Between the ages of eight and twelve we all start to discover what makes us unique individuals. We learn how to make new friends and hold onto the ones that are dear to us. We take our first steps into discovering where our place is in the world and how to change and control the few things that we can at that age.
I would argue that the best people in the world never stop doing these things. We should always be learning new things, discovering new facets of ourselves, working to improve and do all the things we first started to learn way back in second grade.
That is one of the reasons I love middle grade books. They are focused on that developmental stage and, while they are written to be appropriate for ages eight to twelve, I see so many benefits to reading them at any later age and stage. Middle grade books are uniquely full of hope and discovery. They lay down social rules. They give guidance on every topic under the sun. Some are hilarious. Some poignantly remind us that we are not alone. And they do it all in a relatively fast paced, character driven manner.
I have been writing frequently about how middle grade books have been a comfort to me during this extended shelter-in-place. As I continue to read more and more middle grade books I can’t help but compare them to my go-to favorite recommendations. If you are looking for a book that speaks to your inner child or you are stuck inside with a child that needs a good book, these are some of my favorites. Don’t forget to print out a copy of my Where Are the Parents? Book Bingo that is a great companion while reading these books.
These selections skew toward those books that fit my personal taste. I do so enjoy a happy ending. I love nothing more than to see people get what is coming to them (whether that be good or bad). All of these books have characters that I hold dear. Some of these books made me cry but none of these books are manipulatively sad. If you don’t enjoy these type of stories there are great compilations to be found at Afoma Umesi’s All My Beautiful Things, What We Do All Day. BookRiot even listed the best reviewed middle grade books from Goodreads.
Also, my list (and the others) pretty significantly leaves out catastrophe books. This is a sub-genre I was obsessed with between 2nd and 7th grade and shouldn’t be ignored. If you are this is the type of book your are seeking, the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis is an excellent place to start.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope. from Goodreads.
The One and Only Ivan is a book that I cannot resist hugging when I see a copy. This book highlights the lengths we will go to for a friend or to protect a vulnerable loved one. A quick read that captures the voice of Ivan so brilliantly. And, the new book The One and Only Bob comes out this month!
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making. from Goodreads.
When I finished this book I closed the cover, turned the book over, and and just smiled. When we think of World War II, the emphasis is on the large groups of people who either suffered or banded together to help. This book reminds us of the individual stories and the opportunities that can be found even in the darkest times. The second book The War I Finally Won is a perfect follow up.
Magic Series by Angie Sage
The first part of an enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells. Ages 9+.
The 7th son of the 7th son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son, Septimus?
The first part of this enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells, and a yearning to uncover the mystery at the heart of this story…who is Septimus Heap?
Angie Sage writes in the tradition of great British storytellers. Her inventive fantasy is filled with humor and heart: Magyk will have readers laughing and begging for more. from Goodreads.
This book is not just part of a seven book series, the author has extended the world into a new series that has three more books! I just loved the Heap family, the magic, the ghosts, and even the bad guy in these stories. It took me longer than it should have to realize that the words in bold, like magyk, are spell words. Actually, it was a fourth grader that clued me into this fact. I just wanted to live in this world and I find myself re-reading certain books in the series again and again.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo. from Goodreads.
This book recommendation gets me the most angry phone calls. Mid-way through the book nearly 100% of the people I have recommended this book to call me outraged that I have given them such a sad book. I’ll reassure you in advance, don’t stop reading! This is a book of tangible swelling joy but you must stick through to the end!
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Andrew Adam Gidwidz
1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together. from Goodreads.
I am Catholic and went to Catholic school straight through high school. Therefore, I take a childish delight in things that my elementary school teachers would have found blasphemous. The Holy Dog would certainly have gotten me in trouble so, of course, I had to read this book.
This piece of historical fiction weaves the different perspectives of what it was to be a girl, a Muslim, and a Jewish child during the 13th century. The friendship these three formed during their surprising adventures had me delighted right to the end of the book.
