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

Sparkle Ponies

For the kid who loves fairy dust and unicorns, mermaids and princesses, here is a selection of tales of magic and heroism and friendship.

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 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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Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Age 8-12, Modern Classics, Sparkle Ponies | 0 comments

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

I read this book in a day. It was engrossing, to say the least. Based on the Brothers Grimm tale, it’s the story of a princess, Ani, who doesn’t quite fit in – she gets tongue-tied at tea parties and prefers to spend time outside with the animals. Her mother sends her off to another kingdom to marry the prince there instead of allowing her to inherit the throne, as is custom. On the journey, Ani is betrayed by her lady-in-waiting, who, with her henchmen, tries to kill Ani and present herself as the princess. Ani survives and hides out as the kingdom’s goose girl until she gathers her strength and makes a plan to present herself, win the hand of the dreamy prince, and find her voice. Parts of the story are scary, and there is a disturbing scene where Ani’s beloved horse is killed and its head hung on the wall over her home. Overall, an absorbing and more feminist version of a classic princess fairy tale. There are two sequels. 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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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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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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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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Disney Fairies

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

Disney Fairies

Not as bad as you fear. There’s actually a nice empowerment message in that each fairy has to find her calling, and that it will be something that she loves to do more than anything else. There is a romantic subplot between Tinkerbell and a male fairy which seems a bit out of place for the age range, and some scenes can be a little scary, but overall, it’s got fairies, adventure, friendship, what more could a kid want? Note that there is one series of three longer books (the Fairy Dust Trilogy), all written by Gail Carson Levine and all centered on Tinkerbell; these are good if your kid can handle a longer and somewhat intricate plot. For younger kids, there are a lot of shorter chapter books that each focus on a particular fairy. These are quicker and simpler than the Levine books, and also make a nice read aloud if you have a fairy-obsessed pre-reader. Amazon: Fairy Dust Trilogy Chapter Books     P&P: Fairy Dust Trilogy Chapter...

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