06 March 2020

4 Books for Middle Grade (and Older) Readers

Wait! Stop! Don't click away. I know what you're thinking: you don't have kids and you don't read kids' books. What you might not know is that today's juvenile fiction often addresses real-life tough issues, like homelessness, disabilities, gender identity, loneliness, and family problems. Of course, you'll also find plenty of fantasy, historical fiction, and action-adventure too.

I like middle grade fiction because it's devoid of the angst and love triangles that are so common in young adult fiction. I also like to stay in touch with the topics that might be on young people's minds. Plus some of the world's most beloved stories were written for young readers (think Harry Potter, Little House on the Prairie, and Narnia). Finally, it's always fun to be able to recommend books to readers of all ages.

Here are four middle grade novels that are on my list for March.

review of Brightstorm by Vashti HardyBrightstorm by Vashti Hardy (illustrated by George Ermos) (Norton Books YR, March 17) is a steampunk action-adventure story starring 12-year-old twins. When their father, a world-renown explorer, is reported dead along with his crew while exploring South Polaris, Arthur and Maudie are suddenly homeless. To make matters worse, there are rumors that their father didn't always play fair. The two find a place on a sky-ship and set off to clear their family name and uncover the truth about their father's doomed expedition.

  • Themes: disability, family, self-confidence, learning about others who are different from yourself
  • Extras: great illustrations throughout; a map
  • Reviews: much praise for good world building, lots of action, appealing characters
  • First line: The heavy chug of a sky-ship firing its engines rumbled through Lontown.

review of The Great Upending by Beth KephartThe Great Upending by Beth Kephart (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, March 31) is set on a Pennsylvania farm in contemporary times. As a drought threatens to bankrupt their family, 12-year-old Sara and her brother, Hawk, come up with a scheme that will solve all the family's money problems. Complicating matters are the mysterious man who has rented an apartment on their farm and Sara's ever-growing need for heart surgery. Oh and did I mention their plan involves breaking one of their mother's hard-and-fast rules?
  • Themes: family, secrets, troubled times, plans gone wrong (or maybe right)
  • Extras: some short chapters are set and read like free verse
  • Reviews: praise for Kephart's signature beautiful language and ability to convey strong emotions
  • First line: "Moon's in bloom," Hawk says. "Just hanging there. No strings."

review of City Spies by James PontiCity Spies by James Ponti (Aladdin, March 10) has a global setting and features computer-whiz 12-year-old Sara who is given an offer she can't refuse. No, she's not held up by the mafia, but after getting in trouble with the law for hacking a computer to expose her foster parents' wrongdoings, she is given a chance to leave New York to get special training with a secret British youth spy agency. This start of a new STEM action-adventure series sets up the premise and sends Sara and her fellow spies on their first mission: they travel to Paris where they are to catch the bad guy threatening to undermine an environmental summit.
  • Themes: working as a team, contemporary issues, using STEM skills, friendship, diversity
  • Extras: fun dossiers of the kid spies
  • Reviews: good action, diverse cast, relevant to environmental activism
  • First line: Sara looked at the water stain on the wall and imagined it was an island.

Blue Skies by Anne Bustard (Simon & Schuster Books YR, March 17) is set in post-World War II small-town Texas and tells the story of 10-year-old Glory Bea, who refuses to give up hope that her father, missing in action since D-Day will still come home. When a good friend of her dad's comes to visit and then to stay after getting to know Mama, Glory Bea isn't happy. She tries to keep the adults apart, despite her grandmother's reputation for being a terrific matchmaker. When she learns a Merci Train will stop in their town, she's even more convinced her father will find his way home. He just has to be on the train filled with gifts from the French people who want to say thank you to America for coming to their rescue.
  • Themes: family, grief, relationships, hope
  • Extras: introduces readers to the real-life Merci (Thank You) Trains; an author's note gives the history behind the story; includes a bibliography for further reading
  • Reviews: good period details, well-developed characters, nicely linked to contemporary issues
  • First line: Miracles happen in Gladiola, Texas, population 3,421.


rhapsodyinbooks 3/6/20, 6:20 AM  

I agree that there are some great middle grade books out there. These that you have featured look excellent!

bermudaonion 3/6/20, 9:29 AM  

I love good middle grade books. I met the author of City Spies at SIBA and he made the book sound so good. Blue Skies looks great too.

sherry fundin 3/6/20, 2:01 PM  

brightstorm looks really cool
sherry @ fundinmental

Kathryn T 3/6/20, 11:25 PM  

Totally agree with you about the middle grade fiction and the themes it explores. I'd read most of these books and am especially drawn to City of Spies so will add it to the TBR!

(Diane) bookchickdi 3/7/20, 7:43 AM  

All of these look wonderful, I especially like the City of Spies and its STEM theme.

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