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:


BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY)
by Lisa Yee


ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS
by Lenore Look


TAKE THE MUMMY AND RUN: THE RIOT BROTHERS ARE ON A ROLL
by Mary Amato


CAMPFIRE MALLORY
by Laurie B. Friedman


JUST GRACE WALKS THE DOG
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
25 Comments
  1. Thnx for this list. W/ 3 young girls, I have a feeling I may need to refer to this list!

    Christy (by way of Verla Kay)

  2. Thanks for all these book suggestions! Susan I read your Suggested Reads for Wee Ones–excellent post with lots of great appropriate titles.

  3. Oh, this has been my life for the last 5 years, ever since my now-11-yo said he was ready for BIG books! And this has fueled a lot of the choices on my blog, which is probably slanted toward true middle grade and upper middle grade, now that my kids are 7,9, and 11.

    My Suggested Reads for Wee Ones list also has reading levels, to help that along a bit.

    But my fav’s (beside MTH): Tom Swift, Frindle, any book with a mouse, and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.

  4. I second the Marvin Redpost series by Louis Sachar.

    Other good picks for young boys are:

    Nate the Great series by Marjorie Sharmat
    Freckle Juice by Judy Blume
    Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith
    The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron

  5. The Melvin Beederman Superhero series is great for both boys and girls.

  6. I’m so excited with this post, because my 5 1/2 year old boy is wanting to read these types of books as well with me. I write middle grade historical fiction and fantasy, but it is definitely what Harold Underdown describes as Older Middle Grade, so I really know those books. When I met with Elizabeth Law at Egmont for a critique at SCBWI Western Washington this past April, she also described this level to me as tween.

    I’ve read my son Charlie and the Chocolate Factory twice, and now we are on Great Glass Elevator (though it’s just not engaging him enough like the other one). I just checked out James and the Giant Peach and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. We are also on #7 of the Magic Tree House. I’ve also read him the original Wizard of Oz and parts of The Wind in the Willows. I’m going to look into the other selections mentioned here as well.

    Thanks for the post!

  7. I found a cute chapter book series titled Magic Puppy and another one titled Magic Kitty.
    The author is Sue Bentley. The puppies and kittens on the cover are absolutely adorable. My first and second graders and my ESL students are loving them.

    Also, Lucy Nolan has a series titled Down Girl and Sit. There are 4 books in this series about two dogs and their antics with their owners and neighbors.

  8. My son loved THE ZACK FILES series by Dan Greenburg and The MARVIN REDPOST books by Louis Sachar.

  9. Thanks for all these book suggestions. We love Clementine too, but some places list it as a chapter book, so I wasn’t sure about that one. Making my to-read list for both of us!

  10. My son also avoids books with girls on the cover. Two of his favorites were Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Colville, Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. A new series that’s also great for younger middle grade is Nathaniel Fludd by R.L. LaFevers, Sheep by Val Hobbs is a sweet story of a dog and of course there are the Wimpy Kid books. Who can resist those?

  11. This is a great post! Thanks Karen! One of our favorites is the SARIAH McDUFF series. hmmm….on second thought those might be chapter books….

  12. I love JUST GRACE and CLEMENTINE. I’d also add WE CAN’T ALL BE RATTLESNAKES, MY LAST BEST FRIEND, and THE YEAR OF THE RAT. Oh, and THE QUAIL CLUB.

  13. Love the title of the last one, Mike!

  14. I think Mac Barnett’s Brixton Brothers books also qualify. Then, hmm, what about Laurel Snyder’s ANY WHICH WALL? And maybe A WHOLE NOTHER STORY? I’m also liking Mary Hershey’s MY BIG SISTER IS SO BOSSY SHE SAYS YOU CAN’T READ THIS BOOK…

  15. CLEMENTINE!