To wrap up 2021, I asked the rest of the contributors at MUF what they enjoyed reading the most this year, whether they found a new title or rediscovered a favorite middle-grade book from years past. Here’s what they said:
“My un-put-downable middle-grade read this year was THE GREAT WIDE SEA by M.H. Herlong. It’s a suspenseful and heart-wrenching tale of family, loss, and adventure at sea. The love between brothers in mourning is especially heartfelt and adds a rich emotional layer. A story of family bonds and endurance. Definitely on my list of books to re-read!” —Donna Galanti
“I [also] loved 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr all the way through! I was hooked from the very start with Rigel fully embracing her Alaskan wilderness life and then to follow her challenges within suburban life. Carr does a wonderful job of showing us Rigel’s new suburban world through her eyes with a wild Alaska perspective. This is a poignant story about loss, friendship, and about being true to yourself–especially when it’s all you’ve got to hold onto, or at least you think you do! I felt deeply for Rigel especially when we see her so alone in this strange new world and her only friend is a crow. You can always count on nature to be there for you, and the friendship between Rigel and crow is written with emotional depth. A bittersweet tale about coming of age–with all it encompasses: self-awareness, transformation, disappointment, sadness, and new beginnings. Highly recommended!”
“As a huge fan of Chris Baron’s debut middle-grade novel in verse, ALL OF ME, I came to Baron’s sophomore MG with high expectations. I was not disappointed. THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT stars Etan, a lovable, big-hearted pre-Bar Mitzvah boy, who develops selective mutism after his mom leaves the family home for treatment of her depression. A magnificent, multilayered story of familial love, unexpected friendship, and the power of healing through love and self-acceptance, this of gem of a novel will delight the most finicky of middle-grade readers.” —Melissa Roske
“Chad Lucas’s THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE. It’s the perfect blend of funny and serious, taking on some big questions about identity and family with a deft touch.” —Heather Murphy Capps
“My favorite middle-grade read of this year was CLASS ACT by Jerry Craft, the sequel to Craft’s wonderful NEW KID. This time the story focuses on NEW KID protagonist Jordan’s friend Drew, another student at Riverdale Academy Day School. Craft’s graphic novels are smart and funny and he really gets all the challenges of middle school and fitting in, and I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t fall for his work.” —Andrea Pyros
“Nation by Terry Pratchett is culture-clashing historical fiction that showcases Pratchett’s trademark humor and thought-provoking insights.” —Greg R. Fishbone
“The Strange Worlds Travel Agency by L. D. Lapinski is a delightful new series full of magic and whimsical world building. It was so clever and fun!” —Lisa Schmid
“A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan. This delightful book explores cross cultural friendship, mental health, and identity. I just loved both Elizabeth and Sara’s voices in and the yummy recipes they share with each other as they bond during cooking class and discover that both their mothers are applying for American citizenship.” —Heather Murphy Capps
“My pick would be The Lost Language by Claudia Mills. This is a beautiful, funny and moving verse novel about a sixth grader’s quest to save a dying language as well as a dying friendship.” —Hillary Homzie
“We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly—‘I think’ I read this in early 2021, it was definitely over one of the lockdowns as I can see myself sneak-reading it at the kitchen table in spurts between popping from kid to kid homeschooling. Set in 1986, I love how it creates a certain kind of pregnant atmosphere, a melancholy and quiet drama in small miseries, and the clever use of the lead up to the Challenger explosion as both a narrative device to create urgency, as well as a thematic backdrop to the Nelson family each isolated and orbiting each other. And yet when the disastrous day finally arrives the characters find a way to leave the reader with hope.”
—Meira Maierovitz Drazin
“I know for sure I read this in 2021 because I just finished it: In the Shadow of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling. Also historical fiction but this one not in my lifetime and instead an adventure set during the Roman Empire—where an erudite young slave must find his master and Jason’s golden fleece before the Caesar Nero claims it, and eternal rule, for himself. Sweeping across Athens, Rome and the isle of Brittania, with smells and sounds that make you feel like you are there (and made me wonder if the author was also a master in time-travel to make it feel so authentic—maybe he really was there and faithfully recorded what it was like?) I wouldn’t have said that I would be so taken by a book for lovers of Latin, Greek mythology, adventure and mystery but I loved it and can’t recommend it enough.”
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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