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So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Sara Bryce

Sara Bryce is a Youth Services Librarian at La Crosse Public Library in Wisconsin. She blogs about her GIF-fueled adventures in youth services (and even includes links and free downloads to make your programming easier!) at You can read her unsolicited life comments and judge her beer check-ins by following @PLSanders on Twitter. She also occasionally answers “Ask a Storytime Ninja” questions along with other youth services folks at (unless the questions are about babies. Then, no. I mean, maybe. I don't have to hold babies on the Internet. So, maybe)

There are three situations in which I find myself reading books:
  1. While traveling
  2. While delaying getting out of bed and being lazy on a weekend morning
  3. While sitting around on a weekend, putting off chores, possibly with a cocktail
In the first situation, I’m usually reading a memoir of abuse, addiction, or mental illness. That’s because I’ve discovered that if you don’t want to talk to the random strangers who inexplicably like to strike up conversations with the person crammed next to them on a plane, you’ll want to be reading Madness: a Bipolar Life or really anything else by Marya Hornbacher. They’ll leave you alone.
In the last two situations, lately I end up with a Middle Grade book.
Since I develop my library’s collection of Middle Grade books, I wasn’t sure if this made me biased. It probably does. So the following books are ones I recommended to my cohabiting partner in crime, Caleb, who is a 30 year-old Jack-of-all-Trades at a brewery and who has never worked with kids in his life. The ones he’s read so far, he’s enjoyed.

The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angelberger:
Okay, so this choice is so ubiquitous it’s bordering on cliché by now, but the books in this series are the ones that I take home as soon as they’re processed, read them from cover to cover immediately, and pass them onto Caleb, who reads them from cover to cover immediately. I really didn’t think I could ever be nostalgic for middle school, but these books capture the cool stuff about it perfectly. And of course there’s a heavy dose of Star Wars, and the exposition given for people who might not have seem the movies 500 times is not annoying to die-hard fans. It’s a hilarious series that even keeps me guessing, and I’m the Worst Type of Person who enjoys ruining the ending by constantly making predictions. There’s also an awesome, elaborate system of fake swears created by Murky, who I thought was a girl until the third book and I was kind of disappointed when I realized he was a boy. It’s okay though, there’s still a bunch of kick-ass girls!

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Though this nearly wordless graphic novel has been described as bleak and depressing (on Goodreads), I definitely had a different reading of it. When his robot malfunctions, a dog must face a difficult choice to stay and watch helplessly, or leave and attempt to recreate a friendship that is very dear to him. Robot Dreams captures the ebb and flow of friendship in a series of simple drawings, and the nuances of the relationship between Dog and Robot are poignant and sweet. Regardless of what went down, we’ll always remember the good memories of old friends when we hear familiar songs.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick/ Zebra Forest by Adina Gewirtz
Even though they’re very different books (and written 20 years apart), I realized I like these books for similar reasons.  Both have kids as narrators who are dealing with intense pain in their lives that you can tell they aren’t fully aware of. They both feature adults who may not be able to necessarily deal with the world, let alone act as role models for children. Both involve the main child characters escaping into story-like adventures to cope with their daily lives. Neither come to conclusions that are too satisfying, but there is some promise of understanding, if not redemption. I read both of these books as an adult, and that may be why I like them so much. And that’s why I’m including them in this post.

Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein
I’ll end on a “classic” note: This is without a doubt my favorite book to read aloud, and beyond reason my favorite book ever.  It’s got its subtle and not-so-subtle moments of humor, letting all readers get lost in the quick read that is Silverstein’s silliness on full display. When it’s all done, however, you’re left contemplating your own opinions on fitting in and what it means to be human.

**Bonus pick!** Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book also by Shel Silverstein
This is not at all a Middle Grade book, but I definitely read it in elementary school since it was accidentally shelved in the picture book section of Walden Books. I read it over and over again, at least once each time we visited the mall, until I understood all the words and most of the jokes (to varying degrees; I may have confused piccolos and gigolos until at least 6th grade). This remains one of my favorite books as well.
Here’s an excerpt:
“O is for Oz. Do you want to visit the wonderful far-off Land of Oz where the wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green? Well, you CAN’T because there is no Land of Oz and there is no Tin Woodsman and there is NO SANTA CLAUS! Maybe someday you can go to Detroit.”
Reading this now, you might be horrified to think I was reading this as an elementary school student. But this is where adults assume kids are seeing things they don’t yet comprehend. For instance, I distinctly remember at age 6 reading this passage and thinking it was funny because: 1) “There is no Santa Claus” was the Godwin’s Law of the playground. How funny that he went for the Obvious Hyperbole! 2) I lived 20 minutes south of Detroit, so I thought the joke was you could travel very close rather than far off.
Plus, everyone knows Toledo has the better zoo.


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