Favorite Middle-Grade Novels

It’s hard to believe that 2012 is almost over.  Can you believe the holidays are around the corner?  I absolutely love giving books as gifts!  There are so many awesome middle-grade books out there, it can be hard to choose.  But don’t worry—the Mixed-Up Files blog is full of fantastic ideas.

A while back, I shared some of my favorite newer middle-grade novels with you.  The response was so wonderful, that I decided to make it an annual post around the holidays.  In addition to the books I’ve listed below, you can browse through the Mixed-Up Files book lists—there are categories like reluctant readers, books for boys, fantasy/paranormal, and all of our new release posts.

Here are some of my favorite middle-grade novels that were released in the past few years:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WOW.  This book really hit home with me.  It should be required reading in every school!  Wonder is a fast-paced read packed with emotion, amazing characters that you root for every step of the way, and uses multiple points of view to brilliantly show readers that things aren’t always the way they seem.  I was bullied in middle school and was heartbroken to see my daughter suffer through it, too.  I soon realized that there is an incredible amount of bullying going on.  We desperately need to find a way to stop it!  And I believe this wonderful book and the Choose Kind anti-bullying campaign that it inspired really can make a difference.

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

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity 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, now a New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, 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.


Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung

Fun, fun, fun!  I laughed my way through this book.  It’s a fast-paced read filled with humor, heart, action, adventure, suspense, giant robots, surprising superheroes, and even a first crush…what more could you want in a book?  This is perfect for any boy or girl—especially ones who love comics, humor, or have dreamed about being a superhero.  You can check out an interview with the author here.

A SUPER funny, SUPER fast-paced, SUPER debut! Vincent Wu is Captain Stupendous’s No. 1 Fan, but even he has to admit that Captain Stupendous has been a little off lately. During Professor Mayhem’s latest attack, Captain Stupendous barely made it out alive – although he did manage to save Vincent from a giant monster robot. It’s Vincent’s dream come true… until he finds out Captain Stupendous’s secret identity: It’s Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent happens to have a crush on. Captain Stupendous’s powers were recently transferred to Polly in a fluke accident, and so while she has all of his super strength and super speed, she doesn’t know how to use them, and she definitely doesn’t know all the strengths and weaknesses of his many nemeses. But Vincent and his friends are just the right fan club to train up their favorite superhero before he (she?) has to face Professor Mayhem again. And if they make it through this battle for the safety of Copperplate City, Vincent might just get up the courage to ask Polly on a date.


Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky

This is another amazing and fast-paced read that is wonderful for both girls and boys.  The characters are so relatable—I pulled for Juniper and Giles every step of the way. And the mystery grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.  So many people wish they could snap their fingers and have all their wishes come true—and I love exploring just how far some people could go to make that happen.  And wondering what I would be willing to do to make my wishes come true.  One of the lines that really hit me is: ‘And remember, sometimes that which seems ordinary is really most extraordinary of all.’

Be careful what you wish for.

Young Juniper Berry knows her mother and father aren’t the same people they used to be. Of course, they’re no longer struggling actors—they’re now the most famous movie stars in the world. But it’s more than that. She can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right with them. And one rainy night, in the shadowy and sinister woods behind their mansion, she discovers she’s right.

Now, it’s up to Juniper to overcome her own demons in order to save the ones who couldn’t.


Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

This is another wonderful fast-paced read full of humor and heart.  It’s great for boys as well as girls…and definitely anyone who has ever dreamed of being on a game show.  I remember watching kids’ week on Jeopardy! and other shows when I was younger, and wishing I could be a part of it.  This give such a fun, behind-the scenes look at the way things work for kids’ week on Jeopardy!  But this book is way more than just fun and games.  More and more kids are dealing with divorced parents and where their step parents (or potential future step parents) fit into their world—and this could help kids open their eyes and really take a look at the people in their lives.

You can check out an interview with Donna for Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen here.  I also love Donna’s first two books– As if Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President, which won the Sid Fleischman Award and How to Survive Middle School (check out the hysterical videos based on this humorous book).

