How to Find Great Middle Grade Novels

Z Middle Grade Books and Ruby 2

With so many middle grade novels out there, how do you decide what to read next? If you’re looking for some great new MG to read, here are a few easy ways to find them:

  • Browse our unique book lists! You can search for topics like humorous, fantasy, books for reluctant readers, multicultural, action and adventure, books for strong readers, contemporary, sports, historical fiction, etc. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, let us know and we’ll do our best to create a new book list for you.
  • Check out our monthly new release posts.
  • You could find some interesting books by browsing our author interviews.
  • To read book reviews (either by children or adults) and to find more middle-grade focused sites, check out What Should I Read Next?
  • Ask your local librarian! If you mention the kind of book you’re looking for, I’m sure he or she will point you in the right direction.
  • Go to a library or bookstore and browse! See which covers and titles catch your attention. Choose a bunch that interest you, then sit down and read the first few pages. Chances are, you’ll find more than one great book to add to your must-read list.
  • Check out award winning middle grade novels! The Newbery Award is usually a middle grade novel, but this year it was awarded to a wonderful picture book. You can check out the recent Newbery Award Honors, plus past winners and honors. There are tons of different awards out there. Some are selected by peers, like the 2015 Crystal Kite winning book Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra.
  • For anyone interested in writing or illustrating children’s books, the SCBWI Blueboard is an amazing resource! There’s an entire section for discussing the craft of middle grade novels and here’s a thread from 2015 asking for the 10 best middle grade novels.

I’d love to know how you select which middle grade novels to read.

Happy reading everyone!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

We (will always and forever) Need Diverse Books

When this  logo burst on the scene last year …

we need diverse

everyone who loves kids’ books (and kids) cheered. The call for more diverse books stemmed from a mixture of anger, urgency and love, a sense that it was long past time for all our children to be able to find themselves in the words and pictures of books.

Sometimes, that kind of fervor fades and the insidious status quo comes creeping back. Not this time! The newly appointed ambassador of children’s literature is Gene Luen Yang, author of the terrific “American Born Chinese”. The first goal of his Reading Without Walls mission is to make sure that not only are diverse books published and available, but that we get kids to actually read them—as he puts it, “to read books about people who do not look or live like them.”

Here are a few books, some recently published and some to come, that, first of all, tell wonderful, compelling stories. Some are hilarious, some suspenseful, some best read with the tissue box nearby. All of them underline the forever truth that diversity is fundamental to human experience.

seventh most important

From Shelley Pearsall, author of “Jump Into the Sky” and “Trouble Don’t Last”: One kid. One crime. One chance to make things right. 
It was a bitterly cold day when Arthur T. Owens grabbed a brick and hurled it at the trash picker. Arthur had his reasons, and the brick hit the Junk Man in the arm, not the head. But none of that matters to the judge he is ready to send Arthur to juvie for the foreseeable future. Amazingly, it’s the Junk Man himself who offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service . . . working for him.
Arthur is given a rickety shopping cart and a list of the Seven Most Important Things: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, light bulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. He can t believe it is he really supposed to rummage through people’s trash? But it isn t long before Arthur realizes there’s more to the Junk Man than meets the eye, and the trash he’s collecting is being transformed into something more precious than anyone could imagine. . . .

land of forgotten girls

From the author of “Blackbird Fly”: Two sisters from the Philippines, abandoned by their father and living with their stepmother in Louisiana, fight to make their lives better in this remarkable story for readers of Cynthia Kadohata and Rita Williams-Garcia, and for anyone searching for the true meaning of family.

whole new ballgame

Bildner created an instant league of fans with “Ballgame”, and he’ll make them even happier with “Rookie of the Year”  this summer. Rip and Red are best friends whose fifth-grade year is nothing like what they expected. They have a crazy new tattooed teacher named Mr. Acevedo, who doesn’t believe in tests or homework and who likes off-the-wall projects, the more “off” the better. They also find themselves with a new basketball coach: Mr. Acevedo Easy-going Rip is knocked completely out of his comfort zone. And for Red, who has autism and really needs things to be exactly a certain way, the changes are even more of a struggle. But together these two make a great duo who know how to help each other and find ways to make a difference in the classroom and on the court.

paper wishes

Sepahban’s newest is a historical novel with (too much) contemporary resonance. Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her and her grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of.  She and her grandfather are devastated, but Manami clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can reclaim the piece of herself that she left behind and accept all that has happened to her family.

And one more that offers pure fun:

catch a cheat

Johnson, a terrifically entertaining writer, specializes in middle grade wish fulfillment. Jackson Greene is riding high. He is officially retired from conning, so Principal Kelsey is (mostly) off his back. His friends have great new projects of their own. And he’s been hanging out a lot with Gaby de la Cruz, so he thinks maybe, just maybe, they’ll soon have their first kiss.
Then Jackson receives a link to a faked security video that seems to show him and the rest of Gang Greene flooding the school gym. The jerks behind the video threaten to pass it to the principal — unless Jackson steals an advance copy of the school’s toughest exam.
So Gang Greene reunites for their biggest job yet. To get the test and clear their names, they’ll have to outrun the school’s security cameras, outwit a nosy member of the Honor Board, and outmaneuver the blackmailers while setting a trap for them in turn. And as they execute another exciting caper full of twists and turns, they’ll prove that sometimes it takes a thief to catch a cheat. 

Okay! Please share your own recent favorites, or those you’re looking forward to in 2016!

Tricia’s new middle grade, “Every Single Second”, publishing in June, is about the impact a terrible, fatal mistake has on a community, a neighborhood, and the lives of two best friends. 

