• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Book Lists > Learning Differences in Middle-Grade
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


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Learning Differences in Middle-Grade

Book Lists, For Kids, Learning Differences

It’s back to school time!  For many of us this phrase elicits memories of backpacks and sack lunches, the smell of new clothes and the smooth feel of crayon against paper.

For me, however, back to school means long meetings and headaches, IEP’s and 504’s, discussions with teachers and other professionals and loads and loads of encouragement.


Because I have a learning disabled daughter.  Don’t feel sorry for me – or her.  It’s ok.  My daughter is exactly as she was supposed to be.  She’s perfect.

Learning disabilities (or learning differences as we prefer to call it) come in various forms.  While there are many types of learning disabilities, the most common are Dyslexia (words and shapes are processed differently, sometimes backwards), ADD or ADHD (children have attention problems and are easily distracted), Dyscalculia (the inability to memorize or master basic math functions), Auditory Processing (the inability to distinguish or process oral language), Speech and Language (not just the intelligibility of a child’s speech, but also their understanding of written and oral language) and Dysgraphia (illegible handwriting and the inability to make letters consistent).   Learning disabled children are typically of normal or high intelligence and are simply wired differently, requiring alternative methods of teaching.

So, you might be wondering what this has to do with middle-grade.  It’s simple really.  Most learning disabilities are discovered in those challenging, impressionable years of middle-grade; usually between the ages of 8 and 12 or 3rd – 6th grade.  Granted, there are exceptions.  Depending on the severity and impact on learning, these disabilities may be found much sooner – or even later for that matter.  But for the majority of children, their learning struggles will manifest during this time period.

Like all children, kids who learn differently long to have someone they can relate to, especially in middle-grade when they are discovering who they are and their place in the world.  Adding to their challenges is the pressure to fit in socially, to be more like their peers academically and most of all, to be accepted.  This can further their desire to find someone who understands them and can also lead to feelings of frustration and isolation. 

There is one place, however, they need never feel alone.  Books!

One of my daughter’s favorites is The Lightning Thief series.  When I learned that Percy had ADHD and dyslexia, it made me realize just how vital learning challenged characters are in book.  And quite frankly, I longed to find more stories with characters who struggle with learning challenges. 

Although I haven’t read all of these books yet, I’m excited to share them with my daughter and you.

My Name Is Brian by Jeanne Betancourt

A story of a boy with dyslexia.  When he writes his name on the blackboard as Brain (instead of Brian), he’s made fun of by a group of kids.  Although the story focuses on the character’s learning challenges, it also incorporates real life problems with friends and family. 

Reach For the Moon by Samantha Abeel

Although originally self published, this collection of poems and essays went on to a small press.  The author herself suffers from dyscalculia and has also written a memoir (The Thirteenth Year)about her journey.

The Safe Place by Tehila Peterseil

Kinneret is an Israeli girl with ADD and dyslexia.  Going to school produces feelings of frustration and humiliation.  But with the help of some special teachers Kinneret is able to find the confidence to succeed.

Spaceman by Jane Cutler

Fifth grade student, Gary, is placed in a special education classroom after “spacing out” as a coping strategy for daily taunts by his peers.  There he is instructed by a gifted and talented teacher who unveils Gary’s learning disabilities and finds the method of instruction best suited to his needs.

Other choices: 

  • Trout and Me by Susan Richards Shreve
  •  Zipper: The Kid with ADHD by Caroline Janover
  • The Worst Speller in Jr High by Caroline Janover
  • Sparks by Graham McNamee
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • The Survival Guide for Kids with LD by Gary Fisher

I hope these books will help the children you know who learn differently.  Maybe they’ll even help a classroom of children to be more understanding and compassionate towards the differences in others. 

Have you read any books about learning challenged kids?  What did you like about them?  I’d love to hear your impressions!

