Blog

Ring in The New Year With Middle Grade Books!

The New Year is just around the corner, so there is much to celebrate! Along with resolutions and fresh starts, there is an epic batch of middle grade books for you to discover.

To give you a small sample of what’s to come, I’ve selected 24 titles to set your sights on in 2024.

And because I am a HUGE Taylor Swift fan  . . . I placed my book, HART & SOULS at number 13 on the countdown.

Have fun shopping!

1. PLAY THE GAME by Amar Shah (3/5/24) 

Raam Patel is eager to prove himself ever since he didn’t make the middle school’s basketball team. So, when Hoop Con comes to town he is determined to be there and take his shot. His big moment proves to be unforgettable… but not in the way he’d hoped. Raam gets schooled by the camp’s golden boy right in front of his NBA idol. To make matters even worse, this fail goes viral.

Raam is used to being the underdog, but becoming the newest meme might be something even he can’t overcome alone. He skips town in an effort to lay low and take a break from basketball. However, he’s met with new courts, fresh kicks, and tough new competition, changing his whole outlook on the game. Raam has the skills, but now it’s time to unlock the mental game.

2. FINN AND EZRA’S BAR MITZVAH TIME LOOP by Joshua Levy (5/14/24) 

Finn and Ezra don’t have a lot in common—except, of course, that they’re trapped in a bar mitzvah time loop, reliving their celebrations in the same New Jersey hotel over and over and over again. Not ideal, particularly when both kids were ready for their bar mitzvahs to end the moment they began. Ezra comes from a big family—four siblings, all seeming to get more attention than him, even on his bar mitzvah weekend. Finn is an only child who’s tired of his parents’ constant focus, even worse on his bar mitzvah weekend. They just want to get past it, just want to grow up. And now they’re both stuck. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. No way out.  

Until Finn and Ezra meet and realize they’re not alone.

Teaming up, they try everything they can think of to break the loop. But nothing works, and after every reset, the boys’ schemes become more desperate. As their frustrations build, the questions mount and real-life problems start to seep through the cracks. With all the time in the world, can Finn and Ezra ever figure out how to move forward?

3. THE CURSE OF EELGRASS BOG  by Mary Averling (1/2/24) 

Nothing about Kess Pedrock’s life is normal. Not her home (she lives in her family’s Unnatural History Museum), not her interests (hunting for megafauna fossils and skeletons), and not her best friend (a talking demon’s head in a jar named Shrunken Jim). 

But things get even stranger than usual when Kess meets Lilou Starling, the new girl in town. Lilou comes to Kess for help breaking a mysterious curse—and the only clue she has leads straight into the center of Eelgrass Bog.

Everyone knows the bog is full of witches, demons, and possibly worse, but Kess and Lilou are determined not to let that stop them. As they investigate the mystery and uncover long-buried secrets, Kess begins to realize that the curse might hit closer to home than she’d ever expected, and she’ll have to summon all her courage to find a way to break it before it’s too late.

4. THE WRONG WAY HOME by Kate O’Shaughnessy (4/2/24)

Twelve-year-old Fern’s lived at the Ranch, an off-the-grid, sustainable community in upstate New York, since she was six. The work is hard, but Fern admires the Ranch’s leader, Dr. Ben. So when Fern’s mother sneaks them away in the middle of the night and says Dr. Ben is dangerous, Fern doesn’t believe it. She wants desperately to go back, but her mom just keeps driving.  Suddenly Fern is thrust into the treacherous, toxic, outside world. 

At first she thinks only about how to get home. She has a plan, but it will take time. As that time goes by, though, Fern realizes there are things she will miss from this place—the library, a friend from school, the ocean—and there are things she learned at the Ranch that are just…not true.

Now Fern will have to decide. How much is she willing to give up to return to the Ranch? Should she trust Dr. Ben’s vision for her life? Or listen to the growing feeling that she can live by her own rules?

5. DAUGHTERS OF THE LAMP by Nedda Lewers (2/20/24) 

Sahara Rashad lives by logic. Loves science. And always has a plan. Except her dad just whisked her away to her uncle’s wedding in Egypt, upending every single plan she had for the summer.

