Recently, I tweeted about the long lengths of recently published middle grade books. The tweet went viral, and I was invited to write for Publisher’s Weekly to expand on my concerns. My essay shared my opinion about too many long middle grade books at a time when kids are reading less and middle grade books sales are decreasing. I said that while we need both short and long books, right now, we need MORE short middle grade books to get our growing readers reading; books around 200 pages.
Why? Because the majority of children aren’t excited about reading 400-page middle grade books! Shorter books appeal to more readers for a variety of reasons. First, the size looks manageable, and second, the writing is generally tighter and better-paced than the longer counterparts.
Why else am I calling for shorter books? Attention spans are getting shorter. In addition, kids want the satisfaction of finishing a book in a timely manner. (Not after four months!) Short books work for children’s decreasing attention spans and the goal to read more books.
Teachers, librarians, and parents want this, too. Short books mean that kids can read more books in a variety of genres. Shorter books also allow for rereading books for deeper learning purposes and enjoyment.
And as a book reviewer, I am tiring of long, wordy books that get sluggish in the middle. (Most kids don’t want books like this either.)
So without further ado, here are SHORT, well-written (fictional) middle grade books you’ll want to share with your readers, ages 9 to 12. I hope you find something wonderful to read next!
Please leave a comment if you have more book ideas to add to this list!
Oh, and one last thing — don’t forget about nonfiction books and novels in verse. I didn’t include either on this list because they deserve book lists of their own. So here are 25 middle grade novels in verse you don’t want to miss! And here is a list of engaging but short nonfiction books.
50 Short Middle Grade Books Kids Will Love
Legends of Lotus Island: The Guardian Test by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Kevin Hong
Plum is thrilled with the opportunity to go to a Guardian school where she hopes she’ll turn into a Guardian to protect the natural world. At the Academy, she struggles to focus; she worries that she’ll never get her animal bond like the other students. But she learns how to fight, talk to animals, and hopes she can prove herself. Readers will love the cool world-building, the captivating illustrations, and the engaging story!
The Magical Reality of Nadia by Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly, illustrated by Douglas Holgate
MAGICAL REALISM (series)
Nadia unexpectedly discovers an ancient Egyptian teacher (Titi) trapped in her hippo amulet. He comes out onto a paper and TALKS! Tita helps Nadia with problems she faces at school, including the new kid who is rude and prejudiced about her Egyptian culture. Totally wonderful, heartfelt, and relatable– don’t miss this new series!
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
If you like funny books, you’ll LOVE these books! Plus, in this first book, you’ll learn valuable cow trivia. But, it’s mostly the hilarious adventure of two pranksters who start as rivals but eventually work together to pull off the biggest prank of all time — a prank that will ensure they get April Fool’s Day off from school.
Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs
Hilarious, illustrated, and perfect for fantasy and adventure fans! Tim and his sister Belinda are peasants who hope to improve their lot in life, so they sign up as knights for a not-very-brave prince and his so-called magician sidekick. Helpful foreshadowing, a strong narrative voice, humor throughout, helpful life lessons from the princess Belinda about the patriarchy, and great vocabulary words (which are helpfully indicated so your parents will know the IQ benefits) add up to a stellar start for this new series.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
If you like quirky humor, then this is your perfect book. Because you will never believe what happens when the kids’ father goes out to get more milk. He doesn’t even get the milk, but he does run into pirates, aliens, and all sorts of incredible things! It’s totally hilarious and quite short–which makes for a great reading option — and read aloud choice.
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
In the sweet story of friendship, 10-year-old Livy meets Bob, a green zombie-looking monster wearing a chicken costume living in the closet at her grandma’s house. He’s been waiting for her to return for the last five years. The problem is that Livy can’t remember him at all. Even when she leaves the house for an errand, she forgets him again. But she’s determined to help Bob find his way back home. Wherever that may be. So heartwarming!
Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
Snow and Rose are two sisters who live with their mother live in the woods where their father disappeared. The girls befriend both a young boy from a mushrooming family and a large bear. Then danger arrives with a Huntsman hunting the bear and a sinister Little Man seeking to enchant or kill them. Surprisingly, this is a MARVELOUS Grimm story with a happy ending!
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
Set in Mumbi, this is a deftly narrated, hope-filled story of the inequities around water with themes of advocacy, education, and community. 12-year-old Minni’s community has access to water only a few hours per day with severe water shortages. When Minni is forced to leave school to work as a maid, she sees the water (and other) iniquity first-hand and discovers that the family’s dad is the water mafia boss. Her decision and action to report him makes a difference — and gives us hope that one person can make a difference.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team, and it’s life-changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well written and hopeful about growing up and growing into yourself.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
If your child hasn’t learned about Norse mythology, this will be a great intro! To end the long winter, Odd must journey to find Asgard, a city under siege from the Frost Giants. It’s a wonderful, nail-biting adventure packaged in a short middle grade book.
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
SCI-FI / HUMOR (series)
It’s the end of the world! Jack and his best friend Quint live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse. Currently, their plans only include rescuing June (who can rescue herself) and fighting zombies. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Tons of fun! BOXED SET HERE
Mythics: Marina and the Kraken written by Lauren Magaziner, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
(lower middle-grade ages 7 – 10)
What an exciting start to what is sure to be a smash-hit series of adventure, girl power, and mythical creatures! When Marina doesn’t get matched with a familiar like the other kids, she and four other 10-year-old girls discover their familiars aren’t everyday animals but mythical creatures and together, they’re destined to save Terrafamiliar. The girls start their search by boat to look for Marian’s familiar. But they’re chased by a golden jumpsuit lady who wants to steal their mythical powers. As they evade their pursuer, Marina discovers that her familiar is a kraken– a kraken who accidentally capsizes their ship. Now she and her kraken must save her friends from drowning and escape the sinister lady.
Haru Zombie Dog Hero by Ellen Oh
Edge-of-your-seat writing and action, the bond between a dog and boy (and family) grounds this paranormal adventure in love even though it’s also about evil scientists and zombies! Luke loves his dog, Haru, more than anything. So he’s devastated when their family’s mean landlord gets Haru taken away by the pound. But instead of going to the pound, Haru is sent to a sinister laboratory where scientists experiment on dogs. (This part is hard to read for us animal lovers — but hang in there, Haru will be okay.) Instead of dying like the other dogs, Haru wakes up changed. Violent. A stray cat named Penelope reminds Haru of his people, which helps his impulses. Then, the other more violent zombie dogs escape the lab — and Haru knows he must protect his people no matter what!
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 but they accidentally enter another world. In this world, the Queen hates humans since her son was stolen by them so she sealed the portals so the kids can’t get back to their world. The siblings journey to the Queen’s castle to convince her to unseal the portals. 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 surprising plot twist!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable, well-written adventure in space that deals with the overarching theme of good vs. evil. Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, and friend, Calvin, leave Earth for space in order to find her scientist father who disappeared while researching tesseracts.
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
Quirky and delightful, this is the tale of a girl named Flora who rescues a squirrel and keeps it as a friend. Together they experience the world in a unique, funny, and wonderful way and straighten it out, too — especially Flora’s mother.
Restart by Gordon Korman
After a head injury, Chase has no memory. But he starts to get clues about his personality when his little sister is scared of him and his two best friends act like it’s funny to torment other kids. Just what kind of person was he? Chase doesn’t think he likes what he’s learning about himself. Now he’ll have to decide what kind of person he wants to be going forward. It’s a thought-provoking novel that will challenge kids to consider how their behavior influences the way other people perceive them.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Old school humor at its best! These short middle grade humorous book series describe a wacky school with crazy teachers and even crazier students and events. BOX SET
Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes
(Also read Garvey’s Choice: The Graphic Novel written by Nikki Grimes, art by Theodore Taylor III)
Grimes wrote this entire book in tanka poem. The story is so engaging that you don’t even notice it’s written this way. Garvey wants to connect to his father, but it seems like the chasm is too big. Garvey likes reading and chess, while his father likes sports. But when Garvey finds an interest in music, will that be the bridge that connects him to his dad? I loved this painful, sweet story of redemption and belonging!
What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado
Short and fast-paced, this is the story of a boy who learns to think for himself instead of being influenced by friends. In addition, Stephen notices he’s living in a world that treats him differently than his white friends. Stephen concludes that he gets to decide what lane he’s in– and that the world and his peers don’t get to choose his lane.
Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire, illustrated by David Litchfield
With delicious figurative language and deliberate word choice, I adore everything about this beautiful story about family, community, grief, and stories. Cress and her family leave their cozy burrow after the death of her father. They move to the Broken Arms oak tree ruled by a cranky Owl with a noisy neighbor squirrel family. Cress navigates her new environment, the natural world, and the stories around her, all of which help her understand her inner world, especially how grief waxes and wanes like the moon’s cycles. Filled with immensely lovable characters, a gentle storyline of adventure and discovery, and lavish illustrations. (Read my interview with Gregory Maguire here.)
How to Stay Invisible by Maggie C. Rudd
240 pages (ages 10+)
A heartbreaking and hopeful survival story. Raymond’s neglectful parents abandon him completely so he takes his dog Rosie, and they set up camp in the woods behind his middle school. There, he survives on his own, foraging in dumpsters and fishing for food as he continues to attend school. When a playful coyote hurts Rosie, he meets an old man who helps them both — which is especially significant because it’s over the Christmas break when he can’t get dumpster food from school. Raymond doesn’t want to tell anyone, including the old man or his two friends at school, what he’s surviving, but the truth comes out when another boy discovers his campsite and a snake bite almost kills him. HOW TO STAY INVISIBLE is a powerful story of grit, survival, and longing for family.
Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe
Narrated by Fenway, a young Jack Russell terrier, Fenway isn’t happy that his best buddy, a human girl named Hattie, isn’t playing with him anymore. Fenway’s perspective is hilarious — and will encourage readers to make inferences to figure out what’s going on.
Gossamer Summer by H.M. Bouwman
Since her grandmother died, Jojo has lost the magic of the stories she told her three sisters. Now at her grandmother’s house, unsupervised because their mom is on deadline, Jojo, her sisters, and their new neighbor see a muddy fairy that seemingly stepped out of a previous Jojo story. The fairy needs their help, so they enter fairyland and see bone birds, the same birds Jojo made up in another story. Grumpy, sad Jojo is forced to reckon with her grief so she can find a way to save the fairies. If you love stories with tight sister bonds, imaginative play adventures, and the power of stories, read this book next.
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
Well-written and scary! Molly and Michael’s new step-sister Heather befriend a sinister ghost-child named Helen, but Helen influences Heather toward malevolent actions. Building in suspense little by little, readers will be freaked out by her creepy warnings that when Helen comes, they will get what they deserve…YIKES!
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
BIOGRAPHY / CURRENT EVENTS
This is the amazing & powerful biography of a boy with courage and hope who walked across Africa to find a better life. We also learn the story of an African village for whom water is a two-hour walk and how the boy, now a man, builds a well for the village.
Killer Species by Michael P. Spradlin
ADVENTURE /SCI-FI (series)
Get ready for a fast-paced adventure series about a mad scientist who creates a hybrid crocodile-dinosaur-bird killer creature to stop visitors from entering the Everglades. Emmet and his father arrive to investigate but when his father is kidnapped, Emmet and his friend, Calvin, know it’s up to them to find where the kidnapper is holding Emmet’s father. GREAT for reluctant readers — and anyone who loves an action-packed sci-fi mystery!
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Set in a dystopian society, this Newbery medal winner grabs your attention and keeps it until the end. What is going on in this strictly controlled community? When Jonas is assigned his job as “Receiver of Memory” he learns just how much the government has suppressed from the people’s knowledge, not to mention that they’re giving pills meant to control people’s behavior and that they murder so-called defective babies and older people. When his foster baby brother is up to be killed, Jonas must decide how he will save them both.
Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes
Gaby’s mom is deported, and now Gaby lives with her disinterested, neglectful father who forgets to feed her. Gaby’s only solace is in the animal shelter where she volunteers. Her hope is that when her mom comes home, she’ll (series)have a real home again…and get to adopt a cat of her own.
Wishing Season by Anica Mrose Rissi
It’s Lily’s first summer vacation since her twin brother Anders died of cancer. But she still sees Anders in the woods, an overlap of their worlds, so she spends every day there with him — playing like they used to. But little by little, the overlap is shrinking, and she’s trying to map it so she can get it back. Only Anders wants her to let it go so they can be together and play for whatever time they have left. Lily can’t let go of her panic that she’s losing Anders once and for all. Then her mom comes out of her room and starts to interact again, and Lily makes a new friend. Ultimately, as the overlap disappears, Lily learns to live with the weight and space of the pain of grief. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful grief journey that will probably make you cry. (I did!)
