12 middle grade novels that unfold over summer break

A stack of attention-grabbing and emotionally resonant middle grade novels, perfect for summer break or any time of year.

Readers, something I especially enjoy about my work is that it leads me to explore all kinds of different books and genres. The past several years, as I’ve been working on My Reading Adventures: A Book Journal for Kids, I’ve had a wonderful “excuse” to explore all sorts of middle grade literature.

It’s not that I’m a stranger to the genre. As an adult reader, I find middle grade stories incredibly satisfying, especially right now: they’re attention-grabbing, emotionally resonant, and problems are typically resolved in a satisfying manner by the final page. And I can’t sit down and read a stack of adult novels in an afternoon, but I can have that thrilling experience thanks to the shorter page counts of middle grade books.

Today, with my publisher’s permission, I’m sharing one of the 20+ book lists for 8- to 12-year-old readers found in the pages of My Reading Adventures: A Book Journal for Kids. It’s the beginning of summer vacation for many young readers, and so today we wanted to share this list of “summer break books”—books that unfold over the course of a single summer (sometimes over the course of a single day!), portraying stories that could never happen were school in session. These books are perfect for kids (or grown-ups!) to read while they’re also out of school, but if you don’t finish your chosen reads by the first day of school, no worries! These stories make excellent reading anytime you need a break.

The good news is this collection of summer break books is a special preview. We know how hard it can be to find lots of good books for middle grade readers, and so we wanted to supply young book lovers—and their parents—with LOTS of options in this book journal! The pages of My Reading Adventures are packed with curated book lists and more fun activities for young readers.

The journal comes out on August 2. Preorder now to take advantage of our fun preorder bonuses:

• A set of custom stickers your child can use in their journal (while supplies last) that come in the actual mail!
• An exclusive book list featuring my family’s favorite middle grade series
• A free downloadable guide for parents on how to encourage their child’s reading habits

Just preorder from your favorite retailer and visit this page to fill out the form and claim your preorder extras. 

Get your copy:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Bookshop
Books-A-Million
Christianbook
Book Depository
Carmichael’s Bookstore

Don’t forget about your local indie! You can preorder your copy wherever books are sold.

I hope you’re interested in My Reading Life: A Book Journal for the young readers in your life. And I hope you find a great book for yourself or the young reader in your life on today’s book list.

12 middle grade novels set during summer break

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One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

This Newbery Honor Book is worth reading again and again. It's the summer of 1968, and Delphine and her younger sisters are on a journey in more ways than one as they leave home in Brooklyn and set out to visit their estranged mother in California. When the girls arrive, they find a mother who is radically different from how they imagined she would now be like. Unenthusiastic about seeing them and seemingly annoyed by their presence, she sends them off to a Black Panthers summer camp to get them out of her hair. This is the story of a young girl trying to make sense of the world (and family) around her, forced to grow up too fast to cope with the difficult circumstances she finds herself in, set against the backdrop of the civil and political unrest of 1968 Oakland. If you enjoy this story, don't miss the rest of the Gaither Sisters trilogy. More info →
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Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up

My tween readers ADORED this semi-autobiographical graphic novel (and sequels); the lovable cast of characters made it a standout in their books. When we meet Sunny in the early pages, we know her summer is not turning out as planned: instead of the much-anticipated vacation she was to take with her best friend, she's taking a solo trip to a Florida retirement community to spend the summer with her grandfather. In skillful and sensitively-drawn flashbacks, we learn both why Sunny came to Florida and why she seems so shellshocked: her family is dealing with her brother's drug and alcohol addiction, and they've sent Sunny away while they get him the help he needs. Because is a story about growing up in the unsupervised 70's, older readers will enjoy a dose of nostalgia and younger readers will gain a glimpse into what childhood might have been like back then. More info →
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The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

Author:

This is a contemporary novel but it feels like it could have been written fifty years ago, and is often recommended to fans of Louisa May Alcott, Noel Streatfeild, and Edward Eager. Four sisters spend their summer holiday at a beautiful estate called Arundel, where they have adventures of all kinds (and a few mishaps, of course). The sisters range from ages 4-12, making this a great series to read aloud with the whole family. Each of the four sisters typifies a character trait, often drawing comparisons to the March sisters. Each book takes place in a different part of New England, and the Penderwicks timeless adventures bring about a sense of nostalgia. First in a quartet, The Penderwicks follows the four sisters as they roam the gardens, attics, and have adventures with a very interesting boy named Jeffrey on a sprawling estate in Massachusetts. With five books in the series, there’s plenty of sweet childhood scenes to endear readers. Four of the books are available as a box set.

