Abby the Librarian’s #MiddleGradeMay wrap-up made me think of all the middle grade books I’ve read this spring (and of course it lengthened my to-read list; I’m especially excited to get my hands on Dear Sweet Pea, Pie in the Sky, and Roll With It).
My reading has certainly shifted along with my job in the last couple years; when I was the adult fiction buyer for my library, I read mostly adult literary fiction, young adult fiction, and some nonfiction (I was also the “speed read” buyer, for especially high-demand titles). Now that I’m working partly in children’s, I’m reading a lot more children’s books, especially middle grade books. In May, I got to go along and give book talks to classes of fifth graders in two different elementary schools in town – not about their required summer reading books for middle school, but a list of books we’d come up with that we thought they’d really like. (There’s actually a little bit of crossover with their middle school list, which is great.)
Some of the books I book-talked most enthusiastically at the schools were: New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel), Blended by Sharon M. Draper (realistic fiction), The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (realistic fiction), To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (epistolary realistic fiction). I also really liked Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (realistic fiction), We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (science fiction), and It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (realistic fiction) but my co-worker talked about those ones. Teamwork!
Here are some of the (mostly new) books I’ve read so far this year. Books on our list for students entering sixth grade next fall are in bold.
New(ish) middle grade books:
- Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2017)
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2017)
- The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (2018)
- Breakout by Kate Messner (2018)
- Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks (2018)
- The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (2018)
- It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (2018)
- Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live In A Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos (2018)
- So Done by Paula Chase (2018)
- The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn (2018)
- Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018)
- Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (2018)
- Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)
- You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino (2018)
- Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (2018)
- The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
- To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
- We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
- A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (2019)
This kind of diversity did not exist in kid-lit when I was a kid. There is so much here and it’s wonderful. These books tackle issues head-on: contemporary racism, poverty and wealth, restorative justice, Deaf culture, historical fiction that isn’t set in WWII Europe or the American home front…lots of mirrors, lots of windows.
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
- Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, and Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary (1955, 1968, 1975)
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
- Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)
These all stand the test of time with flying colors. I read Frindle in print on a friend’s recommendation, and listened to the audio of the others; Stockard Channing reads the Ramona books (and Neil Patrick Harris reads the Henry Huggins ones!). I appreciated The Phantom Tollbooth more as an adult than I did as a kid (“it goes without saying”), and I’d never read Mrs. Frisby before but it’s pretty timeless.
- Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin (2014)
- Awkward, Brave, and Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)
- The Babysitters Club (Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, Claudia and Mean Janine) by Ann M. Martin/Raina Telgemeier (1986/2015, etc.)
- Little Robot, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke (2015, 2016, 2017) (See also: Zita the Spacegirl)
- Bingo Love Vol. 1 by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San (2018)
- Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano, Chris Dickey (2018)
- New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
- Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (2019)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry/P. Craig Russell (2019)
The rebooting of classics like Little Women and The Babysitters Club and The Giver is an interesting trend. In some cases, the graphic novel adheres closely to the original (e.g. The Giver). In other cases, there’s a major update and overhaul: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is set in present-day New York, the Marches are a blended family, and…I don’t want to give too much away, but some other major plot points change as well. (I really liked it. That said, I’m not a die-hard fan of Louisa May Alcott’s version.) The Babysitters Club books fall somewhere in between, but closer to the “faithful to the original” end of the spectrum. (There is also, for those who are interested, a funny podcast called The Babysitters Club Club. More for a teen or adult audience.)
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
- Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2018)
- The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2018)
- Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)
- 500 Words Or Less by Juleah Del Rosario (2018)
- With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
- On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)
- Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2019)
I’ve been reading less YA lately but I absolutely loved both of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novels. I read With the Fire On High in print, and listened to the audiobook of The Poet X, which the author reads – I’d highly recommend the audio version.
And what about adult literary fiction? I still love it, and there are a bunch of new novels coming out this summer and fall that I’m excited about, but that’s a post for another day.