I have an ongoing debate with myself about which books I love reading more: middle grade or young adult. Because even though I adore young adult, middle grade books win me over again and again.
Middle grade books tend to be primarily written for kids ages 8 to 12 but as with any genre, there are gray areas. Upper middle grade books may draw older kids, especially if they mirror their experiences. Or as kids get older, they may still want to follow the characters in a middle grade series. While younger kids can move beyond chapter books because they have the confidence to read these more complex tales.
Or they all just agree with me—Middle Grade is Marvelous!
But what makes middle grade marvelous?
One of the big ways is how clever and unique these books are with handling the full range of family issues and grief. In Counting by 7s, eccentric, genius Willow loses both of her parents and must fight through her grief to form and accept an unconventional family. Coyote also faces grief after losing her mother and sisters in The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. She and her father are always arriving at new places on their bus, meeting misfit travelers, and struggling to face what they left behind. In When You Trap a Tiger, we confront the coming grief of losing a loved one interlaced with Korean folktales. While in the Merci Suarez series, Merci has to come to terms with her grandfather’s Alzheimer’s and his worsening health.
Another great subject these books tackle are the ups and downs of friendship. In Hello, Universe and 24 Hours in Nowhere, friendships form in the face of challenges in deep dark places. In Some Kind of Courage, Joseph’s bond with his pony leads him on an adventure. He connects with a boy who speaks a different language and neither know what the other is seeking. The Summer of Bad Ideas has Edie and Rae working on a summer list full of possibly foolish and reckless ideas. While in You Go First, gifted and lonely Charlotte and Ben connect through an online Scrabble game. And in Holes, Stanley finds redemption and lifts a family curse through his friendship with Hector.
Then there’s the remarkable stories which grapple with feeling different from others. In Fish in a Tree, Ally struggles with understanding her dyslexia while also discovering her own strengths. Wonder shows August dealing with challenges regarding his facial deformity and how it affects his relationships with others. In Out of My Mind, Melody has a severe form of cerebral palsy in which she can’t speak or walk. Unknown to others, she’s a genius and must learn to be heard. In Insignificant Life in the Events of a Cactus, Aven faces daily life without arms but handles her struggles with spunk and humor. Finally in Song for a Whale, Iris, who is the only deaf girl in her school, identifies with a whale that sings on a frequency no other whale can understand. Then, she sets off on a mission to help the loneliest whale on Earth.
Or how about the phenomenal middle grade books which look at injustices in the world? Like Omar Rising with Omar’s experience being a scholarship kid in a private school. Cuba in My Pocket with Cumba having to leave his family and his country when Fidel Castro comes to power. And The Samosa Rebellion in which Muki has to join a secret rebellion to save his family, friends, and neighbors from being deported by the xenophobic leaders running the government.
While many of the above books cross into more than one of those categories, the following books touch the themes of family, grief, friendship, injustice, and feeling different in high and low fantasy worlds, sci-fi worlds, or magical realism. (Note: When You Trap a Tiger also dips into the magical realism.)
These are middle grade books which sink us into magic and fantasy worlds. There’s the gorgeous prose of the magical The Girl who Drank the Moon. The deep dive into Indian mythology in the playful Pandava series with Aru Sha and Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds. Quirky magical stories like Bob and Flora & Ulysses. Extensive, magical series based on fairytales like School for Good & Evil and Land of Stories. And the experiences of magical kids in Amari and the Night Brothers and The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez.
Maybe you’d like some ghosts and mystery? In Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, we solve a murder mystery and ghost hunt with a team of middle school sleuths. The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly and The In-Between are spooky mysteries with fantastic twists that take us beyond are understanding of reality and touch on themes of family and friendship.
Finally, there are middle grade sci-fi books such as The Wild Robot which explores the potential connection and collision between technology and nature. And in The Last Cuentista, Petra must retain her love of storytelling as humanity struggles with its identity while traveling to a new world in the stars.
I could go on. No, really. The books listed above are just a taste of this amazing genre. And there are more themes and sub categories I didn’t mention. If you’re interested in finding more great middle grade reads, check out readingmiddlegrade.com.
Middle grade is truly marvelous. Perhaps I just ended my debate.