Readers, I have a few book-related holidays on my calendar: at the end of April, we celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, and June is the month of audiobooks. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered so many readers participate in Middle Grade March, a festive month dedicated to reading novels for kids ages 8-12.
Middle grade books are generally shorter (meant for a ten-year-old’s attention span)—and that’s what many of us need in our reading lives right now. Aside from the satisfaction of finishing a book in one sitting, middle grade novels offer heaps of comfort, hope, and joy. They’re known for tackling tough subjects with a light touch, and are often witty, funny, and endearing.
To stock your shelves for Middle Grade March, Afoma Umesi is one of my favorite recommenders. She and I talked about our affinity for middle grade books in WSIRN Ep 249: Who would read the dictionary for fun? (we would). Afoma has a fabulous blog where she regularly reviews middle grade and YA books—it’s a must-read if you have young readers or if you’re looking for middle grade recommendations.
Today, I’m sharing a few of my recent middle grade reads, some longtime favorites, plus a bunch of titles you’ve recommended I pick up. I’ve included a mix of graphic novels, realistic fiction and fantasy, plus a ton of titles that are amazing on audio.
My family started passing this book around several weeks ago, and everyone has loved it. In her graphic memoir, Cece Bell tells the story of her own childhood, when a case of meningitis at age 4 left her unable to hear. She was promptly fitted with a hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, which allows her to hear her teacher even when her teacher is in another part of the school. The other kids think it's pretty cool—it's even like a superpower! But as Cece puts it, "Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different. And being different feels a lot like being alone." A wonderful, touching story; don't miss the afterword from the author. More info →
Young Jane Brannen dreams of becoming a famous author someday, just like her idol Jane Austen. So when bestselling author J. E. Fairfax comes to Whickett Harbor, Jane thinks it's the perfect opportunity to learn her secrets to literary success. But then a hurricane rolls through, and Jane misses her chance, instead getting thrown together with the author's snobby, science-geek son. And in addition to an exceptionally annoying boy, the storm blows in bad news for Jane's future: her mother has filed for custody and intends to bring Jane back to California with her. Jane doesn't want to leave her beloved small town, so she sets her sights on finding the perfect match for her father and proving to her mother that Whickett Harbor is where she's meant to be. Full of Austen-isms and a lot of heart, this middle grade novel is a delightful one-sitting read. More info →
I was happy to recommend this new Jaqueline Woodson novel for Afoma Umesi's TBR. Black preteen ZJ has always had a strong relationship with his father, a football star who's a living legend and fan favorite. But ZJ and his mom have been struggling lately, trying to make sense of his dad's increasingly erratic behavior. The doctors suspect the many concussions he's suffered over the years are the culprit, but they don't know what to do about it. Woodson doesn't sugarcoat the suffering, but a drumbeat of hope and resilience anchors ZJ's story. I listened to the audiobook narration by Guy Lockard: the story was AMAZING in his voice, and delivered a wholly satisfying story. Funny thing: my 11-year-old is starting this book TODAY—I was thrilled when he announced it's the next book club selection for his fifth grade class. More info →
There's so much to love about Loot—jewel heists, kid criminals, master schemes. It also boasts short chapters with page-turning cliff-hangers and hilarious dialogue that keep kids reading. March McQuinn's dad is a world-renowned jewel thief who leaves him with a mission before he dies: "find jewels." Except he doesn't mean diamonds and rubies; he means March's secret twin sister Jules. As soon as they find each other, March and Jules are thrown in an orphanage—but they don't intend to stick around. With their criminal know-how and inherited heist skills, the twins break out to live a rich life on the run. I recommended this one on episode 257 of WSIRN as a crowd-pleasing middle grade series. More info →
The latest release from the author of Counting by 7s (one of my daughter's favorite books) about family separation and the healing power of animals. Sila misses her mother, who flew to Turkey last year to secure immigration papers for her family. Meanwhile in Oregon, Sila and her mechanic father come across a grandfatherly man who recently won the lottery. Their unlikely friendship leads to a rescue mission; a circus elephant named Veda needs their help. Along the way, Sila meets a young boy and discovers that friends can help ease a lonely heart. Told with heart and humor, this book is like a warm hug. More info →