In Cairo, Sahara’s days are filled with family—and mystery. First, Sahara’s cousins claim the pretentious bride-to-be is actually a witch. Then her late mother’s necklace starts glowing—and disappears.

Sahara’s attempts to recover the necklace lead her to the greatest mystery yet. Deep in an underground chamber lies Ali Baba’s magical treasure. Hidden from a line of sorcerers who threatened to use its powers for evil, the treasure was given to Sahara’s ancestor Morgana for safekeeping and passed down from mother to daughter for generations. Now only Sahara stands in the sorcerers’ way. Can the girl who’s never believed in magic trust the unknown and claim her legacy as the treasure’s keeper?

6. ISABEL IN BLOOM by Mae Respicio (4/9/24)

Twelve-year-old Isabel is the new kid in her San Francisco middle school. It’s the first time in many years that she’ll be living with her mother again. Mama’s job in the US allowed Isabel and her grandparents to live more comfortably in the Philippines, but now Isabel doesn’t really know her own mother anymore.  

Making new friends in a new city, a new country, is hard, but joining the gardening and cooking club at school means Isabel will begin to find her way, and maybe she too, will begin to bloom.

In this beautifully rendered novel-in-verse, Mae Respicio explores how growth can take many forms, offering both the challenges and joy of new beginnings.

7. THE COLOR OF SOUND by Emily Barth Isler (3/5/24)

Twelve-year-old Rosie is a musical prodigy whose synesthesia allows her to see music in colors.Her mom has always pushed her to become a concert violinist, but this summer Rosie refuses to play, wanting a “normal” life.

Forced to spend the summer with her grandparents, Rosie is excited to meet another girl her age hanging out on their property. The girl is familiar, and Rosie quickly pieces it together: somehow, this girl is her mother, when her mother was twelve. 

With help from this glitch in time―plus her grandparents, an improv group, and a new instrument―Rosie comes to understand her mother, herself, and her love of music in new ways.

8. MIND OVER MONSTERS by Betsy Uhrig (4/16/24)

FACE YOUR FEARS! That’s what the meditation app with the cheesy name De-stress-o-rama is telling Lena to do. She’s one of seven always-worried middle schoolers trying out this new app to see if it can help students handle stress. But something is going wrong—very, very wrong. 

The group’s fears are becoming all too real, first lurking and dangling, then chasing them around and threatening to swallow them whole. From a stubborn inky blob that is fear of the dark, to the queasy giant in sweaty underpants that is fear of public speaking, monsters are invading Cranberry Bog Middle School! Can Lena’s group of worriers figure out how to conquer their fears before the whole school is swarmed?

9. ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS : A PASSOVER CELEBRATION IN 14 STORIES Edited by Chris Baron, Joshua Levy, Naomi Milliner (3/26/24) 

Welcome to Passover, a Jewish holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years. The heart of Passover is the seder—a meal full of rituals, special foods, and songs—where we gather together to retell the story of the Exodus, when the Jewish people achieved freedom from Egypt. 

And yet this story is about more than the ancient past. The seder’s themes of freedom, joy, tradition, and more, are timeless and universal, for all.

In this unprecedented collection of short stories, 14 bestselling and award-winning authors each reimagine a different step of the seder for today’s young readers. Through historical and contemporary fiction, verse and prose, fiction and nonfiction, these gifted writers from different Jewish traditions and backgrounds gather around the seder table and invite everyone to join them.

 

10. HEROES OF HAVENSONG: THE LAST ICE PHOENIX  by Megan Reyes (1/23/24)

Blue, River, Shenli, and Wren are still reeling from the discovery that they are the four heroes foretold to save their world. The weight of their destiny and the expectations that come with it is a heavy burden, but when danger once again finds them and the people they love, there’s no choice but to act. 

