Middle grade book recommendations for parents of kids ages 5-12

All Book Recommendations

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Posted by on Aug 29, 2016 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Modern Classics | 0 comments

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

This lovely story chronicles the seventh grade year of a 12-year-old girl and her two best friends. The friendship is challenged as the girls sort through their new identities in the larger environment of middle school. One girl sends a boy a photo of herself in a bra, which gets circulated around the school, and the girl’s friend retaliates by posting a photo of the boy in his underwear on social media. The episode is handled deftly; you can see how the boy and girl got into this position, no one is vilified, and the parents and school administrators take it seriously. There are consequences for all, and it may serve as a cautionary tale for kids who could find themselves considering a similar action. Another plotline involves an older sister who is friends with a mean girl, and skips school and runs away for the day. She is found, and nothing terrible happens, though again, there are consequences for her behavior. Finally, the main character has a friendship with a boy, which develops, slowly and in an age-appropriate way, into something more. They do not kiss (though a later epilogue from ninth grade mentions their first kiss), and their friendship is a sweet model of how romance can develop. P&P...

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The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Posted by on Aug 23, 2016 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow!, Modern Classics, Poetry & Novels in Verse | 0 comments

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

This fun novel-in-verse captures both the quick rhythm of a basketball game and the turbulence of the first year of middle school. Josh Bell and his identical twin, Jordan, are the stars of their school basketball team and as close and competitive as brothers can be. Jordan’s crush on a girl drives a wedge between them, though, and Josh fears he’s being left behind. The story is compelling and moves quickly, with bright, playful language. A warning to parents of sensitive kids: The boys’ father, who is a former professional basketball player and a strong role model for the boys, dies of a heart attack at the end of the book. Won the Newbery Medal in 2015, as well as the Coretta Scott King Honor Award. P&P...

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Joyful Noise: Poetry for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

Posted by on Jul 1, 2016 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Poetry & Novels in Verse, Read Aloud | 0 comments

Joyful Noise: Poetry for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

Such fun! This series of poems about insects is designed for two people to read aloud. The lines alternate, and then sometimes come together, making the reading into a performance piece. It’s a great way to make poetry more active and accessible. Some poems are funny and some are more thoughtful. Those bugs really come alive as the words fly around between the two readers.  P&P...

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Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Modern Classics | 0 comments

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

This is an excellent book for those navigating the rocky shoals of middle school friendships. Elise, an orphan who lives on a farm with her aunt and uncle, struggles through her first year of middle school. She shares a locker with a mean girl, and the bullying scenes feel true and torturous. Elise takes out her frustration on her loyal best friend, Franklin, in scenes that are equally heart-wrenching. Elise discovers a series of keys left to her by her father, each to a room in the barn that holds information about her parents and her past. As she works her way through the rooms, she comes to terms with her own strength and makes amends with Franklin....

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The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

Posted by on Feb 9, 2016 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Modern Classics, Poetry & Novels in Verse | 3 comments

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

What a wonderful way to introduce kids to poetry! This lovely novel in verse tells the story of the final year of an elementary school that is being closed. It is told, astoundingly, by eighteen narrators, and all in various poetic forms, from haiku to free verse to found poem and more. The novel’s diversity is highlighted by the different voices and types of poetry used, and a wonderful theme of peaceful protest runs throughout. A guide at the end of the book directs readers to the form of the different poems included. The book touches on challenging topics, like divorce, bullying, the death of a grandparent, and racial and cultural differences, but because it is told through poems, they are addressed in an easy, though powerful, manner. The book is not yet released (I was lucky enough to get an advance copy from the author), but it is available for pre-order, and will be out in April 2016. Amazon...