Wonderling by Mira Bartok
Have you been unexpectedly burdened by a recently orphaned or unclaimed creature? Worry not! We have just the solution for you!
Welcome to the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, an institution run by evil Miss Carbunkle, a cunning villainess who believes her terrified young charges exist only to serve and suffer. Part animal and part human, the groundlings toil in classroom and factory, forbidden to enjoy anything regular children have, most particularly singing and music. For the Wonderling, an innocent-hearted, one-eared, fox-like eleven-year-old with only a number rather than a proper name — a 13 etched on a medallion around his neck — it is the only home he has ever known.
But unexpected courage leads him to acquire the loyalty of a young bird groundling named Trinket, who gives the Home’s loneliest inhabitant two incredible gifts: a real name — Arthur, like the good king in the old stories — and a best friend. Using Trinket’s ingenious invention, the pair escape over the wall and embark on an adventure that will take them out into the wider world and ultimately down the path of sweet Arthur’s true destiny. from Goodreads.
Every single character in this book is a study “appearances can be deceiving.” And each of them reminded me that we are only limited by our own notion of what we can and cannot do in life. Sometimes it takes a friend seeing our potential to break us out of our self-made bonds.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz’s only hope is to learn from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her….from Goodreads.
This book is the one I recommend to everyone who has moved, wants to learn a new language, or study a new culture. This is because, at its core, that is what Roz must do when she finds herself the lone robot on the island of animals. The follow up book, The Wild Robot Escapes, took a slightly different turn and reminded us that no matter how far we go from home, family and friends will be there for us.
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.
Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken — Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good — powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most. from Goodreads.
The Fablehaven series is five books and, delightfully, Brandon Mull has restarted the adventures of Seth and Kendra in the Dragonwatch series which already has three books! This is the book I always recommend to those who are recovering from finishing their first beloved series and searching for something new to obsesses over.
Guts by Raina Telgemeier
Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?
Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears. from Goodreads.
This graphic novel had me nodding my head in agreement through the whole story. I went to pick this up at my local bookstore and ended up standing in the isle reading it cover to cover. I’ve read it a few more times since, graphic novels are great for that, and each time I am struck with how true the message is: stress and worry can make us sick. I will never forget making myself so sick in sixth grade because I hadn’t studied for a math test that I actually threw up! The author and I are two peas in a pod.
For so many people, stress likes to live in their gut. This book is perfect for the kid in you (or a kid in your life) that is struggling with the physical manifestations of stress and wondering whether they are alone.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?
This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way. from Goodreads.
In middle school the goal (for most people) is to fly under the radar. If you aren’t the same as everyone else the other kids are going to make your life miserable. I vividly remember being mercilessly picked on for my knock-off Keds so I cannot fathom having to attend school with the hearing aids of Cece’s youth. But middle school is also when so many of us learn that what makes us different is what makes us unique and that knowledge is pure power. El Deafo to the rescue!
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
A gripping and hilarious middle-grade summer camp memoir from the author of Anya’s Ghost.
All Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.
Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!
Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Cece Bell, and Victoria Jamieson, Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared is a funny and relatable middle-grade graphic novel about navigating your own culture, struggling to belong, and the value of true friendship. from Goodreads.
I never went to sleep away summer camp and I have not a moments regret. But I have had times in my life that I was sure, absolutely positive, that this time, this class, this grade, this experience would be the one where I would fit in. But you don’t really ever fit in when you don’t like yourself. This book was such a great reminder that wherever we go, whomever we are with, we are still who we are. Better start liking yourself now!
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie’s favorite days. That’s because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one-other than Celie, that is-takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it’s up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle’s never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom. This delightful book from a fan- and bookseller-favorite kicks off a brand-new series sure to become a modern classic. from Goodreads.
This whole series is just simply delightful! A Castle that is alive? A strong and fun female lead? I am here for the whole thing. This is a younger middle grade read (which I fully enjoyed as an adult) but I bring that up because I have recommended it to a few readers who were sensitive regarding parental death. Notice that the King and Queen’s fate is unknown…? *wink*wink.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.
There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.
