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    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

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    January 15, 2013: After the Call

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    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

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The Hunt for Big Kid Books in the Middle-Grade Section

Book Lists

“Mom, I’m ready for big kid books now,” my precocious 6-year-old son said to me, eying the middle-grade section of the bookstore. While it was true he was a fluent reader, was he ready emotionally for the content?

Photo credit: kokopinto via Flickr

Middle-grade books are typically geared towards the 8-12 year old reader. Within the middle-grade section, there are varying levels in length and story complexity. Harold Underdown in his book, THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, gives this range:

Young middle-grade: 48-80 pages (7-9 year olds)

True middle-grade: 80-160 pages (8-12 year olds)

Older middle-grade: 128-200 pages (10-14 year olds)

Underdown notes: “it’s difficult to make hard and fast distinctions between the different levels.”

Ah, but distinctions I must make. There’s a huge difference between an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, not to mention a precocious 6-year-old. We were looking for lower middle-grade—that range of books appropriate in length and content for the 7-9 year-old reader, ready to move on from chapter books.* That meant young middle-grade books, with some true middle-grade books thrown into the mix.

I knew my young reader wasn’t ready for stories with a dead mother or kids in middle school or sinister fantasy. We were on the hunt for stories with elementary school kids, not-too-scary fantasy, or animals. Most importantly, stories that would protect his tender psyche and not disrupt our much-needed sleep with nightmares. Some of the classics, written before the sharp lines of age categories, worked well: CHARLOTTE’S WEB and STUART LITTLE by E.B. White, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl, TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING by Judy Blume, MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS by Richard and Florence Atwater, and MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE by Betty MacDonald.

Then began the hunt for newer titles. It wasn’t easy to find the lower middle-grade books buried among the potentially too sophisticated upper middle-grade books on the shelves. This is where a librarian or bookseller familiar with the content is gold. I read a lot myself too before handing him the book, which had some unexpected side effects: 1) He was more eager to get his hands on the book I was reading, and 2) we had wonderful conversations on what we thought about the story. I also discovered he wouldn’t read a book with a girl on the cover, but I liked some of those books so much I included them in my list below.

Here are some of my finds:


BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY)
by Lisa Yee


ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS
by Lenore Look


TAKE THE MUMMY AND RUN: THE RIOT BROTHERS ARE ON A ROLL
by Mary Amato


CAMPFIRE MALLORY
by Laurie B. Friedman


JUST GRACE WALKS THE DOG
by Charise Mericle Harper

Let me know your favorite lower middle-grade books in the comments!

*Chapter books are shorter with simpler vocabulary and sentence structure, often with an illustration in each chapter. For example, the JUNIE B. JONES series by Barbara Park and the MAGIC TREE HOUSE series by Mary Pope Osborne.

Karen B. Schwartz is currently hard at work on a lower middle-grade novel about a spunky girl who gets kicked out of the princess crowd at recess, which her son has vowed never to read.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Mike Jung  •  Jul 16, 2010 @1:45 pm

    CLEMENTINE!

  2. Mike Jung  •  Jul 16, 2010 @1:47 pm

    I think Mac Barnett’s Brixton Brothers books also qualify. Then, hmm, what about Laurel Snyder’s ANY WHICH WALL? And maybe A WHOLE NOTHER STORY? I’m also liking Mary Hershey’s MY BIG SISTER IS SO BOSSY SHE SAYS YOU CAN’T READ THIS BOOK…

  3. Kurtis is too lazy to log in  •  Jul 16, 2010 @2:03 pm

    Love the title of the last one, Mike!

  4. Sydney Salter  •  Jul 16, 2010 @2:46 pm

    I love JUST GRACE and CLEMENTINE. I’d also add WE CAN’T ALL BE RATTLESNAKES, MY LAST BEST FRIEND, and THE YEAR OF THE RAT. Oh, and THE QUAIL CLUB.

  5. Amie Borst  •  Jul 16, 2010 @3:09 pm

    This is a great post! Thanks Karen! One of our favorites is the SARIAH McDUFF series. hmmm….on second thought those might be chapter books….

  6. Sherrie Petersen  •  Jul 16, 2010 @3:15 pm

    My son also avoids books with girls on the cover. Two of his favorites were Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Colville, Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. A new series that’s also great for younger middle grade is Nathaniel Fludd by R.L. LaFevers, Sheep by Val Hobbs is a sweet story of a dog and of course there are the Wimpy Kid books. Who can resist those?

  7. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 16, 2010 @3:51 pm

    Thanks for all these book suggestions. We love Clementine too, but some places list it as a chapter book, so I wasn’t sure about that one. Making my to-read list for both of us!

  8. Laurie Beth Schneider  •  Jul 16, 2010 @4:10 pm

    My son loved THE ZACK FILES series by Dan Greenburg and The MARVIN REDPOST books by Louis Sachar.

  9. June Morgan (chorkie)  •  Jul 16, 2010 @4:51 pm

    I found a cute chapter book series titled Magic Puppy and another one titled Magic Kitty.
    The author is Sue Bentley. The puppies and kittens on the cover are absolutely adorable. My first and second graders and my ESL students are loving them.

    Also, Lucy Nolan has a series titled Down Girl and Sit. There are 4 books in this series about two dogs and their antics with their owners and neighbors.