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Holes by Louis Sachar

Posted by on Feb 5, 2016 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics | 0 comments

Holes by Louis Sachar

This Newbery and National Book Award winner is a staple in elementary school classrooms, and for good reason. It’s the grabby, thought-provoking tale of Stanley Yelnets. Stanley is sent, in lieu of juvenile detention, to Green Lake, where there is no lake and nothing is green. The boys at Green Lake spend all of their time digging holes, overseen by two guards and the ominous warden, the only one who seems to know exactly what the boys are digging for. The real-time story is interwoven with a flashback tale of Stanley’s grandfather and outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow. The flashback tale includes an interracial relationship where an African-American man is murdered by racist townspeople (Chapter 26, if you’d like to check it out for yourself). It’s told quickly and without too much detail. The real-time story with the boys includes bullying and name-calling, and there is some violence (the warden scratches a guard’s cheek with poisoned fingernails; a boy hits a guard in the face with a shovel). Overall, I highly recommend this gripping novel.  Amazon...

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Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Posted by on Nov 8, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow!, Modern Classics | 0 comments

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

This dreamy, lovely story was recommended to me by my cellist nine-year-old daughter. Set in 1890s London, it’s the story of a girl who was found floating in a cello case after the sinking of an ocean liner. Sophie is rescued by an eccentric academic who becomes her guardian. When authorities threaten to place Sophie in an orphanage, she and Papa flee to Paris in search of her mother, whom Sophie is sure lives despite evidence to the contrary. There she begins a wild adventure across the rooftops of Paris with her new friend, Matteo, and other orphaned children. The book is enchanting and riveting. There is one scene with kids fighting on a rooftop, but it is short and not too violent. Overall, this book is a wonderful world in which to spend a few hours. Amazon...

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Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voight

Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow! | 0 comments

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voight

Set in an unnamed American city in the early 1800s, this story centers on Max, the practical twelve-year-old son of eccentric actors. When the book opens, Max’s parents receive an invitation to sail to India to open a theater. Max and his parents prepare for the trip, but when Max goes to the dock to meet his parents, they’ve already set sail under suspicious circumstances. Under the benign eye of his grandmother, Max sets out to support himself and solve the mystery of his parents’ disappearance. The story is fun and quick-paced and not too scary. I predict that if your kid reads this one, he or she is also going to want books two and three. I know I do!  Amazon...

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

Posted by on Aug 30, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics | 0 comments

The Giver by Lois Lowry

This was a book I’d wanted to read forever, but never had. I am so glad now that I did. It’s the story of a boy in a futuristic society where all variations have been bred out. The landscape is completely flat, the weather controlled, the jobs and spouses and children all chosen for the individuals. Jonah is selected for the job of Receiver, meaning that he is to receive all memories of the way life used to be. He alone in the community will know what hunger, and war, and sunshine, and love are. As Jonah begins to comprehend all that has been kept from him, he grows angry and determined to change things. This culminates in a disturbing scene in which he views his father euthanize a baby boy who has been deemed not up to standards for the community. The book is powerful and the message formative for the right, mature reader. It is the first in a series of four books, and was also made into a movie.  Amazon ...

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Remarkable by Lizzie Foley

Posted by on Apr 25, 2015 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow!, Read Aloud | 0 comments

Remarkable by Lizzie Foley

Jane Doe is an ordinary girl in a town full of people with remarkable talents. Her brother is an amazing painter, her sister a math whiz, her father a noteworthy novelist, and her mother a renowned architect. Jane is the only kid who attends the regular public school, because everyone else goes to the school for the gifted. Hijinks ensue: her fifth grade teacher becomes a pirate, and her grandfather (the only other non-remarkable in the town) is jailed for sabotaging the town’s new bell tower in an effort to save the secret lake monster. It’s funny and silly, with a nice underlying message about what it means to be gifted. Amazon...