My kids LOVE Ponti's City Spies series. I'll be picking up the newest installment from our local bookstore soon, and I'm sure at least two kids will read it within a day. The series features a group of young MI6 agents whose special skills, combined with their unassuming ages, allow them to complete missions that adult spies simply can't. In this second book, fourteen-year-old surfer and field ops specialist Sydney finds herself in an undercover mission gone awry. While Sydney untangles herself, the rest of the spies get wrapped up in an investigation where they are also under suspicion, spurring them to go rogue and uncover double agents in their midst. I have a feeling I'll also enjoy this page-turner on a Saturday afternoon. More info →
I probably wasn't old enough to appreciate this instant classic when I first read it as a child, but that didn't stop me. (Thank goodness. It delights me to this day!) 10-year-old Milo comes home from school one day to find a tollbooth sitting in his bedroom. Since he doesn't have anything better to do, he pays the toll and drives through–and embarks on a strange journey into a fanciful world where he encounters all sorts of strange characters. A satisfying and delightfully nerdy book that will engage both kids and adults, albeit on different levels. And I MUST recommend the recent audio version narrated by Rainn Wilson. More info →
L'Engle begins her groundbreaking work with the famous opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and plunges you headlong into the world of the Murray family, who must travel through time to save the universe. When I read this as a kid, I wanted to be Meg, of course. Wrinkle is the first—and most famous—of the Time Quintet, but I read them all, again and again. This Newbery winner bridges science fiction and fantasy, darkness and light; L'Engle herself hated when readers tried to shoehorn it into a specific genre. The whole series makes for a great family read-aloud. More info →
In this memoir in verse, Woodson tells the story of her childhood, moving with her family (or part of it) from South Carolina to New York City and back again, sharing her observations through a young girl's eyes with a writer's sensibility. Poignant and resonant for readers of all ages. This story is fantastic, and it absolutely comes alive when read by the author herself. If you've never given novels-in-verse a chance (or if you love the poetic form), pick this one up on audio! More info →
My family listened to this Newbery-winning novel in verse and LOVED it, after Caroline Starr Rose raved about it on Episode 14 of What Should I Read Next. A heads up to those who think they aren't poetry types: when read aloud, this story doesn't sound "poetic." It just sounds awesome. This coming-of-age story revolves around two twin boys, both basketball stars, raised by an ex-NBA star, and the plot features plenty of action on and off the court. You don't need to enjoy or even know anything about basketball in order to get swept away by the rhythm of Alexander's poetry. More info →
I spoke with Kate DiCamillo about her love for this book on episode 213 of WSIRN. In this modern classic, 10-year-old Kenny and his family head south from their home in Flint, Michigan to visit Grandma in Birmingham—right as the church bombings are about to happen. This award-winning middle grade novel has both humor and depth, and heads up: LeVar Burton excels at highlighting the funny and the tragic with his excellent narration in the audio version. More info →
“Nothing ever seems impossible in spring, you know.” Anne Shirley has a well-documented and recurring case of spring fever, making this the perfect Middle Grade March read (or re-read). Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island, Canada decide to adopt an orphaned boy to help them on their farm. Their messenger mistakenly delivers a girl to Green Gables instead—an 11-year-old feisty redhead named Anne Shirley. She brings compassion, kindness, and beauty wherever she goes; she's a hopeless romantic, committed to her ideals, and guided by pure intentions—though that doesn't keep her from completely upending Marilla and Matthew's quiet life. More info →
A lighthearted, funny, much-loved adventure story from songwriter Andrew Peterson. This quartet kicks off with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, where we meet the three Igiby children and their trusty dog Nugget as they set out on their epic adventure. Quirky and captivating, this series will have kids (of all ages) smiling and laughing … and turning the pages as fast as they can. This is a favorite middle grade read and read-aloud. More info →
