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This year I’ve been on a mission to read as many Middle Grade books as I can. I want to know what my daughter is reading before she just walks into the library or bookstore (or worse, online!) and starts devouring who knows what. I’m more trusting of regular kids’ chapter books but Middle Grade seems to be a bit tricky. I’m on the lookout for books that aren’t full of middle school romance, adult themes, spookiness, violence or bad attitudes. Also, I find that many Middle Grade books are trying to make a point or promote a yes, agenda. Why can’t we just have stories, y’all?
Anyway, here’s what I’ve read this year and my thoughts as a normal, Christian, mostly conservative and trying-not-to-be-over-helicopter-ish mom:
Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick // A middle school girl moves from Texas to Vermont. She learns to navigate this new place–while her dad adjusts to life without his arm, which he lost as a soldier. Fun friends show up, hijinks and a little fun book-ish mystery, too. No boy-girl romance, just fun boy-girl friendships, lots of good parent interaction and a legitimately interesting book. I want to read the next one! Update: My daughter LOVED this one!
100 Cupboards by ND Wilson // If you have a kid who likes Harry Potter, magical fantasy or adventure–this is the series for you! It was full of really great characters, humor, creative fantastical worlds along with quality, hero-worthy adults and plenty of family-friendliness. Plus, I’ve listened to a few interviews with the author and he seems like a cool guy. He’s a Christian although the books are not “Christian” or from a Christian publisher.
Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick // A 7 book series of girls whose moms begin a Mother-Daughter book club. Each book focuses on the book they are reading (Betsy-Tacy, Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, etc.) while the girls learn lessons from the book and their moms. The main focus is the mom-daughter relationships even though there is a bit of boyfriend-ness interwoven, especially as the girls get older in each book. But overall, so positive and fun.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale // I was afraid this would be just a silly Princess-y book. Instead, it was a great adventure! There was the tiniest bit of a budding romance, but set in this time/place it felt different than the omg-he-is-so-hot or whatever some modern books showcase. I fled through this book and picked up the second one, Princess Academy: Palace of Stone immediately after. I didn’t love it as much as the first but it was still a worth a read.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley // One of my favorites this year. In fact, I’m giving it to my almost 11 year old for Christmas. A little boy lives with his grandfather who tells him story about a magical circus that only kids can see and visit. When his grandfather gets sick, the boy makes it his mission to find Circus Mirandus. CAUTION & SPOILER: The grandfather does die and it is incredibly sad. Update: This is my daughter’s favorite book. She wrote the author who wrote her back and even sent stickers and an autographed bookplate!
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein // Another of my favorites this year. I saw this book described as a cross between Charlie and the Chocolte Factory and A Night at the Museum. How fun is that?! A boy gets to visit a multi-million dollar library designed by famous game-creator, Mr. Lemoncello. All kinds of book-ish fun ensues–including Dewey Decimal clues and so many book references and suggestions, you’ll want to make a list as you read! This one is modern, funny and although at the beginning I didn’t love some of the attitudes/words used (nothing bad, I seriously can’t remember them now), it ended up better and more positive than it began. Update: My daughter has read this entire series now! She really enjoyed them.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson // A memoir of a young black girl who moved from the South to New York in the 70’s. Told in verse, each chapter is gorgeous. There are some hard parts about family members in jail, single parenting and even Islam. It might be a book to read together, especially if you are far-removed from the author’s type of life. (The chapter on cussing was my absolute favorite! So. That tells you what the book was like.)
Camp Club Girls by various authors // Not the best written or most interesting but my 10 year old liked these stories about a group of girls who meet at camp and then solve mysteries together. It’s not overly Christian-teaching but a few Bible verses are mentioned throughout.
A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant // Set in the time of tent revivals in the United States, a young boy is taken with a traveling preacher. It changes his life when the preacher disappoints him. I love Cynthia Rylant but am not sure if I liked this one or not. It’s a bit of a trope that tent preachers are more show than substance and definitely had some well-religion-is-ok-for-some that I don’t want to be the norm.
Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley // This book had an old fashioned Ramona Quimby feel to it. However, it was about a little girl determined to make her mom, who abandoned her at a young age to notice her. It was full of fun and whimsy but had a serious undercurrent. I really enjoyed it. (The phrase “give ’em hell” was used several times.)
May B by Caroline Starr Rose // Told in verse, this story of a little girl on the prairie sent to help her neighbors “just until Christmas”. So much more happens than she expects and she has a real adventure. One of the few books I’ve read in verse and I really enjoyed it.
Many Waters by Madeline L’Engle // Not sure if this is considered Middle Grade but it’s a book I read as a kid and loved–two boys from our time get sent back to Noah’s time and live with his family (including his DAUGHTER!) before the great flood. It is so interesting. There’s a bit of weirdness as the main girl is naked most of the time and the boys fall in love with her–sounds worse written here than in the book!
Also, if you haven’t read all Madeline L’Engle’s books, I have a caution–I read about 12 of her books in a row when I was in college. I was madly in love with them–she writes such slow beautiful books with deep characters. But two or three of her books (one of which are in the Middle Grade series) are about sexual ideologies that I so heartily disagree with. So much so I had to stop reading one of them. I’m a grown up and have that wisdom (most of the time!) and wouldn’t want to give my kids free range to just read her whole catalogue without pre-reading.
The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson // This one was about the plague in England. It was ok. Not a super fun read. Better if you were studying that time in history and wanted to read it as a supplement.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne // Whew. I don’t know what to say about this. A Nazi’s son befriends “the boy in the striped pajamas” on the other side of the fence by his house. It ends with absolute tragedy. And I feel like the author did it to be shocking. Shiver.
The Green Ember by SD Smith // We read this book aloud and while the kids liked each chapter, we slogged through it. The action was so drawn out that we almost couldn’t keep track of what was happening. The world was really creative but we just didn’t love it. Update: My daughter has read the rest of the books in this series and liked them.
My almost 10 year old hasn’t read any of these yet, but a lot of them I’ll put on her bookshelf this next year!
So, what are your middle grader readers reading? I’d love to know!