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Palace of Stone (Princess Academy 2) by Shannon Hale

Posted by on Apr 5, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Sparkle Ponies | 0 comments

Palace of Stone (Princess Academy 2) by Shannon Hale

I enjoyed the first book in this series so I was looking forward to the second, and I wasn’t disappointed. Miri is a smart, funny, and brave main character, who takes on injustice while remaining loyal to her friends. In this installment, Miri and a few girls from her village go to the capital to help her friend prepare for her wedding to the prince. Miri attends school there and meets a dreamy revolutionary who wants to overthrow the king. Miri is sympathetic with his aims, but must come up with a way to advocate for the poor while not endangering her friend. There is more explicit romance in this book than in the first, as Miri is torn between the revolutionary and the boy from home (she kisses both of them), and some tense moments when the castle is stormed, so this book may be better for older middle graders.  Amazon...

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Classics, Read Aloud, Series | 0 comments

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I love this book. I love the language and the imagery and the bravery and the adventure. I love the talking animals. I recently reread it to my six-year-old, and remembered all over again how beautiful and spare and kind it is. Lewis wrote it for his goddaughter, and his love for her suffuses the story. For those who haven’t read it (you should!), it’s the story of four children who hide in a wardrobe and discover through the back the magical world of Narnia, which is under the spell of an evil witch who has made Narnia always winter, but never Christmas. The four children join forces with a rebel alliance of beavers, fawns, and a mighty lion to defeat the witch and become kings and queens of Narnia. There is a definite Christian theme of betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption, but I don’t find it overly heavy-handed (others disagree). The battle scene and the scenes with the witch are a bit scary, and some of the language is difficult, as it’s set in England and was written sixty years ago. The plot is clear and straightforward, though, so I like it for younger, strong readers, or as a read-aloud. Anyone would enjoy it, though, at any age. Amazon...

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Posted by on Feb 28, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Modern Classics, Poetry & Novels in Verse | 0 comments

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This 2014 National Book Award winner is not actually a novel, but rather a memoir-in-verse. Woodson tells the story of her childhood in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York through a series of spare and lovely poems. Verse books are a wonderful choice for kids who have trouble reading, because the text is clean and easy to read, but the themes are more mature. This book, in particular, is great because Woodson herself was a slow reader and always felt that her older sister was really the one who loved books, while she only wanted to play outside. And then she went on to win the National Book Award!  Woodson’s childhood (she was both in 1968) was at a unique juncture of history, where racial consciousness was growing, and the experience of being African-American in the recently Jim Crow South was in the process of a seismic shift. She encounters racism, as well as her parents’ divorce and her uncle’s incarceration. The book is a beautiful and accessible glimpse of recent history. Amazon  P&P...

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow! | 0 comments

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

My eight-year-old bookworm says this is the best book she’s ever read. Mr. Lemoncello, an eccentric millionaire in the vein of Sam Westing from The Westing Game, sets up a game in the new library he’s funded in town. Twelve seventh-graders get to spend the night in the library, and then are invited to participate in his challenge: If you can escape from the library, fame and fortune await (losers are sent home with parting gifts). The way to find the escape involves getting to know the library – looking up call numbers and reading books and exploring the stacks. There are riddles and puzzles and lots of cheesy jokes, plus lies, double-crossing, and opportunities for heroism and good sportsmanship. No violence or questionable language, just great fun all around. Amazon...

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Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

Posted by on Jan 13, 2015 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Modern Classics, Poetry & Novels in Verse | 0 comments

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

This is a gorgeous and lush novel in verse about the lost English settlement at Roanoke. It is told by two narrators – Alis, an English girl, and Kimi, a Roanoke girl. The girls become friends at great risk to themselves during the escalating tensions between their clans. The story is gripping and heartbreaking, all the more so because it is based on actual historical events, as detailed in the epilogue by Rose, a former social studies teacher. There is some violence, including murders of both a settler and a Roanoke man, the latter killed by a boy Alis’s age. Both of these events take place off-scene. In all, the story makes historical events accessible and compelling.  Amazon...