Everyday Angel by Victoria Schwab
My daughter loved these sweet, short middle grade books about an angel named Aria who is earning her wings by helping girls who are struggling. In the first book, Aria helps Gabby. Gabby’s brother is hospitalized indefinitely and her mom is totally focused on her brother. It’s up to Aria to help Gabby at her new school and discover who she is. These are sweet, uplifting stories.
The Remarkable Rescue of Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos
Butternut grows up in a close-knit rabbit family with lessons, rules, and storytelling. Although, when he ignores his family’s rules, everything changes for the better. Breaking the rules, Butternut befriends a talkative, kind-hearted robin, and a wounded fawn. When they discover coyote cubs without their mother, Butternut must decide how far his kindness toward others will extend — will it include predators? Metafiction elements about stories, plotting, and narrative twists add extra playful fun to this story as well. This is a sweet story of kindness, friendship, and community.
Wild Survival: Crocodile Rescue! by Melissa Cristina Marquez
ADVENTURE / ANIMAL RESCUE (series)
Adrianna’s parents have an animal sanctuary and host an animal rescue that is moving from YouTube to television. On this trip, which is being filmed for the new show, the family goes to the mangrove forest of Cuba to help an injured crocodile. (The book is interspersed with factual information about all the wildlife they encounter!) Andriana messes up and gets grounded. Then she realizes something the grown-ups missed– that the rescued crocodile had a nest of eggs. She convinces her brother to help her save the eggs but they have a very close call with poachers, adding in suspense and a touch of danger. Engaging and interesting!
Dragon Vs. Unicorns: Kate the Chemist by Dr. Kate Biberdorf with Hillary Homzie
Exciting from the first page (a fire-breathing science experiment!!), these awesome new STEM chapter books for 4th graders are hard to put down. There are many things happening in Kate’s busy life every day. Whether she’s dealing with science, the school play, or friends, she’s a determined problem solver. When she tries to figure out who is sabotaging the school musical, it’s going to take all her skills to find the culprit.
Katerina Ballerina by Tiler Peck and Kyle Harris, illustrated by Sumiti Collina
An earnest young girl loves ballet, but since her dad can’t afford lessons, she watches YouTube videos and practices in her room. After a disastrous talent shows Katerina’s dad her bravery, Katrina’s dad stretches the budget for lessons. It’s not a great start when she shows up in a red swimming suit and homemade tutu! But she makes a friend who helps her learn ballet terms and adjust to formal classes. As Katrina becomes more serious in her dancing, a competition reminds Katrina that she needs to balance both working hard and enjoying dancing.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all. Ever since Conor’s mom got breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster visits Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth about his mother, but Conor refuses. In the awake world, Conor moves in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echoes Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually… healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best books I’ve EVER read.
The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck by Matt Phelan
In this illustrated historical adventure, Benjamin Franklin’s young assistant Emile teams up with a sheep, a rooster, a duck, and a girl his age to thwart a dastardly villain and a sinister secret society who want to use one of Franklin’s inventions for nefarious purposes.
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Hilarious. While on a class trip to Washington D.C., Wyatt and his best friend, Matt, are positive they’ve discovered a plot to blow up the White House. Wyatt’s crush, Suzanna, helps the friends make a plan, and as you can imagine, disaster and hilarity strike. I totally loved this book and know your kids (especially those who like humor) will as well.
Hands by Torrey Maldonado
Trev thinks a lot about throwing hands. He starts learning how to box so he can 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. Maldonado writes shorter books so keep that in mind if your reader is looking for a short middle grade book.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book brilliantly addresses the very real issue of police violence against black children, but it does not vilify or stereotype. The author shows us the complexity of issues and the humanity of a police officer from the perspective of his daughter. After Jerome is shot by her father, he becomes a ghost. Sarah, the policeman’s daughter, is the only one who can see and talk to him except for the other ghost boys who were also killed in racially motivated violence. It’s a well-written, fast-paced read but one that is going to stay with you as you ponder the important topics it addresses.
