It’s summer! Time to relax, re-charge, and….. READ! At this time, I like to put out a list of favorite middle grade novels for summer reading. I haven’t blogged about middle grade novels all year, but I’ve certainly been reading a lot of them! Whether you know a child, tween, or teen who might be looking for some great summer picks or you are on the look-out for a new book for next year’s read-aloud, there is something here for everyone: Sci-Fi, family, friendship, mystery, global issues, immigration, bees, wolves, foxes, and frogs! What trends have I noticed in MG novels this year? Stories written in multiple perspectives with extraordinary character voices. Some very powerful books – well worth checking out! Happy summer reading, everyone!
Operation Frog Effect – Sarah Scheerger
Mrs. Graham, my new teacher hero, explains the butterfly effect to her class: “It’s the idea that a small change in one thing can lead to big changes in other things…Anything and everything we do—positive or negative, big or small—can influence other people and the world.” Talk about making connections! I said the same thing to the grade 7’s this year when we started our unit on our developing a positive Social Footprint. This book is getting a LOT of attention right now and I’m not surprised! I was SO impressed with the way it addresses many difficult issues, but in a light-hearted format which kids can relate. Told through eight perspectives and through letters, graphic novel-like illustrations, poetry and movie scenes, this book explores how young people can come together, speak up and make a difference. It is both delightfully entertaining while also sending a powerful, positive message. A MUST read! LOVE!
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise – Dan Gemeinhart
Rodeo and Coyote are a father/daughter duo that live on the road in an old school bus called Yager. They have been roaming the U.S. for five years – ever since a tragic accident that left them both devastated. This is another “buzz” book that should really come with tissues because I cried happy and sad tears the whole way through. This story is about family, friends, grief, and adventure. Amazing, lovable cast of characters, incredible voice, beautiful writing. It’s perhaps a bit too early to call it my favorite middle grade read of 2019, but at this moment, it is definitely in my top three!
Wow! This FANTASTIC middle grade graphic novel is a must have addition for any school/classroom library. Approaches subtle & overt racism in an accessible & understandable way through the lens of the “new kid” at a private school. Portrays serious “fitting in at school” issues and one I could see sparking a lot of rich discussions. Major kid and teacher appeal!
The Bridge Home – Padma Venkatraman
An absolutely wonderful and heart-wrenching middle grade novel that takes a bleak look at the plight of lower-caste street children in India. Similar to when I read “A Fine Balance”, this book will stay with me for a long time. Based on true experiences of two extraordinary sisters who escape an abusive home life and the street boys who become like brothers to them. In spite of the immense suffering and loss, this is a story filled with hope, beauty, compassion, and love. Told in the voice of a girl writing to her sister, this book was hard to read at times, but even harder to put down. This book is one of two choices for the Global Read Aloud this year. I highly recommend it.
Pay Attention Carter Jones – Gary D. Schmidt
When Carter Jones opens the door one morning, he discovers a butler, complete with coat tails and top hat, sent from England to assist his family of 6 after their military father is deployed overseas. We “infer” that life is rather chaotic in the house with four kids and a now single mom. I did not know what to expect with this book but was surprised at how charming, emotional, and unique it was. While not particularly transforming, I enjoyed the narrative voice of the middle schooler, learned a lot about the rules of cricket, and found it to be both humorous and poignant.
Count Me In – Varsha Bajaj
This book is not released until August but put it on your list or in your cart now! It is a powerful story about Karina and Chris, two middle school students who, despite their differences, become friends after Karina’s grandfather starts tutoring Chris after school. When Karina’s grandfather is brutally attacked by a stranger shouting hate filled words and claiming her Papa does not belong in America, Karina and Chris question how such hate could be directed someone who has lived in this country for 50 years. Similar to Wishtree, I really appreciate how this book deals with important and current issues on racism and immigration but at a level and book length appropriate for a younger age group. Perfect read-aloud for grade 5-6 level to spark discussions about hate crimes, immigration issues and using social media to raise awareness.
The Simple Art of Flying – Corey Leonardo
Again, I did not know what to expect when I started reading this one but was surprised by how quirky, whimsical and playful it was. This story is told from several points of view, but mainly from the perspective of Alastair – a grumpy African parrot born in a pet store who is looking for a grand escape to a better life for himself and his sister Aggie. For fans of The One and Only Ivan, this is a wonderful middle grade story that I think many children will love. Great characters with great voices. I enjoyed that the three points of views (Aggie, Fritz, and Alastair) are told through three different genres (Aggie writes letters; Fritz writes journal entries; and Alastair writes poetry). Tender, poignant and refreshing.
Scary Stories for Young Foxes – Christian McKay Heidicker
I LOVE THIS BOOK! And don’t let the cuteness of foxes mislead you – this book is scary! And kids like scary. Warning – Foxes die in this book. But don’t let that dissuade you from it. Because it’s BRILLIANT! So so SO good! The writing is incredible – weaving 8 distinct stories together. It reads like you’re one of the foxes, listening to the storyteller, travelling through tall grass, wind between trees in the forest, smelling purple, jumping over large barriers, and feeling everything Mia and Uly feel. I can’t even explain how good this book is. You MUST read this one!