Olivia Bean knows trivia. She watches Jeopardy! every night and usually beats at least one of the contestants. If she were better at geography, she would try out for the show’s kids’ week. Not only could she win bundles of money, she’d get to go to the taping in California, where her dad, who left two years ago and who Olivia misses like crazy, lives with his new family.

One day Olivia’s friend-turned-nemesis, Tucker, offers to help her bulk up her geography knowledge. Before Olivia knows it, she’s getting help from all sorts of unexpected sources: her almost-stepdad, superannoying Neil; her genius little brother, Charlie; even her stressed-out mom. Soon she has breezed through the audition rounds and is headed for Hollywood! But will the one person she wants to impress more than anyone else show up to support her?


The Classroom: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid by Robin Mellom

This is the first book in a humorous series written in an extremely fun and unusual format. It’s a fast-paced read full of illustrations that is great for both boys and girls.  The characters are very relatable—I rooted Trevor on throughout the story.  And I love how it gives readers a glimpse into the minds of several characters, showing that not everything is as it seems.  You can check out my interview with the author here.

A documentary crew has descended upon Westside Middle School to detail the life of an average seventh grader and his classmates.  What they uncover, though, is far from average. Mostly, it is upper average along with moments of extreme average, highlighted by several minutes of total epicness. 
Trevor Jones has been preparing for the start of seventh grade his entire summer. But he is NOT ready for the news his best friend, Libby, drops on him at the bus stop: he needs to branch out and make new friends. Oh, and he must ask a girl to the fall dance. By the end of the day.

Trevor decides that he would rather squirt hot sauce in his eyes than attend the dance. Everything changes, though, when he meets mysterious new student Molly. Trevor starts to think that going to the dance maybe wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. But with detention-wielding teachers, school gossips, and, worst of all, eighth graders conspiring against him, Trevor will have to do the one thing he wasn’t prepared to do: be epic.


I asked my writing friends on Verla Kay’s Blueboards to share the title of one of their favorite middle-grade novels.  They named so many books that I love, too—plus some that I can’t wait to add to my must-read list.  I found some amazing gems from their suggestions last time, and hope you’ll enjoy these, too!


Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Rose Green said: I love this book by like, 10,000%. It’s hysterical. And it’s heartwarming. A book about dads and space and all the crazy and important things in life. It’s also a fabulous read-aloud; you can hardly read it without badgering the person nearest you to share great lines.

Liam has always felt a bit like he’s stuck between two worlds. This is primarily because he’s a twelve-year-old kid who looks like he’s about thirty. Sometimes it’s not so bad, like when his new principal mistakes him for a teacher on the first day of school or when he convinces a car dealer to let him take a Porsche out on a test drive. But mostly it’s just frustrating, being a kid trapped in an adult world. And so he decides to flip things around. Liam cons his way onto the first spaceship to take civilians into space, a special flight for a group of kids and an adult chaperone, and he is going as the adult chaperone. It’s not long before Liam, along with his friends, is stuck between two worlds again—only this time he’s 239,000 miles from home.


Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Mike Jung said: As a child of immigrants and a person who’s dealt with a fair share of struggles and doubts about ethnic and cultural identity, I really loved Natalie Lorenzi’s Flying the Dragon – it evoked a lot of striking memories, including one that I haven’t thought about in, oh, 15 or 20 years. It’s fabulous.

This book received raves from many other Blueboarders as well, but I had to include this wonderful comment from Alison Ashley Formento where she said: Natalie Diaz Lorenzi’s Flying the Dragon is a must-add to your list.  I was at a recent book event in PA and I spoke with a group of 5th graders who all read Natalie’s book and loved it as much as I do. We were all sharing our current favorites and Flying the Dragon was top of the list.

American-born Skye knows very little of her Japanese heritage. Her father taught her to speak the language, but when their estranged Japanese family, including Skye’s grandfather, suddenly move to the United States, Skye must be prepared to give up her All-Star soccer dreams to take Japanese lessons and to help her cousin, Hiroshi adapt to a new school. Hiroshi, likewise, must give up his home and his hopes of winning the rokkaku kite-fighting championship with Grandfather. Faced with language barriers, culture clashes and cousin rivalry, Skye and Hiroshi have a rocky start. But a greater shared loss brings them together. They learn to communicate, not only through language, but through a common heritage and sense of family honor. At the rokkaku contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival, Hiroshi and Skye must work as a team in order to compete with the best.


