As you head back to school, see if these new middle grade books might be great additions to your home or classroom. You’ll find several graphic novels, most of which my daughter Jemma reviewed before she left for college, and many realistic middle grade books, too.
Middle Grade, August 2023
Things in the Basement by Ben Hatke
FANTASY (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
I absolutely adore this beautifully drawn and narrated adventure set in the world of…the basement! When Milo’s baby sister loses her special pink knit sock, he searches for it in the basement. The basement leads Milo to another basement, and then another basement, and to a whole labyrinth of basement worlds. He befriends a friendly skull named Chuckles, an eyeball creature named Weepie, and a ghost named Belle. Milo uses the sock’s yarn, help from his ghost friend, and his problem-solving skills to rescue his friends from the Gobbler and return home with the pink sock. This is a fantastical, magical journey of friendship, kindness, and secret worlds!
Dust by Dusti Bowling
REALISTIC / FOOD ALLERGIES
Avalyn, a spelling bee fanatic, lives in dry Arizona, which is supposed to be better for her asthma–until Adam moves to town, bringing pain and throat-clogging, asthma-attack-inducing dust storms. She wonders if her superpower is sensing energy– like Adam’s negative energy. As she investigates and observes Adam, she and her friends continue to be relentlessly bullied at school. She is also struggling with the challenges that come with food and environmental allergies. This story deftly addresses abuse, bullying, asthma, and allergies. The end pages also have discussion questions which will be helpful for book clubs.
No Place Like Home by James Bird
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS / OJIBWE
Beautiful character development, vivid details, and a strong narrative voice draw you into this story about homelessness, Ojibwe culture, growing up, family, and the love of a dog. Based on James’ childhood, Opin is a sweet, hopeful boy who lives with his mom and his older brother in their car, traveling from city to city. He adores his mother, but he’s scared of his angry, violent older brother, who comes and goes as he pleases. When Opin finds a hurt dog, the love of a dog fills a friend void for Opin–until his brother takes the dog away. Despite the challenges of Opin’s life, beauty and joy are threaded throughout this compelling story that is one of the best of 2023.
*Sensitive readers, there are a few swear words.
The Secret of the Dragon Gems by Rajani LaRocca and Chris Baron
Tripti and Sam met at summer camp, where they found beautiful, mysterious-looking rocks. Their rocks are unusual: they move by themselves, leave messages in the Dragon Gems books, and become hot and cold! As the seemingly nefarious camp director plots to get the stones back, the new friends realize that their rocks are related to a passing comet…and that they’re dying. As the tension mounts and the friends try to save their now-dull rocks, Tripti learns the hard way about who is a true friend. Kids will love reading about the family cultures of Sam and Tripti from Jewish and Indian heritages, and they’ll love the different formats narrating this exciting mystery story of letters, emails, texts, chapters from a fictional Dragon Gems book, video chat transcripts, and journal entries!
Link + Hud Heroes by a Hair by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
240 pages (on the Short Books list and Illustrated MIddle-Grade book list)
Jarrett and Jerome are brothers with BIG imaginations. When they go on imaginary adventures, read those in a graphic novel format. They also use their creative powers to get rid of babysitters. Currently, they’re working on terrorizing their older babysitter, Ms. Joyce. But she’s smart–and isn’t fooled by the boys’ behavior. In fact, she saves their dad’s failing hair product business by turning it into a cleaning product. Kids will love the action, humor, and fun of this illustrated adventure!
Ghost Book by Remy Lai
review written by Jemma Taylor
GHOST STORY (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Rema Lai’s GHOST BOOK follows July Chen, a 12-year-old who can see ghosts. She meets a ghost named William one day who is actually a wandering soul, and from there, her life spirals into an unexpected adventure in which she learns about her new friend and, surprisingly, herself. The mysteries in this book are so fun to unravel, but the best part is watching July’s journey with her first friend.
Skeleanor the Decomposer by Emily Ettlinger
review written by Jemma Taylor
PARANORMAL (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Skeleano has a passion for music, and all she truly wants is to join a band. There’s just one problem: everyone runs away when she tries to play for them. Skeleanor the Decomposer is short and cute–and has all the skeleton puns you could ever want.
