book with heartbreak, emotional complexity and some of the most complicated, compassionately drawn characters to be found in middle grade fiction. Mason Buttle’s earnest voice will stick with you long after you close this book.
The Journey Of Little Charlie
4th-7th grade. Historical Fiction. The author of Elijah of Buxton has written a brutal, heartfelt and compassionate piece of historical fiction. Little Charlie Bobo is a White sharecropper’s son, who, after the sudden death of his father, finds himself indentured to the breathtakingly cruel overseer of the plantation on which his family farms. The overseer, Cap’n Buck, forces Little Charlie on a mission to track enslaved people who have escaped. When Little Charlie discovers that one of the slaves they are tracking is a boy his own age, Little Charlie makes a choice that will alter both of their lives forever. The Journey of Little Charlie is an unflinching exploration of moral choices made in the face of racism, violence and trauma. Curtis writes accurately of the horrors of slavery, and historically accurate, derogatory terms for Black people are used. Young readers will benefit from discussion before and after reading this fast-paced, complex and emotionally-charged book.
The Serpent's Secret
3rd-8th grade. Fantasy. Kids looking for their next read after Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books will be thrilled to find this adventure tale that mixes mythology with science. Kiranmala is just your average kid living in Parsippany, New Jersey. But on the day of her twelfth birthday, her parents suddenly vanish and an enormous, drooling rakkhosh demon bursts into her house, followed by two handsome princes who say they are here to help. Daring, no-nonsense Kiran is thrust on a sometimes terrifying and sometimes ridiculous mission to rescue her parents, discovering her true interdimensional heritage along the way. This opener of the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series is an action-packed quest through astronomy and Indian mythology. Readers who like their fantasy fast and complicated, with a healthy dose of humor will love The Serpent’s Secret.
The Creature Of The Pines
3rd-7th grade. Fantasy. Elliot is horrified when he has to start at a new school three weeks into the school year—and on a field trip day! Fortunately, he makes a friend. Unfortunately, his new friend leads him off the path into New Jersey’s Pine Barrens to investigate a strange sound and into a whole lot of trouble. When they bring back more than they bargained for from the field trip, the only person who can help them may be Professor Fauna, the world’s strangest teacher. This series opener is a gentle fantasy with a diverse cast, filling the gap between shorter “transitional” reads and longer chapter books. Readers will have to stay on for future volumes to learn what the sinister Schmoke brothers are up to—and whether the Unicorn Rescue Society will ever find a unicorn to rescue.
3rd-5th grade. Adventure, Realistic Fiction. For Ashley and Ryan, a fun afternoon of skiing suddenly turns into the fight of their lives. While on a family skiing vacation, Ashley and Ryan find themselves all alone in the middle of a full-on avalanche. They are completely buried in the snow, and no one is around to hear their cries for help. Can they survive? Written by a real-life survival expert, this attention-grabbing chapter book is peppered throughout with survival tips. The clear, accessible writing will engage readers transitioning to more challenging chapter books. Look for more books in this in the action-packed, survivor-based adventure series, Survivor Diaries.
The Parker Inheritance
4th-6th grade. Historical Fiction, Mystery. When Candice finds a letter hidden in her grandmother’s house, she is drawn into a mystery with a hidden fortune waiting at the end. Puzzle fans will be captivated by this intriguing summer adventure, and it does not shy away from difficult themes of racism and family history. Candice and her new friend Brandon, both earnest, likable kids, use their reasoning and research skills to discover the secrets hidden in the town of Lambert, South Carolina. The novel flashes back and forth between present day and the past, where the reader gets a glimpse of the injustices endured by African Americans in the community. The characters are believable, and the mystery will keep readers dying to know what happens next.
You Go First
3rd-7th grade. Realistic Fiction. Ben and Charlotte have never met in person, but they have one thing that ties them together: their love of online scrabble. Soon, though, they find that they have much more in common than their pleasure in crafting the perfect word, and they develop a long distance friendship that goes beyond an online game. This story sensitively explores themes of friendship, divorce, illness and bullying. Readers will enjoy switching between the perspectives of the two main characters. The tone is delightfully awkward, realistically portraying the hopes and worries of middle schoolers. Gently funny and touching, You Go First is a unique story of friendship and navigating tough situations.
2nd-5th grade. Realistic Fiction. Zayd has two big goals: bulk up to sixty pounds and make the gold team so he can play basketball with his best friend, Adam. He has two big problems: he always seems to have a tummy ache, and his parents think he’s at violin practice when he’s really playing basketball. Meanwhile, his favorite fun uncle is thinking of getting married. Zayd has a lot of work to do if he is going to hone his skills on the court, convince his parents that he has found his true passion and help his uncle find things to talk about with his potential bride. The opener of the Chasing the Dream series, this book is rich with details about Zayd’s life with his close-knit Pakistani American family, as well as his time on the basketball court. Fans of sports books will look forward to more titles in this sports series.
