Tales of a Fourth Grade Reader

It can be tricky to define a  middle-grade reader. There are a lot of variables but basically kids are on a similar developmental trek from child to adult. Understanding the typical path can help writers twist up a common theme or create an off-road adventure. Today’s post focuses on the middle of middle-grade, ten-year old readers. 

There is nothing average about middle-grade readers, but in spite of the huge changes in technology and culture over the past decades, ten-year olds are still tackling many of the same hurdles as writers who grew up in the 80s, the 70s or even back in 1930s when Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie. A writer can tap into his or her inner ten-year old by remembering the changes and challenges of moving into double digits. 

The beauty of age ten is its spirit, energy and curiosity. Fourth graders are rapidly developing the ability to think abstractly, make inferences and to be active learners. That enthusiasm is what we are striving to tap into and share at The Mixed-up Files. Imagine the job description for an average ten-year old as written by another ten-year old.

We’re always looking for another kid to join our group. The only requirement is that you had the big birthday. Double digits.

The main thing we are working on is getting better at everything we’ve already learned like reading, riding bikes and cursive writing. That also means not acting like a baby having a temper tantrum over everything. That’s so second grade. A lot of us think it’s fun to try new things like sports, playing an instrument or joining a club.

It’s okay to dress like everyone else and have a favorite sports star or singer’s poster hanging all over your room. You should have your own opinion about some things and know why you think it. Be ready to argue about it.

Parents are all right but friends are awesome. It’s good to have a best friend but don’t think you’re going to have the same best friend everyday. Things happen. It’s okay to have a friend that’s a girl if you are a boy (and the other way around) but most of the time the girls are with girls and the boys are with boys. Get used to it.

If you know some gross jokes—especially about the toilet, you are hired. We love that. 

No cheaters. We don’t like it if things aren’t fair so don’t try it. We’ll notice.


Making the Connection

Here is a small sample of five of my favorite classic books for ten-year olds. I chose books from different decades representing over fifty years. These books demonstrate challenges and character traits that have lasted through time and changing culture. But each book also includes a twist that makes the common extraordinary.

Stuart Little by E.B. White (1945)

Stuart finds a unique place in his family and uses his small size and big personality to overcome obstacles in his path. Independence, acceptance and a sense of accomplishment are themes that a ten-year old can relate to.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl  (1964)

Charlie is a good boy facing choices of right or wrong. The “bad kids” suffer appropriate and funny consequences that appeal to a legalistic ten-year olds’ sense of justice.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (1972)

Many ten-year olds can relate to constantly dealing with an annoying little sibling and the need to act like the bigger brother or sister even when they don’t feel like it. Peter’s humorous voice brings the reader directly into the story making it easy to keep the pages turning.

Sideways Stories from Wayside Schools by Louis Sachar (1988)

Wacky humor and word play especially appeal to a ten-year old funny bone. And since school is such a huge chunk of life for this age group, this book remains a favorite.

Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996) 

Nick challenges the status quo as he tries out his own version of right and wrong, fair and unfair and drives his teacher a little bit crazy in the process. What ten year old can resist?

Wrapping It Up

My list is biased toward boy-friendly books since that’s my interest. Please take time to share your favorite book for ten-year olds whether it is an old favorite or new release. And to keep it even more interesting, include a thought about how the author tapped into the unique characteristics of a ten-year-old to create a compelling character or story. Check out the links below for more specifics about the developmental themes of this age group. And if you want to a chance to expand your own library of great middle-grade books, don’t forget to enter our book giveaway  https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/2010/06/our-first-post…first-giveaway/ 

To Learn More About Being Ten

Child Development: The Ten Year Old


Child Development Guide: 9-10 years


Child Development: 10-12 years


Joanne Prushing Johnson writes boy-friendly chapter and middle-grade books with humor and heart. You can find her online at  http://joanneprushingjohnson.com where she discusses writing in the midst of real life and other miscellaneous thoughts.  She’s always looking for good ideas for how to fit thirty hours of activity into a twenty-four hour day.

