Growing up, I was the kid reading with the flashlight under the covers after lights out. All throughout elementary school, I brought a book to recess. Reading contests? Yeah, I rocked them. I always won the summer reading challenges at our local library, and I cherished my Pizza Hut Book It button. (Anyone else an ’80s kid?)
I never outgrew my love for the books of my childhood. And when I speak to friends about the books they loved as a kid, a lot of people tell me about the middle grade books they cherished. They tell me about books like Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Anne of Green Gables, and Where the Red Fern Grows. When I tell my friends I continue to read middle grade books as an adult, books that have been released within the last ten years, they almost always say something along the lines of, “Wow. Really? Still?”
Middle grade books, written mostly for children ages eight to twelve, consist of some of the most beautiful, life-changing, charming, and exciting stories. Did you love them as a kid too? Should you still be reading middle grade, even if you’re an adult? (If you’re on the fence about this question, check this previous post about that, then say the answer out loud: YES.)
So, do you want to update your middle grade or have/know kids who read middle grade and want to know great books to recommend? Here are some suggestions if you loved Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Have more suggestions or need more suggestions? Tell us in the comments!
Links and book descriptions:
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia: Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park: Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated — until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself — even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.
The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt: This critically acclaimed, award-winning middle grade debut follows the story of the three Green children who are cared for by a nanny pig. Yes, a pig. A fabulously sassy and impeccably dressed pig as a matter of fact! With her insatiable urge to eat chocolate (and feed chocolate to everyone she loves), her high-flying spirit, and her unending sense of fun, Nanny Piggins takes Derrick, Samantha, and Michael on a year of surprises, yummy treats, and adventures they’ll never forget.
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead: A story about spies, games, and friendship. Seventh grader Georges moves into a Brooklyn apartment building and meets Safer, a twelve-year-old self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: what is a lie, and what is a game? How far is too far to go for your only friend?
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass: In the town of Spring Haven, four children have been selected to compete in the national candymaking contest of a lifetime. Who will make a candy more delicious than the Oozing Crunchorama or the Neon Yellow Lightning Chew? Logan, the candymaker’s son, who can detect the color of chocolate by feel alone? Miles, the boy allergic to rowboats and the color pink? Daisy, the cheerful girl who can lift a fifty-pound lump of taffy as if it were a feather? Philip, the suit-and-tie-wearing boy who’s always scribbling in a secret notebook? This sweet, charming, and cleverly crafted story, told from each contestant’s perspective, is filled with mystery, friendship, and juicy revelations.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson: When Lonnie was seven years old, his parents died in a fire. Now he’s eleven, and he still misses them terribly. And he misses his little sister, Lili, who was put into a different foster home because “not a lot of people want boys-not foster boys that ain’t babies.” But Lonnie hasn’t given up. His foster mother, Miss Edna, is growing on him. She’s already raised two sons and she seems to know what makes them tick. And his teacher, Ms. Marcus, is showing him ways to put his jumbled feelings on paper. Told entirely through Lonnie’s poetry, we see his heartbreak over his lost family, his thoughtful perspective on the world around him, and most of all his love for Lili and his determination to one day put at least half of their family back together.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoga by Tom Angleberger: Not so long ago, in a middle school not so far away, a sixth grader named Dwight folded an origami finger puppet of Yoda. For class oddball Dwight, this wasn’t weird. It was typical Dwight behavior. But what is weird is that Origami Yoda is uncannily wise and prescient. He can predict the date of a pop quiz, guess who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and save a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper: Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: Nine-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?
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.