The Hunt for Big Kid Books in the Middle-Grade Section

“Mom, I’m ready for big kid books now,” my precocious 6-year-old son said to me, eying the middle-grade section of the bookstore. While it was true he was a fluent reader, was he ready emotionally for the content?

Photo credit: kokopinto via Flickr

Middle-grade books are typically geared towards the 8-12 year old reader. Within the middle-grade section, there are varying levels in length and story complexity. Harold Underdown in his book, THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, gives this range:

Young middle-grade: 48-80 pages (7-9 year olds)

True middle-grade: 80-160 pages (8-12 year olds)

Older middle-grade: 128-200 pages (10-14 year olds)

Underdown notes: “it’s difficult to make hard and fast distinctions between the different levels.”

Ah, but distinctions I must make. There’s a huge difference between an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, not to mention a precocious 6-year-old. We were looking for lower middle-grade—that range of books appropriate in length and content for the 7-9 year-old reader, ready to move on from chapter books.* That meant young middle-grade books, with some true middle-grade books thrown into the mix.

I knew my young reader wasn’t ready for stories with a dead mother or kids in middle school or sinister fantasy. We were on the hunt for stories with elementary school kids, not-too-scary fantasy, or animals. Most importantly, stories that would protect his tender psyche and not disrupt our much-needed sleep with nightmares. Some of the classics, written before the sharp lines of age categories, worked well: CHARLOTTE’S WEB and STUART LITTLE by E.B. White, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl, TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING by Judy Blume, MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS by Richard and Florence Atwater, and MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE by Betty MacDonald.

Then began the hunt for newer titles. It wasn’t easy to find the lower middle-grade books buried among the potentially too sophisticated upper middle-grade books on the shelves. This is where a librarian or bookseller familiar with the content is gold. I read a lot myself too before handing him the book, which had some unexpected side effects: 1) He was more eager to get his hands on the book I was reading, and 2) we had wonderful conversations on what we thought about the story. I also discovered he wouldn’t read a book with a girl on the cover, but I liked some of those books so much I included them in my list below.

Here are some of my finds:

by Lisa Yee

by Lenore Look

by Mary Amato

by Laurie B. Friedman

by Charise Mericle Harper

Let me know your favorite lower middle-grade books in the comments!

*Chapter books are shorter with simpler vocabulary and sentence structure, often with an illustration in each chapter. For example, the JUNIE B. JONES series by Barbara Park and the MAGIC TREE HOUSE series by Mary Pope Osborne.

Karen B. Schwartz is currently hard at work on a lower middle-grade novel about a spunky girl who gets kicked out of the princess crowd at recess, which her son has vowed never to read.

Karen B. Schwartz
  1. This was a great post. Thanks so much.

  2. Twelve by Lauren Myracle: Winnie has just turned twelve. The book takes us through the twelve months following her twelfth birthday, with a look at how she deals with pre-teen issues like boys, friends, and periods. The voice is very realistic, not at all like an adult trying to sound like a twelve-year-old. It is also very frank about the issues. This is a book a twelve-year-old would probably get a lot out of, but it’s a book to read alone (or with a good friend, certainly not with grandma). It makes me wish I had had a friend like Winnie when I was twelve. Now I’m looking forward to reading Eleven, Thirteen, and Thirteen Plus One by Lauren Myracle.

  3. Thank you, Suzanne! I was actually perusing for funny books for my son. He loves the humor and it’s hard to find, so I am trying to write it and have more coming. We’ve read the Wayside Series, by Sachar five times, like Kafka for Kids; Holes. He liked the graphic novel, American Born Chinese, and also just read the something something of Origami Yoda. And yes, he reads my books for me and likes The Outlandish Adventures…

    More coming from me for this age soon.

    Best, Kelly Easton

  4. Some folks mentioned Roald Dalh’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I think The BFG, The Twits, George’s Marvelous Medicine and other shorter stories of his are even better for the younger crowd. Also, I recently read The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes. That was quite good for this age group.

  5. We discovered the Andy Shane (LMG) and Sister Magic books this year.
    Also bought The Spelling B (I think that is what it is, not at home to peek) but haven’t started them yet.

  6. This is so helpful, Karen. Not sure if you’ve already considered The Time Warp Trio books, but I love them. And so did my kids when they were younger (I still read them).

  7. This is a great post. I read older MG and younger YA – if you know what I mean. My brother is 8 and he is right in the middle of the MG books.

  8. Great post! We love the Ruby Lu books, also by Lenore Look, and Nikki Grimes’ Dyamonde Daniel books — though I’m not sure if these would be considered young middle grade or chapter books.

  9. My little girls loved the All Of A Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor.

    And following Sheela’s thoughts about Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White does such a great job of speaking to children in an intelligent and humorous manner. Trumpet of the Swan will always be a favorite in this household.

  10. My 7 year old daughter is a big fan of the Just Grace books, too. She is also into the Rainbow magic series by Daisy Meadows (book series on fairies). I don’t know if anyone mentioned The Magic Treehouse series – that’s a big hit with her and her friends.

    Personally I love Charlotte’s Web, which makes a great book for reading out loud. Lisa Schroeder’s It’s Raining Cupcakes book is a good “big kid” book: it looks likes big reading, but easy to follow for a precocious reader, with most of the book set outside the classroom in a small town in OR over the summer. And who can’t resist cupcakes? 😉