Middle Grade Books I Read in 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Apart from a brief period in my adolescence young adult (YA) books have never really interested me. This year I decided to try reading middle-grade books and was pleasantly surprised. Maybe the quality of books has improved. Or perhaps I'm subconsciously trying to avert my actual age by escaping into young fiction. Who knows?

In truth, I tend to read in phases. A few years ago I read non-fiction pretty exclusively, so maybe this is further evidence that I appreciate variety. Luckily, reading—especially reading fiction—encourages exploration. Some of the best books I've read come from book clubs or best-of-lists, where other people are recommending titles I never would have picked up on my own. Then again, sometimes I like to think that I am vetting books for my daughter, even if she won't be reading them for another decade or more. Let's just say if you have any interest in books for young readers (think 8-11 years olds), I highly recommend these eight as a great place to start.
  1. The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan - A touching look at the bond children and pets share. A book that surprised me with its tenderness. 
  2. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin - A thoughtful telling of that infamous day, told through four different young adult characters. Though it gives a spoiler, I'm glad I read the author's note first.
  3. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas - Of all the books on this list, this one is my absolute favorite. Set in the late 1970s, the Iran hostage crisis makes this historical fiction book compelling, yes, but the insightful protagonist is funny and relatable in a holy-moley-I-also-survived-middle-school sort of way. 
  4. Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson - Three twelve-year-old boys set off to make one special day for their teacher. The chase scene alone was laugh-out-loud funny. A recent publication that has already received well-deserved acclaim.
  5. Pax by Sara Pennypacker - A modern telling of a boy and his strong relationship to his pet. In this case, a domesticated fox. Reminded me a bit of The Yearling, although much shorter. Plus occasional illustrations by Jon Klassen obviously helped. 
  6. El Deafo by Cece Bell - A graphic novel of heroic proportions. A first-hand account of what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world. I especially love Bell's attention to minor details such as the tiny rosette on her undershirt. 
  7. George by Alex Gino - Living life as a girl is difficult, particularly when you are in a boy's body. A thoughtful look at gender and what that might mean to a transgender child. 
  8. Wonder by R. J. Palacio - A young man, with an obvious physical deformity, tackles life at a new school. A beautiful homage to the need for more kindness. Soon to be a movie and a picture book.
Ps. Although I didn't read it this year, I also thoroughly enjoyed this book. 


  1. These are all great books! But as a YS librarian I feel like I should point out that none of these are YA-- they are all pretty much j fiction/middle grade. YA books have characters that are usually 13+ and have more mature themes/elements (sex, drugs, etc). Sorry to be all "Um, actually" on you! Just wanted to make sure you knew :)

  2. Maura, I'm so glad you said something! Actually I was debating about the appropriate genre classification and your correction sounds 100% accurate. Next time I'll consult with a bona fide YS librarian. :)

  3. I am honored to be on this list...(MG or YA..though yes, technically MG..who can keep up??)
    happy new year and thank you.


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