When I was about ten, I almost grasped an important grammar lesson from my father: If there are two siblings, one is older and the other is younger, not oldest and youngest. It was a conversation about comparatives and superlatives, but what stuck with me is that you need three to add the all-important -est to an order. This blew my mind, as I had firmly planted in my mind that I was the youngest. Turns out I was merely the younger. My dad tried to explain it to me in terms of “good, better, best …” and this is about where I stopped listening and just imagined that it meant he was giving me a secret message that I, as the younger, was the better, not thinking through that my sister, as the older, was also the better.
Here’s the truth: Older, younger, oldest, youngest, middle — all sisters are not only better, they’re the best. Here are 10 middle-grade novels that portray that sisterly bond, even if the family relationship is not the focus of the plot. And because I’m a bit obsessed with sibling order, I’ll make sure to note whether the main character is the younger or the older ….
I Don’t Know How the Story Ends by J.B. Cheaney:
It’s 1918 and 12-year-old Isobel isn’t too excited to spend the summer at her aunt’s home in Hollywood with her mother and sister until her cousin, Ranger, involves the sisters in creating the perfect film.
Main character: Isobel is the older sister.
A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder: Long ago the dam formed, the lively river turned into a swamp, and the wasting illness came to Luna’s village, and now that her little sister is sick Luna will do anything to save her, even offer herself to the creature that lives in the swamp on the day of the nearer moon. Booklist said “Crowder has crafted a book about the deep ties of sisterhood that will entrance readers with a love of magic.”
Main character: Luna is the older sister.
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne: Hamlet, whose parents are Shakespeare scholars, longs to be normal, but that’s hard when her younger sister is a genius. A review in Booklist said: Some sisterly bonding, the sweet flutterings of a first romance, and a creatively contrived comeuppance for the mean girls make this a cheerful read.
Main character: Hamlet is the older sister.
The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris: Twelve-year-old Treasure Daniels and her younger sister must move in with Great-aunt Grace until their mother sorts herself out, but life in Black Lake, Virginia, where segregation lingers, is hard and Grace is a nightmare–at least on the surface.
Main character: Treasure is the older sister.
Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Hadyu: Four sisters (four!) rely on each other–and a bit of mysterious magic–to cope with their mother’s illness. A Booklist starred review said ” … The way the sisters fight and love in equal measure, as well as their basic need for one another, rings poignantly true in this touching and heartwarming story.”
Main character: Younger (and youngest!) sister.
Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and an Incredible Journey by Erin Moulten: Nine-and-a-half-year-old Maple and her older sister, Dawn, must work together to face treacherous terrain, wild animals, and poachers as they trek through Vermont’s Green Mountains seeking a miracle for their prematurely-born sister. From Publishers Weekly: “Moulton’s charming debut explores the challenges and rewards of sisterhood.”
Main character: Middle sister.
Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers: Through e-mails, letters, blog entries, and movie scripts, twelve-year-old Ruth, an American girl, and Ruby, an English one, discover that they are long-lost twins. Publishers Weekly said: “Rivers’s (The Encyclopedia of Me) epistolary novel conveys both the unique intimacy created by writing letters (or, in this case, emails) and the thrill of discovering an unknown family member.”
Main character: Twins!
Sealed with a Secret by Lisa Schroeder (coming this spring): When Phoebe finds a beautiful antique at a flea market, she’s not sure whether it’s as valuable as it looks. But inside she discovers a letter written during World War II, from a young girl to her sister who’s been evacuated from London. The letter includes a “spell” for bringing people closer together; perhaps Phoebe can close the gap with her own sister.
Main character: Phoebe is the younger sister.
Dream On, Amber by Emma Shevah: Abandoned by her father at a young age, half-Japanese, half-Italian middle schooler Amber Miyamoto must dream up a way for her and her sister to make it on their own while making friends at her new school. Amber tries to protect her younger sister from emotional trauma by forging letters from their father to Bella. Four starred reviews for this one.
Main character: Amber is the older sister.
The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh: Twelve-year-old GiGi and her big sister DiDi move to Long Island, New York, so that GiGi can attend a fancy new private school. DiDi is doing double-duty as big sister and surrogate.
Main character: GiGi is the younger sister.
More older than younger sisters in this round-up, but 100 percent of the sisters are the best.
Linda Johns is the author of the Hannah West mystery series Hannah West: Sleuth in Training and Hannah West: Sleuth on the Trail (Two Lions/Nancy Pearl Book Crush Rediscoveries, 2016). She is a librarian in Seattle.