As I told you last week in the newsletter, it took me abandoning SIX middle-grade books to find one that I wanted to read all the way through.
Once I read one good book, I felt hopeful it wasn’t a me issue. Because it snowballed into the eight books you’ll see on this list!
Essentially, the key ingredient was CHOICE paired with good writing. I had to find a book that I liked. And be free to abandon books that weren’t working for me for whatever reason.
I enjoyed the variety of new middle-grade books on this list and think your readers will, too.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace
BULLYING / COMING OF AGE / SUPERHERO (SPECULATIVE)
The title and the cover might suggest a funny or goofy story but it’s not — in fact, this novel is an outstanding, surprisingly philosophical, poignant story about dealing with bullies, growing in confidence, and the complexities of human beings set in a world with superheroes and supervillains. I loved it SO MUCH! Matt doesn’t think he can survive 3 more years of middle school bullying so he writes supervillain Master Plan who is also a “gentleman of size”, asking for help. Surprisingly, Master Plan emails back with helpful, sage advice such as the story of Coyote and Road Runner where Road Runner keeps running, letting Coyote cause his own downfall, suggesting that Max do the same with his bully Johnny. What will Max do to cause Johnny’s downfall — and is Master Plan actually looking out for Max or himself? This is a VERY thought-provoking, warm-hearted story that will appeal to EVERYONE.
The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters
SUPERHERO (SPECULATIVE) / FOSTER KID / CHOSEN FAMILY
Adventure, neurodiversity, superheroes and villains, kids who save the day, and chosen family? With themes like this plus humor, this thrilling story has it all. Logan is an outstanding, neurodivergent main character — he’s an orphan who lives at a foster home where he’s been tested out and returned by many prospective parents. Maybe it has to do with his eidetic memory or his honest but not-always-socially-acceptable conversations. He doesn’t expect this latest couple, Gil and Margie, to last either — especially because he can tell that they’re lying about something. Then, Logan and his neighbor, a super cool older girl named Elena, discover that his foster parents are lying because they’re actually superheroes. But just when that revelation sinks in, Logan’s foster parents are double-crossed and captured. In an exciting, fast-paced adventure, Logan and Elena use his wits and her strength to save his foster parents and other supes from the villains and the traitor.
Solimar by Pam Munoz Ryan
FANTASY / LATINX
Solimar is a princess blessed with monarch butterfly magic that settles in her rebozo. The shawl allows Solimar to answer questions with the truth of anything that will happen in the future and helps her protect the butterflies. Just before her Quinceañera and when her father and brother are out of town, a bad king arrives and takes everyone hostage. Solimar, her parrot, and her talking doll manage to escape with the help of her Abuela and a curandera. She travels by river toward where her brother and father will be and is rescued from a waterfall by an inventor boy named Berto who joins her journey. This is a magical adventure about a strong girl coming into her own…and saving the kingdom as she does.
When Winter Robeson Came by Brenda Woods
HISTORICAL FICTION – WATTS
Eden, who lives in Los Angeles in the 1960s, is spending the summer with her cousin Winter who is visiting. Winter reveals that he’s visiting to search for his missing father so they search his last known whereabouts and interview people who might have known him. Surprisingly, they find answers — and make new friends. Just as the reunion takes place with Winter’s dad who lost his memory due to an accident, the nearby neighborhood of Watts becomes a war zone with clashes between police and Black residents. The cousins are particularly worried about an elderly friend there so they break the rules, leave on a bicycle, and go rescue her. Written in free verse, this is an easily accessible story of family, community, and history.
Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
SLICE-OF-LIFE / BLENDED FAMILY
You’ll fall in love with this rich slice-of-Black-blended-family life in New York City. It’s always been just Jo and her mum but now they’re joining a new family because Jo’s mum is getting married to Bill. They move into a big brownstone with Bill and his daughter Sunday plus twins Lee and Liland, their parents Mama Hope and Papa Charles, and so many animals — chickens, cats, a lizard, a turtle, and a dog. It’s hard for Bo to get used to so much togetherness and she misses the one-on-one time she used to have with her mum. While she’s adjusting to her new patchwork-quilted family, she and her new sisters embark on a project to make the upcoming wedding a special day. But what will they do? In this chosen family stitched together with love, they value creativity, music, unschooling, communication, special New York spots, and each other — and it’s everything you could want in a family!
Escape from Atlantis by Kate O’Hearn
SCI-FI / FANTASY / DYSTOPIAN / THRILLER
You’ll be on pins and needles reading this genre mashup thriller that is wildly inventive, exciting, and thought-provoking. (hint, hint, book clubs!) Riley, her dad, her cousin, and her aunt are sailing in the Bermuda Triangle when they’re attacked by a leviathan. Riley and her unpleasant cousin, Alfie, wake up on an island with overly-friendly, rule-centered people as well as half-animal people. They’re told that her dad and aunt are dead but soon learn that like many other things, this is a lie. Riley and Alfie and a few trusted new friends find their not-dead family but metamorphic changes are happening and no one is safe from the feral monsters or the rule-centric community. Now they’re even more, they’re determined to escape, including the koala-man and cat-woman friends who are outcasts from the community. But, how?
Northwind by Gary Paulsen
SURVIVAL / HISTORICAL FICTION / NATURE
If you like solitary stories in nature, this boy’s coming-of-age life alone in nature will appeal to you. Leif is a ship’s slave in Norway. When cholera kills his fellow shipmates, he alone survives and heads north in a dugout canoe. As he searches for food and makes mistakes with safety, Leif learns more and more about the wonders of the natural world around him including bears, ravens, orcas, whirlpools, salmon, and whales.