Tuesday, August 6, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Anna Haase Krueger

Library ninja, book-slinger, and children's librarian for a large metro library. She blogs at  www.futurelibrariansuperhero.com and you can find her on Twitter @opinionsbyanna

So You Want to Read Middle Grade….

To be honest, a lot of the time I hear that question, and I’m like, “No, actually I DO NOT want to read Middle Grade. I’ve had my fill of plucky young girls with odd names and quirky traits. I have no more room for endearing anthropomorphized animals, and I’m QUITE DONE with bathroom humor, thank you. Oh, and NO MORE LIFE LESSONS”

But that’s just an ill-formed gut reaction. As soon as I stop to think I can rattle off tons of MG titles that are near and dear to my heart. I never regret reading Middle Grade, and there’s often so much beauty and excellent writing packed into those slender volumes.

So, while debating what angle to take on this article, I decided to take the one nearest and dearest to my heart:

Weird, Hilarious, or Otherwise Awesome Middle Grade books for people who don’t think they like Middle Grade books.

1.     Mr. and Mrs Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath.
This one is so weird. And funny. Charming characters, silly situations, ridiculous dialogue; what’s not to love? This title wins the award for, “Most times I interrupted my husband to read him passages from the book” award. Did I mention it’s weird? For fans of Roald Dahl, disguises, and platform shoes.

2.     Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling (and sequels) by Mary Rose Wood.
Plucky young orphan with a mysterious past making her very proper way in the world? Check. Bonus feral wolf-children orphans to be nannied? Check. Tongue firmly in cheek? Check. Extra credit for the audio editions, which will leave you howling at the narrator’s deft handling of ‘wolfspeak.’

3.     Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
You probably don’t need me to tell you about these books, but The Baudelaire Orphans (there’s that word again) and their clever narrator are not to be missed by anyone who enjoys clever wordplay and literary allusions.

4.     Savvy by Ingrid Law
This is one that just stole my heart. A solid MG fantasy that is sweet, quirky, and endearing.  A family/road-trip/coming-of-age story set in ‘the real world’ rather than an alternate world adventure story, my favorite thing about this book was the world that the author created—tucked right into our own—featuring a family with magical talents.

5.     Masterpiece by Elise Broach
If you know who Albrecht Durer is, you should definitely read this book. If you don’t, you should still read it. Any book that deals with famous art is going to appeal to me. The star of this book is a beetle, who forms a friendship with a lonely boy, creates replicas of famous art, and solves an international art heist mystery. Perfect for anyone who has loved the works of E.B White.

6.     Wednesday Wars (and companion book, Okay for Now) by Gary D. Schmidt
Left to my own devices I would never have made it past page 50. Everything was just too ridiculous. But then. Then Holling starts practicing Shakespearean insults in the mirror, with the amount of spit flying out of his mouth being a measure of a successful insult, and after that I was in for the ride. Schmidt gets you right in the feels, but you never know it’s coming because you’re laughing too hard. These are books you avoid finishing because you don’t want them to end.

Classic Series You May Have Missed

The Borrowers by Mary Norton
If you’ve ever lost a safety pin, tack, bit of ribbon or other such item, never to be seen again, you might have Borrowers in your home. Who isn’t charmed by the idea of tiny people living in our homes, ‘borrowing’ everything they need to survive from us? Nobody, that’s who. These are great read-alouds, forever beloved from my own childhood.

The Children of Green Knowe by L.M Boston
Magical, creepy, old-fashioned, delightful—these books are all about mood. They are quiet adventures with elements of mystery, but the world created is so fascinating it draws you in. Re-reading them now still makes me feel like a kid during an endless summer day, sitting in a tree reading and thinking.

Half Magic & Magic by the Lake; Knight’s Castle & The Time Garden; Magic or Not? & The Well-Wishers; and Seven Day Magic by Edward Eagar. 
I was always fascinated by the idea of finding magic in everyday life, and these books all deal with ordinary children encountering magic, being thwarted by it, and learning how to control it before going back to normal life. I particularly loved Seven Day Magic, in which the kids find a magical library book and are able to magically visit their favorite stories—I recall them visiting Little House on the Prairie.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace—Hello fans of Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, and the Penderwicks. Betsy Ray is right up your alley. For some reason I always thought these were mysteries and avoided them as such. This was a.) wrong and b.) a poor choice. Much like Anne and Laura, we follow Betsy’s story from her childhood to her early adulthood, and the stories grow more delicious the older they get.  (See also: Caddie Woodlawn and little-known sequel, Magical Melons by Carol Ryrie Brink)


  1. Loved Mr. & Mrs. Bunny. Hope there are more. Thanks for the reminders about many of my favorite books that I read as a kid.

  2. Going to check out Masterpiece ASAP! :)

  3. "Masterpiece" is terrific! I re-read the entire Betsy/Tacy series last year. I love them just as much as I did when I was 10!


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