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

Posted by on Nov 30, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Modern Classics | 14 comments

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

This is a delicious mystery that centers on a girls’ finishing school in England in the 1800s. The seven mistreated girls at the school are serving their evil headmistress and her brother dinner one night when the adults both suddenly keel over. Once their shock subsides, the girls realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for independence. They have just a brief moment of merriment and cookies, though, before the doorbell rings. What follows is a series of tense days of hiding bodies and trying to uncover the true cause of death before they become the prime suspects in the investigation – or the next targets of the murderer. There is some mild romance (one of the girls has crushes on all the boys and uses her feminine wiles to get information and favors), but nothing more scandalous happens than a kiss on the cheek. Overall, it is an entertaining story about girls of different ages and temperaments pulling together.  Amazon...

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The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

Posted by on Nov 21, 2014 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Classics | 0 comments

The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin

As you may know, this series revolves around four girls (seventh graders at the beginning) who form a club to provide babysitting services. The main focus of the series, though, is really friendship – making new friends, staying friends as you grow and change, fighting and making up – and so it’s a great option for those girls who are navigating the choppy waters of late elementary school friendships. It’s also nice to see girls who are doing something entrepreneurial, and the girls’ diverse personalities and interests (one is artistic and funky, one is shy and bookish, one is hard-charging and impulsive). There is a slight romantic angle (one of the girls has a crush on another girl’s older brother) and a somewhat disturbing dieting subplot (it turns out the girl has diabetes and was hiding it from the others). Otherwise, nothing to fear here for parents – the girls are generally well-behaved and polite, and there are a few zany subplots involving unruly cats and grumpy neighbors. The age of the book shows mainly in the fashion choices and the telephones; the friendship woes are, of course, timeless. There are a million books in the series, as well as comics, movies, and TV shows.  Amazon...

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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Posted by on Nov 4, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics | 2 comments

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

I recently became a blogger over at From the Mixed-Up Files of … Middle Grade Authors, which inspired me to revisit this classic. Reading it as a parent, I couldn’t help but be horrified by the premise – a sister and brother run away to New York City and spend a week hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The kid in me, though, still rejoices at the scenes where the kids hide out in an Egyptian tomb, sleep in medieval beds, and bathe in the public fountain. At its heart, this story is about two mysteries – whether the Met’s new sculpture is actually a Michelangelo, and why Claudia decided to run away in the first place. The story holds up surprisingly well for its age (first published in 1967), though some of the language is dated. The sibling relationship is sweet and honest, and the two main characters are likeable and real. The book won a Newbery Medal. Amazon...

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The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

Posted by on Nov 1, 2014 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Sparkle Ponies | 0 comments

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

“Can you keep a secret?” A great opening reels you in to this story of a girl who discovers at age twelve that she is part mermaid. Emily lives on a boat with her mom, who never talks about Emily’s father. Turns out dad is a merman, and Emily is the offspring of a forbidden human/merperson liaison. Dad is now serving an endless prison term, and Mom is being drugged to forget he ever existed. Emily, with the help of her new mermaid bestie, manages to find Dad, reunite him and Mom, and secure his release and a happy ever after ending for the whole family. This light and engaging book is the first of series. Amazon ...

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The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow! | 0 comments

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

I was so pleased to find a book where the main characters have gay parents. The Family Fletcher does not disappoint. The Fletchers are a two-dad, four-son, two-to-four-pet household. The brothers are all adopted. Two are white, one is African-American, and one is Indian. The best part is that all of this is completely irrelevant to the story, which focuses instead on the brothers’ struggles to survive mean neighbors, new schools, changing friendships, and deeper understandings of themselves and each other. And did I mention it’s hilarious? Like Ramona Quimby levels of funny. Levy shows each of the brothers as unique and generally trying to do the right thing, but the sum total is a messy and chaotic, but overall loving, household. There is some light language – one of the dads keeps accidentally cursing (though what he’s actually saying is not in the text), and “butt,” “moron,” and “stupid” are all used. The book is great fun, and I highly recommend it. Amazon...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Posted by on Aug 19, 2014 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Classics, Read Aloud | 0 comments

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

So fun! Our kids actually liked the book better than the movie. You know the story, though in the book there is some additional backstory on the scarecrow and the tinman, and less of the frame story in Kansas. Otherwise, it’s the same familiar and exciting tale of Dorothy’s adventures in Oz and defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West. The chapters are satisfying mini-stories, which make for a nice bedtime read-aloud. The flying monkeys are less scary in the book. Dorothy’s shoes are silver, not red, which blew my mind. There are thirteen sequels, for those who want to keep going.  Amazon  P&P...

