Mid-year Reading Round-Up

In an effort to make my year-end reading wrap-up not quite so much of an effort, here’s a half-year check in: some of the picture books, middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction and nonfiction books I’ve liked best so far this year.

Picture Booksmagiccandies

  • The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming, illus. Nicola Slater: The hilarious dialogue between the bird and the squirrel makes this one of the most fun fall read-alouds ever!
  • Acorn Was A Little Wild by Jen Arena: Would pair well with the above in a fall storytime. Just because you put down roots doesn’t mean you need to settle down!
  • El Cucuy Is Scared Too by Donna Barba Higuera, illus. Juliana Perdomo: Even the monster has worries about living in a new place.
  • Magic Candies by Heena Baek: Magic candies enable a boy to hear voices – of the couch, his father, his dead grandma, and the dog.
  • Sweet Justice (and many other nonfiction and nonfiction-ish books) by Mara Rockliff: Rockliff takes fascinating, less-well-known subjects and makes them interesting and accessible.
  • Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl: The richly illustrated story of the title character during all four seasons.
  • The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear, illus. Gracey Zhang: In Japan, a girl and her mother visit the bath house with all their female relatives.
  • Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder, illus. Dan Santat: This choose-your-own-adventure style fairy tale(s) is endlessly entertaining; it was a hit in Mother/Daughter book club.
  • Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illus. David Roberts: A bath-averse cat scrambles the family to-do list, made in fridge magnet alphabet letters, creating ridiculous chores. howoldami
  • How Old Am I? 1-100 Faces From Around the World by Julie Pugeat: Black-and-white photo portraits of people at every age from 1-100 are accompanied by a few piece of information and a short biographical statement or quote from each person.
  • Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic by Kelly Crull: Sculptures made from ocean plastic are paired with small actions readers can take to reduce plastic waste.
  • I Love You Like Yellow by Andrea Beaty, illus. Vashti Harrison: This picture book poem has the cadence and message that make it a perfect bedtime book, night after night for years.
  • Don’t Eat Bees by Dev Petty, illus. Mike Boldt: Wise advice from a learned dog – just as funny as Petty & Boldt’s Frog books.

Middle GradeCover image of Different Kinds of Fruit

  • Beyond the Bright Sea and Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk: Wolk has a tremendous gift for setting, character, plot, and theme – all the elements that make up a powerful story.
  • Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky: Sixth-grader Grayson tries out for the role of Persephone in the school play, and finds a supportive community in the theater.
  • A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus: Three orphans are sent out of London during the Blitz and encouraged to find a permanent family to adopt them.
  • Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki: An unusual (for Americans) perspective on the generational effects of the atomic bombing of Japanese cities during WWII
  • How to Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani: Set in 1967 after the Loving v. Virginia ruling, this book examines interracial and interfaith marriage and learning disabilities.
  • A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
  • Garlic & the Vampire by Bree Paulsen: This charming graphic novel is a unique and appealing take on friendship and courage, with a sprinkling of humor.
  • Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac: A novel in verse, set on a reservation during the pandemic.
  • Better With Butter by Victoria Piontek: What better way to manage anxiety than with a therapy goat?
  • Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh: Korean-American Junie learns her grandparents’ stories from the Korean War while interviewing them for a school assignment, and they give her the courage to stand up to racism in the present.
  • The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera: Award-winning futuristic sci-fi that is also a firm declaration of the importance of stories.
  • A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks: Joy is crushed when her family must sell their house and move into an apartment – and they no longer have money for her to take piano lessons, so she starts a dog-walking business with her new friend Nora.
  • Marshmallow & Jordan by Alina Chau: Set in Indonesia, this graphic novel tells the story of former basketball star Jordan, who tries a new sport – water polo – and makes friends with a baby elephant who appears mysteriously.
  • The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat: A marvelous adventure with a determined protagonist.
  • New From Here by Kelly Yang: The story of a family that moves from Hong Kong to California during the pandemic and faces anti-Asian racism.
  • Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin: In Soviet Russia, young Sasha’s eyes are opened to reality when his father is taken away.
  • Linked by Gordon Korman: Anti-Semitic graffiti rocks a school community, but the narrator withholds certain truths for a surprising twist.
  • Where the Sky Lives by Margaret Dilloway: When developers threaten pristine land, an archaeologist’s daughter fights to save it.
  • Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly: A new kid upsets the balance in a small town.
  • Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender: A girl whose mother has disappeared is desperate to learn the reason for her absence; at the same time, she makes a new friend and begins to fall in love.
  • Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff: When new student – nonbinary Bailey – joins Annabelle’s class and they become friends, Annabelle learns a surprising family secret.
  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill: As magical as The Girl Who Drank the Moon, with similar themes about power and kindness.
  • The Witch Boy trilogy by Molly Knox Ostertag: These graphic novels follow Aster, a boy who wants to be a witch instead of a shapeshifter, and his family’s eventual acceptance of his identity.
  • Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr: What happens when you decide to “live each day as if it were your last”?
  • Star Crossed by Barbara Dee: A studious girl develops a crush on the British student playing Juliet in the eighth grade play – and then gets cast opposite her as Romeo.
  • The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy: Rahul desperately wants to fit in, but he is one of the few non-white kids at his school, and – he slowly realizes – he’s gay; the more realistic choice (championed by his white friend Chelsea) is to embrace his authentic self.