Shenli and Wren both remain outsiders—one as a prisoner tired of being a pawn and the other banished from the home she fought to save. Meanwhile, Blue and River face a quest for a mythical creature that will take them beyond the world they know—with the fate of the Meraki people hanging in the balance. Although they just found one another, the four heroes are once again scattered across Haven—all facing new journeys, impossible choices and shocking truths. As their world prepares for war, will they be able to unravel what the Fates have in store for them and find their own path?

11. CRUSHED by Melanie Conklin (7/16/24)

Sophie Valentine would rather be at home, doing school virtually. Instead, she’s waiting in a crowded middle school building for her best friend, Eve, who’s finally back after an extended absence, which only Sophie knows the truth about.

But when Eve returns, things aren’t the same. First, Eve stops walking to school with her in the morning. Then, she’s ditching Sophie to hang out with the Crash Crew, a group of popular kids notorious for their social media dares. Eve seems to fit right in, but Sophie is devastated: Did she just lose her best friend?

When rumors surface that Eve is hiding a painful secret she didn’t share with Sophie, Sophie is spurred on an investigation to discover what—or who—caused the incident behind Eve’s sudden change…and why all clues lead back to the Crash Crew. Using lessons from her forensics class and the help of a new friend, Sophie will have to uncover the truth before more harm is done.

12. MOUNTAIN OF FIRE: THE ERUPTIONS AND SURVIVORS OF MOUNT ST. HELENS by Rebecca E. F. Barrone (5/14/24)

For weeks, the ground around Mount St. Helens shuddered like a dynamite keg ready to explode. There were legends of previous eruptions: violent fire, treacherous floods, and heat that had scoured the area. But the shaking and swelling was unlike any volcanic activity ever seen before.Day and night, scientists tried to piece together the mountain’s clues―yet nothing could prepare them for the destruction to come.

The long-dormant volcano seethed away, boiling rock far below the surface. Washington’s governor, Dixie Lee Ray, understood the despair that would follow from people being forced from their homes. How and when should she give orders to evacuate the area? And would that be enough to save the people from the eruption of Mount St. Helens?

13. HART & SOULS by Lisa Schmid (7/23/24) 

After getting bullied at Figueroa Elementary, Stix Hart wants nothing more than to fly below the radar at middle school. He’s heard all the horror stories, but none involved ghosts. 

On Stix’s first day of sixth grade, his anxiety is off the charts. It doesn’t help when he spots a kid who reminds him of his old bully, Xander Mack. Soon after, he encounters two other students who take a keen interest in him. He quickly learns the spooky truth—the trio are lost souls in need of a solid. When the ghosts tell him they’ve been stuck in middle school for decades, it’s up to Stix to figure out how to help these not-so-normal new friends.

Solving this paranormal predicament will take some serious sleuthing and a tremendous act of courage. Can Stix solve this mystery and help these spirits move on before it’s too late?

 

14. NOT THE WORST FRIEND IN THE WORLD by Anne Rellihan (2/6/24)

It’s the thirty-fourth day of sixth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Missouri, and eleven-year-old Lou wishes she could rewind time. 

Lou wants to go back to the ninth day of sixth grade—the day before she fought with her best friend Francie and said the terrible, horrible things she can’t unsay. Or better yet, she would go back to fifth grade when Francie was still the Old Francie.

Then the new girl, Cece Clark-Duncan, passes Lou a mysterious note. It says she was kidnapped. (!) If Lou can help Cece, maybe she can prove she’s not the world’s worst friend.

But as observant Lou uncovers the complicated truth about Cece’s family, she starts to panic. Can she help Cece without hurting her? Or will Lou end up losing another friend instead?

15. LEI AND THE INVISIBLE ISLAND by Malia Maunakea (6/4/24)

After saving her best friend and ancestral guardian, Kaipo, from Pele the Fire Goddess’s traps, and successfully preventing lava from destroying her Tūtū’s house, all Lei wants to do is take a nap. The only problem? Kaipo’s ʻaumakua pendant is missing, and without it, he will soon disintegrate . . . emotionally and physically.  

So Lei, Kaipo, her favorite talking bat, Ilikea, and newcomer Kaukahi—a fiercely independent fashionista—set off on a journey to an invisible island where they hope to find Kaipo’s pendant. To get there, they’ll have to contend with sharks, jump over a rainbow, and literally float on clouds. And when they arrive? The crew realizes that the missing pendant is the least of their problems. For there are evil spirits on this island, and they’re out for blood.