The Bee Maker – Mobi Warren
In a recent blog post, I featured books about bees – but hadn’t discovered this one yet! WOW! This book is highly creative and kept me turning the pages to find out what happens. Part science-fiction, the main character time travels from a Texas farm in 2039, where the bees have almost disappeared, to ancient Greece to search for a way to save the bees and ends up saving a boy in the process. This one really sticks with you and I found myself thinking about the story even when I wasn’t reading it. A page turner with deep themes – this one will appeal to a little older MG tween as well as adults.
A Wolf Called Wander – Rosanne Parry
Attention animal lovers! Inspired by the true story of the famous wolf, known as OR7, who wandered 1,000 miles, A Wolf Called Wander is about family, courage and a poignant journey of survival. I fell in love Swift, the wolf – his voice and his sheer determination to live no matter what loss and adversity he faces. (Again, I found myself thinking about dear Ivan.) The writing is brilliant – gorgeous language that filled my soul. Beautiful illustrations and an extra factual section about wolves and their environment are added bonuses. Beautiful.
Shouting at the Rain – Lynda Mullaly Hunt
From the author of Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys, comes another poignant, moving, beautifully written story of changing friendships, belonging, loss, love, and forgiveness. So many themes to explore here! Here is another example of a writer who develops amazing, strong characters – I don’t think there was one character in this book I didn’t believe in. Delsie, our narrator, is strong, independent, kind, and accepting. I felt like I wanted to be her friend! She deals with friendship problems, mean girls, abandonment issues, and struggles to define what, exactly, makes a family. (not to mention, she loves tracking weather and HATES to wear shoes!) Another winner by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
The Night Diary – Veera Hiranandani
I absolutely love the writing in this book! Told from the point of view of a 12-year old Nisha through her diary entries to her mother who has passed away, this story is centered around the confusion, frustration, fear, and sadness experienced during of India’s Partition in 1947. I learned so much history from this book. Great characters, suspense, adventure, and heartache interwoven into a story of a family caught in the midst of horrendous cultural/political conflict–Hindus against Muslims. Amazing sensory writing – I felt the wind, the dust, smelled the spices, felt the pencil in Nisha’s hand. This would make an excellent choice for a grade six or seven read-aloud or Lit Circle book.
Other Words for Home – Jasmine Warga
“I just want to live in a country where we can all have dinner again without shouting about our president or rebels and revolution.” An emotional, heart-breaking, and brilliantly written story told in verse about Jude, a 12 year old Muslim refugee facing racism in America. This book deals with the struggles and the heart ache of leaving everything you know behind and searching for your identity when facing an unknown country and culture. I would definitely use this book in a grade 6 or 7 class for Literature Circles or a class novel.
Sweeping Up the Heart – Kevin Henkes
What does lonely look like? Feel like? Sound like? I can see some people feeling this book was a little slow – “nothing really happens”. But there is something so very fragile and sweet in this gentle story of Amelia and her longing to be noticed, loved, felt, understood. As teachers, we come in contact with many Amelias. Touching and poetic, this book may not appeal to everyone, but for a thoughtful reader willing to explore loss and loneliness, it is a stunner. Lots of beautiful subtlety in Henkes’ writing – he leaves lots of space for the reader’s thinking. I found it heartbreaking and beautiful.
Caterpillar Summer – Gillian McDunn
A stunning debut novel so full of voice and heart! Instead of spending the summer with her best friend, Cat is shipped off to her grandparents with her brother Chicken, and given the responsibility of caring for him. Oh, and did I mention she has never met her grandparents before? So much to love about this book! I love smart, thoughtful, compassionate Cat and her sweet, creative brother Chicken. I love that each and every character experiences some kind of transformation. I love that the “bad guy” in this book is real and not “typical” or “cliche”. I love the interpersonal relationships of the characters. I love the visual descriptions and sensory details. I love the themes of family, friendship, community, responsibility, and forgiveness. I guess I love this book!
The Benefits of Being an Octopus – Ann Braden
I almost forgot to include this book because I read it several months ago – but it is a MUST read and share book. (Thanks to Kim Fedoruk for reminding me about it!) An eye-opening, transforming, and compassionate look at poverty and empathy, and the right to be treated fairly and equally. Zoey doesn’t have much of a chance to worry about what other grade 7’s might be worried about – things like homework and crushes. She’s too busy helping her family just scrape by, and taking care of her three other siblings. According to Zoe – she’d literally have to be an octopus with eight tentacles to juggle all the tasks she faces every day. Zoey has far more responsibility than anyone her age should ever have, and reading about her made my heart ache. Her character is so strong, complex and believable. And the writing…. the writing is so beautiful and filled with so many amazing quotes. This book is not to be missed. I would recommend this book for your more mature middle grade readers (end of grade 6 or grade 7) but every adult should read it, too.
And there you have it! My favorite Middle Grade novels so far this year!
Thank for stopping by! Hope one or two books have caught your eye!