Fab Fair Middle Grade Finds

I’ve been thinking about their lately. It’s the best end of summer celebration, and it’s a tradition in many states. Here in Minnesota, the fair started today. Some of my favorites are the seed art exhibit in the Agriculture building, thee baby farm animals, the arts and crafts, and the Alphabet Forest (a little reading refuge for kids who love books and the authors who write them).

So why not read some MG books about the great get-togethers happening all over the states? Here are a few finds to inspire your novel’s next fair scene or just to enjoy as you get ready to visit your state’s fair.


Come See the Fair

by Gabriel Savit

Twelve-year-old orphan Eva Root travels the country pretending to channel spirits at séances. Her audiences swear their loved ones have spoken to them from beyond the grave. This, of course, is impossible.

But one day, Eva experiences another impossibility: she hears a voice in her head telling her to come to the World’s Fair in Chicago. There, she meets a mysterious magician who needs her help to bring magic to life. But as their work progresses, Eva begins to suspect that the project’s goals may not be as noble as they seem. And when tragedy strikes, Eva will have to reach beyond death itself to unravel the mystery of the magician’s plan—before it’s too late.






The Circus at the End of the Sea

by Lori R. Snyder

Maddy Adriana knows that magic is real. All her life, her heart has pulled her towards things too perfect to be ordinary. One day, that tug leads her to a magical street circus, hidden in plain sight among the canals and boardwalks of Venice Beach.

For the first time in Maddy’s life, she finally feels like she belongs. But the circus is in grave danger. Maddy will need to confront the frightening side of magic, as well as her own deepest fears, if she’s to have any hope of saving the place she dreams of calling home.

This unforgettable debut shows readers the magic of following your heart and finding where you belong.






Fair Weather

by Richard Peck

Thirteen-year-old Rosie Beckett has never strayed further from her family’s farm than a horse can pull a cart. Then a letter from her Aunt Euterpe arrives, and everything changes. It’s 1893, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition-the “wonder of the age”-a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair. Aunt Euterpe is inviting the Becketts to come for a visit and go to the fair! Award-winning author Richard Peck’s fresh, realistic, and fun-filled writing truly brings the World’s Fair-and Rosie and her family-to life.






Circus Mirandus

by Cassie Beasley

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other–the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn’t want to keep his promise. And now it’s up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.








August is National Dog Month

August is National Dog Month and as an elementary school librarian, I can tell you these four-legged canines are a BIG deal to young readers. Nonfiction dog books inhabit one full shelf and another three-quarters of a shelf in my library … larger than any other nonfiction section. I say inhabit but the truth is those shelves are always empty, the books instead being tucked away in children’s backpacks to be read at home. Kids love looking at the humorous and endearing photos of these lovable pets and reading fun facts about them.

This same interest extends to fiction. I have read all of the middle-grade books that I am recommending because it’s the only way I can keep up with student requests for “stories about dogs.”  Requests that come as frequently as those for “stories like Harry Potter.”

So embrace National Dog Month by sampling a story full of doggie adventure and perhaps a bit of slobbering and barking. And if you have a dog of your own—as I do—give them a few extra dog biscuits this month.

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Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog – Eileen Beha, 2009Tango

When Tango’s wealthy owners sail into stormy waters, the little Yorkshire Terrier falls overboard. Lost at sea, he washes up, nearly dead, in a village on Prince Edward Island. A lonely widow nurses him back to health and he becomes friends with a fox and a waif. In his new life, Tango finally learns that sometimes it takes getting lost to find what matters most.

A Dog’s Way Home – Bobbie Pyron, 2011 Dog 2

A car accident strands eleven-year-old Abby and her beloved sheltie, Tam, on opposite sides of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It takes the two of them months filled with physical dangers and emotional challenges to find their way back to each other.

Dog 2A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray – Ann M. Martin, 2007

Squirrel, a stray puppy, and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone’s summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, they must face busy highways, not-so-friendly animals, the changing seasons, and humans both gentle and brutal.

One Dog and His Boy – Eva Ibbotson, 2012 Dog 4

All Hal had ever wanted was a dog, but his mother thinks a dog will be too messy and noisy. Then on the morning of Hal’s 10th birthday, the unbelievable happens. He’s allowed to choose a dog at Easy Pets, a rent-a-pet agency. The moment he sees the odd-looking terrier, Hal knows he’s found a friend for life. But no one tells him that Fleck is a rental dog and must be returned. With his friend Pippa, Hal frees Fleck and four other dogs from the rental agency and treks from London to Scotland to his grandparents’ home.

Dog 5Crime Biters!: It’s a Doggy Dog World – Tommy Greenwald, 2016

Bored by the lack of crime in Quietville, Jimmy’s vampire dog Abby chews up his mother’s entire shoe collection. Jimmy’s parents insist on enrolling Abby in obedience training, and the longer it goes on the more “normal” and boring she becomes. But when mysterious things start happening to Jimmy’s lacrosse team, he and his friends (aka the Crime Biters) realize they need to get Abby back to her crime-fighting ways.

Fenway and Hattie – Victoria J. Coe, 2016Dog 6

Fenway is a Jack Russell terrier living in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and his beloved short human, Hattie. But when his family moves to the suburbs, things change. Fenway enjoys the huge Dog Park near his new home, but he’s not happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the slippery floor in the Eating Room, and the changes in Hattie. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in human friends and playing baseball. The other dogs in the Park say Hattie has outgrown him, but Fenway is going to prove them wrong!