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To Night Owl From Dogfish

To Night Owl From Dogfish

This collaboration between two successful authors—one who primarily writes for kids, the other for grown-ups—features two twelve-year old girls living on opposite coasts who strike up an unwanted correspondence after they discover their single fathers fell in love at a building conference and are now dating. This relationship is not good news to either of them, as they make clear in the ensuing emails that comprise the book. Their situation goes from bad to worse when their fathers force them to attend the same summer camp, hoping they’ll become friends. Things go horribly wrong in more ways than one, but there's not a page here that doesn’t feel fresh, funny, charming, and real. A big-hearted story for readers of all ages.  More info →
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The Line Tender

The Line Tender

Author:
This tender and introspective coming of age story addresses difficult themes in a sensitive and age appropriate way. After Lucy’s marine biologist mother died a few years prior, she and her father have been going through the motions, helped by their community. Then a Great White shark washes up on shore and she decides she should complete her mother’s research, as assisted by her friend Fred. It seems like the tide might finally be changing for Lucy—but then another tragedy strikes. A realistic and moving exploration of grief, anxiety, and finding a way forward. More info →
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Junonia

Junonia

Author:
I might have missed this quiet story had a children's bookseller not pressed it into my hands. (When I described my then 10-year-old's taste she said it would be perfect for her. Thank you, Square Books, Jr.!) Alice is looking forward to celebrating her tenth birthday as she and her family head back to their cottage on Sanibel Island, Florida for summer vacation. She anticipates the unwelcome ways this trip will be different from last year's and wonders whether she’ll finally find an elusive junonia shell. This contemplative book explores the way Alice navigates the changes in her world, from friends growing up and apart to those in the perplexing world of adults, all while holding on to her hopes for the perfect birthday party. It's not for kids who need action-packed plots but will be a wonderful fit for the right reader, young or old. More info →
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The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer: A Legendary Alston Boys Adventure

The Last Last-Day-Of-Summer: A Legendary Alston Boys Adventure

Author:
Meet 11-year-old cousins Otto and Sheed, local sleuths who come to the rescue of their Virginia town time and again. Summer is starting to wind down—and the specter of the first day of school looms—when Mr. Flux uses his magic camera to freeze time. It’s one thing to wish summer would last longer, it’s quite another when time stands still and no one in town can move. You won’t be able to stop yourself from rooting for the Legendary Alston Boys as they use their wits and enlist the help of their rivals in order to save their town once more. If you enjoy this book, check out the rest of the trilogy! Listen to Lamar Giles discuss his work on What Should I Read Next Ep 186: Finding the book that feels like it was written just for you. More info →
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Hour of the Bees

Hour of the Bees

Author:
Twelve-year-old Carol’s summer vacation isn’t turning out the way she wanted. Instead of enjoying pool parties and sleepovers with her friends, she’s helping her parents move her grandfather into a nursing home due to his dementia. It’s a rough adjustment at first, especially because her family members haven't always gotten along—which means she’s never met this prickly grandfather before. But Carol finds herself drawn to Grandpa Serge, and is mesmerized by his magical stories about a hundred year drought and what it will take to bring back the rain. A beautifully told tale of family and loss, with a dose of magical realism. More info →
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Chirp

Chirp

Author:
In this coming of age story from prolific middle grade author Messner, seventh grader and former gymnast Mia is dealing with more than enough. She's recovering from a broken arm, her family's move to Vermont, and a whole lot more that will soon be revealed. The change in scenery is just what she needs, in addition to spending time with her beloved grandmother. A cricket farm may be an unusual setting but it’s used to good effect as Mia and her new friends investigate the mystery of who might be out to destroy it. This powerful story has layers about finding your voice and bringing secrets out into the light. Readers will want to know that in this too-timely story Mia is healing after experiencing a coach's sexual abuse and its cascading ramifications. More info →
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Out of My Heart