Out Of Left Field
3rd-7th grade. Historical Fiction. Everyone knows that Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in her Berkeley, California neighborhood. But, it’s 1957 and the official word from Little League is that she can’t play on her local team because she is a girl. Baseball is for boys only. Unwilling to take their word for it, Katy sets out to find examples of female ball players. Through trips to the library, a letter writing campaign and interviews with women she finds in her own city, Katy discovers the secret, true history of women in baseball. This book shines a light on real life marginalized ball players from the All-American Girls Baseball League created during World War II, to the women who played in the Negro Leagues in the 1940s and 1950s, back to the earliest days of organized baseball. Rich historical details are grounded by strong, likeable characters and a finely realised setting. Readers will empathize with Katy’s frustration and share her excitement with each new historical discovery in this engaging companion to Klages earlier novels, The Green Glass Sea (2006) and White Sands, Red Menace (2008).
The Season Of Styx Malone
3rd-7th grade. Realistic Fiction. One summer and one person change everything. That’s what happens in this heartwarming story of African American boys coming of age in small town Indiana. Brothers Bobby Gene and Caleb have just lucked into a stash of exciting (and illicit) fireworks and are wondering what to do with them when Styx Malone comes into their lives. Styx is a little older, a little wiser and has charm in spades. He persuades the brothers to attempt an “escalator trade,” trading up for things of increasing value until they can trade for the shiny moped on display in the local hardware store. Over the course of one momentous summer, the inchoate dreams of Styx, Bobby Gene and Caleb come into focus. “I don’t want to be ordinary. I want to be…the other thing,” says Caleb, and this summer, he just might brush the extraordinary. All three boys are filled with the yearning and curiosity that are common to many adolescents. This is a bright, sweet paean to Black boyhood.
The Miscalculations Of Lightning Girl
4th-6th grade. Realistic Fiction. Twelve-year-old Lucy Callahan was not born a genius, but when she was struck by lightning four years ago, it burned a little hole in her skull. The lightning strike rewired her brain and turned her into a math savant. She can calculate a person’s age down to the hour at the drop of a hat and recite hundreds of digits of pi, but because she has obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, she struggles even to leave her house. Now, her grandma won’t let her apply to college until she attends one year of middle school at the public school and makes one friend. Readers will fall in love with Lucy, and will be wiping tears from their eyes toward the end of the book. This sweet story is filled with threedimensional characters and has a unique STEM spin, explaining math concepts in clever ways. This book is an excellent choice for leisure reading or classroom use.
A Dash Of Trouble
3rd-6th grade. Fantasy. Eleven-year-old Leonora really wants to be allowed to join her older sisters helping out in the family bakery—even more so when she realizes it’s a front for witchcraft! Leo comes from a long line of brujas, and she can’t wait to figure out the form her magic will take. She is supposed to wait until she’s 15, but that is clearly a silly rule. She tries in secret to use magic to help her best friend use a love charm on the boy next door, but makes a mistake that can’t stay hidden for long. Recipes in the family’s magical cookbook are written in Spanish. Meriano’s debut novel, also the first in the Love Sugar Magic series, draws on her Mexican American background. Featuring complicated family dynamics and well-drawn, flawed but likeable characters, Leo’s story is sure to resonate with readers who are tired of being treated like a child.
Secret Sisters Of The Salty Sea
2nd-5th grade. Realistic Fiction. Sisters Alix and Jools are going on their first family vacation ever—a trip to the ocean. Some of their vacation experiences aren’t quite what the girls had imagined. It turns out this beach doesn’t have palm trees, and periwinkles are yucky snails that some people eat for dinner! The friendships the sisters develop with the landlady of the beach house rental and her granddaughter, as well as other kids they meet on the beach help make the vacation a success. The author has a stunning knack for putting readers inside a child’s mind—the worries about everyday happenings, the magical thinking that rises to the surface during moments of pure leisure, the earnestness about things that seem inconsequential to the rest of the world. Sweetly rendered black and white illustrations give the book a nostalgic feel. The perfect prelude to the Penderwicks series, this friendship story will find an appreciative audience with fans of gentler fiction.
Knights Vs. Dinosaurs
3rd-7th grade. Fantasy. The Knights of the Round Table are finding dragons hard to come by, but they enjoy spinning stories about them anyway—until the night Merlin has had enough of their bragging. Before they know it, he has sent them to a magical, time-traveling cave, and they find themselves fighting Terrible Lizards, also known as dinosaurs. Can the disparate group of knights stop squabbling long enough to stay alive? What is the silent Black Knight hiding under that helmet? This heavily illustrated time-travel adventure offers laughs, wish fulfillment and plenty of surprises. Fans of dinosaurs or Arthurian legends will enjoy the welldrawn characters and clever premise.
Big Foot And Little Foot
2nd-4th grade. Adventure. Hugo the Sasquatch longs for adventure in the Big Wide World. Hugo has never explored further than the woods because sasquatch life is mostly restricted to Widdershins Cavern. Sasquatches avoid humans at all costs. Until one day a present from a human boy opens possibilities for interspecies friendship. At heart, this is a charming book about friendships and how stepping outside one’s comfort zone is world-expanding. This book features cozy black and white illustrations making Big Foot and Little Foot perfect for fledgling readers seeking a straightforward, heart-warming adventure. The second book in the series, The Monster Detector, was released in September.
