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

Classics

You’ve read these, or think you should have, or you can’t quite remember and it’s all a little fuzzy.

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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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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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 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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Matilda by Roald Dahl

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Age 5-8, Classics | 0 comments

Matilda by Roald Dahl

You’re probably familiar with this one. Matilda is a five-year-old genius who has read Dickens and can do complex calculations, but is humble, polite, and brave. She takes on the bullies around her, and saves her beloved teacher. It’s Dahl, so the humor is dark. The evil principal likes to take little girls by the pigtails, spin them around, and throw them over the fence. Matilda’s parents are crooks who only want to watch TV, and make fun of Matilda for liking to read. Matilda exacts revenge through pranks, and always comes out ahead due to her intelligence and desire to help the less fortunate. The violence is all cartoony, and the trials Matilda suffers make us love her all the more. The book was made into a movie and a musical. 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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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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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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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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Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

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

Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Oh, it’s so cute! A mute trumpeter swan gets a real trumpet to play, has cross-country adventures with it, and then settles at home with a girl he loves. Particularly fun for kids who are into music. 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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Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Posted by on Aug 22, 2013 in Age 5-8, All Book Recommendations, Classics, Read Aloud |

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The pig lives, the spider dies. Death is handled deftly in this classic story, but it is prominent, from the very beginning. The talking animals and farmyard setting make it a nice early read aloud, but be prepared for discussions on death and humans’ role in it. Otherwise, a funny and sweet story suitable for the youngest readers and pre-readers. Amazon...

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