Match Point by Maddie Gallegos
review written by Jemma Tayor
REALISTIC (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Match Point by Maddie Gallegos is one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year, with a cute style, wholesome story, and a message about the importance of communication. They also integrate ASL into the book in a really natural and interesting way for the graphic novel medium. Rosie’s dad wants her to become the racquetball champion, but she hates the sport. When she meets Blair, a cool girl her age who plays as well, she finally starts to learn how to have fun with the game again.
Brick Dust and Bones by M.R. Forunet
Marius Grey is a 12-year-old Cajun Cemetery Boy and student. But he’s also working nights as a monster hunter to earn mystic coins for a really important spell that will bring his mother back to life…and time is running out. In desperation, Marius decides to hunt one of the most dangerous monsters in the swamp, a rougarou, even though his only friend, a monstrous mermaid, doesn’t want Marius to risk his life. The story is compelling and entertaining, with a heroic main character who loves his mom more than anything. You won’t be able to put this one down!
Peril at Price Manor by Laura Parnum
Get ready for a wacky, fun story of a horror movie-loving girl who steps into a real-life horror scenario on accident and discovers she isn’t the victim; she’s the heroine! When Halle delivers black roses from her mom’s flower shop to the home of her favorite horror movie director, Maximus Price, Halle discovers twins her age who have never left their house, plus a horrific treducplus squid-creature that attacks human faces and is duplicating rapidly. The twins learn that they’re more capable than they thought — and can save their dad, their staff, and maybe even the world.
The Many Fortunes of Maya by Nicole D. Collier
240 pages (on my Short Books list)
Because MJ adores her soccer-loving dad, she tries to be the best soccer player she can be while secretly still playing the flute. When her parents separate, it forces her on a summer journey of self-discovery at soccer camp where she tries too hard, in the swimming pool where she can’t swim well enough to go in the deep end, and at home with her family, including her music-teacher uncle. Eventually, MJ realizes that her dad will love her even if she picks the flute and not soccer– and that she can figure out what she likes and who she is without trying to please anyone except herself.
Rare Birds by Jeff Miller
REALISTIC / SAD
Graham’s mom moves them to Florida to wait for a heart transplant. When his mom gets approved, Graham stays with his mom’s friend and his angry son. Fortunately, at the hospital, he befriends a girl named Lou. When he finds his mom’s rare bird journal, Lou helps him search for the last bird on the list–the Snail Kite. But because there’s prize money for finding the bird, bully kids not only thwart them but endanger them–stranding Lou and Graham in a swamp with a giant alligator and no cell service. The friends’ search is filled with challenges, which they face with bravery and determination, including the truth about Lou. I loved the two-page chapter lengths and the emotionally resonate story of friendship and family that will make you cry.
Miles Morales Suspended written by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Zeke Peña
review written by Jay Kronbach
320 pages, ages 12+
In the face of a school suspension, Miles has to navigate the subtle injustices of life as a black teenager in a Brooklyn private school. All while juggling his duty as Spider-Man on the side! Punctuated with beautiful prose and poetry, plus stunning art, this is a captivating story of Miles Morales facing new termite villains, censorship, learning to write poetry, and talking to his crush.
More New Middle-Grade Books (on My To-Read Pile)
I haven’t read all the new middle-grade books this month– and next month’s pile is even bigger. Here are more new books that look great, but I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.
Mexikid by Pedro Martin
(MEMOIR GRAPHIC NOVEL) 320 pages
Two Tribes by Emily Bowen Cohen
(MEMOIR GRAPHIC NOVEL) 256 pages
The Clackity by Lora Senf
(SCARY) 304 pages
The Nightmare House by Sarah Allen
(SCARY, ANXIETY) 272 pages
Kelcie Murphy and the Hunt for the Heart of Danu (The Academy for the Unbreakable Arts, 2) by Erika Lewis
(FANTASY) 432 pages
The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 2: S.O.S. by Tom Phillips
(MYSTERY, ADVENTURE) 352 pages