New Middle Grade Books (Ages 8 – 12)

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Ready to see what I’ve been reading? Here’s what’s new in middle-grade books from realistic to sci-fi to historical fiction.

 

But before I get to the reviews, I did want to address what we talked about a few months back…whether or not I include book reviews of books that aren’t positive. So many of you emailed me that it would be helpful for you to know about books that I didn’t love. That’s why today’s list includes both new recommendations that I LOVE and books that were not quite as amazing.

 

Would it be helpful for me to think of a rating system so you can skim for recommended and not recommended? I’ve seen some reviewers do a “buy” or “check out from the library” sort of system. Or I could use a starred review system for the best of the bunch. Do you have any thoughts about what you’d like? (I’ll ask you in my newsletter, too– you all are great about emailing me back!)

 

REALISTIC


Genesis Begins Again
by Alicia D. Williams
REALISTIC – BEAUTY / SELF-LOVE
Don’t miss this important story about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Honestly, I couldn’t put this book down. Genesis hates that her skin is so dark; she knows her grandma and father hate that about her, too. In her self-loathing, she believes that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have all the things that go along with being pretty. She tries lemons, baking soda, milk, a brillo pad, bleach, and even a special cream she orders online using her mom’s credit card. Meanwhile, Genesis’ family is in crisis. They’ve been evicted from yet another house in Detroit because of her father’s gambling and drinking. At their new house in the fancier suburb of Farmington Hills, Genesis learns her father isn’t paying the rent there either. But she doesn’t want to move…it’s the first time she has friends. Plus, at her new school, an insightful music teacher introduces Genesis to jazz legends like Billie Holliday. And Genesis finds her voice both literally and metaphorically. This book belongs on every library shelf- it’s excellent! It will start the conversation about who defines beauty and how we can do better individually and as a society.
Added to The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.

 


Song for a Whale
by Lynne Kelly
REALISTIC – DEAF, LONLINESS
Do you ever have a book that changes your life? Song for a Whale is one of those books for me.
Iris is a lonely Deaf girl who feels alone at her school and in her immediate family. At school, Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who is called the loneliest whale in the world because his song is at a different hertz than other whales. Iris immediately feels a connection to him. “Blue 55 didn’t have a pod of friends or a family who spoke his language. But he still sang. He was calling and calling, and no one heard him.“ Iris uses her compassionate heart, intelligence, and tinkering skills to write and record a whale song that Blue 55 will hear. Why? She wants him to know that he’s not alone. Even though she sends the song to the research station tracking Blue 55, Iris wants to see him for herself. She and her grandmother, who is also Deaf, sneak off without Iris’ parents’ permission on a cruise to the Alaskan research station. Their adventure is different than either could have imagined but profoundly life-changing for them both. It’s a heartening, poignant story that gives readers insight Deaf children, the richness of Deaf culture, and the life-changing power of compassion.
Added to The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones
by Gary D. Schmidt
REALISTIC – FAMILY, COMING-OF-AGE
This book, like his others, shows that Gary D. Schmidt’s books contain genius story crafting and meaningful life lessons. When his grandfather’s butler arrives to help out 6th grade Carter’s family, Butler immediately becomes a big asset to the family. Butler, a very proper man who has a passion for the game of Cricket, fills a void the family didn’t know they had. He gives Carter purpose, structure, belonging. “Make good decisions and remember who you are,” he often reminds Carter and Carter’s sisters. This wisdom resonates as Carter tries to understand why his dad abandoned their family. Butler helps Carter see that his dad’s actions are his dad’s responsibility, not Carter’s. Through this time of introspection, Butler teaches Carter the game of cricket even starting a cricket team at Carter’s school, transforming not just Carter’s life but the school community’s as well. Along this journey, Carter learns to do just what the title commands — pay attention to his life and to who loves him.


To Night Owl From Dogfish
by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
I loved the genuine voices of these two girls who write emails back and forth. It’s a heartfelt story about two girls, Avery and Bett, whose dads start dating. First, the girls are determined to stop their dads and also not be friends with each other. Then after lots of emails and meeting at summer camp, the girls become friends who actually do want their dads to be together. But that doesn’t work out. What does work out is Avery finding her mom and Bett’s grandma discovering her love of the theater. The next year it works out that the friends go to summer camp together again — and it’s a different experience than the first year — but the life-changing events that happen may just bring together the families again.


Pararescue Corps 
by Michael P. Spradlin, illustrated by Spiros Karkavelas
MILITARY ADVENTURE
If your kids like military and action stories, I recommend this action-packed book with stories about the pararescuemen and the U.S. Air Force. I enjoyed it and that’s saying something since I’m not typically interested in military stories. Each short story gives behind-the-scenes insight into how the pararescue troops operate in different situations — from a rescue on the top of Denali to one in the Amazon rainforest.

 


The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
by Dan Gemeinhart
REALISTIC – GRIEF, FAMILY
Coyote and her dad are on a cross-country, coming-of-age trip to anywhere or nowhere after the mom and sisters died in a car accident. But when Coyote discovers that the park near her old home will be torn down, along with a special memory, she is determined to get her dad to drive them back.  While this book is a decent read, I would have liked to see something more unique. However, I’m in the minority — most other reviewers can’t get enough of this book.

 

HISTORICAL FICTION


Emmi in the City: A Great Chicago Fire Survival Story 
by Salima Alikhan, illustrated by Alessia Trufio
Chicago Fire  (ages 6 – 9)
HISTORICAL FICTION
Reminiscent of the I Survived series but with a female protagonist, this book starts the new Girls Survive series from Stone Arch books. The text is on the easier side with illustrations, making it a good choice for 8- and 9-year-old readers. The story follows German immigrant Emmi who lives with her toy-maker in Chicago. She’s alone when a fire breaks out, burning quickly across the city. Emmi flees with her new, unexpected friends towards the river and safety. There, she’ll eventually find her father. The story is mainly about Emmi’s race to safety and doesn’t focus on the fire, how it started, or any of that which I had wanted to read more about. It ends with the city rebuilding slowly. Next in the series is: Ann Fights for Freedom: An Underground Railroad Survival Story by Nikki Shannon Smith.