Amie Borst is a mother of 3 girls (two of which are middle-graders).  She loves to write fairy-tales with a twist and never misses an opportunity to eat chocolate.  She welcomes you to visit her website



  1. Wendy  •  Sep 15, 2010 @9:04 am

    My daughter was diagnosed with a disability in pre-school. Compassion from teachers is also something I wish she had experienced in her early school years. As she has matured she has learned to cope with her invisible condition, but the middle grade years were tough. Maybe I should write a book about a child with her condition. Thanks for the post.

  2. Andrea  •  Sep 15, 2010 @9:17 am

    This is great post, Amie!

  3. Laura Marcella  •  Sep 15, 2010 @9:25 am

    Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos. Joey has ADD. Gantos has written other novels about Joey but I’ve only read Loses Control so far. It’s a terrific book!

  4. Amie Borst  •  Sep 15, 2010 @9:29 am

    wendy – you should! there can never be enough books to help these kids and their families!

    thanks for the suggestion laura! i’ll be sure to check it out!

  5. Tracy Abell  •  Sep 15, 2010 @10:47 am

    Great post, Amie. I was also going to suggest the Joey Pigza books by Jack Gantos. They’re excellent!

  6. Michael G-G  •  Sep 15, 2010 @11:23 am

    Thanks for the book list, Amie. I look forward to checking these books out with my oldest son. Now in 8th grade, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and ADD in 4th grade. It has been a struggle for him to find his place in the world. But he loves to read!

  7. Karen Schwartz  •  Sep 15, 2010 @12:23 pm

    Nice post, Amie. The Reinvention of Edison Thomas features a boy with Asperger’s.

  8. Susan Kaye Quinn  •  Sep 15, 2010 @12:52 pm

    Thanks for the great list! :)

  9. Karen Scott  •  Sep 15, 2010 @1:26 pm

    My kids and I also devoured the Percy Jackson series. One of the things I loved was that his dyslexia and ADD turned out to be gifts from the “godly” side of his family. They had a purpose! A great message, I hope, for kids who have these differences.

    I have a nephew with autism…now you have me wondering what books he reads. Last I checked, he didn’t like fiction at all. But I think it is worth a conversation!

  10. Laurie Schneider  •  Sep 15, 2010 @1:46 pm

    I highly recommend Janet Tashjian’s MY LIFE AS A BOOK. The main character’s difficulty reading is never given a name, but the book is hysterically funny–a la Wimpy Kid–but it also has a serious side, posing the question “Are we defined by our abilities/disabilities?” The book also provides some great strategies for struggling readers.

  11. Elissa Cruz  •  Sep 15, 2010 @2:40 pm

    This is such a great post, Amie!

    One I read that I thought was interesting was the London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. The story is told from the point of view of a boy with Asperger’s. He (obviously) solves a mystery, but I loved that the author took us inside his head and let us see life as a person with Asperger’s would. Very eye-opening. (Plus it was a very clever mystery!)

  12. Mrs. V  •  Sep 15, 2010 @10:43 pm

    I want to read Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind. Right now one of my students is reading my copy from the classroom library though.

  13. Tania McCue  •  Sep 16, 2010 @6:38 am

    Thanks Amie! As a learning disabled no longer middle grader myself, I worry for my kids as well. I’m glad to know there are books out there about kids who are just a little different. Regardless of how my children end up learning, it will be good to show them that everyone faces different challenges and has problems to work through!

  14. Amie Borst  •  Sep 16, 2010 @8:26 am

    these are all great book suggestions! i can’t wait to read them with my daughter.

    karen (scott) – i especially LOVED that the learning differences had a purpose! i truly believe that!

  15. Margaret Nevinski  •  Sep 16, 2010 @1:30 pm

    Thanks for this great list, Amie. For us writers, this is a good reminder that readers come to our books for many different reasons.

  16. Gregory K.  •  Sep 17, 2010 @4:19 pm

    Good list and an important topic. To add to it, the Hank Zipzer books by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler are all about a dyslexic boy (modeled on Henry Winkler). Also of interest, perhaps, was this list of books that Abby the Librarian put together of books on the Spectrum, including lots of great titles: