5 Stories of Adventure & Change

Sometimes adventure comes in the form of epic fantasy quests – but sometimes, it’s trying something new, making a goal happen, meeting someone new, or moving to a new neighborhood. Here are five wonderful picks perfect for summer reading for those who like their adventures on the realistic side.

Stories of Adventure & Change: 5 contemporary middle grade picks.  Includes covers of the Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung, Stand up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim, The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert, Ways to Grow Love by Renee Watson, and Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung. Levine Querido, 2020. ISBN 978-1646140114. Read from library copy. Audiobook available on Libby.

Matt (Korean-American) and Eric (white) have been friends since fourth grade.  Now they’re in middle school, and Matt has switched from playing flute, which he loved, to percussion, so he could sit near Eric in the back.  But Eric is going to be moving away at the end of the school year, and the boys come up with an elaborate plan to escape from the band competition at an amusement park to the comic con taking place at the same time nearby, where their favorite author will be signing his books.  

That plan is convoluted and precarious enough to be highly entertaining on its own, but the book is filled with so much more.  There are bullies who frustrate Matt and Eric by calling them gay as an insult – they aren’t gay, but there’s nothing wrong with being gay – and the bullies have secrets that keep them from being one-dimensional.  Matt’s parents are hippy, Unitarian Universalists who talk about mansplaining and social justice while eating kale and quinoa (guilty as charged!) This is a delightful and rare story that celebrates geekiness and male friendship. 

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim. Kokila, March 2020. ISBN 978-0525554974. Read from library copy. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby. 

Yumi lives in Los Angeles under the shadow of her big sister Yuri, a successful med school student.  Yumi’s expected to do the same, but she struggles at private school and secretly longs to study comedy, like her favorite young YouTube comedian Jasmine Jasper.  Yumi is also stressed about her family’s failing Korean barbeque restaurant.  Even though her parents are spending money they can’t afford to send her to hagwon – an expensive tutoring school – Yumi sneaks into a comedy summer camp for kids her age that’s happening close to the public library, where she’s supposed to be studying her algebra.  There she finds that another Asian student hasn’t shown up, and Yumi is able to take her place.  The summer camp is great – she makes good friends with two of the kids she meets there and improves her comedy skills.  But what will happen when all her lies come crashing down around her?  This is both hilarious and heartfelt, and should resonate with kids who dream of YouTube success.  

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. Little, Brown, 2020. ISBN 978-0316456388. Read from library copy.

Alberta – Al – is a surfer girl growing up with her two dads in a mostly white California beach/tourist town. So far, she’s hung out with  fellow surfer Oliver Guzman and her BFF Laramie, and is tormented by fellow surfer girl Nicolette, who’s always saying that Alberta’s surfing awards aren’t earned and who unhappily lives right across the street.  Now, though, Laramie has inexplicably started spending more time with Nicolette than with Al.  So when a new girl who’s also Black moves into the B&B on the corner, Al is really hopeful that she might be a new friend.  Edie, though, is a black-clad New York City girl who feels way too cool for Al.  More change comes in the form of Al’s bio-mom, a good friend of her dads, coming to stay for a few months.  Into all this comes a mystery, as Edie and Al discover forgotten journals in the attic of the B&B and start to uncover a mystery about the previous owner.  In the process, both girls learn about what it means to be Black and how to fight society’s weird assumptions.  

Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson. Bloomsbury, 2021. ISBN 9781547600588. Read from library copy. 

It’s the summer after fifth grade for Ryan Hart, and all the normal summer plans have been canceled due to her mom’s pregnancy.  There are not even enough library books to keep her occupied! Short, funny story arcs link together to form an album of summer memories – beating the boys at water balloon fight, getting up in the middle of the night and eating all the pickles in the house; the excitement of overnight church camp tempered with the unpleasantness of Ryan’s best friend Amanda inviting mean girl Red into their cabin, and the joys of picking out a name for her new baby sister.  This is just delicious, and would make a great family read-aloud or a book for advanced younger readers as well as for kids around the fourth and fifth grades.  

Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022. ISBN 9780593379899. Read from library copy. 

Bo has lived alone with her mother in an apartment for as long as she can remember.  She hates school, but outside of that, she loves baking with her mother and babysitting for her young neighbor Dougie. 

Everything  changes when her mother remarries and moves both of them in with her new husband, Bill, who lives in a large brownstone with another family (Bill uses wheelchair.)  Bill has a daughter the same age as Bo, Sunday.  The other family has twin girls, Lee and Lil, also the same age. All the kids are “free schooling” and the household includes a menagerie of animals, including a dog, cats, a turtle, a bearded dragon, and a couple of chickens.  And while all of this is exciting and the other girls are eager to welcome Bo to their sisterhood, it’s also a lot for an introverted girl used to having her mother to herself.  Even as older dreams seem impossible, Bo pushes herself to start a new project with her sisters: organizing a block party that will celebrate Mum and Bill’s wedding (since they couldn’t afford a ceremony), hopefully help the neighborhood warm up to their rowdy household – and possibly even showcase the band the girls are putting together (even if the band is partly just to keep an old neighbor lady from complaining every time they practice different songs at the same time.)  

This story hearkens back to classic stories of large families, from All-of-a-Kind Family to the Penderwicks, while adding a refreshing Harlem setting, a modern blended family, and a celebration of Black history, culture and joy.  I loved every minute of it.  (And I loved that The Boys in the Back Row had a character reading Rhuday-Perkovich’s earlier book Two Naomis, while one of the girls here reads The Boys in the Back Row.)

Have you read any of these? Are there any you’d add to this list?

About Katy K.

I'm a librarian and book worm who believes that children and adults deserve great books to read.
This entry was posted in Lists, Middle Grade, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s