Dog 7Just a Dog – Michael Gerard Bauer, 2012

Mr. Mosely is a special dog. Not just because he’s part Great Dane. Not just because he’s all white except for a heart-shaped splotch on his chest. And not just because he’s super clumsy. He’s special because he seems to know exactly what everyone in Corey’s family needs, even when they don’t know themselves. This is the story of Mr. Mosely, from his puppyhood to the last time he curls up on the back porch. It’s the story of how sometimes a dog isn’t “just a dog”. Sometimes he’s the glue that holds a whole family together.

Kizzy Ann Stamps – Jeri Watts, 2012Dog 8

In 1963, Kizzy Ann Stamps worries about her first year at an integrated school. She worries about the color of her skin, the scar running from her eye to the tip of her smile, and whether anyone at the white school will like her. Shag, her border collie, is her refuge, but obstacles arise even with him. Kizzy Ann knows she and Shag could win the dog trials, but will she—an African American girl—be allowed to enter the herding competition?

Dog 9Mutt’s Promise – Julie Salamon, 2016

Luna is a farm puppy who loves her happy life surrounded by her family and Gilberto, the son of farm workers. But when Gilberto’s family moves away, the new farmer Mr. Thomas doesn’t feel he can take care of all the dogs. He finds new homes for the puppies. But Luna and her brother, Chief, are given to a man who does not have the best of intentions. Hungry and scared, the two puppies take matters into their own paws and find a way to escape.

The One and Only Bob – Katherine Applegate, 2020Dog 10

Return to the unforgettable world of The One and Only Ivan in this incredible sequel, starring Ivan’s canine friend, Bob, who sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family.

Dog 11Woof: A Bowser and Birdie Novel – Spencer Quinn, 2016

There is trouble brewing in the Louisiana swamp. Bowser can smell it. He’s handsome, slobbery, and can sniff out LOTS of things. Like bacon. Rawhide chews. And the sweat on humans when they’re lying. Birdie Gaux, Bowser’s owner, also knows something is wrong. Her Grammy’s prize stuffed marlin has been stolen and there’s a weird rumor that the marlin is linked to a missing treasure. Birdie and Bowser decide to investigate and things quickly become puzzling and dangerous.

Secondhand Dogs  – Carolyn Crimi, 2021Dog 12

Miss Lottie’s home is for second chances. When she adopts the dogs Gus, Roo, Tank, and Moon Pie, they become a family. But when a new dog, Decker, arrives and tries to hoard Miss Lottie’s heart and home for himself, the pack is threatened. Things go from bad to worse as Decker’s presence causes strife in the group. When Decker convinces Moon Pie to embark on an impossible journey, it’s up to Gus to gather courage, rally the pack, and bring the little dog home.

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Not enough books for your bite? Check out this link. Or if you’re interested in reading a dog-themed award winner or well-loved classic during National Dog Month, try one from my bookshelf:

Dog bookshelf

Or … if you are more of a cat lover, click here.

The Magic of Writing Middle Grade: It’s All About Remembering the Child’s Perspective

Middle grade is without a doubt magical.

And by magical, I don’t mean that it’s all witches, elixirs, and pixies. But there’s certainly plenty of that. You’ll find gobs of delicious magic in lauded books such as The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton.

However, middle grade encompasses so many kinds of books, from contemporary realistic fiction to science fantasy from biography to adventure.

What I mean by magic—is the magic of childhood itself. After all, middle grade focuses on kids ages 8 until twelve—the very center of childhood. This is when you’re old enough to have hours of independent time away from your parents and yet not ready for the individuation shuffle away from parents and caregivers. At this age, while friendships and peers rule the day, children seek the guidance of kind and wise mentors. This might be parents, teachers, coaches, club advisors or yes, a witch, wizard or conjurer.

However, you don’t need to write about mystical creatures like, say, unicorns in order to find magic. You just need to remember what it is like to be a child.

When I was writing one of my middle grades, Queen of Likes, I momentarily forget what it was like to be a kid. In that book, 12-year-old Karma Cooper gets her phone taken away. At first, I got right to this punishment and had Karma communicating her regret.

Wrong! I had forgotten what it felt like to be a seventh grader. Instead, I was writing the text like—gulp–a mom. At the time, I hated how my kids and their friends were on the phone in the car and didn’t talk to each other. I didn’t allow phones at the kitchen table. I constantly made them put their phones away. But a kid might feel different. She might feel as though Mom is patently unfair. In revision, I had to remember how Karma felt about her phone, not me, the Mom. When I had Karma name her phone Floyd, I got back into a child head space.

One of my favorite authors is Beverly Clearly because she remembered what it was like to be a child.

For example, Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, Age 8, focuses on tension over a beloved eraser. As an adult, it is too easy to forget the attachment that children have to small inanimate objects. Sometimes as grown-ups, we see things merely as tools whereas to a child an eraser is an entire sensory experience and imbued with magic. When Ramona first receives her eraser, this is how her new treasure is described: “smooth, pearly pink, smelling softly of rubber, and just right for erasing pencil lines.”

Unfortunately, this treasure is taken away from her on the bus by some boys. To an adult, losing an eraser may seem trivial, but to Ramona, it’s a catastrophe. From an eight-year-old perspective, it is not just a common school supply, but a “beautiful pink eraser.”

It’s so easy to forget what it’s like to be truly young. In order not to forget, my kids’ preschool teacher, Mz. Lori, would have us adults do this exercise.

  1. Lift up your hands over your head.
  2. Hold them there for 3-5 minutes (it’s not easy) and march in place.

That is what is feels like to be a young child out on a walk and holding an adult’s hand.

What do you do to get back into the child mindset?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). And her nonfiction picture book, If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders From Around the World is a look at historical and current princesses from many diverse lands who have made their mark (Simon & Schuster, August 2022). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University. In the summer, she teaches in the graduate program in children’s literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy.

She can be found at and on Instagram, her Facebook page as well as on Twitter