I adore Gary Schmidt, as do two of my kids. My son has read this over and over again. This is one of his most beloved works—a historical novel that revolves around middle school drama, the New York Yankees, and the Vietnam War, as seen through the eyes of seventh grader Holling Hoodhood. Funny and poignant, it's perfect for fans of E.L. Konigsburg. Adults will get just as much joy out of reading this Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel about courage, destiny, and Shakespeare’s legacy. Janssen Bradshaw picked this as one of her favorites in her episode of What Should I Read Next; go straight to the 13:17 mark of that episode to hear her describe why this is her favorite book of all time. More info →
It's hard to go wrong with any Kate DiCamillo book; this Newbery Award winner is a good place to start. Flora is a girl addicted to the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!; Ulysses is the squirrel who needs saving. Endearing, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny. Don't miss WSIRN Ep. 213: Art, fear, and discovering great books, with the delightful DiCamillo herself. I heard that this was recently adapted into a Disney movie, and I might have to put it on our family movie night list. Have you seen it yet? More info →
This moving middle grade Newbery winner is based on the true story of a gorilla who spent nearly 30 years living in captivity in a mall in Washington state. In Applegate's novel, Ivan the gorilla lives at the Exit 8 Bigtop Mall and Video Arcade with his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But then Ruby, a new baby elephant, comes to join them at the mall after being forcibly removed from her family, and Ivan is forced to confront what it really means to be captive, and how he can save Ruby. Get your Kleenex ready for this one. More info →
A well-loved favorite, Max LeMoine mentioned this magical middle grade novel in WSIRN Ep. 262: Books that deliver a little depth, a little distraction. Born on Eventide, the unluckiest day of them all, Morrigan Crow is cursed. Her community blames her for every mishap, accident, and misfortune, and because of the curse, she is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. Before Morrigan succumbs to her fate, a strange figure whisks her away to a magical city. Jupiter North, a remarkable man, has chosen her to compete for a place in the Wundrous Society, a prestigious organization for talented children. Morrigan must pass the tests in order to stay in the new city and avoid the curse. More info →
Erin Entrada Kelly writes realistic middle grade fiction with a whole lot of heart. Her recent release takes place in 1986, as three siblings await the launch of The Challenger space shuttle. Cash loves basketball and girls, and he's barely passing seventh grade. Fitch plays arcade games and struggles to get a grasp on his big temper while his twin Bird harbors dreams of being NASA's first female shuttle pilot. Despite their stark differences, the Nelson Thomas kids stick together under tense circumstances, especially on the day of the shuttle launch. Character-driven and down-to-earth, this novel explores difficult family dynamics and the important impact of a great teacher. More info →
A 2021 Newbery Award Winner about finding your voice. To help with her care, Lily and her family move in with Halmoni, her sick grandmother. When a tiger arrives right out of a Korean folktale, Lily is sent on a journey to discover her family's secret past. It turns out, the tiger is there to get something back—and it's prepared to make a deal with Lily in exchange for her grandmother's health. Weaving Korean folktales with modern middle grade magic, Keller's novel explores family, identity, and courage. (And isn't that cover gorgeous?). More info →
Flora and Julian have been in so many foster homes, they're convinced that they weren't born—they must have appeared out of nowhere. Now they're adopted, but Flora can't quite grasp the idea of a forever family. Along with their new mother, Flora and Julian journey to the past to discover where they came from. Slowly, they start to heal and feel safe. Flora and her brother exhibit signs of trauma, which makes for a heartbreaking read, but Carter's prose is beautiful and tender. This book depicts real, harsh aspects of the foster care system; be mindful if you have sensitive young readers. More info →
MMD team member Donna raves about this middle grade graphic novel! My kids love all things Marvel, so I need to get ahold of this one ASAP. Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, pens the story of Shuri, sister to T'Challa the Black Panther and superhero in her own right. In addition to being a science and tech genius, Shuri is also just a teenager (well, and a princess). In this story, it's her turn to save Wakanda from the latest threat: something is killing the vital Heart-Shaped Herb, an essential crop. Shuri's passion for science is contagious, and Stone shares plenty of her signature humor in these pages. More info →
Have you read any great middle grade books lately? Tell us in the comments.