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
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 →
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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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.)