Out of My Heart

Many readers of all ages first fell in love with Sharon Draper through her 2010 novel Out of My Mind; this new release takes place one year after those events but it stands fine on its own. Melody has cerebral palsy and, now that her horizons have been broadened, she’s on the hunt for a summer camp for kids with disabilities. She's longing for a getaway where she can hike, play, and make new friends. Now equipped with a Medi-talker, she's determined not to let anything stand in her way. But then reality sets in, and Melody finds it’s a little intimidating to go to camp where she knows no one and doesn’t have a support system in place. Thankfully, there’s a first time for everything—and Melody is about to discover how brave she can be. A heartwarming and life-affirming tale of resilience, the power of community, and summer fun. More info →
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Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Author:
In this sweet and inspiring story, four girls who didn't think they had anything in common come together to fight injustice and form a sisterhood in the process over the course of one unforgettable summer. When artist Lane, aspiring journalist Ofelia, bird-watcher Cat, and culinary-focused Aster form their own secret scout troop (winningly named "the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders") as an alternative to the entrenched society the Floras, they initially struggle to find common ground. But then Cat presents a mission that galvanizes the girls, and they begin working to change an outdated and harmful tradition still embraced by the Floras. A powerful and plotty tale of activism, cooperation, and friendship that reminds kids and grown-ups alike that it’s possible to make a difference right where you live. More info →
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Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer

Author:
Grown-ups, if you're nostalgic for the Encyclopedia Brown novels of your youth, this story is for you! In this adorable graphic novel, two ten-year-old girls who don't seem to have much in common are brought together by a common goal: to stay out of the boring summer camps their moms are threatening to send them to. They hatch a plan, and win over their moms: as long as they spend their days together, essentially supervising each other, they're allowed to spend their summer vacation days as they please. This means Jamila gets to shoot hoops at the local basketball court while Shirley does her own thing nearby. When a neighborhood boy asks for Shirley’s help in finding his missing gecko, Jamila learns Shirley is actually a pet detective! As Jamila comes along to help, she realizes she has some detective skills of her own—and a new partnership is born. But it’s not all smooth sailing and the girls will have to learn how to navigate what friendship really means. If you enjoy this story, pick up the sequel for more adventures. More info →
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Many commenters asked for middle grade recommendations featuring boy protagonists after this list was published so I asked my helpful followers on Instagram to weigh in. Here’s what they said. (Note: I have not vetted these titles, beyond verifying they have a boy protagonist and they’re set in summer. If you have any questions, please reach out to your fellow readers.)

P.S. A whole stack of middle grade books you can read in one weekend, 15 re-readable middle grade novels that adults will love, too, and 12 terrific books for tween girls.

12 middle grade novels that unfold over summer break

55 comments

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  1. Paula says:

    Wonderful list! May I add one more that I thought was excellent? Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman also unfolds over summer break, is full of found family and big topics but all of them done in that perfect gentle touch middle grade way.
    And congrats Anne on another book!

  2. Lauren says:

    Seems like a great list BUT, almost all main characters are girls- any ideas of books with boys as main characters to suggest for my 10 year old son (not that he can’t read about girl main characters, but would love a few boy options!)

    • CMia says:

      I agree, my son will read all of these but it would be nice if he could read about a boy coming of age also. They wrestle with a lot of change and feelings too.

    • Guest says:

      Had this same thought. GREAT list but so many books have girls as the main character and my 12 yr old son has an immediate meh reaction. I’ll get last day of summer for him, though, and my daughter enjoyed many of these when she was younger!

      • Kimiko says:

        Just to let you all know…The Penderwick series is definitely co-lead by a boy. The first book, introduces a boy who stays with them through the series. I highly recommend this series for boys and girls. It’s especially fun as a read aloud for the whole family. Swallows & Amazons by Arthur Ransome unfolds over summer break on an island in England. Boys and girls and adventure! We listened to this on audio and didn’t find the nautical terminology tedius, but friends who have read it in print have mentioned the sailing language was challenging.

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree. I must say I was a bit disappointed because of the lack of boy stories. Please consider adding a few to this list!

    • Helen says:

      I loved “Johnny Tremain” when I was about 12; it takes place during the American revolution, and Johnny is a great boy hero.

    • Carol says:

      Drums,Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. When I worked as a Para at my local school we would read through the Rebecca Caudill list. This was from years ago and still one of my all time favorites.

    • Lisa says:

      Here are a few summer books with boys as main characters:
      -The Liberation of Gabriel King by KL Going
      -Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away by Elizabeth Enright
      -Paperboy by Vince Vawter
      -The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald (I’m pretty sure much of these books take place during the summer!)
      -The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
      -Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
      -Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
      -The Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull (my daughter says the first 3 take place during the summer)

  3. Diana @bookoptimist says:

    I have many suggestions for boys with boy protagonists! My kids loved Pax and its sequel Pax: Journey Home by Sara Pennypacker. They also loved The Wild Robot and loved even more its sequel The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown. Wonder by RJ Palacio is a must-read, of course. And one of my favorites is Hello, Universe by Erin Kelly Entrada because the writing is so good!

  4. Diane says:

    “The Islanders” is the 1st in a summer series by Mary Alice Monroe for middle grades.
    The second book that just came out is The Islanders SEARCH FOR TREASURE.
    Diane

    • Sandi says:

      Yes to these! I read The Islanders with my 9 yr old son last summer and we just got the latest one, Search for Treasure to enjoy this summer. Highly recommend these summer adventure stories!

  5. Pat says:

    I completely agree with those looking for books with boys as the main characters. Although my grandsons, aged 8 and 11, would probably enjoy some of these, I doubt they would give them a chance.

  6. Aden says:

    Thank you all very much for the suggestions for boy protagonists. 11 of these 12 recommendations feature girls. The publishing world’s offerings for boys is slim in general so it’s challenging to find something that appeals to my sons.
    They definitely read less as a result. 🙁

  7. Kimberly says:

    “How to train your dragon” Cressida Cowell, and “Gregor the Overlander” Suzanne Collins, are both amazing series with boy protagonists that both genders can appreciate (my daughters and I have loved both series!) I would consider them middle grade books.

  8. cd says:

    Bluffton. Bluffton! (Young vaudevillian Buster Keaton spends summers in Michigan and is envied by a local boy. An extraordinary graphic novel by Matt Phelan.)

  9. Afig says:

    I agree as well. My son is an avid reader but there is definitely a lack in the choices out there for 11 year old boys as opposed to girls.

  10. elm says:

    Really appreciate all the suggestions for boys as I was thinking the same as I read through the list! I’ll add The Misadventures if the Family Fletcher as a great “boy” book (in the sequel they’re on summer vacation). My 9 & 7 year old loved it as a read-a-loud.

  11. Tina Rhodes says:

    A wonderful series for boys—especially to listen to on audible is the “How to Train Your Dragon” series. There are 12 books and the story is very different from the movies—but so, so good! I think each book in the series just gets better and the narrator is amazing! My 10 year old son (and 8 year old daughter) loved listening to them on summer car trips.

  12. Michele Talbott says:

    This list is great! Thank you! I would love to suggest also Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim. It is about an 11 year old girl and how she spends her summer at a comedy camp. It is super fun and sweet and the author is my friend!! She’s amazing! The book is sold at booksellers everywhere!

  13. Monique says:

    My son loves to read. He has loved lots of series (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Tale of Magic, Land of Stories, Fablehaven, Dragon Watch) – most have both boys & girls as the main characters. His absolute favorite was Eragon (more advanced.)

  14. Jenny says:

    My almost 12 year old son is hard to find books for. However, he just burned through the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series and is now doing the same with the MasterMinds series! Both have boy protagonists.

  15. Hilary says:

    Stuart Gibbs Space Case series is fantastic and features a 12 yo boy protagonist. He also writes the Spy School series and has a boy protag.

