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

Award Winners

When you’re not messing around, go right for the good stuff.

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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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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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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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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Skellig by David Almond

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Age 8-12, Award Winners, Classics | 0 comments

Skellig by David Almond

What a haunting story. Ten-year-old Michael has moved into an old house with his parents and his sickly baby sister. He discovers a mysterious and apparently dying man living in the dilapidated garage. Michael and his friend Mina manage to move the man to a safer spot and nurse him back to health. (Michael’s sister lives, too, though it looks dicey for a while.) By the end, we see the man in his full splendor – with wings. Lots of beautiful imagery, and the story is sad and affecting, though wonderfully understated. The book was a Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year and won the Carnegie Medal.  Amazon...

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Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics |

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Ten-year-old Bud has a rough life. When his single mom dies, he is sent to a crowded orphanage, and then to a foster home where he is beaten up by a bigger boy and locked in a creepy, hornet-filled shed. Bud escapes and takes to the road on his own to find the man he is convinced is his father. Did I mention that it’s the 1930s, and Bud is African-American? Despite his dire circumstances, Bud is never self-pitying, and his sweetness and humility make him incredibly likeable. Along the way, we see some fascinating scenes from the Depression, including a Hooverville camp and a swinging jazz band. Things parents should know: There are some difficult scenes where Bud is treated badly (he isn’t actually beaten by the foster parents, though he is by the foster brother). The foster parents have a gun, and briefly it appears that Bud may use it, but he doesn’t. He kisses a girl. This book won the Newbery and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2000. Amazon...

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Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Modern Classics |

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

This book is a quick and fun read, the text interwoven with great illustrations and comic book interludes. It is also surprisingly poignant. It’s about a girl who befriends a superhero poet squirrel, and also about a girl whose parents are recently divorced. Flora has a challenging relationship with her mom, who is a chain-smoking romance novelist and is not very nice to Flora (though she comes around at the end). There is a tiny hint of romance in Flora’s friendship with the boy next door (they hold hands). The story has a sweet overarching message about loving each other despite all of our oddities. It won the Newbery in 2014. Amazon ...

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When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Posted by on Feb 3, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Modern Classics |

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

As a sixth-grader in 1970s Manhattan, Miranda navigates everyday challenges for kids growing up in the city – changing friendships and the beginning of romance, differences of race and class – plus a few that seem more sinister – a crazy homeless guy, a friend who gets randomly punched on the walk home from school, and anonymous notes that seem to foretell the future. These disparate elements come together in one fell swoop in a stunning ending. This book is a great option for fans of A Wrinkle in Time. It won the Newbery in 2010.  Amazon ...

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Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Posted by on Jan 12, 2014 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Sparkle Ponies |

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Miri is a 14-year-old who lives in a mining town but is too small to work, making her feel useless in a place that values physical strength. Then news comes that the priests have foretold the kingdom’s prince will marry a girl from the town, and so all girls from 12-18 must attend an academy to learn to be a princess. There is a bit of a Hunger Games feel to the story, as the hard mining life is contrasted with the opulent life of the kingdom, where people look down on Miri and her cohorts as uneducated and uncultured. Miri is a funny, tough main character, and she succeeds through hard work and kindness. There is some romance, in the preparation for the prince and in Miri’s crush on a boy from her town, but it is quite mild. The book won a Newbery Honor in 2006. There is a sequel. Amazon ...

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The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Posted by on Dec 29, 2013 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics |

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I loved this book as a kid, so I was excited to go back and revisit it. For those who missed it the first time around, it’s a murder mystery. Sam Westing is an eccentric millionaire who dies in his mansion on the hill in Westingtown. His will brings together a diverse group of people who seem to have some connection to him, and asks them to solve a puzzle to find his killer. The winner takes his millions. There is an ensemble cast, but the star is 11-year-old Turtle, a girl with braids, smarts, and a quick kick to the shins for anyone who crosses her. The novel’s age shows mainly in its heavy-handed diversity – the wise older black woman judge, the Chinese restaurant owner relentlessly hounding his son to study. That said, the book deftly exposes racism in a way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed at all. Overall, the storyline is timeless and as fun today as it was when I first read it. It won a Newbery Medal in 1979....