 


Dactyl Hill Squad
by Daniel Jose Older
ADVENTURE / HISTORICAL FICTION
Take a thrilling ride through Civil War history — with DINOSAURS! In this exciting adventure with diversity, slavers kidnap most of the orphans in NYC’s Colored Orphan Asylum but the small group of kids that escapes to join with the Vigilance Committee where they fight back and eventually rescue their kidnapped friends. What I LOVE about this book:
* action-packed plot
* both reimagined & actual history
* the diversity of the main characters
* that dinosaurs and dactyls still exist!! — and are used as air, land, and sea transportation
* couldn’t put it down!

 


The End of the World and Beyond
by Avi
HISTORICAL FICTION
This is the sequel to The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pits which I adored. The history is familiar up to a point but I enjoyed learning about Maroons. Maroons were escaped slaves who hid and lived in the cypress swamps during the time of slavery. The story begins with Oliver getting shipped off as a criminal to the colonies. There he’s sold as an indentured servant to an abusive drunk. The man’s other worker is a slave named Bara. Bara helps Oliver survive the situation. They plan and wait patiently until they can finally escape into the swamps where the Maroons live. But Oliver can’t stay there –he’s desperate to find his sister who was sent to the colonies, too. The ending is a great surprise, maybe a bit unrealistic but very satisfying nonetheless!


Island War
by Patricia Reilly Giff
HISTORICAL FICTION
Giff is a well-known author. In this book, she tells the imagined story of two children during WWII who are accidentally left on an Aleutian Island when Japanese soldiers force all the island’s occupants onto a ship bound for a prison camp. Everyone except the two kids. It’s more a story about the children’s friendship and survival than any history but certainly, the history does play a role. I liked the story but felt like the ending was abrupt. It’s a short, fast read.

FANTASY AND SCI-FI


Knights vs. Dinosaurs
by Matt Phelan (ages 6 – 9)
FANTASY
A quirky and hilarious adventurous early chapter book. Merlin decides to teach the falsely boasting Knights of the Round Table a little humility. He sends them back to the age of dinosaurs to test their mettle –for real. And wouldn’t you know it, the bravest of them all, The Black Knight, turns out to be a girl. Check your assumptions right there, yes? The knights learn a thing or two about each other and working together. Plus, dinosaurs are almost like dragons, right? When they return to their own time, they’ll still be able to say they fought dragons.

 


The Giver: A Graphic Novel
adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell (pub: 2/5/19)
SCI-FI
Does this incredible novel really need to be in graphic format? That question bothered me through most of this book. Because I love graphic novels, I really do. But I just don’t think there is any replacing Lois Lowry’s incredible narrative writing. That being said, if this is a gateway for kids to access the story, maybe read the novel later, I can concede its necessity in the world. (Am I overreacting? Hmmm.) The book begins without colors in the illustrations. As Jonas receives memories of color, color begins to appear to us, too. The book stays true to the original story and hooks the reader right away with its visual storytelling.

 


Max and the Midknights
by Lincoln Peirce
FANTASY
Written and illustrated by the author of the popular Big Nate books, this new series is about a girl named Max and her new friends who help to rescue Max’s imprisoned troubadour uncle from an evil king, among other adventures. You’ll find a magician, dragons, magic, an evil witch, anachronisms, and silly humor in this story that is half text and half comic panel illustrations. It’s good enough to keep readers reading but I didn’t find it as compelling as the Big Nate books.

 


Girl with the Dragon Heart
by Stephanie Burgis
FANTASY
In this girl-powered sequel to The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart, the character of Silke gets center stage. She’s a fast-talking, story-weaving girl who the princess recruits to spy on the visiting Elfenwald royal family. It starts out slow but stick with it, you won’t be disappointed with this lovely fantasy story.

 


Begone The Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan
FANTASY
Raggedy witches kidnap her father so Mup, her little brother, her mom, and her ghostly aunt cross over into the magical land where Mup’s evil grandmother rules with fear and tyranny. Loyal to a new friend, Crow, who has never know loyalty, Mup fights for her family –to get her dad back and protect her brother. In this magical story, I liked the strong themes of fairness, equality, and family as well as the excellent adventure.

 

New Middle Grade Books (Ages 8 - 12)

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4 Responses

  1. My friend actually dropped Island War book off at my house yesterday. My kids all loved this book! Thanks for the heads-up on it. I’ll put it at the top of my stack.

  2. Have you done (or considered doing) a specific list of books for middle-grade age readers who are not quite at that reading level yet? I admit I’m not sure I’m phrasing that question right. For instance, I have a 5th grade son who is developmentally delayed so he is reading more at the level of a 2nd or 3rd grader. There are a lot of great books out there in early chapter books (Nate the Great is a favorite, for example, and he’s recently gotten into the Dogman series) but he really is resistant to any book that has characters that are younger than him. So if the main character is in 2nd grade, no way he’s reading it! 🙂 Or there might be other themes or plots that he would say are too babyish. Anyway, it’s just a thought. Your lists are great. You are consistently my go-to source for the best scoop on the newest books available. Thanks for being a great resource.

    1. Jennifer,

      GREAT idea! Yes, I’ll do it asap. Because you’re right — you don’t want to be reading “baby books” when you’re older. It’s a tricky thing to find the best books.

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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