 

 

Avian Flights of Fancy: MG Books That Feature Birds and Birdwatchers

I am a self-confessed bird brain. My Mom got me hooked as a bird watcher in the 4th grade. Something about watching birds go about their daily lives outside my window, and in the larger world, has always inspired me and made me want to know more about this amazing array of cretures.

They jockey for position in a hierarchy I can’t quite understand, persist against all odds, strut and preen and relax and fight, and it’s all before my eyes if only I will slow down and look. They’re beautiful and funny and puzzling.

Here are some Middle Grade reads that have something to do with birds. Some feature people as the main characters. Some feature birds as the main characters, or perhaps birds are important in some way for helping the characters to make connections. Some feature bird brains like me, kids obsessed with their binoculars or bird guides.  One nonfiction book and one picture book round out the collection, providing the reader with a broad look at the ways birds are shared in story, and the ways our actions affect their eistence on the planet.

All synopses from IndieBound.

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

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A book for young readers. It involves new kids, bullies, alligators, eco-warriors, pancakes, and pint-sized owls. A hilarious
Floridian adventure!

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

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For fans of Jennifer Holm (“Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise”), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.
Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp, by Kathi Appelt

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Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this rollicking tale and National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.
Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man–the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp–is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.
And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.
The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, by Jane Kelley

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An orphaned African grey parrot who can speak 127 words. A girl so sick she has forgotten what it means to try. Fate and a banana nut muffin bring them together. Will their shared encounter help them journey through storms inside and out? Will they lose their way, or will they find what really matters?

Here is a story that will remind readers how navigating so many of life’s desperate adventures requires friendship and, above all, hope.

Wild Wings, by Gill Lewis

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When Callum spots crazy Iona McNair on his family’s sprawling property, she’s catching a fish with her bare hands. She won’t share the fish, but does share something else: a secret.

She’s discovered a rare endangered bird, an Osprey, and it’s clear to both her and Callum that if anyone finds out about the bird, it, and its species, is likely doomed. Poachers, egg thieves, and wild weather are just some of the threats, so Iona and Callum vow to keep track of the bird and check her migratory progress using the code a preservationist tagged on her ankle, no matter what.

But when one of them can no longer keep the promise, it’s up to the other to do it for them both. No matter what. Set against the dramatic landscapes of Scotland and West Africa, this is a story of unlikely friendships, the wonders of the wild—and the everyday leaps of faith that set our souls to flight.

Sparrow Girl, by Sara Pennypacker

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Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.
As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from the trees, frightened to death! Ming-Li knew she had to do something–even if she couldn’t stop the noise. Quietly, she vowed to save as many sparrows as she could, one by one…

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose

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It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake

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A Newbery Honor Book
An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book
Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly.
But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn’t, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of “pigeoners” trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body wearing Agatha’s blue-green ball gown everyone assumes the worst.Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.

Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli

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Palmer LaRue is running out of birthdays. For as long as he can remember, he’s dreaded the day he turns ten — the day he’ll take his place beside all the other ten-year-old boys in town, the day he’ll be a wringer. But Palmer doesn’t want to be a wringer. It’s one of the first things he learned about himself and it’s one of the biggest things he has to hide. In Palmer’s town being a wringer is an honor, a tradition passed down from father to son. Palmer can’t stop himself from being a wringer just like he can’t stop himself from growing one year older, just like he can’t stand up to a whole town — right? Newbery Medal winner Jerry Spinelli’s most powerful novel yet is a gripping tale of how one boy learns how not to be afraid.

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

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For fans of The Chronicles of Narnia comes the first book in the Wildwood Chronicles, the New York Times bestselling fantasy adventure series by Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children’s literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.

Supports the Common Core State Standards.

The Guardians of Ga’hoole, by Kathryn Lasky

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Ga’Hoole is a classic hero mythology about the fight between good and evil. This new version of The Capture will feature art from the movie, due out in September 2010!

After Soren, a young owlet, is pushed from his family’s nest by his older brother, he’s plucked from the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school, the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. When Soren arrives at St. Aggie’s, he suspects there is more to the school than meets the eye. He and his new friend, the clever and scrappy Gylfie, find out that St. Aggie’s is actually a training camp where the school’s leader can groom young owls to help achieve her goal–to rule the entire owl kingdom.

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, by Phillip Hoose

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The tragedy of extinction is explained through the dramatic story of a legendary bird, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and of those who tried to possess it, paint it, shoot it, sell it, and, in a last-ditch effort, save it. A powerful saga that sweeps through two hundred years of history, it introduces artists like John James Audubon, bird collectors like William Brewster, and finally a new breed of scientist in Cornell’s Arthur A. “Doc” Allen and his young ornithology student, James Tanner, whose quest to save the Ivory-bill culminates in one of the first great conservation showdowns in U.S. history, an early round in what is now a worldwide effort to save species. As hope for the Ivory-bill fades in the United States, the bird is last spotted in Cuba in 1987, and Cuban scientists join in the race to save it….

“The Race to Save the Lord God Bird” is the winner of the 2005 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2005 Bank Street – Flora Stieglitz Award.

If all these these books about birds and birdwatchers sparked your curiosity, maybe you’d be interested, as I have been, in participating in citizen science that involves watching birds. There are great opportunities to be a part of real science through your binoculars.

The Great Backyard Bird Count , coming February 12-15, 2016, is a great way to get out and see some of your  own neighborhood birds. Cornell University’s Project Feederwatch, through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is another good way to become a bird brain yourself! It’s great for just about anyone who has a window; everyone can participate, kids and adults alike. It’s not too late to join in this year’s watch season, either. Still hungry for more? Check out the Cornell Lab’s Education page for a wide range of information and activities.

Whatever you do, the world of birds is right outside your window, AND btween the pages of a book. Check it out!

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press and blogs at Gatherings, the blog of Gather Here: History for Young People