Quarantine-reading looks a little different for everyone. Whether you’re exclusively listening to audiobooks, reaching for feel-good fiction, or getting lost in a page-turning mystery, I hope you’ve found something that works for you.
I’ve heard from many readers who are turning to childhood favorites for comforting, easy reading right now, and I think that’s a great idea. Great Kid Lit is not only short, fun, and charming—it’s also focused on likable protagonists who face challenges and solve problems, often with the support of their family and friends.
Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite novels—my favorite middle grade novels, that is—that can work for readers in all kinds of different life circumstances right now. These novels can obviously be enjoyed by kids in the target audience, which for middle grade is generally about 8 to 12 years old. They can work for parents looking for books to read aloud with their middle grade kids, or who are seeking audiobooks the whole family can listen to together. And they can also work for grown-ups, reading on their own, for pleasure, because these are great books.
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.) 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. I MUST especially recommend the new 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. More info →
Four unique orphaned children come together through a series of tests, for which they found an advertisement in the newspaper offering "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Scores of children respond to this newspaper ad, but only four are chosen to save the world. The circumstances of the tests are quite mysterious, and they lead the children to come under the guidance of Mr. Benedict, a strange and fascinating man who offers them a part in a most important mission: saving the world from a dark and dangerous man and his sinister plan. The children are each brilliant in their own right and the adventures they embark on are full of danger, nefarious villains, and thought-provoking puzzles. Smart and fun and a thoroughly good read, for children (and adults). More info →
This middle grade novel has a bit of Hogwarts magic to it: every Tuesday, Castle Glower rearranges itself, growing a new room or adding a new hallway. The royal family is accustomed to its eccentricities. When disaster strikes, Princess Celie and her siblings team up to save the day. One of my 12 terrific books for tween girls. But it's great for adults, too! Their pranks will make you giggle even as the story deals with serious themes like grief and fear. 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, especially as narrated by the talented Tara Sands. More info →
Pick this one up on audio! All you need to know is this story is fantastic, and it absolutely comes alive when read by the author herself. 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. 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. More info →
In the summer of 1968, Delphine and her younger sisters journey to Oakland, California. They plan to spend the summer vacation with their mother, who abandoned their family years earlier. When the girls arrive, they find a mother who is radically different from the one they've imagined. Seemingly annoyed by their presence, Delphine's mother wants to send them off to a Black Panthers summer camp. From School Library Journal: "Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading." More info →
If you love fairytales, you MUST read this Newbery winner. Every year, the people leave a baby in the forest as an offering to the witch who lives there. They don't realize that the witch is actually sweet and gentle, and along with her swamp monster Glerk and tiny dragon Fyrian, she cares for the most recent baby to cross her path. A tale of magic, grief, and love—charming and well-told. The lovely audiobook narration lends itself well to rereading. More info →
This series has been captivating readers for over a century, and it's one of my personal favorites. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island decide to adopt an orphaned boy to help them on their farm, but 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. For those who already know and love Anne Shirley, I highly recommend the version narrated by Rachel McAdams as a wonderful way to revisit an old favorite. More info →
This WW2 adventure will appeal to fans of historical fiction and underdog stories, and it makes an appearance in Volume IV Book 4 of One Great Book. Nine-year-old Ada has never been allowed to leave her family’s small apartment. Her foot is twisted and her mother is too ashamed of the physical impairment to let Ada out in public. When the war arrives in London, Ada's little brother is put on a train to safety and Ada makes a daring escape to join him. Out in the countryside, a woman named Susan begrudgingly takes the children into her home. There, Ada learns to read, ride a horse, wiggle her way into Susan’s heart. Readers will be riveted by the danger, daring, and risks that both Ada and Susan take to discover true belonging and a place to call home. More info →
Don't let the winter setting dissuade you from reading this delightful series at any time of year. It’s just a few days before Christmas when the five Vanderbeeker children find out their landlord will not renew the lease on their Harlem brownstone apartment. The thought of leaving the home (and neighborhood) that they love puts a damper on their Christmas spirit, but the siblings come together with a plan: convince their Scrooge-like landlord to let the family stay. A perfectly heartwarming middle grade novel with diverse characters and a charming setting. Don't miss the more season-appropriate sequel, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. More info →
The Penderwicks follows four sisters as they roam the gardens, attics, and have adventures with a very interesting boy named Jeffrey on a sprawling estate in Massachusetts. 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. 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. More info →
Claudia Kincaid is bored with her suburban life, so she convinces her little brother Jamie to run away with her to nearby New York City. She’s carefully chosen a hideaway that is comfortable, beautiful, and elegant: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once they’re set up in the museum, Claudia finds herself transfixed by a statue—and the mystery behind it—and her fascination leads the two children on an incredible adventure. Kongisburg took her inspiration from her own children; if they ever ran away she figured they would "never consider any place less elegant than the Metropolitan Museum of Art." A Newbery Medal winner in 1968. More info →
When an overprotected ten-year-old stumbles upon a boy her age drinking furtively from a spring near her home, she discovers what he's trying to keep secret: since his family began drinking the water, they haven't aged a day. There are so many middle grade stories that wrestle with death these days; in this novel, Babbit wrestles with the decidedly mixed blessing of living forever. Rereading this one as an adult is especially illuminating, and the prose is really lovely (which is not a code word for boring). More info →
Do YOU have a favorite middle grade novel to share with readers of all ages? Please tell us all about it in comment!