16. THE MUTANT CRITTER SITTER by Heather Macht (Fall 2024)

Chloe’s summer was supposed to be filled with skateboarding, hanging out with friends, and staying up late every single night watching scary movies. But, after a trip to the skatepark left her skateboard broken in two, her entire summer was ruined. Now, her dad is forcing her to work all summer long so she can learn responsibility and earn a new one. What a bummer! 

After a morning of searching for jobs, Chloe answers an unusual ad that turns her summer upside down. Somehow, she said yes to being a Critter Sitter for a Not-So-Mad Scientist’s crazy mutant creations. One thing’s for sure, whether it’s being chased by a giant Mean-us Flytrap, bathing an Electric Seal, caring for Pea Monkeys, or walking a fluffy pet Pali-gator, Chloe’s summer is filled with extraordinary and unexpected adventures.

17.THE LOST FOREST: AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY BENEATH THE WAVES by Jennifer Swanson (4/2/24)

Take a deep dive with scientists exploring a sunken cypress forest that had been undisturbed in the Gulf of Mexico for fifty thousand years.

18. JAMIE by L.D. Lapinski (5/28/24) 

Jamie Rambeau is a happy 11-year-old, nonbinary kid who loves hanging out with their two best friends, Daisy and Ash. But when the trio find out that their local middle schools separate into a school for boys and a school for girls, their friendship suddenly seems at risk. And when Jamie realizes no one has thought about where they are going to go, they decide to take matters into their own hands.

As the friends’ efforts to raise awareness eventually become a rooftop protest against the binary rules for the local schools, Jamie realizes that if they don’t figure out a way forward, they could lose both their friends forever.

19. THE DETENTION DETECTIVES: MURDER BY MISTAKE (1/25/24) by Lis Jardine

Headstrong Lydia leads the new case. As a school reporter, she’s great at getting the facts. But when someone unexpected arrives at Gran’s, it’s clear she’s missing some clues… 

Sensitive Daniel is convinced this case is linked to their first. As a young carer he’s got a lot on his plate, so he needs the trio to work on this together. He just needs to persuade…

Not-so-new-boy Jonno, who’s settled in at Hanbridge High. But he’s so distracted by his new band – maybe solving crimes just isn’t cool anymore? Or maybe he’s scared of finding out the truth…

20. THE HAUNTED STATES OF AMERICA by 52 Different Authors  (7/9/24)  

Every state has an urban legend that evokes fear and curiosity in equal parts, and we’ve chronicled all of these logic-defying horrors here in the Haunted States of Americaanthology.  

From the Jersey Devil to La Llorona, each story included introduces a new chill inducing, stomach churning monster, spectre, or poltergeist certain to keep you up at night. A broad ranging collection of authors, including seasoned veterans and some first timers making a fright-tastic debut, have all united to unearth the scariest lore from each state in the US, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico. Make sure to strap in for this spooky cross country tour, but be extra careful not to let any of these terrors follow you home.

21. THE GREAT ZOODINI by PJ Gardner (7/23/24)

After his latest zooscape goes wrong Zoodini winds up at the Twin Buttes Drive-In and Animal Sanctuary. At first he’s disappointed. How is a fennec fox supposed to make the news and get famous breaking out of this place? Simple, break ALL the animals out.

22. SKYLIGHT by Patchtree Jones (7/23/24)

Five-foot-eight and only in the seventh grade, Sofia Luana is used to being bullied in her Colorado school. After her parents suddenly decide to move to California, Sofia’s only hope is her best friend, Cara Felicity, who says her family’s moving to California, too. 

On their plane ride halfway across the country, Sofia and Cara see a magical door in the clouds where the girls soon find themselves in a new land filled with a shapeshifting octopus, winged warriors, and the exiled sorceress, Muet, starting a war to take the throne.

