Ocean Reads for Middle-Graders


Many years ago my husband and I uprooted our two daughters and moved to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We lived there for two years and enjoyed daily swims, boat rides, dolphin encounters, and beach horseback rides. We even participated in helping baby sea turtles find their way safely to the ocean.  The above photo was taken by my daughter, Annie, and as beautiful and peaceful as the water appears, there was never a moment that I wasn’t aware of the dangers that lurked there: underwater creatures that bite or sting; storms that begin from far away and creep in, bringing floods; and worst of all, the strong riptide that is known to take several lives each year. We can use a lot of words to describe the ocean. Serene. Threatening. Spirited. Playful. Enchanting. Deadly. And I think it’s because it is all of those things, we find it alluring.

We live in landlocked Colorado now, but my family and I still yearn for the adventure that only an ocean or sea can offer. If you’re like us and you won’t be going to the beach this summer, here are some fun and exciting reads to fulfill your need to duck your head under the waves.

Thirteen-year-old Sophie hears the sea calling, promising adventure and a chance for discovery as she sets sail for England with her three uncles and two cousins. Sophie’s cousin Cody isn’t sure he has the strength to prove himself to the crew and to his father. Through Sophie’s and Cody’s travel logs, we hear stories of the past and the daily challenges of surviving at sea as The Wanderer sails toward its destination — and its passengers search for their places in the world.


MUF-EmilyWinsnap_For as long as she can remember, twelve-year-old Emily Windsnap has lived on a boat. And, oddly enough, for just as long, her mother has seemed anxious to keep her away from the water. But when Mom finally agrees to let her take swimming lessons, Emily makes a startling discovery – about her own identity, the mysterious father she’s never met, and the thrilling possibilities and perils shimmering deep below the water’s surface. With a sure sense of suspense and richly imaginative details, first-time author Liz Kessler lures us into a glorious undersea world where mermaids study shipwrecks at school and Neptune rules with an iron trident – an enchanting fantasy about family secrets, loyal friendship, and the convention-defying power of love.


MUF-JunoniaReturning to the beach cottage—a cottage named Scallop—where she has always celebrated her birthday is a special occasion for Alice Rice.

Who will see the first dolphin this time? The first pelican? What will have changed? Stayed the same? And will this be the year she finally finds a junonia shell?

Alice’s friends are all returning, too. And she’s certain her parents have the best party planned for her. Alice can’t wait. If Alice is lucky, everything will be absolutely perfect. Will Alice be lucky?


MUFWhen Lily meets Albert, a refugee from Hungary, during the summer of 1944, they begin a special friendship. However, Lily and Albert have both told lies, and Lily has told a lie that may cost Albert his life.



MUF-OneBoyMUF-OneSharkWhen old Uncle Kahana and his dog find a newborn with a curious birthmark abandoned on a reef in Hawaii, he soon discovers just how special the child is: the boy is completely allergic to water. His allergies make it impossible for him to eat raw seafood or rare meat–a travesty for an islander. Kahana is able to convince his niece and her family to adopt the boy, whom they name Alexander, or Zader for short. Zader seems like a typical 11-year-old boy facing the usual challenges: fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and getting along with his surfing-crazed brother. In reality, however, he is the descendant of an age-old predator from the sea. As he matures and learns how to work around his mysterious allergies, Zader’s life begins to turn upside down, and he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is.


MUF-BoyBearBoatA boy and a bear go to sea, equipped with a suitcase, a comic book, and a ukulele. The bear assures the boy that they are traveling a short distance and it really shouldn’t take very long. But then they encounter “unforeseeable anomalies”: turbulent stormy seas! a terrifying sea monster! and the rank remains of The Very Last Sandwich. The odds are pitted against the boy and the bear and their boat.

 Jennifer Duddy Gill is the author of The Secret of Ferrell Savage, a hilarious story about sled races, middle-school crushes, and cannibalism.


Jennifer Duddy Gill
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