There are so many middle grade books, it can be hard to pick the best ones for your readers. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, librarian, or grandparent, I’ll help you find the best middle grade books to recommend, read aloud, and share with kids ages 9 to 12. I’ve read and chosen all of the books on these lists with expertise, intention, and care.
But first, what is a middle grade book?
Middle grade books are books written for children who are ages 9 to 12 years old. These are kids in upper elementary school and middle school. In the United States, this generally means grades 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Interestingly enough, middle grade is a relatively new term, something that didn’t exist when I started my teaching career 30 years ago. But I’m glad it exists. The term helps differentiate literature specifically written to be comprehensible and appropriate for kids in upper elementary and middle school.
Young readers of middle grade (MG) books like to read about protagonists who are their age or a year or two older. So you can expect to find MG characters who are tweens, around ages 10 to 13 years old.
MG books differ from the beginning character books in several ways: they have a more dramatic storyline and character arc, they are longer lengths than a chapter book, and they usually do not contain illustrations. Chapter books are books with chapters for beginning readers in early elementary grades 1 to 3 or 4. Plus, they’re written at an easier reading level around 1st – 3rd grades with significantly less of a word count. Usually, chapter books are between 3,000 to 10,000 words.
Conversely, middle grade books are a greater length, generally about 30,000 to 50,000 words. That being said, some authors like Torrey Maldonado write shorter contemporary novels, and others, like the 2023 Newbery winner Amina Luqman-Dawson, wrote longer historical fiction novel. What does that mean for page count? Most MG books are about 200 pages, but it varies.
MG readers choose books about themes that resonate with their own lives and that introduce them to the larger world. Expect to see themes like identity, friendship, family, growing up, belonging, mental health, kindness, feelings, accepting differences, death, and grief. Look for books that explore important issues like immigration, bullying, and racism. Even fantasy stories like Harry Potter tackle the themes of growing up and figuring out who you are, even if you’re trying to see the world and be a better magician.
Themes are the general concept behind the book, and within themes are different storylines, topics, and plots. The topics in middle grade can be complex but don’t stray into the maturity levels (or language) of YA books. You’ll find MG children’s books topics such as divorce, frienemies, managing a learning disability, or coping with anxiety. This can be present in any genre, including historical fiction, science fiction, and mystery.
The truth is young readers will always love funny stories. Kids love to laugh, so hilarious, silly stories will always be appealing to readers of this age group. As I always tell parents, any reading counts as real reading.
Lastly, middle grade books differ quite a bit from young adult (YA) fiction books in themes, topics, reading level, language, and word count. YA books are meant for teenagers ages 13 and up because they often tackle mature issues like relationships, drugs, sexuality, or violence. In other words, content that is not appropriate for younger children. I find these YA topics more often in contemporary/realistic fiction than fantasy, so if you have a young advanced reader who wants to read a YA book, often the fantasy or science fiction is a better choice than a romance or realistic novel. Not always, of course.
Truthfully, the upper end of middle grade represents middle school books that start delving into more complex and mature topics but are still appropriate for readers at this age. Every reader reader is different so read my reviews to find if I have any maturity or content warnings.
What makes a great middle grade book?
The best middle grade books are about relatable themes and topics to middle schoolers and kids in upper elementary grades such as the ones listed above. (Friendship, family, belonging, racism, bullying, identity, and so forth.)
In addition, good middle grade literature for kids must have memorable characters, emotional resonance, compelling and interesting storylines, excellent writing, perfect pacing, a strong voice, and diversity that reflects the world around us.
Also, you’ll know what your children’s or students’ favorite middle grade books are because they’ll read the book more than once. Or read the series more than once. Every child will prefer some books over others. That’s okay. They’re forming their opinions and growing into themselves. There is a book (or 100) for everyone.
Who am I to tell you about middle grade books?
I grew up without a television (or neighbors or sports), so my childhood was filled with books! My goal in life from an early age was to read every book in the library. (Spoiler: I didn’t. But I did read a lot of books and each year went alphabetically through the library.)
Meanwhile, my passion for children’s books grew from a childhood love into a career, first as a teacher and literacy trainer and now as a book reviewer. As a teacher, I loved finding the best books to share with my students. Book matching was my favorite thing! As a teacher and trainer, I searched for good books to use in the classroom as mentor texts or read alouds that were exceptional and fit my instructional purposes.
Today, I am blessed to have a job where I can share children’s literature with you, reading thousands of books every year, from picture books to YA. (Reading fast is my superpower.) I hope Imagination Soup’s book recommendations make your life easier.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve carefully curated book lists and book reviews of children’s books, including middle grade fiction and nonfiction for kids. Here, you’ll find the best children’s middle grade books for different ages and grades. But only the best of the best so you can find the right books for the readers in your life.
Best Middle Grade Books by Age and Grade
4th Grade (9-Year-Olds)
5th Grade (10-Year-Olds)
6th Grade (11-Year-Olds)
7th Grade (12-Year-Olds)
8th Grade (13 Years Old)
Best Middle Grade Books by Year
Best MG Books in Lists by Topic
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