The Broken Lands by Kate Milford

Mike Jung said: The Broken Lands is quite possibly my favorite book of 2012. It’s gorgeously written, and it’s got historical verisimilitude, an intense, magical atmosphere, and a thrilling storyline. I’ll be really upset if it doesn’t make the short list for a bunch of literary awards.

A crossroads can be a place of great power. So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, a fireworks expert, stop them before it’s too late? Here is a richly textured, slow-burning thriller about friendship, courage, and the age-old fight between good and evil.


Milo: Brain Freeze and Sticky Notes by Alan Silberberg

Terry Lynn Johnson wanted to add this book to my favorites list because it’s funny and poignant.  I read this one a while back and absolutely love it, so I’m thrilled to share it with all of you.

MILO is the funny and poignant story, told through text and cartoons, of a 13-year-old boy’s struggle to come to terms with the loss that hit the reset button on his life. Loveable geek Milo Cruikshank finds reasons for frustration at every turn, like people who carve Halloween pumpkins way too soon (the pumpkins just rot and get lopsided) or the fact that the girl of his dreams, Summer, barely acknowledges his existence while next-door neighbor Hilary won’t leave him alone. The truth is – ever since Milo’s mother died nothing has gone right. Now, instead of the kitchen being full of music, his whole house has been filled with Fog. Nothing’s the same. Not his Dad. Not his sister. And definitely not him. In love with the girl he sneezed on the first day of school and best pals with Marshall, the “One Eyed Jack” of friends, Milo copes with being the new kid (again) as he struggles to survive a school year that is filled with reminders of what his life “used to be.”


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Justin Walsh said: The one that sticks with me most from the last couple of years is A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhán Dowd. It deals with the impending death of a loved one, but doesn’t fall foul of trying to provide answers or sense. I found it powerful, understated, and true to the experience it explores. Not a feelgood book in any sense, but one that doesn’t let go.

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.


See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Jennifer Clark Estes said: See You at Harry’s is one of my absolute favorites. It grabbed me from the first page and just did not let go — spot on writing, honest, tackling issues without being “an issue book”, and an amazing handling of how people navigate the aftermath of a tragedy.  You can read Jennifer’s full blog review of it here.

Starting middle school brings all the usual challenges — until the unthinkable happens, and Fern and her family must find a way to heal.

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Marcia Hoehne says: I’ve read so many good ones lately! Right now The One and Only Ivan stands out for me.  It’s a heartwarming story about compassion, art, and the nature of leadership. If you like animal stories, verse novels, and books that tug at the heartstrings, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is for you.  You can read Marcia’s full review of it here.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.  Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.


The Voice of Thunder by Mirka Breen

Barbara Etlin said: The Voice of Thunder is an historical novel about the 1967 Six-Day War in Israel, which is, in the author’s words, both “timeless” and “timely”.

West Jerusalem, early June 1967, the eve of war. Ten-year-old Mira Levi and her best friend Gili Moser share an awful secret. They have discovered a new radio station called The Voice of Thunder from Cairo. Broadcasting in accented Hebrew, it threatens the demise of their country, their city, and their families. As the menace beats the drums of war, on June 5th the danger becomes all too real. Mira finds her own voice as she struggles to drown the distant terror of The Voice of Thunder. In these first two weeks of June, not only are Mira and Gili’s lives changed forever, but history will never be the same.


Chained by Lynne Kelly

Anne Nesbet said she loves Chained for its lovely writing, its brave hero, and its elephant.  I’ve also heard many other raves for this book, and can’t wait to read it!

After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn’t prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she’s not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.


The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

Elliah Terry said: I dared to deviate from my usual types of MG reads and I’m so glad I did.  It was different than anything I’d read in the previous two years, kept me guessing, and most importantly–had a sweet MC whom I fell in love with. Each time I picked the book up was like sitting down and visiting with an adventurous, interesting friend.

You just can’t keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods. Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie. Sure, she hasn’t mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she’s real good at loop-the-loops. Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma’s at her wit’s end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents’ farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities. School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences. Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.


Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

MysteryRobin said: I choose Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman. I love it because it so evokes London’s dark, Dickensian side. I can close my eyes and trace Meggy’s walk from her alchemist Father’s house to the market, and see all the stalls and buildings she described. There’s a treasonous plot, coming of age, overcoming disability, luscious scenery, and witty humor all wrapped up in one story.

Fans of Karen Cushman’s witty, satisfying novels will welcome Meggy Swann, newly come to London with her only friend, a goose named Louise. Meggy’s mother was glad to be rid of her; her father, who sent for her, doesn’t want her after all. Meggy is appalled by London,dirty and noisy, full of rogues and thieves, and difficult to get around in—not that getting around is ever easy for someone who walks with the help of two sticks.Just as her alchemist father pursues his Great Work of transforming base metal into gold, Meggy finds herself pursuing her own transformation. Earthy and colorful, Elizabethan London has its dark side, but it also has gifts in store for Meggy Swann.



The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet

Mike Jung said:  The Cabinet of Earths is one of those books that feels timeless because of its lyrical, gorgeous prose and evocative setting, and also has all kinds of fun and creepy adventure elements too.

On their first day in Paris, Maya and her little brother, James, find themselves caught up in some very old magic. Houses with bronze salamanders for door handles, statues that look too much like Maya’s own worried face, a man wearing sunglasses to hide his radiant purple eyes . . . nothing is what it seems. And what does all that magic want from Maya?

With the help of a friendly boy named Valko, Maya discovers surprises hidden in her family tree—grandmothers who walked in magic, a cousin so unremarkable she’s actually hard to see, and a terrible family habit of betraying one’s brother. And now the shimmering glass Cabinet of Earths, at the heart of all these secrets, has chosen Maya to be its new Keeper.  As she untangles the ties between the Salamander House, the purple-eyed man, and the Cabinet of Earths, Maya realizes that her own brother may be in terrible danger. To save him, Maya must take on the magical underworld of Paris . . . before it is too late.


Here are some other recent books that received raves:





I want to thank my Blueboard friends for sharing their favorites with us.  I hope you all find some fantastic new books on this list.

I’d love to know what your current favorites are, and why you love them so much.  And if there’s a certain kind of book you’re hoping to find, let us know and we’ll do our best to help you!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books.  She’s constantly inspired by her twelve and fourteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was recently rescued from the Everglades.  Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

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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 adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades and a rescue cat who loves to knock things off her desk.

Repped by Joyce Sweeney at The Seymour Agency.
  1. Great bunch of books, Mindy. I especially loved Cosmic and Milo, so it’s nice to see them get some love.

  2. I can’t tell you how lovely it is to have The Broken Lands included on a list of such amazing books. Thank you so much. Happiest of holidays to you!

  3. This is such a great list! I have a pile on there that I want to read. Just finished Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead last night. Remarkable in its spareness. Reminds me of Hoot by Hiaasen.

  4. What an honor to be on this list with such great reads. Mindy, thanks for compiling this. I saw some favorites on here and some that I’m sure will become favorites soon.

  5. Mindy, thanks so much for including Flying the Dragon on your list, and thanks to Mike and Ashley for recommending it. Looking forward to checking out the other books on this list that I haven’t read yet–good timing for the holidays! 🙂

  6. wow! Great list, Mindy! This is a fabulous reference for my next read!

  7. I’ve read Wonder and One and Only Ivan…loved them both.

    Wonder I had some issues with regards to “age” point of view (it read like a much OLDER group of kids, 7th or 8th graders, instead of 5th graders). But still a powerful and needed book.

    • I had the same thought about Wonder, Melissa. I think the multiple point of view that includes high school kids helps widen the readership.

      I just read through your comment again. At first, I thought you meant that the book in general felt like it could be for older children. Now, I’m wondering if you meant that you think August and his classmates felt older than 5th grade. If so, I have a a daughter in 6th grade now, and am truly amazed at how much older she seemed last year than I remember 5th graders being when I was younger.

  8. Yes! Yes! and Yes!!!!! Wonderful wonderful list!

  9. Thanks Mindy,
    A great reference and a wonderful gift list. Appreciated!