You Don’t Have to Be Age 8 – 12 to Love Middle Grade Novels

I admit it—I LOVE middle grade novels, and I’m not afraid to show it. Years ago, I was reading a middle grade novel on an airplane with my daughter. She fell asleep and I kept reading…until someone tapped my shoulder. The woman across the aisle said, “She’s sleeping. You don’t have to read her book anymore.” I smiled and said, “Thanks, but this is actually my book.” Her mouth opened wide, but she didn’t say another word to me the entire flight.

Another time, I was reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate in public and couldn’t stop smiling. The woman next to me couldn’t wait to find out what book I was reading. When I showed her the cover and she saw a giant gorilla, she didn’t know what to say. But I gushed about how amazing Ivan’s voice is (I even read her the first few pages) and told her that it says so much about humans in such a unique way…she decided to borrow a copy from the library.

Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated book is told from the point of view of Ivan himself.

Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.

 

And now I’ll make another confession…I can’t remember the last time I read an adult book. There are so many incredible middle grade novels on my must-read list, I just can’t pry myself away from them. I love the heart, humor, unique viewpoints, and amazing characters. Here are some of my favorite books. I hope you’ll love them, too.

I love meeting all kinds of inspiring characters, like Auggie in Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Everyone needs to read this book! I instantly fell in love with Auggie and love how it shows the story from different viewpoints in addition to his. And yes, I still highly suggest reading it even if you’ve seen the movie—I think it’s even more powerful.

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid–but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.

WONDER begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

 

Speaking of inspiring—have you read Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart yet? It’s easy to see the heart in this book from the second you glance at the cover which says: Be brave. Be bold. Be you. How inspiring, encouraging, and validating. The back says: Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t. Did this get your attention yet? Things have changed so much since I was in high school—and luckily, more and more people are realizing that nobody should have to hide who they are.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade. Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse. One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

 

Feel like laughing? There’s so much humor and heart in This is Not the Abby Show by Debbie Reed Fischer. It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite movies—The Breakfast Club. I loved this book from the very first chapter heading: Pretty much everything I do is inappropriate. I totally relate to that, and rooted for spunky, impulsive Abby through her hilarious journey.

Abby is twice exceptional–she is gifted in math and science, and she has ADHD. Normally, she has everything pretty much under control. But when Abby makes one HUGE mistake that leads to “The Night That Ruined My Life,” or “TNTRML,” she lands in summer school.

Abby thinks the other summer-school kids are going to be total weirdos. And what with her parents’ new rules, plus all the fuss over her brother’s bar mitzvah, her life is turning into a complete disaster. But as Abby learns to communicate better and finds friends who love her for who she is, she discovers that her biggest weaknesses could be her greatest assets.

 

Have you ever gone on a vacation that’s so amazing, you don’t ever want it to end? Then you’ll love The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone. This book is full of heart, mystery, friendship, art, and really made me look closer at things I’ve wished for and choices I’ve had to make. It reminds me a bit of the movie Groundhog Day.

What if you could get a do-over–a chance to relive a day in your life over and over again until you got it right? Would you?

After finding a mysterious set of paints in her backpack, eleven-year-old Haleigh Adams paints a picture of her last day at the New Jersey shore. When she wakes up the next morning, Haleigh finds that her wish for an endless summer with her new friend Kevin has come true. At first, she’s thrilled, but Haliegh soon learns that staying in one place–and time–comes with a price.

And when Haleigh realizes her parents have been keeping a secret, she is faced with a choice: do nothing and miss out on the good things that come with growing up or find the secret of the time loop she’s trapped in and face the inevitable realities of moving on. As she and Kevin set out to find the source of the magic paints, Haleigh worries it might be too late. Will she be able to restart time? And if she does, will it be the biggest mistake of her life?

 

Are you in the mood for something that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and scary? Read Night of The Living Cuddle Bunnies by Jonathan Rosen. This action-packed book has the hottest holiday toy come to life (and the live version is far from cuddly), hilarious dialogue, water guns, bubble wrap…and a quirky new neighbor who might be a warlock.

Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.

That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.

 

Do you remember how you felt on 9-11? What about soon after that? I never looked at the world the same way again. Can you imagine what it would be like if you were a child then…and classmates turned on your best friend just because he was an Arab Muslim? Read Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra to experience this poignant world.

Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart–and outrun–the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI, and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. In the end, Jake must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

 

I hope you’ll proudly read middle grade novels everywhere you go, no matter what age you are!  And if you’re looking for more great ones to read, check out our New Releases and Unique Book Lists. They’ll keep you busy for at least the next few years.

What do you love about middle grade novels and what are some of your favorite books that you think everyone should read?

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Mindy Alyse Weiss
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades.
12 Comments
  1. My heart will always lie in middle grade lit. Like most MG characters, I think part of me is still trying to figure the world out, too. Thanks so much for including Just a Drop of Water, Mindy!

  2. Haha love your Ivan story! Years ago I had a (well-intentioned but misinformed) coworker try to refer me to our employee counseling program because she saw me reading “kids’ books”!

  3. I read a don of middle-grade novels. Love them. Thanks for some suggestions I haven’t heard of.

  4. Great book suggestions. I LOVE middle grade, especially. It’s what I read and write. I can lose myself for hours in stories filled with adventure and magic.

  5. I love middle grade too! So many wonderful books out there. One and Only Ivan is definitely one of my favorites too. I’ve never even considered being embarrassed for reading a “children’s” book. I love young adult, as well. I seldom read “adult” books. Thanks for giving me some new titles to read.

  6. I love middle grade books, too! I think it’s probably because I worked in an elementary school for 15 years and I was always able to have fun, thoughtful, and amazing conversations with the upper grades. It was always amazing to talk books with kids. Now I get to talk these books with my 10 year old niece! ???

    This is definitely a great list you have. You saw The One and Only Ivan is being made into a movie by Disney? I can’t wait! I hope they do it well. ❤️?

  7. Great MG books capture the sense of wonder that permeates my childhood memories. The characters may be injured, or lonely, or confused, but they aren’t jaded. Reading a strong MG book strengthens my spirit and my writing.

  8. Thanks so much for including Lily and Dunkin in this list of wonderful books!

  9. I’m always reading middle-grade books on planes and in doctor’s offices. I’m glad you turned someone on to the relevance and joy of mg novels. And thanks for the mention!

    • Thanks, Dorian. You’re welcome for the mention–I absolutely love The First Last Day and have proudly read it out in public.