My Favorite Middle Grade Novels
(NOTE: This page is not finished yet. I'm still working on it. Patience padawan!)
Middle grade (ages 8-12) is the sweet spot for reading. Kids are through the hard part of learning how, but they are not yet old enough to be completely distracted by hormones, friends and phones. Middle graders read more books than any other age group. More than parents. This is when they fall in love with reading. It's a glorious time. Glorious, I tell you. This is why there are so many enormous series for middle grade readers. If they like one book, they want 23 more just like it. As a parent, you should "feed the beast"! Give her as many books as she can devour. Read the same book as your son and talk about it together. When will you ever have this chance again? Here are some great books that both of you can read and enjoy (in no particular order).
Note: If you want to know what the book is about, click on the cover and it will take you to Amazon where you can read a synopsis and reviews.
A Wrinkle in Time
This is my very favorite middle grade book because Meg is one of the greatest heroines of all time. She's smart, brave, and tough as nails. She tesseracts across time to save her father and her brother. Meg kicks ass. Even though it was published when I was a girl, kids still love this story. It's funny, creepy and smart. There's even a teensy bit of romance.
Tolkein wrote this one for kids (as opposed to Lord of the Rings, which he definitely wrote for adults) and you can tell. The chapters are short and exciting. Usually there's a monster battle. Elves, gollums, giant spiders, magic rings and dragons. It launches one of the best fantasy series of all time.
Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go
By Portland author Dayle Bayse, this series is funny as hell (pun intended)--chock full of rat-a-tat-tat wordplay, puns and humor adults will enjoy as well. I love that the main characters die in Chapter 1--exploding marshmallow disaster, natch. They end up in Heck, a purgatory of sorts, and have to figure their way out. Boys and reluctant readers love these. Girls like them, too.
It seems like a cop out to recommend this one, but it's arguably the best fantasy series ever written. Do they live up to the hype? They sure do. The first book pulls you in and doesn't let go until the end of the seventh. I know a boy who read each one 13-14 times. The writing is just that good. And this is the book that changed children's publishing forever. For the historical perspective alone, it's worth a read.
Not quite as earth-shattering as Harry Potter, but a great series, nonetheless. I do love that Percy has ADHD and that "disability" turns into his greatest asset. What a wonderful concept. And if you have a voracious middle grade reader in your house, Rick Riordan will be your new best friend. His many fantasy series will "feed the beast."
When I taught at PSU, I always read aloud from Charlotte's Web when explaining how to pull kids into a book. E.B. White wrote one of the best first lines ever: "Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." And it just gets better from there! Not for the faint hearted, this is a total tear-jerker. I know people who became vegetarians after reading it when they were kids.
As if Charlotte's Web wasn't enough of a masterpiece, then E.B. White goes and writes Stuart Little! What? Who has that many great books in them? Each chapter a gem of a short story, all packed with nuggets of wisdom. There's the funny-crazy adventure of a mouse adopted by a human family and has to fit into their world. And then there's White's lovely philosophy. I read it aloud dozens times and never tired of it.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
For you feminists out there, Dorothy is the original kick-ass heroine. She takes crap from no one. She saves her friends, kills the witch and gets her butt back to Kansas! Published in 1900 (!), this book still holds up. Each chapter moves along briskly, filled with witches and magic and evil flying monkeys! I dare you not to fall in love with it again.
Search for WondLa
This series is a wonderful homage to Wizard of Oz, and if your kids liked that classic they are bound to like this. Beautifully illustrated throughout by Tony DiTerlizzi, the story is set in an apocalyptic future and tells of a girl searching for family on a planet overrun with non-humans. It is exciting, gorgeous to look at, and features another kick ass heroine.
Global warming has melted all the ice caps and the world is flooded. There is very little land left, so what do the humans do? They build cities underwater, like Atlantis. This is the story of one boy living in this world and his adventures with sharks, pirates and girls. If your kids like the ocean, they will love this marine-focused series.
Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen, this story is about a girl who treks into a frozen, magical forest to rescue her best friend Jack from an evil queen. A wonderful tale of love and courage and the power of friendship. For middle grade readers who may be pulling away from opposite-sex friends, it's a powerful reminder of how meaningful those friendships can be.
The True Meaning of Smekday
They made a movie based on this book, called Home, which was pretty great. But the book is way better! After the world is invaded by aliens called the Boov, one African-American girl named Gratuity takes a road trip to rescue her mom and discovers a Boov on board. Full of enough humor and action to appeal to both boys and girls, the story has a real heart. You care about these characters. It's also got brilliant graphic-novel-style illustrations throughout. The audio version of this book is truly out of this world (it won Best Audiobook the year it came out)!
Scott Westerfeld, the amazing YA author who wrote Uglies, did this series for middle grade. It reimagines WWI with giant robots fighting on Axis side, and genetically re-engineered beasts on the Allied side. So kids get tons of action and adventure, robots, weird giant creatures (including giant flying whale zeppelins!) AND they learn some history while they're at it. Win-win! It's also got fabulous girl characters.
The Prince Who Fell From the Sky
A spaceship crashes on earth sometime in the future. A human boy emerges onto a world where there are no more humans and animals have retaken the planet. A beautiful, poetic story where readers get to see what the Earth might be like if we weren't here messing it up all the time. This is a great one for kids who love animals and nature. Oh, and there actually are some humans on the planet, they're just kind of hiding. Read it!
This is the best new middle grade novel I've read in 10 years. Maybe 20. The writing is so good. The characters so fully realized. The themes--bullying, choosing kindness, and the benefits of befriending people who are different than you--are deep and so pertinent to our current world. Honestly, I cried for a solid 30 minutes when I finished reading it, just because I was so happy it existed in the world. That someone wrote it and someone else published it, so that I, and millions of kids, could read it and be changed. I'm wary about the upcoming movie, but the book is a destined to be a classic and everyone should read it.
Ramona the Brave
Let's see... there's Dorothy Gale, Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen, and... Ramona Quimby! One of the greatest girl characters ever to grace the pages of a book. She gets herself into some pickles, but she's brave, creative and sure of who she is. And even though the Ramona books were written starting in the '50s, they are a joy to read today. Great writing is like fine wine--it ages well. And Beverly Cleary is one of the very best.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
My daughter was a "reluctant reader." Even with a house full of books to choose from and parents who read all the time, she just didn't enjoy it. She would read a few pages, complain it was boring, then put it down and never pick it up again. Then I gave her this book. God bless Judy Blume. This book grabs the reader on page 1 and is so funny, so compelling, so completely bonkers (his little brother Fudge swallows his pet turtle, for god's sake), that you can't put it down. Finishing this book (which is also blessedly short!) showed my daughter that books could be fun and easy to read. She is now a voracious reader and I owe it all to Fudge.
My other favorites to check out (reviews coming soon):
The Pocket Guide & Big Book series
Another fantastic Portland children's book author (man, this city is chock full of 'em!), Bart writes the funniest non-fiction you'll find. Kids love his books. All of them. Every book he writes is fascinating, weird and supremely funny. Learn everything you could want to know about spy stuff, mischief, games, brilliance, etc. Bart has a singularly goofy, twisted voice that kids dig.
Oh man, another great book written and illustrated by a Portland artist: Victoria Jamieson. The story of a girl who finds herself, her inner strength, when she goes out for roller derby! Though it's set in Portland (at the beloved Oaks Park roller rink, hotbed of roller derby madness), this is a story for kids everywhere because it tackles big themes like friendship, resilience, and going for your dreams. Did I mention there's roller derby?
My other favorites to check out (reviews coming soon):