But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.
A deliciously dark masterwork by bestselling author Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by award-winning Dave McKean. from Goodreads.
Neil Gaiman can certainly create magical worlds and fantastical settings but his books are winners in my mind because of the characters he brings to life. Bod became a favorite friend while I read this story. I became so attached I was terrified something terrible would happen to him. It was absolute magic and I only wish I could experience for the first time again and again.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.
When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn’t sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn’t belong in her world. Cassidy’s powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself. from Goodreads.
This first book is not quite as terrifying as the second in the series, Tunnel of Bones, but the first did what all VE Schwab’s book do – build a fantastically detailed world. I cannot wait for the third in the series to be published so I can see Cassidy and Jacob on another adventure and perhaps finally learn what is going on with Jacob.
The Secret of NIMH by Seymour Reit
A field mouse named Mrs. Brisby enlists the aid of a race of intelligent rats to save her home and her sick child. from Goodreads
Oh man, the older the book the smaller the jacket description. This one had me laughing out loud! You might be more familiar with the movie where Mrs. Brisby became Mrs. Frisby but she and the Rats of NIMH are just as good in both mediums.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead … but that won’t stop him from playing one last game! from Goodreads.
I will admit that I found this book annoying when I read it the first time. This is the middle grade equivilent of Murder on the Orient Express. I love both books because I know how they end but they were both incredibly frustrating until the conclusion. It is a challenge I don’t regret taking though because much like Agatha Christie’s masterpieces, the payoff at the end is worth the confusion in the middle.
A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull
Jason Walker has often wished his life could be a bit less predictable–until a routine day at the zoo ends with Jason suddenly transporting from the hippo tank to a place unlike anything he’s ever seen. In the past, the people of Lyrian welcomed visitors from the Beyond, but attitudes have changed since the wizard emperor Maldor rose to power. The brave resistors who opposed the emperor have been bought off or broken, leaving a realm where fear and suspicion prevail.
In his search for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who was also mysteriously drawn to Lyrian from our world. With the help of a few scattered rebels, Jason and Rachel become entangled in a quest to piece together the word of power that can destroy the emperor, and learn that their best hope to find a way home will be to save this world without heroes. from Goodreads.
After reading Fablehaven I knew I would be a fan of Brandon Mull’s forever. Unfortunately, his Candy Wars series didn’t capture me quite as well as Fablehaven. So, I was reluctant to dive into another of his series. Beyonders certainly wins the award for the most ridiculous method of entering a magical world but I enjoyed this series so much! It only has three books but I often find myself thinking of the different races of people and the complicated world plotted out by the author.
Once Was A Time by Leila Sales
In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte’s scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place? Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty’s fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship. from Goodreads.
Friendship and loyalty abound in this historical fiction / sci-fi story. I alternated between deep sighs and gasps as I traveled through time and place with Charlotte.
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
A classic middle-grade tale of magic and friendship, about a girl who helps an old friend find home, by two New York Times–bestselling authors Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.
It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.
It turns out she’s right.
Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.
Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.
Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, two masterminds of classic, middle-grade fiction come together to craft this magical story about the enduring power of friendship. from Goodreads.
How could she have forgotten about her friend?!? I wanted to hate Livy but there was something that told me that this story went deeper than the surface. I’m so glad I kept reading. I got to the last page, turned it over and started again.
Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel
Welcome to Fortune Falls, a magical town where superstitions are real. Four-leaf clovers really do bring good fortune, and owning a rabbit’s foot is the secret to success.
However, there aren’t enough charms in the universe to help Sadie Bleeker. She can’t pass a ladder without walking under it, and black cats won’t leave her alone.
That’s because Sadie is an Unlucky. And things will only get worse as she gets older, which is why Unluckies are sent away at age twelve to protect those around them.
Sadie can’t stand the thought of leaving home, so she and her friend, Cooper, devise a plan to reverse her bad luck. But when their scheme accidentally results in a broken mirror, the situation turns dire. Because for Sadie, seven years bad luck isn’t an inconvenience-it’s practically a death sentence.