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Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Posted by on Nov 16, 2013 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics |

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

This is a lovely, sad story that chronicles the friendship of Jesse, a quiet and artistic farm boy, and the new girl in school, Leslie, who has hippie parents and has done exotic things like scuba diving. It’s refreshing to have a main character in Jesse who is a boy not charged with saving the world, but who instead has to figure out more prosaic things like how to get along with his parents and sisters and the other kids at school. Jesse and Leslie build a secret world for themselves across the creek behind their houses, and name it Terabithia. Together, they tame the school bully, and work through the turmoils at home and school. Then the unthinkable happens: Leslie is killed in an accident, trying to cross to Terabithia by herself. Jesse is devastated. The book does not try to shield children from the horror of losing a loved one; it was actually inspired by Paterson’s son losing his best friend at the age of eight. There are light swear words used, and some violence – Jesse punches his little sister in the face after Leslie’s funeral. He feels bad about it afterward, but it’s pretty disturbing. Overall, though, the story is so beautiful and honest that I think it’s worth it to give to your older middle grader. Won the Newbery in 1978.  Amazon...

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Posted by on Sep 6, 2013 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Sparkle Ponies |

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

This novel riffs on the Cinderella tale, but makes it so much more interesting. Ella is cursed at birth to be obedient always – she cannot disobey a direct command. She is a funny, likeable main character, and you quickly see how awful the curse is as she is at the whim of her cruel stepsisters and others. She manages to break the curse and win the prince through her intelligence, bravery and strength. The book is great, but sad (we experience with Ella the death of her mother) and scary (she is almost eaten by ogres), so I’d recommend it for older, tougher readers. It was made into a movie starring Anne Hathaway, and won a Newbery honor. There are other books in a similar vein by Levine, and you can also get this one in a boxed set with two others, which would make a nice gift for the fairy tale lover in your life. Amazon P&P Kids who like this book might also like Goose Girl and The Tail of Emily...

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The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Posted by on Aug 27, 2013 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Read Aloud |

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The sweet story of a mouse who doesn’t fit in, but is brave and true of heart and saves a princess. A great read aloud – you’ll enjoy it as much as your kids. There is a dungeon with rats, which can be a little scary; I’d suggest just reading those parts in a light and happy tone, nothing to worry about here, kids. And there really isn’t, it all works out well and the conflicts are minimal. Plus this book won the Newbery Award, and there’s a really pretty hardcover version out which makes a nice gift.  Amazon...

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Savvy by Ingrid Law

Posted by on Aug 27, 2013 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Modern Classics |

Savvy by Ingrid Law

A really cool story of a kid whose family members all have secret magical abilities which are revealed to them on the 13th birthdays. The book takes place on the days leading up to Mibs’ 13th birthday, when she learns that her father has been in a horrible car accident and rushes to try to help him, while also trying to figure out the crazy, uncontrollable things that are going to happen to her body when she turns 13. The book is a nice mix of real world emotional angst (with a little romance, including a first kiss) and magic. Won a Newbery honor. Amazon...

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Posted by on Aug 25, 2013 in Age 8-12, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Classics, Series |

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“It was a dark and stormy night…,” begins this classic novel, which follows 14-year-old Meg, her unusual younger brother, and her friend and light love interest Calvin, on a trip across the galaxy to save Meg’s father. Nothing to fear here for parents, and it has the nice benefit of being a science fiction book with a strong female protagonist. Won the Newbery. If your kid falls in love with this one, there are four other books in the series, as well as a graphic novel. Amazon  P&P Kids who like this book may also like A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel and When You Reach...

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The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Posted by on Aug 24, 2013 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Award Winners, Modern Classics, Series |

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

This book was published in 2005, but it feels much older, like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women. It centers on four sisters from ages 12 to 4, whose mother has died and who spend three weeks in the summer with their father in a rented cottage on a fancy estate. The girls befriend the boy who lives in the estate and get into all sorts of trouble along the way. The sibling relationship is great, the four sisters are distinct and likeable. There is a little light romance (the oldest sister has an unrequited crush on the 19-year-old gardener). Overall, an easygoing and enjoyable story. It won the National Book Award, and there are two sequels for those who want to hear more about the Penderwick sisters. Amazon...

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