With her best friend, Sofia must learn to embrace her royal lineage, figure out who can be trusted, and find the courage to make her own decisions to end the war—or else Muet and her Night Army will extinguish Sofia’s skylight forever.

23. INVISIBLE ISABEL by Sally J. Pla (7/9/24)

Isabel is a small, kind, shy girl who feels a bit invisible at home and school.One day, some worry-moths appear in her belly. A tender little novel in verse for younger middle-graders about friendship, anxiety, shyness, and the mysterious mind/body connection.

24. THE RULE OF THREE by Heather Murphy Capps (8/6/24)

When the rules no longer apply, how do you keep your head in the game?

Wyatt has a three-part Plan for Life, and it starts now, at the beginning of seventh grade, with tryouts for his local travel baseball team. A biracial kid in a mostly white town, he’s always felt like a bit of an outsider. The baseball field is the only place where he feels like he truly belongs. If he can just make the team, everything else will fall into place: school, friends, even his relationship with his often-distant dad. But after upsetting incidents at tryouts, something inexplicable happens: wisps of smoke form around Wyatt.
As Wyatt tries to figure out what’s causing this mysterious smoke and how to control it, he discovers it’s connected to a painful family history. The more he learns, the more Wyatt begins to question the rules he’s always followed to fit in. With tensions rising at school and on the field, can he face the injustices of the past while keeping his cool in the present?

STEM Tuesdsay– Award-winning STEM/STEAM Books– Writing Tips & Resources

What makes an award-winning book?

This month, we’re spotlighting award-winning STEM/STEAM Books. The selected titles are a diverse bunch, covering a variety of topics, book categories, and age ranges. Yet the books all have one thing in common — they have tapped into their creators’ curiosity and passion. These books reveal that an author’s connection to their topic can create some incredible nonfiction.

Author connections

What kind of connections do these award-winning authors have to their books? Let’s look.

Cover for Outdoor Schoo: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting

Tapping into personal interests: Jen Swanson, author of Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting said, “I grew up with a creek in my backyard and practically spent my entire childhood running around outside along the creek, climbing trees, tromping in the forest, and much more. Writing this book was awesome! because it helped me to relive my childhood in a lot of ways. (Read the full interview here.)

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, author of Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research, said something similar in her book’s author’s note: “Writing this book about wildlife scientists was a childhood dream come true.” In an interview with Lydia Lukidis, Pagel-Hogan recounted all the wildlife she brought home as pets as a kid.

Tapping into cultural identities: According to her website, Braiding Sweetgrass author Robin Wall Kimmerer is “a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.” Her book grew out of not just her professional background, but also her cultural background and indigenous beliefs about nature and our connection to it.

Tapping into curiosity. Sue Heavenrich, author of Funky Fungi isn’t a trained mycologist but tapped into her curiosity to write her award-winning book. Sue said, “My interest was piqued when I interviewed mycologist Kathie Hodge about an insect-infecting fungus for an article in a local newspaper. She took me on a fungus-looking walk, and showed me her workspace at her lab. That article never got published, but it made me think about fungi in a different way.” (Read the entire interview here.)

Funky Fungi book cover

Helping students connect to their writing topics

Students have the best chance of crafting high-quality informational writing when they connect with their essay topics. Here are some tips for helping your students forge connections.:

  • Whenever possible, give students a choice of informational writing topics, and encourage them to explore those they are most passionate about or interested in.
  • Help students explore who they are connected to: their families, communities, culture, schools, and more. A valuable tool for this is to construct Heart Maps, a tool created by Georgia Heard. You can learn more about Heart Maps and using them to inform student writing here.
  • As Sue Heavenrich’s experience shows, sometimes all it takes for students to connect with their writing is to provide some information about the topic to spark their curiosity. By definition, we have to know something about a topic to be motivated to learn more. You could spark student curiosity by providing nonfiction picture books to give a taste of a topic or by sharing primary source material like videos or historic photos. Ask students to write down what they notice, what they wonder about, and how they could learn more. (Read more about this process here.)

Informational writing on any topic can sing when writers can tap into who they are when they write.


This is an image of Kirsten Larson.

