A fabulous year for middle grade novels! Sitting down to make my list was an enjoyable task, looking at the books I read and remembering those books that stayed with me long after the last page. Here is my top ten list of middle grade novels that are worth reading!
- Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I started this novel with a bit of concern. The reason? I’d already read fabulous mentions of it on multiple sites, and of course I worried that I would be disappointed. Not possible. This book deserves every glowing review and more. Read it.
- Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper. Beautiful and important. I wrote about Stella for Nerdy Book Club (and I don’t want to repeat myself!) – you can read my review, Courage, Community and Hope in Stella by Starlight here.
- The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. Unpredictable and enjoyable! Jennifer Holm captures the characters, young and old, with beautiful clarity and empathy. It’s one of those books that hooks you from the first page and you just can’t put it down – every time I told myself “just one more chapter”…..and well, I finished it in one sitting. I never could take just a quick break from reading The Fourteenth Goldfish. I loved the journey that this book took me on….every minute of it! Read more about this book in a recent blog post.
- The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. I am so excited to recommend this book! Wow! This is Ali Benjamin’s debut novel. It is a story of loss, grief, and friendship. Suzy Swanson loses her friend in a drowning accident, after their friendship falls apart and before Suzy can fix what is broken. In her grief, Suzy turns to silence and jellyfish to help her cope. One of my favorite lines: “Sometimes when we feel most alone, the world decides to open up in magical ways.” A must read book.
- The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I am always interested in books about World War II and this one provided a unique perspective. Even though she is nine years old, Ada has never left her London apartment and believes that she is responsible for her club foot (as her mother has told her for years). It is the threat of a German invasion that leads Ada and her brother to sneak out of the apartment and make their way to a train that will take them out to the countryside and a new life. Suddenly, Ada enjoys the freedom of the outdoors, the possibility of walking, riding horses, and a loving home. A beautiful novel of discovery and hope in the midst of a war.
- Listen, Slowly by Thannha Lai. I LOVED Inside Out and Back Again (and I wrote about the possibilities for the classroom in a blog post recently). Listen, Slowly is also a beautifully written novel that takes young, American-born Mia to Vietnam with her father and grandmother, their home country. What follows is the journey that Mia and her grandmother take to find out what happened to Mia’s grandfather so many years ago during the war between the north and south. Mia would prefer spending her summer at the beach, back home in California, but slowly Mia comes to see the beauty of Vietnam and the meaning of family in a place she didn’t expect to call home. A pleasure to read.
- Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. A ten-year-old reader told me that I needed to read Crenshaw. She was right. This is the story of a boy facing the prospect of homelessness, again. His friend (the imaginary Crenshaw) tries to help him as he faces a world where he must deal with grown-up problems and grown-up mistakes. Along with the complex subject of homelessness (see Paper Things below) it is also a book about family, those who help us when we are are down, and hope.
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. So many lines to love in this gentle, carefully rendered story of a girl who learns to trust an adult with her secret, the truth she has hidden from other teachers — she cannot read. Definitely a book worth reading and celebrating – read more about it at my blog post here.
- Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Ari’s mom is gone, leaving Ari to choose between her guardian and her big brother Gage. Ari doesn’t want to disappoint her brother and she wants to stay true to her mother’s final wishes, that Ari and Gage stay together. But Gage doesn’t actually have a place to live, meaning that Ari and Gage shuffle between friends, shelters, and soup kitchens all while trying to stay in school and hide their homelessness. The characters are compelling, as is their precarious and complex situation. Homelessness is never easy, nor are the factors that lead to homelessness black and white, as this novel shows the reader with compassion, grace, and a lot of heart.
10. Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. Magic. My favorite lines: “Because when you try too hard to hold on to something, you break it….Sometimes, we need to let go so that other people can have their chance at magic.” These words work in so many ways. And I don’t want to spoil the magic of this book, so I promise no spoilers here. Read the book. Believe in the wonder of childhood. Believe in hope. Believe in magic.
What are your favorite books for kids this year? Please share with us! And here’s to even more fabulous reading in 2016!