Favorite Middle-Grade Novels

There are so many middle-grade novels, it’s hard to know what to read next.  If I love a book, I usually rush to pick up future novels from that author.  But how do you find great new authors in the first place?

I often seek out books that friends rave about, plus anything that catches my eye on the Mixed-Up Files book lists (you can browse categories like reluctant readers, books for boys, fantasy/paranormal, etc. and if you scroll toward the bottom you’ll see all our past new release posts).

Since we love helping our readers discover great new books, I’m going to list some of my favorite middle-grade novels that came out in the past couple of years by new authors (or authors who are new to this genre).  Below each reason why the book is a favorite is a blurb from Indiebound.

 * Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier.  Keep your eyes open for an upcoming interview with Jonathan!  When I first heard the title of this book, an editor was talking about it in a crowded room.  I had her repeat it at least three times, thinking I heard her wrong.  Nope!  When I came home and Googled it, I discovered that my ears were correct.  After reading this fantastic book, I can’t imagine a better title for it.  The characters in this wacky adventure jump off the page, and the voice grabbed me right away—it’s so unique.  Check out this free first chapter, and you’ll see what I mean!

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher—a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick—a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat—and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.


* My Very UnFairy Tale Life by Anna Staniszewski.  This is another one with a great voice that sucked me in the second I read the free first chapter online.  And if you love this unique action-packed novel as much as I do, we’ll all be adding My Way Too Fairy Tale Life to our must-read lists.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until this sequel is released in Spring, 2013.

“You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They’re lies. All lies.” Twelve-year-old Jenny has spent the last two years as an adventurer helping magical kingdoms around the universe. But it’s a thankless job, leaving her no time for school or friends. She’d almost rather take a math test than rescue yet another magical creature! When Jenny is sent on yet another mission, she has a tough choice to make: quit and have her normal life back, or fulfill her promise and go into a battle she doesn’t think she can win.


Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick.  This has a wonderful voice that made me want to leap into Marley’s story.  Plus, I love writing and reading books that have adorable animals, spunky children, and cute crushes—and this book has the perfect mix of humor and heart.

Marley’s life is as precarious as an overfull water balloon—one false move and everything will burst. Her best friends are pulling away from her, and her parents, newly separated, have decided she should spend the summer with her dad in his new house, with a job she didn’t ask for and certainly doesn’t want. On the upside is a cute boy who loves dogs as much as Marley does . . . but young love has lots of opportunity for humiliation and misinterpreted signals. Luckily Marley is a girl who trusts her instincts and knows the truth when she sees it, making her an immensely appealing character and her story funny, heartfelt, and emotionally true.


How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen. Like the others, the voice really jumped at me from the very first line.  This book had me cheering Lamar on through his heartbreaking yet humorous journey.

Thirteen-year-old Lamar Washington is the maddest, baddest, most spectacular bowler at Striker’s Bowling Paradise. But while Lamar’s a whiz at rolling strikes, he always strikes out with girls. And his brother, Xavier the Basketball Savior, is no help. Xavier earns trophy after trophy on the basketball court and soaks up Dad’s attention, leaving no room for Lamar’s problems.

Until bad boy Billy Jenks convinces Lamar that hustling at the alley will help him win his dream girl, plus earn him enough money to buy an expensive pro ball and impress celebrity bowler Bubba Sanders. But when Billy’s scheme goes awry, Lamar ends up ruining his brother’s shot at college and every relationship in his life. Can Lamar figure out how to mend his broken ties, no matter what the cost?


I asked my writing friends on Verla Kay’s Blueboards to share some 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.


Marcia Hoehne first heard about these wonderful novels online.

The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell has a historical, mystery, timeless feel.

Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. Once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old murder mystery—and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too.


May B by Caroline Starr Rose has historical, lovely language.

May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.


Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor is about artists, mysterious, warmhearted, quirky characters that are likeable instead of merely weird.

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and twelve-year- old Raine O’Rourke’s mother suddenly takes a job hours from home at mysterious Sparrow Road- a creepy, dilapidated mansion that houses an eccentric group of artists. As Raine tries to make sense of her new surroundings, she forges friendships with a cast of quirky characters including the outrageous and funky Josie.  Together, Raine and Josie decide to solve the mysteries of Sparrow Road-from its haunting history as an orphanage to the secrets of its silent, brooding owner, Viktor. But it’s an unexpected secret from Raine’s own life that changes her forever.