  1. My ten year old son recently devoured A Nest for Celeste–I wouldn’t have thought it a particularly boy friendly book, but it resonated like crazy-perhaps the theme of finding friends hit home. And I think the copious illustrations helped!

  2. Joanne,

    We sound a lot alike. My list of favorites would be HUGE too. I feel like I have a favorite for each kind of book – mystery, girlie, historical fiction, school drama, family drama, etc. And even then, you might not be able to pin me down to one for each type. Yeah, I would have a gigantic list.

  3. My favorite was Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye.

  4. Melina,
    I have a HUGE list of favorites books for all ages. This list just a little piece. I tried to pick books that covered the longest period of time (fifty years!) and only one from each decade. I also picked all books that my boys liked, too. I didn’t even start on a list of my favorite newer releases or books that I like for older middle grade readers–or kids like you who are great readers that can read beyond your age and grade level. That’s what’s so great about this site. We’ll have lots to talk about for a long, long time. Thanks for coming by and commenting. Keep reading!

  5. Since I am ten, I can really relate to this post. Even though I read quite a few YA books now, I still love to read middle grade too. The stories are usually more fun and the characters are closer to my age.

    I have read all the books you listed, and Frindle is by far my favorite from that list.

    It would be too hard for me to choose an all-time favorite middle grade book. There are just way too many that I like for all different reasons.

  6. Great post, Joanne. My FAV book at ten was HARRIET THE SPY. I read it over and over again and often skulked around with my notebook pretending I was Harriet. 🙂

  7. Thanks for your great post, Joanne. My all time favorite middle-grade novel is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. I remember reading it when I was ten, saw a classroom of children hang on every word, and read it to my girls way before fourth grade (I think my oldest was in kindergarten and my youngest in preschool, and every time we’d reach the end of a chapter, they’d beg me to keep reading).

  8. The ten year old boys (and girls) in Fourth Grade Book Club loved The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. All of them read the sequel!

  9. Wow, Rhonda. Your son is reading some heavy duty books. I checked out his blog and found myself smiling at his comments which are so honest, matter-of-fact and to the point. Exactly what I love about kids his age. His notes about the kissing parts(of books he’s read) being embarassing and whether things were scary, more scary or the same amount of scary as other books he’s reviewed made me smile. Thanks for sharing. I hope you both stop by often.

  10. Love the site. My son is just finishing 4th grade and is an avid reader. He even has his own book review blog (www.savagereads.blogspot.com). He reads quite a bit above grade level. He has a hard time finding a book he doesn’t like, other than Harry Potter. He’s read Narnia many times and it’s still his all time favorite series. HIs second favorite series author is Suzanne Collins. He’s read her Overlander books several times and is re-reading Hunger Games and Catching Fire right now in anticipation of Mockingjay, which is preordered and expected in August I believe. His third I think would be John Flanagan and the Ranger’s Apprentice books. He also found a series he really liked recently by Jane Johnson, the Eidolon Chronicles. It was an easy, fast read series, but he liked it a lot and it’s one I don’t hear mention of ever. I will be telling him about this site!

  11. You are so right. That’s to be expected from my fearless leader, Elissa. See–my over-forty brain transconfigurated that memory. Ha!!! Thanks for setting me straight. Anyway, it is now corrected. Now onto the other one hundred thirty-six thousand memories that need realigned. : )

  12. Joanne, could it be e. e. cummings you are remembering?

  13. I think the summer I was 10 was my Nancy Drew phase–read one a day. I liked trying to figure out the mystery before the end.

  14. Okay–I’ve veering off topic now. It just came to my attention that I spelled E.B. White’s name with lower case letters (I did that on purpose–BTW). Am I the only person who grew up spelling it that way? I can’t remember why he did it. I remember learning about it in high school when we studied his poetry. It is a specific memory as I remember the exact class and teacher. But now I can’t find any current references to it. To avoid confusion, I corrected it, but am now questioning my sanity! LOL! Does anyone else have this same memory? I am over forty, but not that much over forty!