Kirsten W. Larson is the author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). She also recently released, Reimagining Your Nonfiction Picture Book (Both/And) for adult writers. Kirsten lives with her family near Los Angeles. Find her on social media @kirstenwlarson or at Kirsten-w-larson.com.

Diversity in MG Lit #45 November and December 2023

book cover, Lullaby for the KingSpecial shout out this month to diverse holiday books. A personal favorite is Nicholas the Maker by Brian W Parker. He is the author illustrator and publisher of this charming origin story of Santa featuring black characters, fantastical creatures, and heaps of holiday joy . I also love Lullaby for the King by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michelle Carlos. On a holiday book shelf awash in reindeer and snow, shiny trees and wrapped presents, it’s nice to see a book that is about the real book cover Nicholas the MakerChristmas story and not the ever present commercial version.
Chapter books
book cover the TimeKeepers seriesHere is a new series from the creator of the Explorer Club, SJ King. It’s called The Time Keepers, and it features time travel adventures with lots of rich historical detail. Like the earlier series there’s a nicely diverse cast and some non-fiction back matter. It’s an easier read than Kate Messner’s Ranger in Time series but a step up in reading level from Laurel Snyder’s Charlie and Mouse.
Graphic novels
Continuing our time travel theme, there’s a new graphic novel called The History Club by Bret Baier illustrated by Marvin Sianipar. It’s about a menacing History Twister who travels through time to work evil and the History Club who thwarts him across the ages.
book cover MabuhayI’m so thrilled to see this debut graphic novel from a fellow Portlander and Filipino American illustrator and animator Zachary Sterling.  I love it that he used a Filipino word of greeting for his title Mabuhay! It’s the story of first generation siblings JJ and Althea who are working hard at fitting in at school and who dread working on the family food truck. When the monsters of Filipino mythology come for their family the brother and sister team up to protect their own. A sweet story with top notch art and, perhaps best of all, an easy recipe for chicken adobo.
Book cover the Courage to DreamOn a more serious note, Neal Shusterman has written a graphic novel called Courage to Dream: tales of hope in the holocaust, illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez. This is for the older middle grade readers. It carefully and clearly represents the horrors of the holocaust, but gives attention to the hope and courage of the Jewish community and the help of their allies. If you are looking to open a conversation about anti-semitism in the present, this might be a good place to start.
MG novels
book cover Tagging FreedomTagging Freedom by Rhonda Roumani also intersects with the politics of the moment. It is about cousins, one in Damascas, Syria and one in the US. Kareem, the Syrian cousin, gets involved in using graffiti as a means of protest against injustice. His parents send him to live in the US with his cousin Sam who is trying to fit in with the popular crowd at school. It’s a good conversation starter about how activism changes the way people see the world.
I have a special fondness for historical fiction. Light Comes to Shadow Mountain by Toni Buzzeo is set in the 1930s during the rural electrification projects in the US. Cora can’t wait for power to come to their impoverished Kentucky town. Her mother wants to see the older way of life and the environment safeguarded. Books set in Appalachia and featuring the rural poor are few and far between. This will be a welcome addition to any classroom or library.
book cover eagle drumsBooks for kids by indigenous authors are also few and far between and rarest of all perhaps are those by and about Native Alaskans. Eagle Drums by Nausgraq Rainey Hopson is the story of a boy who encounters an eagle god while on a mountain expedition to collect obsidian. It features Iñupiaq cultural folklore and beautiful color illustrations. This is one of my favorite book covers this year.
YA novels
I typically focus on MG books but I couldn’t pass up sharing this wonderful anthology of essays by writers of color and the work of writing as a person of color in the US. Any student who loves to write will find something of value in Writing in Color, edited by Nafiza Azad and Melody Simpson. It has craft essays on topics like “Starting from the Blank Page” or “A Unique Point of View” as well as industry advice like “Coping with Imposter Syndrome”,  “The Care and Keeping of Jealousy” and “Perseverance”. I’m a long published author myself and I found plenty of things to reflect on in these essays. It’s also a great introduction to writers of color you might want to read more of.