  • The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix: “The Old World can be extraordinarily dangerous, and the greatest danger is not knowing what you’re dealing with.”
  • The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds: A Nantucket summer romance and a Jewish family history rolled into one, satisfying on both counts.
  • When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler: this is middle grade edging into YA; it starts in 1936 and goes through WWII, following three best friends from Vienna whose paths diverge dramatically during the war.
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: “Forgetting is how the monsters come back.”
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman: An unlikely premise is spun into a richly imagined world where abortion is illegal but children can be “unwound” (essentially, harvested for parts) between the ages of 13-18.
  • I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys: In communist Romania in 1989, news of the crumbling Iron Curtain sparks a revolution.
  • Family of Liars by e. lockhart: Prequel to We Were Liars, and just as compelling.
  • This Place Is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian: Two sisters react differently to racist graffiti scrawled on their garage door.
  • The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes: Having come out once and lost her best friend, Yamilet uses a school transfer to start over.

Adult FictionCover image of True Biz

  • Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan: An Irish Christmas story about doing the right thing.
  • Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy: In a near future in which most birds are extinct, a woman fleeing her past convinces a ship’s captain to take her on board to follow what might be the last migration of arctic terns, arguing that the birds will lead him to fish.
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin: Fast-paced and overflowing with voice and strong characters, TCWB imagines an avatar for each borough, who must come together to face a slippery enemy.
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: Alex has always been able to see ghosts, and this ability gets her recruited to Yale’s Ninth House, which oversees Yale’s other secret societies, but then Alex’s mentor goes missing.
  • Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor: A deeply satisfying feminist retelling of Gatsby from the women’s points of view (Daisy, Myrtle’s sister Catherine, and Jordan).
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: A speculative novel in which characters travel in time and space, face a pandemic and an anomaly; loosely linked to The Glass Hotel.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Space opera at its best, with high stakes and a fantastic ensemble cast.
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: An ensemble cast populates this world where one’s unconscious can be uploaded and viewed by others.
  • True Biz by Sara Novic: Multiple narrators tell this compelling story, set at a school for the Deaf; mini ASL lessons are included between chapters.
  • This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: In this time travel story set in New York, Alice travels back and forth between her 40th and 16th birthdays, trying to figure out if it’s possible to save her father.
  • When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill: Like in The Power by Naomi Alderman, women become more powerful than men: they become dragons. For a long time, the world chooses to deny this, despite the evidence, until a mass dragoning event in the 1950s.

Adult Nonfictionanimalvegetablemiracle

  • These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: Essays by Ann Patchett are reliably top-notch.
  • How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell: “The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.”
  • Once Upon a Time We Ate Animals: The Future of Food by Roanne Van Voorst and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: Van Voorst makes a powerful, respectful case for veganism, while Kingsolver focuses on eating local. Both books made me think more deeply about the environmental and sustainable aspects of food.
  • Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid: The Canadian-Icelandic wife of Iceland’s prime minister examines the ways in which Icelandic society has achieved gender equality, and the ways in which is still falls short.
  • Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson: White male American hubris lead to an avoidable disaster in 1900, when Galveston, TX, was slammed by a hurricane that Cuban weather forecasters knew was coming.

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