3 great middle-grade books for the new school year

Any of these three books would make a splendid start to the new school year for middle-grade students.

2. 'Mister Max and the Book of Lost Things,' by Cynthia Voigt

Maximilian Starling certainly can't be accused of living an ordinary life. As our story opens, his parents – actors, possessors of trunks filled with costumes and disguises – have embarked on a journey. Max had hoped to sail along on their mysterious adventure. But alas, things are not exactly what they seem in Mister Max and the Book of Lost Things, a fantastic new novel from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Voigt.

Not truly the adventurous sort, Max prefers art to acting. But that changes when he's left at the docks holding a vague note written on heavy vellum paper. Although his teacher-turned-librarian grandmother would like to tuck him under her wing, Max fears he'll be "bossed out of his own life and have no hope at all of independence." He'll stay alone in his own house and become a detective. Remember, he does have that trunk full of disguises. 

My hands-down favorite character is Pia, with her self-assigned role as assistant. As Max's sleuthing business picks up steam, she tries to define him, to give him an official name. Her one-sided conversations are endless: "How about Tracker? Or do you like Discoverer? I do – Mister Max the Discoverer. Or would the Un-coverer be better?" Although Max admits that "Pia really got under his skin. Up his nose. On his nerves," eventually he warms to her.

A perfect read-aloud, the story will appeal to fans of fantasy, adventure, mystery, and humor. And good news! This is Book 1 of a proposed trilogy. Let's hope the relentless Pia continues to aggravate and delight Max along with all the rest of us.

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