Karen Schwartz loves The Boy Project by Kami Kinard because it’s both funny and tender.  It really captures that yearning for a boyfriend at the awkward age of seventh grade.

Wildly creative seventh grader Kara McAllister just had her best idea yet. She’s going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara’s project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy’s bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara’s research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it. . . .


Vonna Carter says that Circle of Secrets and the prequel/companion The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little, both are beautiful, haunting and sweet with fantastic voice.  Here’s the blurb for The Healing Spell.

Twelve-year-old Livie is living with a secret and it’s crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother’s coma, but she can’t tell anyone. It’s up to her to find a way to wake her mamma up.

Stuck in the middle of three sisters, hiding a forbidden pet alligator, and afraid to disappoint her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else, Livie struggles to find her place within her own family as she learns about the powers of faith and redemption. Livie’s powerful, emotional, and sometimes humorous story will stay with readers long after the last line is read.


Mike Jung and Natalie Lorenzi both raved about Nowhere Girl by A.J. Paquette.  Natalie loved the gorgeous language, exotic setting, and page-turning plot.

Luchi Ann only knows a few things about herself: she was born in a prison in Thailand. Her American mother was an inmate there. And now that her mother has died, Luchi must leave the only place she’s ever known and set out into the world. Neither at home as a Thai, because of her fair skin and blond hair, nor as a foreigner, because of her knowledge of Thai life and traditions, Luchi feels as though she belongs nowhere. But as she embarks on an amazing adventure-a journey spanning continents and customs, harrowing danger and exhilarating experiences-she will find the family, and the home, she’s always dreamed of. Weaving intricate elements of traditional Thailand into a modern-day fairy tale unique unto itself, Nowhere Girl is a beautifully rendered story of courage, resilience, and finding the one place where you truly belong.


Mike and Natalie also adore the books in the Underworld Chronicle series by Jennifer Nielsen–Elliot and The Goblin War, and Elliot and the Pixie Plot.  Natalie says it has a fabulous voice and a quick plot full of adventure.  It has lots of funny lines, and is sprinkled with illustrations that appeal to reluctant (and non-reluctant!) readers.  Here’s the blurb for Elliot and The Goblin War.

WARNING! As of today, there are only 7 CHILDREN who have ever read this book and lived to tell about it. 95 CHILDREN successfully read the first chapter, but upon beginning chapter 2, they started BLABBERING in some language known only as “flibberish.” 38 CHILDREN made it halfway through this wretched book before they began SUCKING THEIR THUMBS THROUGH THEIR NOSES.

If you’re VERY BRAVE, perhaps you are willing to TAKE YOUR CHANCES. Be sure that you have told your family who gets your favorite toys if you DO NOT SURVIVE this book. Read it now, IF YOU DARE. But don’t say you haven’t been warned, for this is the story that unfolds the MYSTERIES OF THE UNDERWORLD.


These are two novels that Mystery Robin raved about.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu—I loved it so, so much. Just gorgeous, evocative writing from start to finish. My 11 year old loved it, too.

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.


A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz–it’s such a fun, gothic story about a girl who gets adopted by some spinster sisters who use her to help them fool people in séances.

Maud Flynn is known at the orphanage for her impertinence. So when the charming Miss Hyacinth chooses her to take home, the girl is pleased but baffled, until it becomes clear that she’s needed to help stage elaborate séances for bereaved patrons. As Maud is drawn deeper into the deception, playing her role as a “secret child,” she is torn between her need to please and her growing conscience —- until a shocking betrayal shows just how heartless her so-called guardians are. Filled with fascinating details of turn-of-the-century spiritualism and page-turning suspense, this lively novel features a feisty heroine whom readers will not soon forget.


Rose Green shared so many wonderful favorites that have been hits in her house for the past couple years.  Click on the covers to read their Indiebound blurbs!



More favorites for Rose and her family include: Circus Galacticus! by Deva Fagan, Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware by M.T. Anderson, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, The Doom Machine by Mark Teague, Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson, The Tanglewood Terror by Kurtis Scaletta, Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy, The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer

Here are some other great novels that are receiving raves:


Huge thanks to my Blueboard friends for sharing their favorites with us.  I’d love to know what your favorite middle-grade novels are, and why you love them so much.

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her eleven and fourteen year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her 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.