  10. Nicole Marie Schreiber  •  Jul 16, 2010 @5:03 pm

    I’m so excited with this post, because my 5 1/2 year old boy is wanting to read these types of books as well with me. I write middle grade historical fiction and fantasy, but it is definitely what Harold Underdown describes as Older Middle Grade, so I really know those books. When I met with Elizabeth Law at Egmont for a critique at SCBWI Western Washington this past April, she also described this level to me as tween.

    I’ve read my son Charlie and the Chocolate Factory twice, and now we are on Great Glass Elevator (though it’s just not engaging him enough like the other one). I just checked out James and the Giant Peach and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. We are also on #7 of the Magic Tree House. I’ve also read him the original Wizard of Oz and parts of The Wind in the Willows. I’m going to look into the other selections mentioned here as well.

    Thanks for the post!

  11. Cathe Olson  •  Jul 16, 2010 @6:36 pm

    The Melvin Beederman Superhero series is great for both boys and girls.

  12. Jan Lyon  •  Jul 16, 2010 @7:14 pm

    I second the Marvin Redpost series by Louis Sachar.

    Other good picks for young boys are:

    Nate the Great series by Marjorie Sharmat
    Freckle Juice by Judy Blume
    Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith
    The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron

  13. Susan Quinn  •  Jul 16, 2010 @9:07 pm

    Oh, this has been my life for the last 5 years, ever since my now-11-yo said he was ready for BIG books! And this has fueled a lot of the choices on my blog, which is probably slanted toward true middle grade and upper middle grade, now that my kids are 7,9, and 11.

    My Suggested Reads for Wee Ones list also has reading levels, to help that along a bit.

    But my fav’s (beside MTH): Tom Swift, Frindle, any book with a mouse, and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

  14. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 17, 2010 @7:52 am

    Thanks for all these book suggestions! Susan I read your Suggested Reads for Wee Ones–excellent post with lots of great appropriate titles.

  15. Christy Evers  •  Jul 18, 2010 @3:49 am

    Thnx for this list. W/ 3 young girls, I have a feeling I may need to refer to this list!

    Christy (by way of Verla Kay)

  16. sheelachari  •  Jul 18, 2010 @11:11 am

    My 7 year old daughter is a big fan of the Just Grace books, too. She is also into the Rainbow magic series by Daisy Meadows (book series on fairies). I don’t know if anyone mentioned The Magic Treehouse series – that’s a big hit with her and her friends.

    Personally I love Charlotte’s Web, which makes a great book for reading out loud. Lisa Schroeder’s It’s Raining Cupcakes book is a good “big kid” book: it looks likes big reading, but easy to follow for a precocious reader, with most of the book set outside the classroom in a small town in OR over the summer. And who can’t resist cupcakes? ;)

  17. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Jul 18, 2010 @2:48 pm

    My little girls loved the All Of A Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor.

    And following Sheela’s thoughts about Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White does such a great job of speaking to children in an intelligent and humorous manner. Trumpet of the Swan will always be a favorite in this household.

  18. Olugbemisola  •  Jul 18, 2010 @11:27 pm

    Great post! We love the Ruby Lu books, also by Lenore Look, and Nikki Grimes’ Dyamonde Daniel books — though I’m not sure if these would be considered young middle grade or chapter books.

  19. Melina  •  Jul 20, 2010 @7:33 pm

    This is a great post. I read older MG and younger YA – if you know what I mean. My brother is 8 and he is right in the middle of the MG books.

  20. Tracy Abell  •  Jul 21, 2010 @10:35 am

    This is so helpful, Karen. Not sure if you’ve already considered The Time Warp Trio books, but I love them. And so did my kids when they were younger (I still read them).

  21. Lisa P  •  Jul 21, 2010 @4:47 pm

    We discovered the Andy Shane (LMG) and Sister Magic books this year.
    Also bought The Spelling B (I think that is what it is, not at home to peek) but haven’t started them yet.

  22. Suzanne Nemeroff  •  Jul 21, 2010 @9:40 pm

    Some folks mentioned Roald Dalh’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I think The BFG, The Twits, George’s Marvelous Medicine and other shorter stories of his are even better for the younger crowd. Also, I recently read The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes. That was quite good for this age group.

  23. Kelly Easton  •  Jul 28, 2010 @9:07 pm

    Thank you, Suzanne! I was actually perusing for funny books for my son. He loves the humor and it’s hard to find, so I am trying to write it and have more coming. We’ve read the Wayside Series, by Sachar five times, like Kafka for Kids; Holes. He liked the graphic novel, American Born Chinese, and also just read the something something of Origami Yoda. And yes, he reads my books for me and likes The Outlandish Adventures…

    More coming from me for this age soon.

    Best, Kelly Easton

  24. Barbara Gross  •  Mar 8, 2011 @12:24 pm

    Twelve by Lauren Myracle: Winnie has just turned twelve. The book takes us through the twelve months following her twelfth birthday, with a look at how she deals with pre-teen issues like boys, friends, and periods. The voice is very realistic, not at all like an adult trying to sound like a twelve-year-old. It is also very frank about the issues. This is a book a twelve-year-old would probably get a lot out of, but it’s a book to read alone (or with a good friend, certainly not with grandma). It makes me wish I had had a friend like Winnie when I was twelve. Now I’m looking forward to reading Eleven, Thirteen, and Thirteen Plus One by Lauren Myracle.

  25. Kim Ridley  •  Mar 19, 2011 @1:34 pm

    This was a great post. Thanks so much.