  16. Chris says:

    Other thoughts for boys but not following the summer theme—The Parker Inheritance, anything by Stuart Gibbs, Wings of Fire series, The Genius Files series, Because of Mr. Terupt series, and the Ghost track series by Jason Reynolds. And I agree about the Penderwicks, Family Fletcher, as well as adding the Vandebeekers.

  17. Mary says:

    For many years, my favorite summer reading books included the four novels of the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. The four books include The Saturdays, The Four Story Mistake, Then There Were Five (takes places during an idyllic summer) and Spiderweb for Two. The books tell the adventures of the four Melendy children: Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver. Although originally published in the 1940’s, the stories are timeless. They served as my introduction to the novel, at then tender age of 8! The Melendy’s were my imaginary family and greatly influenced how I raised my own children.
    Enright was awarded the Newbery Medal for Thimble Summer in 1939. She also wrote widely published short stories for adults. Henry Holt and Company issued a special edition of the 4 books in 2002, which I promptly purchased for my own library. They are well worth tracking down.

    • Gretchen S. says:

      Love Elizabeth Enright! Her books Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away follow the summer theme. The main characters are a boy and a girl, so should be good reading for all.

      • Mary says:

        Enright wrote to appeal to all children, of all ages! Sadly, my library did not have either of the books you mentioned, but I will track copies down for my grandchildren.

        I found a collection of her short stories, The Moment Before the Rain, in a used bookstore. Such a treasure.

  18. Alex says:

    Great suggestions! I’m a teacher, so these make for great recommendations for my students. I also enjoy reading them right alongside the kids!

  19. Lisa Ceddia says:

    “The Last Cuentista” is a great middle grade read- something I don’t normally read but I love this book!

  20. Hildred Sullivan says:

    I would add Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen and Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies. Although they are older titles both take place during the summer (Lemonade War at the end of summer), feature boy protagonists, AND highlight why math is useful!

  21. Marie says:

    Jack Gantos’ Dead End in Norvelt has a boy main and takes place over the summer. The characters, young and very old, and plot had me roaring.

  22. Amy says:

    I love your lists! Thank you so much for always having so many great recommendations! I was wondering if you could possibly provide a simple list that would just be the book name and author and only take up one page that we could download and print out? I’m old school, I prefer a paper list to looking on my phone. (I love printing out your summer list!) Just a suggestion! Thanks for considering!

  23. Kim says:

    Thank you for this list Anne. My son is well beyond middle grade novels at this point, but did thoroughly enjoy Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and highly recommended it to me. I appreciate seeing a list of lots of female main characters in middle grade books because when I was growing up there were vey few. It didn’t stop me from reading though!

    • Elisabeth says:

      Yes — I am very happy to see so many female-led middle grade reads now, because the majority of what has been available in decades past was almost always centered around male characters. (Also did not stop me from reading; a good story is a good story, no matter if the main character is a boy or girl!)

  24. Rada Foote says:

    I used to read the Encyclopedia Brown mystery books by Donald J. Sobol when I was a kid, and liked them a lot. For more contemporary fair involving boy protagonists maybe try The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (book #1 of the Chaos Walking series). I would suggest it in print because they do something neat with the print version you would most likely miss just listening on audio.

  25. Loved AUGUST ISLE by Ali Standish!

    And Dusti Bowling is a wonderful middle grade author. Not sure if THE CANYON’S EDGE takes place in the summer, but ACROSS THE DESERT does. And 24 HOURS IN NOWHERE has a male protagonist.

  26. Sheila says:

    “Area 51 Interns: Alien Summer” by James Murray has both female and male leads and the Bearhaven series has a male lead – I don’t think they take place over the summer though.

  27. Carol C. Hinson says:

    These novels may have been recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy, and they have been popular with students: John Grisham’s middle grades Theodore Boone series of seven novels, and the Peak series by Roland Smith.

  28. I would add Lawn-Boy through Gary Paulsen and Lemonade War by means of Jacqueline Davies. Although they are older titles each takes vicinity all through the summer season (Lemonade War at the stop of summer), characteristic boy protagonists, AND spotlight on why math is useful!

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