Best New Middle Grade Books Out in February 2023

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Is anyone else ready for winter to be over? It’s been way too cold here in Colorado. Since we have months to go before it warms up, I’ve been reading good books, writing new manuscript drafts that are mostly terrible, and improving my website SEO. But the BEST thing is that I’m feeling the best I’ve felt in ten years. I’m healthy!! I am so hopeful that I’m over the worst of the mold-related health decline. Yay!!

In kid news, my daughter is visiting one more university before she decides. But in all honesty, we’re all underwhelmed with the quality and prices. Do they all seem MEH to anyone else at this stage of life? I’m so glad my oldest daughter is attending university in London, where it’s about the price of an in-state school and only 3 years for a bachelor’s degree. (Plus, the London school is great about my daughter’s learning accommodations. I’m grateful. Finding a school with good food allergy situation for my other daughter is a huge challenge.)

Onward to the reviews. You are going to want all of these middle grade books!

Best New Middle Grade Books Out in February 2023

Not an Easy Win by Chrystal B. Giles
The strong first-person voice draws you into Lawrence’s life, starting right after he’s been beaten up by a group of bullies, blamed for the fighting, and kicked out of the mostly-white school. His mom doesn’t care and his granny doesn’t believe him. In fact, his Granny tells him he can’t stick around the house. An older neighbor takes Lawrence to his work at the local rec center where Lawrence helps him, does online school, and learns how to play chess. Playing chess requires focus and control, not just in the game but with his emotions, too–even when a kid at the rec center steals his stuff. Through the wisdom of his neighbor and learning to focus on chess, Lawrence finds purpose and inner fortitude that leads to his success in life and in chess. The writing is engaging, I couldn’t put this book down.

Finally Seen by Kelly Yang
Once again, Kelly Yang has written a masterpiece! THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I’VE READ in 2023 SO FAR!! This middle-grade novel explores the complexities of human beings, the importance of books as mirrors and doors, the challenges of immigration, the realities of racism, and how to confront book banning. Lina’s lived with her Lao Lao for the last five years but she moves to join her dad, mom, and little sister in LA, leaving her beloved Lao Lao behind in a nursing home. She’s surprised that her family is struggling financially, she feels embarrassed when she speaks English (so she stops speaking,) and she feels hurt when a classmate writes mean things about her on the bathroom wall. Even still, Lina’s bright spots are a kind ESL teacher, the graphic novels she reads, and her new friends, Finn and Carla. Then, at the encouragement of her teacher, she writes her own graphic novel to send to Lao Lao, all about her new experiences and challenges.

Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies by Stacey Lee
Action from the first page, Winston is tricked by oddities shop owner, Mr. Pang, into accepting an enchanted broom and dustpan, from Mr. Pang’s collection of strange magical objects. But when things start to go missing at Winston’s house, including his little sister who is replaced by a soulless changling, Winston and his friends must frantically search San Francisco for Mr. Pang’s shop and his sister’s soul. But Mr. Pang is a master of evasion–he has magical chi and can become a magpie and fly away. Talk about an exciting and unique adventure — I loved that the magical gift was NOT a gift!

The Enchanted life of Valentina Mejía by Alexandra Alessendri
When their papi gets stuck in a crevasse after an earthquake, Valentine and her brother Julián go for help only they accidentally enter another world. In this world, Queen hates humans since her son was stolen by them, and has sealed the portals so the kids can’t get back to help their dad. The siblings journey to the Queen’s castle in hopes of convincing her to change her mind. Readers will love the magic and excitement in this Colombian mythological adventure with talking animals, a one-legged vampire, a helpful water dragon, new friends, and a big surprising twist!

What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski
Stunning, thought-provoking, and anger-inducing, this is a superbly written story about an ostracized middle school girl and the new student determined to figure out why…It’s about sexual harassment and negligent teachers (and administration) who seemingly don’t care or pay attention when girls are getting touched without consent. It’s about when what happens makes you feel shame and fear and the path out of that shame toward justice and empowerment. It’s about change IF we take action to shape the future, not sit and wait for people to start behaving better. A recommended read for middle school book clubs and everyone in middle school!

The Worlds We Leave Behind by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
FANTASY OR MAGICAL REALISM (I’m not totally sure? comment if you know!)
Fast-paced and eerie! The author creates a world where if you choose to take the old lady’s offer to get revenge on your enemy, your actions will create a whole new world erasing the person you couldn’t forgive. The author uses repetition of words and events which creates a creepy deja-vu atmosphere. It’s a story about friendship, revenge, and forgiveness, accompanied by evocative black-and-white illustrations. I love this book’s story and that it offers a riviting, fast-paced read for kids who prefer shorter books.

The In-Between by Katie Van Heidrich
A heartbreaking, difficult story of a girl facing insecure housing. Katie moves all the time, each time losing things each time. Now, she’s in a hotel room with her mom and two siblings. Since her parents are divorced, she visits her dad every other weekend but she doesn’t feel at home there on the couch or with her dad’s new wife. Katie’s sick of it all, feeling alienated and lonely. It’s a slice-of-life memoir that is sad, real, and a tiny bit hopeful. Sensitive readers: the text includes the word hell. 

Hands by Torrey Maldonado
Trev thinks a lot about throwing hands. He starts learning how to box so he could protect his mom and sisters when his stepdad gets out of jail. But when his Uncle Larry, Quick and Uncle Frankie all ask him why and encourage him to use his brain, Trev sees how fighting could make things even more of a mess. And that if he wants to have a future, he can use his hands differently than fighting, including for his drawings. I love that this book is short — it will appeal to more readers that way!

City Spies: City of the Dead by James Ponti
I continue to love the City Spies series and enjoyed this new book with a new main character. (But, shhh, it’s a surprise. Oh, there’s also quite the suspenseful ending…which I won’t tell you about either. Mwahahaha.) What I will tell you is that the spies are tasked with figuring out how to stop a mysterious hacker who can shut down the hospitals, the Tube, and the museum--and is holding them in his control for a ransom. Not only that, there seems to be a link to stolen Egyptian antiquities so the team heads to Cairo.

Not from this month, but two books that I recently read…

Muffled by Jennifer Gennari
Amelia is extremely sensitive to noise. But this year at school, she’s trying not to wear her big noise-canceling headphones. Her dad gives her purple earmuffs to wear if she needs something. She clings to them even though they don’t help with sounds. Her mom pushes Amelia to make friends and not wear her earmuffs — I didn’t like that. We see that Amelia feels her experiences deeply and is misunderstood by most people. Except, she makes a new friend who tries to understand Amelia and asks Amelia to do the same for her — because friendship goes both ways. You’ll be emotionally invested in Amelia’s life and cheer her on no matter what she decides to do.
All of Me by Chris Baron
I’m so glad this coming-of-age story exists! His dad left, and Ari is miserable and lonely. Especially because he’s bullied for being fat and Jewish. And, Ari hates being fat so much that one day, he hurts himself. After that day, his mom helps him start a diet. It works to help him lose weight –but it doesn’t fix everything. As Ari grows into himself, he is supported by a kind rabbi who accepts him unconditionally offering patience and wisdom. Soon, Ari realizes that he’s more than his weight. I was so invested in Ari’s story that I was really proud of him as he grew into full acceptance of himself. This is a moving and powerful story with heart and hope.
I will be adding these books to my evergreen book lists in the next few days including these lists:
best books for 4th graders
And, I made a new middle grade book page you can check out here.

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