Amy Koester is a children’s librarian with the St. Charles City-County (MO) Library District. She blogs about books, programs, and services for youth as the Show Me Librarian
So you want to read middle grade? Hooray! Maybe you’ve enjoyed forays into YA lit, and now you want to explore a bit further down the main character age spectrum. Maybe you have kids in your life--your own children, nieces and nephews, a “little” through Big Brothers Big Sisters--with whom you want to be able to discuss books. Whatever the reason for wanting to read MG, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start.
That’s where I can help, at least a bit. You see, the array of MG lit is vast--there are books on every topic of interest, about every type of character, covering every genre (and frequently blending a few). That diversity can be overwhelming to readers used to the more cut and dry genre labels you see in adult sections of bookstores and many libraries. To help you get started, I’ve come up with a few options. Read on.
If you like mysteries...
- Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams - Ingrid idolizes Sherlock Holmes, so she doesn’t balk when she accidentally becomes involved in a murder investigation--despite her already busy life. This mystery, the first in the Echo Falls series, includes misdirection, intrigue, and a bit of grit to appeal to any mystery fan.
- Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage - Mo LoBeau’s entire life is a mystery; after all, she ended up in Tupelo Landing after floating downstream in a hurricane. When a murder takes place in her quirky town and her father figure aims to avoid the investigating feds, Mo takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of things. This mystery boasts an intricate plot as well as some amazing characters.
If you like historical fiction...
Sophia’s War by Avi - Sophia and her family live on the island of Manhattan during the Revolutionary War, and they must keep their anti-British sentiments secret when a British officer comes to board at their home. Young Sophia is completely taken by the officer’s manners and suavity, and her feelings begin to interfere with her values. This novel is rich in historical detail, spanning several years of the Revolutionary War. It also features incredibly well-developed characters full of emotional nuance and complications.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine - Marlee is growing up in 1958 Little Rock, Arkansas, smack in the middle of the divisive school integration issue. Her own household is split on the issue, with Marlee and her father supporting desegregation while her mother and sister do not. Marlee’s understanding of the issue only deepens that year, especially when she discovers a truth about her new friend Liz. This wonderful novel shows desegregation from a less-explored perspective while creating characters you feel you simply must support.
If you’re a Whovian...
- The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde - An employment agency for magicians. The approaching death of the last dragon. The imminent arrival of (cue the dramatic music) Big Magic. These are the realities of foundling Jennifer Strange’s life, and she’ll do whatever she can to keep her entire world from plummeting into ruin. The humor, odd setting, and quick, intelligent plot will appeal to fans of the Doctor and his own zany adventures.
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Nobody Owens is under the protection of the graveyard, having ended up there as a baby following the murder of his family. As he grows older and more keen to explore a life outside of the graveyard, however, his ethereal surrogate family can no longer fully protect him. There’s the promise of adventure, yes, but also the danger of the man Jack coming to finish the murder he began. Gaiman is a master storyteller--and contributor to the Doctor Who universe--whose unique and eerie style cannot help but draw readers in.
So there you have it, some ideas on where to begin as you venture into the world of MG lit. Find what you like, and visit your local library for even more ideas. Happy reading.