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Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Posted by on Aug 5, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Crash! Pow!, Modern Classics | 0 comments

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

What a fun adventure! This book is a fascinating alternative history of the American Northwest, in which the Native Americans (“First Peoples,” in this story) win every battle with the settlers, and have all the power in the society. Lucy, a settler, runs away from her boarding school in search of her father, a ghost clearer who has disappeared into the wilderness. Lucy and her friend Pete set off to find him, as well as the cure for the mysterious sickness that is killing off the trees. Lucy’s friend, Niwa, a princess of the First Peoples who is smart, brave, and daring, helps them along the way. There are some scary scenes, including a tree that eats people, and adult characters also searching for the cure are killed. Lucy succeeds in finding her father and he does survive, though it looks bad for a bit there. There is some light romance between Lucy and Pete. Amazon ...

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The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Classics, Sparkle Ponies | 0 comments

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

This is an older book, first published in 1968. I didn’t read it as a kid, but am glad to have discovered it as an adult. It tells the haunting story of the world’s last unicorn as she goes in search of her fellows. She encounters magicians and outlaws on her journey, and ultimately must confront a Red Bull and an evil king. The story is dreamy and fantastical, and language is gorgeous. Here’s a sample description: “[T]he withered earth was brightening with a greenness as shy as smoke.” It is not an easy read, but well worth the effort for those who will appreciate its beauty. There is a scary scene early on when the unicorn is captured and put into a circus show, and the confrontations with the Red Bull are frightening and upsetting. The word “damn” appears a few...

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Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Classics, Read Aloud | 3 comments

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

You know the story – plucky family with three young daughters settles the American frontier. Each chapter has its own adventure and resolution, so it lends itself well to bedtime reading. The book and its portrayal of that time has captured my kids’ imagination, and entered their conversation and their play. We discuss how hard the settlers worked and how little they had. It’s a wonderful foil for our consumerist time. But, the racism. The adults in the book, including Ma and Pa, are lousy with it. They talk about the Native Americans as if they are wild animals, and call them “savages.” The girls are more curious than afraid, and the Native Americans in the story are, with one exception, fine and upstanding. At the end, when the chief rides by on his horse, leaving the territory, Pa salutes him. Ultimately, I decided this was an opportunity to discuss racism with the kids, though I admit I did skip over some of the most awful language. There are nine books in the series, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods. Amazon P&P Kids who like this book may also like May B. and...

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Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Posted by on Apr 26, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Modern Classics, Sparkle Ponies |

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

A sensitive and dreamy girl, Hazel is a little lost in the real world. Her parents are getting divorced and her father is out of the picture. She recently transferred schools and has trouble fitting in. Her closest friend, Jack, is slowly slipping away – hanging out with other kids, and facing his own difficulties at home with a depressed mother. Then Jack is lured away by a white witch (based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen – like Frozen’s Elsa, but much nastier). Hazel embarks on a dangerous journey through the magical woods to save him. The story is lyrical and beautifully written, with many references to other stories, so it would be enjoyed by kids who are strong readers and love fairy tales. It would also be a good option for a kid book club. A note for parents of adopted kids: Hazel is Indian and was adopted by white parents at birth. At one point, she grieves that she doesn’t even know her own name, and considers staying in the woods with a couple she thinks might be her birth parents. She ultimately realizes that her adoptive mother is who she has and loves, and wants to return to. As a final note, it’s worth getting a hard copy of this book, as the illustrations, by Erin McGuire, are gorgeous. Amazon...

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