5th-6th grade. Realistic Fiction. Thirteen-year-old Sunny is a star on the Defenders’ junior olympic track team. There’s only one problem: Sunny doesn’t want to run—he wants to dance. Homeschooled by a loveable tutor, Sunny must face his past and confront his grief over his mother’s death, while discovering his love of dance and marching to his own drum. The strength of this book lies in Reynold’s finely developed characters, centered around oddball Sunny’s unconventional, musical voice. The third title in Jason Reynolds’ Track series (although each title is enjoyable as a stand alone), Sunny is a loving mix of laugh-out-loud funny and true heartbreak. Readers will find themselves considering themes of loss, privilege and staying true to oneself.
4th-8th grade. Magical Realism. Jerome, a 12-year-old Black boy, is shot and killed by a White police officer while playing in a park with a toy gun. From that moment on, he is a ghost, eyewitness to the anguish his death has caused in his family and community, and the confusion felt by the officer’s daughter. In short, nonlinear chapters, Jerome moves forward and backward in time, observing the events leading up to his death, witnessing his family’s grief and meeting other ghosts of young Black boys, including Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. Rhodes has given a voice to the voiceless in this examination of the causes and consequences of racism and violence. This heartbreaking and infuriating book told from the perspective of a young boy, is accessible to young readers, despite its difficult subject matter.
5th-6th grade. Realistic Fiction. Amal loves attending school and dreams of one day becoming a teacher in her small Punjabi village in Pakistan. A chance encounter with the son of her village’s corrupt and callous landlord, however, forces Amal into indentured servitude, and her dreams of education seem very far away. Still, even in the servants’ hall of the wealthy family’s house, Amal’s boundless spirit will not be cowed for long. Readers looking for strong, empathetic characters and a fully realized setting will enjoy the story of Amal as she learns that power does not come from money alone. Saeed has given us a complex tale of love, hope and learning. The author’s note champions real girls in Pakistan and around the world, who, like Amal, are fighting against inequality and injustice. She also notes that indentured servitude is a global issue that affects millions of people, including many in the U.S.
Just Like Jackie
3rd-7th grade. Realistic Fiction. Grandpa is the only family that Robinson has, and lately, he has been forgetting lots of stuff, like that he has to put his socks on before his shoes or which key to use for the front door. It is up to fifth grader Robbie to remind him. Just like her namesake, Jackie Robinson, she is trying to keep her cool. She has to keep her life with Grandpa afloat and not let a bully at school get to her. Otherwise, Robbie risks drawing attention to Grandpa’s memory loss. This book sensitively tackles issues surrounding race, identity and family. Readers will be moved by this emotional story of one family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and will admire Robbie’s independence and ferocity
Road Trip With Max And His Mom
1st-3rd grade. Realistic Fiction. Mom and Max are hitting the road to attend Great-Great-Aunt Vicky’s 100th birthday party. Traveling to Pennsylvania to hang out with family at Bronco Burt’s Wild Ride Amusement Park sounds fun, but Max is reluctant to leave his newly divorced dad alone. Max summons courage for the adventure ahead by pretending to be like Ernest Shackleton, the intrepid explorer and the inspiration for his recent speech at school. This standalone sequel to Weekends with Max and His Dad gently and sensibly tackles a child’s emotions about his parents’ divorce. In this generously illustrated early chapter book, Mom lovingly relates to Max and models positive adult-child interactions throughout the book. Young readers will easily relate to Max’s family s
3rd-6th grade. Animal Story. Toaff, a small squirrel living on a farm, is full of big questions: Who is in charge of the farm? What is on the other side of the road with the fast cars? Where is the best place to live? Sometimes Toaff wonders if he is the only squirrel with so many questions. When his family’s den is destroyed in a storm, Toaff strikes out on his own. Over the course of an eventful year, Toaff encounters other groups of gray squirrels, hostile red squirrels, mice, a friendly dog and even humans— and many different ideas about how the world works. Moments of peril are balanced with times of cozy safety as Toaff finds new dangers, along with new friends. Toaff is a three-dimensional character while still being recognizably a squirrel with squirrel thoughts and feelings. His search for meaning will enchant fans of animal stories, as well as anyone who has wondered about the world and their place in it.
4th-6th grade. Fantasy, Thriller. This retelling of Hansel and Gretel is a spine-chillingly horrific read. Alex’s love of all things scary often leaves him feeling like he just can’t fit in with all the other kids. He even spends his free time writing horror stories, a skill that comes in handy when he finds himself imprisoned by a witch. Trapped inside the apartment and forced to pen original scary stories, the stakes are high for Alex and the his new friend Yasmin. Alex’s short stories throughout the book are also well-done, sounding authentic for a talented writer and a kid obsessed with the dark arts. Especially great for fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events, this book is sure to be a winner with kids who are looking for their next scary read.