Can a girl who’s never so much as found a single lucky penny change her fortune? Or will she be forced to celebrate her twelfth birthday by saying farewell to everyone she loves? from Goodreads.
Childhood is filled with “not fair” and “not my fault” and middle school is rife with the feeling that you are not in control. I loved this book because it really emphasized that even in a world where people either have good luck or bad, in the end your choices – and therefore your future – is in your hands.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
There was a terrible mistake – Wayside School was built with one classroom on top of another, thirty stories high (The builder said he was sorry.) Maybe that’s why all kinds of funny things happened at Wayside-especially on the thirteenth floor. from Goodreads.
Another classic! Louis Sachar reads the audiobook version but if you are looking for a series of connected short stories to read this book is perfect. When I was a kid I wanted to go to Wayside so badly and revisiting it as an adult was just as much fun!
The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Wiener
Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—No-Furs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else. from Goodreads.
This story really spoke to my heart. We all want to be important to someone else. We yearn to be listened to and feel important by friends, family, and society. But the questions remains, how do we find those feelings without sacrificing someone else’s?
The False Prince by Jennifer A Neilsen
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point—he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.
As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together. from Goodreads.
This book is the first in a trilogy and has the pace and world building of a series. That makes it perfect for older middle schoolers or those interested in more detailed world building and a story that peels back layer by layer to reveal secrets that can make, or break, a kingdom.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest. from Goodreads.
Of all of Grace Lin’s wonderful books this remains my favorite. I think I just loved Minli and the lengths she would go to for her family. Just holding the book in my hand brings me joy.
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she’s so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone’s surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is! from Goodreads.
This short book may end in marriage but it is far from the typical princess story. As I have gotten older I have found that society stops looking and listening to me but my invisibility brings its own freedom. Amy and her ordinariness was a kindred spirit that I think anyone who feels “boring” or “ignored” or “ungifted” might enjoy spending time with, no matter how old they may be.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.” This powerful, timeless story has been reissued with a new letter from the author’s daughter Helena Estes, and with the Caldecott artist Louis Slobodkin’s original artwork in beautifully restored color. from Goodreads
I re-read this book every year and, honestly, I wish that it were required reading for kids. It is also short – I have read it aloud to a group in about an hour – but the point is clear: standing up to a bully is one thing but standing up to a friend is infinitely more difficult.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.
This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.
But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
The School for Good & Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one. from Goodreads.
I’ll be honest – I thought this book was going to be terrible. I am absolutely guilty of judging this book by its cover. I picked it up because a middle schooler recommended it to me and gushed. She was right. The story is fantastic, the characters are nuanced and, from an adult perspective, I love the point that changing your mind about who you are can happen at any time in life.
The Night Diary by Veela Hiranandani
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. from Goodreads.
I sat down to start reading this historical fiction because it highlights a part of history that I was completely new to me and I couldn’t put it down. Nisha, her brother and grandmother became vitally important to me and I was fraught with nerves as they faced dangerous perils on their journey. Even now, as the world around us is suffering from disease and floods, it is wonderful to have a book that reminds us that we have the power to put ourselves back together again.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables. from Goodreads.
I didn’t read Anne’s story as a child. I’m fairly certain my Mom recommended it to me which was basically the kiss of death for a few years. She was so right. Anne is amazing. Anne approaches everyday with the enthusiasm that is exhausting to everyone around her but she was just too good and true to not love completely.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
An ocean voyage of unimaginable consequences… Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it. from Goodreads.
This book is a thriller hidden inside a historical fiction facade. Adults everywhere get upset because this book isn’t “historically accurate.” I did not stay up until the wee hours of the morning because I was in awe of this book’s historical details. Rather, Charlotte’s peril, her resilience, and her adventure gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. This book is also certainly for the older middle schooler as some consider it YA, and readers need to know that this is a girl on a ship full of men. But the thrills and danger are Charlotte against the world, not Charlotte trying to maintain her maidenhood.
Tell me, please!
What is your favorite middle grade book?