Carry Me Home by Janet Fox
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS
Lulu tries to take care of her little sister after their dad abandons them at the RV park where they’ve been living, making paper cranes and to bring her dad back. They go undiscovered by adults for several weeks, but one day when she misses her sister’s pick-up time, Social Services is called and the truth comes out. When it does, Lulu learns what community means, that adults aren’t the enemy and that her dad is never left them — he’s been a John Doe in the hospital.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
Patina’s anger sometimes gets the best of her but running helps. She’s mad about her dad dying, her mom’s legs being amputated, and her new school. When her track coach makes Patty work with her teammates in a relay, she’s forced to rely on them. And that changes things. Patina is a beautiful coming-of-age story that will tug at your emotions.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
What a luminous, sparkling gem of a book with quirky, complex characters! Granny drags Louisiana out of bed in the middle of the night, insisting that they leave their home to confront the family curse. Not only does Louisiana not want to leave her friends and home, but things get even worse when Granny abandons Louisiana at a motel along the way. Forced to fend for herself, Louisiana figures out how to survive miles from home while worrying that the family curse has destined her for an unhappy life.
Black Brother Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twins with very different skin colors, one whiter and one darker, are treated differently, most noticeable at their school. Donte is unfairly accused of something and when he tries to defend himself, the police are called, and he’s suspended from school. Not to mention, a popular guy at his school calls Donte “black brother” because he’s darker than his twin, Trey. Donte starts fencing to get revenge but as he trains, he finds that he’s smart, good at fencing, and courageous. If you think the world still isn’t racist and colorist, read this compelling story, and you’ll see that we still have a long way to go.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
This book showcases Gaiman’s incredible storytelling ability. It’s about a girl, Coraline, who discovers an alternative reality identical to her own — same house, same mother and father — through a little door in her house. It’s a world that at first seems wonderful yet it becomes frightening when Coraline realizes she might not get to leave. Very creepy. (With a real haunted house!)
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Langston is a former country boy who moves with his dad to Chicago in the 1940s after his mother passes. It’s a hard transition, yet when he discovers the library, he also discovers himself through the poetry of Langston Hughes. This is a beautiful story of redemption, healing, and the power of words.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
In a sweet story of figuring out who you are and taking pride in your culture, Stef Soto feels embarrassed by her dad’s taco truck, especially when he picks her up at school. But that changes when she learns that new city regulations could force her dad to sell the truck and get a different job. Filled with relatable middle school angst, Spanish words, Latinx culture, friendship troubles, and a loving family, this yummy read is a savory treat.
Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz
This genuinely sweet story about a girl who goes from a bully to a trying-to-do-better model citizen will make you laugh and warm your heart. When Bernice’s mom sends Bernice to live with her nun aunt, it’s a chance for this former bully without any friends except the town’s librarian, to reform her mean-spirited ways. Bernice does it — she makes a friend, becomes nicer, and finds an unexpected home with the nuns.
Number the Stars written by Lois Lowry
Lowry does an excellent job at writing about the Danish resistance during WWII in a way that isn’t too scary or inappropriate for kids. Annemarie’s best friend hides Annemarie’s Jewish family. But tensions are high as the Nazis look everywhere for Jews or Jewish sympathizers. It’s challenging to hide, knowing that every day you could be caught and sent to a death camp. Finally, the family escapes to Sweden, where they will be safe from the Nazi death camps.
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, the format is told as a graphic novel. And they use their powers — to get rid of babysitters. Now they’re working on terrorizing their older babysitter, Ms. Joyce. But she’s smart–and saves their dad’s failing hair product business by turning it into a cleaning product. Kids will love the action, humor, and fun!
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.
Hero Rescue Mission by Jennifer Li Shotz
In this Hero the police dog story, Ben’s dad is captured by escaped convicts. Ben and Hero set off to find Ben’s dad. Ben’s already injured and Hero’s too emotional to track the scent so they’re going to need help if they’re going to find his dad. Action from the first page to the last. Kids who love adventure and animals will love this book and series.
The Kicks Saving the Team by Alex Morgan
Finally, a fantastic book for soccer girls! If you have a soccer player in your house, and I think a LOT of you do, you’ll want to get your soccer lover this book –actually, buy her the entire series. Written by Olympic Gold Medalist and U.S. Soccer team member (among other things), Alex Morgan, it’s a realistic story of life, friendship, and playing soccer. Box set here.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
Clayton feels happiest with his grandfather, playing the blues. Unfortunately, his mom hates everything about the blues because it represents her father’s abandonment of the family. When Clayton’s beloved grandfather dies, and his mom takes his harmonica, Clayton ditches school to find his grandfather’s old band. Instead of musicians, he encounters a gang of boys and gets picked up by the police. This is a superbly crafted short middle grade book about grief, family, and forgiveness.
Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, illustrated by Emily Balistrieri
As a huge fan of the movie, I was so impressed with the book, too. This sweet story is about a 13-year-old half-witch named Kiki who leaves home for her year-long apprenticeship to a town. She flies with her cat and they find a seaside town that needs a witch. There, Kiki settles above a bakery and uses her wits and magic to endear herself to the town as a helpful delivery girl. Lovely, lovely, lovely!
Wish by Barbara O’Connor
Charlie Rose does not want to live with her aunt and uncle or make friends with the friendly neighbor boy named Howard because she wants to go back to her mom. She relies on superstition and wishes, yet as the story progresses, Charlie’s relatives show her love and kindness, and the wishes start to seem less meaningful. After some time, Charlie sees that her mother is never going to change and begins to soften into her new family…what she always wanted. It’s a powerful story about finding love and belonging.
Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant
REALISTIC / WHOLESOME
This is an atmospheric, small-town slice-of-life story in Rosetown, Indiana about 4th grader Flora’s life after her parent’s separation, her friendship with Yury, and reading in the used bookstore where her mom works. Flora’s struggling to adjust to two different homes but no matter where she goes, she brings her cat, Serenity. Flora does things like take piano lessons and help Yury with his dog training classes. The story ends with Flora’s parents working things out and starting their own business together.
The Jolly Regina: The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Jen Hill
ADVENTURE / HUMOR (series)
Even before their parents disappeared, Jaundice and Kale Bland loathed excitement and adventure. But their boring existence is rudely disrupted when they are kidnapped by all-female pirates. Who would have thought they could adapt to pirate life, search for their long-lost pirate parents, and return home with the exact same desire for boring as when they left? Funny and very entertaining!
The Loser’s Club by Andrew Clements
Ever been called a bookworm or a loser? Well, Alec has been called both — because he IS an avid reader. In fact, he gets in trouble for reading during class. As far as the loser comment? Alec decides to claim that word. He makes an after-school care club just for reading (not a book club because who wants to talk?), calling it the Loser’s Club. Surprisingly, the club attracts other kids (despite the name). As it does, Alec starts noticing life outside his stories — the cute girl, the needs of other kids, the feelings! Book lovers, you’ll want to read this genuine story with all your favorite books, relatable characters, and the growing pains that happen when we look up from a book.
Eddie Red Undercover Mystery in Mayan Mexico by Marcia Wells
Eddie, his best friend Jonah, and his parents are on vacation in Mexico. When Eddie’s dad becomes the primary suspect in a theft of a stolen Mayan mask, so Eddie and Jonah decide to solve the mystery themselves. Only they don’t speak Spanish all that well, and there’s more to this mystery than just a stolen mask. You’ll love the Spanish words throughout, the well-paced action, and the characters.
The Friendship Code #1 Girls Who Code by Stacia Deutsch
STEM REALISTIC (series)
Lucy joins coding club so she can make an app for her uncle to remember his medications. But the class is moving TOO slow. Then, a mysterious letter arrives on her locker with instructions in code. The subsequent messages in code put her back in touch with old friends and help her build a new friendship. Whoever is sending messages is teaching Lucy and her friends about input/output, conditionals, loops, and variables. To solve the mystery, the girls decide to write their own code…
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk
REALISTIC / HISTORICAL
Jimmy McClean’s grandfather takes him on a road trip where he shares the stories of Crazy Horse — his life and battles up to his death. They travel from the Dakotas (home of the Lakota) to Wyoming and other places significant to Crazy Horse’s life. I thought that following the duo traveling to the sites and then hearing the grandfather’s mesmerizing stories made this book easy to follow and very interesting. It’s a sobering, powerful story based on historical events.
Not Your All America Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
Lauren, a girl with Jewish and Chinese heritage, tries out for the school play but, despite her talent, she doesn’t get cast as the lead since she doesn’t look the part of someone “all-American”. Her best friend Tara, who is not as talented, gets the leading role because she fits the look of a so-called American girl. The story is filled with both micro-aggressions and overt racism. Tara finds solace in the music of Patsy Cline and finds her voice.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (ages 10+)
Joseph is an abused boy with a violent father, a parent at age thirteen, and is now living as a foster kid with Jack’s family on their organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we slowly learn about Joseph’s deep love for a rich girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter, who he’s never seen, and his shattering heartbreak. This is an amazing story– painful yet filled with redemption and hope — beautifully written and will make you cry!