As I promised in my post about books I like that came from outside my comfort zone, today's post is going to list my recommendations for middle grade novels! For those who don't know, middle grade is the age category that comes before young adult. MG stories are for preteen kids, mostly between the ages of 9 and 12.
I don't read as much middle grade as I do YA, but I do have some favorites from when I was that age. In fact, my most favorite series (Harry Potter, a classic) starts out middle grade! I also continue to read new MG books that catch my eye today.
Here are the ones I like the best! (Skipping Harry Potter, because that's obvious.)
1) The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia is a classic MG fantasy series that, like Harry Potter, transitions into YA towards the end. It presents a Christian allegory full of meaning and magic. The Magician's Nephew is the first in the series (though C.S. Lewis wrote it sixth out of the seven books), and it's terribly underrated in my opinion. Kick off your reading of the series here, and explore the incredible world of Narnia!
2) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. If you're a fan of language and/or philosophy in search of a fun and clever read, this MG fantasy novel might satisfy your craving! It follows a grumpy boy into a wild land full of puns and metaphors, where he goes on a quest to save a magical kingdom. My second grade teacher read it to my class, and I enjoy it as much now as I did then.
3) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. In this MG sci-fi classic that got a recent movie adaptation, the insecure daughter of two scientists, alongside her genius younger brother and a sweet guy friend, journeys through otherwordly galaxies to save her father. Like Narnia, this book has strong Christian themes, and it's also very empowering for smart young girls and women in science.
4) Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin. Though it's outdated now, The Baby-Sitter's Club series is iconic MG contemporary--and one of my childhood favorites. When it comes to children's literature, you'll find a lot of episodic mega-series with a freak ton of books in them. The Baby-Sitter's Club, with all its spin-offs, has over 150 installments! I'm glad there are so many, though, because I've always been a fast reader. As a high-achieving girl who loved friendship and bossing people around, I devoured this series. I tried to start many different clubs with my friends because of it, though I never went into babysitting due to market saturation. 🤷♀️ My favorite character was Dawn at first (because of the butt-length blonde hair) and then Mallory.
5) Frindle by Andrew Clements. Like The Baby-Sitter's Club, Andrew Clements' books inspired a lot of projects for me as a kid. Each MG contemporary standalone provides an upbeat and incredibly clever look at the amazing things creative-thinking kids can accomplish. Frindle is my top favorite, but I also recommend The School Story and The Landry News. Really, you should check out all of Clements' books! They're worth the read.
6) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Gail Carson Levine is a classic writer of MG fantasy (and a lovely person, as I discovered at WriteOnCon), and the most famous and beloved of all her books is Ella Enchanted. This retelling of Cinderella features a girl with a fairy "gift" that forces obedience--a terrible thing for any young person! It's definitely a story to have on your shelves, and if you've got free time, I'd recommend checking out her other creative takes on fairytales too.
7) The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. Now a brilliant TV show on Netflix, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a wildly clever and timeless story about three orphan siblings using their cleverness to survive all the terrible machinations of greed and carelessness. Because of its uncertain setting, this series does count as MG fantasy (possibly crossing into YA towards the end), but it doesn't have the magic you see in most fantasy. I don't count it as a mega-series because it has a definite ending and no spin-offs, but it does pack a punch with its thirteen books!
8) Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. This light and funny middle school romance takes its place on the shelf as a MG contemporary standalone. It's told in dual POV and provides an honest but not-too-heavy take on love that I really enjoyed. (Was this like my middle school romantic experience? Not at all. Is it still true to life? Absolutely.)
9) Into the Wild by Erin Hunter. Warriors is another MG mega-series, not quite so long as The Baby-Sitter's Club but still fantastic. I decided to stop reading after the Omens of the Stars set because it felt like a natural ending point to me, but the story goes on for quite a while. There are also similar series by this author featuring other animal worlds! (For me, the cats made the story, but that's not true for everyone.) As MG fantasy goes, this is a wonderful pick, with a lot of drama and an interesting mythos--all of it centered around cats.
10) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Rick Riordan is, as an author, a mega-series brand himself. He writes clever and diverse modern retellings of ancient mythologies in series that tend to connect with each other. (His series also often transition from MG to YA partway through.) Riordan's career began with Percy Jackson and the Olympians, an MG/YA contemporary fantasy series that retells Greek mythology. If you haven't heard of this author before, you're really missing out! Give his works a go.
11) Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life by Barbara Dee. This MG contemporary novel that takes on some more serious issues manages to balance confusion and upset with humor and sassy antics. Though I personally didn't have to deal with divorce and a lack of groceries as a kid, I completely vibed with the main character and her feelings. I definitely recommend this book! (Barbara Dee writes a lot of these MG "problem novels," though I have yet to read the others.)
12) Savvy by Ingrid Law. I ended up with this book on my shelf after I got the library's copy waterlogged while reading in the shower. It's an MG fantasy novel that follows a girl whose family has little "savvies," or magic powers, as she goes on a journey to try and heal her injured father. The characters are bright and interesting, the feelings are genuine, and there's a sweet romance too!
13) Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. This MG contemporary "problem novel" provides a beautiful and affecting look at a girl with autism dealing with her older brother's death and facing up to her bully. As someone with an autistic brother, and as someone who had a similar bully experience in middle school, I really resonated with this story.
14) Wonder by R.J. Palacio. This MG contemporary "problem novel" tells the extremely powerful story of a boy with a facial deformity through multiple, well-written POVs. It affected me so much that I wrote a random little rant on this blog after I finished it. (That post also includes some references to Mockingbird.) Definitely read this one if you haven't already!
15) The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee. This is the most recent MG novel on my recommended list, a 2018 MG fantasy with a creepy bent that tells the story of a family divided by the whims of Death and Memory. The twin sons of the family and one nosy girl come together to end the cycle before more people can die.
That was fun! I think I'll do a post in the future about "young YA," the all-important books that help readers transition from the middle grade world into young adult. It'd be a good one to go along with this one.
For now: what are your favorite MG novels? (And if you read The Baby-Sitter's Club growing up like I did, who was your favorite character? 😉) I'll see you next week with some personal updates.
Images via Goodreads.
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