The Perfect Middle-Grade Books for Christmas Giving
We all understand how critically important reading proficiency is for our students. Choosing the right middle-grade books this holiday season is our first step in improving their reading habits. Reading will improve their vocabulary and broaden their worldview. This list of books is teacher and mom approved. Make your Christmas shopping list easy with these choices and pick the lessons you most want your child to learn.
Wish by Barbara O’Connor – Family Values
Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with a family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets
Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.
From award-winning author, Barbara O’Connor comes a middle-grade novel about a girl who, with the help of a true-blue friend, a big-hearted aunt, and uncle, and the dog of her dreams, unexpectedly learns the true meaning of family in the least likely of places.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm – Believe in the Possible
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses the fifth grade. Ellie misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?
With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – dyslexia and self-worth
The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the troublemaker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord – Lessons in Friendship & Prejudice
When Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it’s Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season.
After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily’s grandfather, and Salma’s friendship transforms Lily’s summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they’ll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant — and possibly win?
Set amongst the blueberry barrens and by the sea, this is a gorgeous new novel by Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord that tackles themes of prejudice and friendship, loss and love.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – Empathy & Love
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .
The Newbery Medal winner from the author of the highly acclaimed novel The Witch’s Boy.
Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals by Peggy M McAloon – Bullying & Courage
Elle Burton is an ordinary kid…or so she thinks. On her tenth birthday, she encounters Eunie Mae, a tiny, fairylike being who comes from a world called Fiori. Other than some children under the age of eight, the only human beings who can see Fiorins are guides—people who have been chosen to help protect the children of Earth.
Being a guide seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Elle has always loved helping others, and now she’ll have magical assistance. But not everybody wants her to succeed. There are evil forces who do everything in their power to keep the guides from offering support to those in need. Can Elle be brave enough to oppose them?
Sticks and Stones by Abbey Cooper – Acceptance
Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.
Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.
Fans of Wonder by R.J. Palacio will enjoy this book for its similar writing style, compelling characters, and upbeat tone…A quirky, clever, and lighthearted look at what it means to accept oneself…” ―School Library Journal
The Upside of Down by Dawn Malone – Determination
Hobbs Crane doesn’t like distractions. He lives for football, rules the basketball court, and does his best to avoid the neighbor girl with the Jupiter-sized crush on him. With a new kid out to steal his starting basketball position, Hobbs needs to feel in control again. Then Hobbs finds a boy living inside a giant blue spruce on an empty city lot who becomes the biggest distraction of all. How long has he been there? Where did he come from? And why does he seem to be following Hobbs?
The boy named Up is in survival mode. Leaving his real name and a neglectful home life behind, Up is running away to Florida to find his older sister who left home years ago. But he’s hungry and desperate, and he finds the overgrown evergreen next to the old factory the perfect hideout until he makes a plan.
Can Hobbs and Up help each other face their own uncertain futures while forging an unlikely friendship? Or are they too different?
Joss the Seven by J. Philip Horne – Trust & Courage
Fourteen-year-old Joss Morgan loves a good prank, but the joke’s on him when he discovers he has superpowers. He quickly learns that with the new powers comes real danger. The Mockers are coming for Joss, and he doesn’t know why, or even who they really are. He only knows they mean trouble; deadly trouble.
The Guild of Sevens, a secret organization of people with powers like Joss’s, sends Mara to train Joss in his new power. She uses him to fight back against the Mockers, but nothing adds up, and pretty soon Joss is wondering which side he’s really working for.
When the Mockers arrive at his home, Joss is out of time. He sets up a high-stakes prank to save his family. This time he knows that if he fails, he won’t end up in the principal’s office; he’ll wind up dead.
Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata – Belonging
Eleven-year-old Jaden is adopted, and he knows he’s an “epic fail.” That’s why his family is traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby–to replace him, he’s sure. And he gets it. He is incapable of stopping his stealing, hoarding, lighting fires, aggressive running, and obsession with electricity. He knows his parents love him, but he feels…nothing.
When they get to Kazakhstan, it turns out the infant they’ve traveled for has already been adopted, and literally within minutes are faced with having to choose from six other babies. While his parents agonize, Jaden is more interested in the toddlers. One, a little guy named Dimash, spies Jaden and barrels over to him every time he sees him. Jaden finds himself increasingly intrigued by and worried about Dimash. Already three years old and barely able to speak, Dimash will soon age out of the orphanage, and then his life will be as hopeless as Jaden feels now. For the first time in his life, Jaden actually feels something that isn’t pure blinding fury, and there’s no way to control it, or its power.
From camels rooting through garbage like raccoons, to eagles being trained like hunting dogs, to streets that are more pothole than pavement, the vivid depictions in Half a World Away create “an inspiring story that celebrates hope and second chances” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
Bingo Summer by Dawn Malone – True Self
On her thirteenth birthday, Summer Haas scratches the lottery ticket her mom tucked into her birthday card and the down-on-their-luck family become instant millionaires. Then the attention gets crazy in their small Illinois town, and the family moves north to ‘disappear’ in the Chicago suburbs.
Summer’s new home might as well be on the Moon, it’s so different from where she used to live. Suddenly, Summer is a candidate for student council, trades her t-shirt and jeans for mall-brand clothes, and throws a party for her entire grade even though she didn’t invite a single guest.
Everyone wants Summer to be someone other than herself, including the super-popular Suri who Summer hopes will be her new best friend. There’s Mara who wants Summer to forget about competing with her for third base when softball season comes. And Summer just wants to avoid Dink and Anna even though she has more in common with them than she wants to admit. But when Mara discovers how Summer’s family made their millions and threatens to tell the whole school, Summer needs a friend more than ever. Can Summer fit in AND stay true to herself?
The Quill Pen by Michelle Isenhoff – Consequences
Pax by Sara Pennypacker – Loyalty
National Book Award Longlist * New York Times Bestseller * An Amazon Best Book of the Year
From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes a beautifully wrought, utterly compelling novel about the powerful relationship between a boy and his fox. Pax is destined to become a classic, beloved for generations to come.
Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.
At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.
Meanwhile, Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . .
The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart – Humor
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – Compassion & Accountability
A young girl’s kindness, compassion, and honesty overcome bullying.
★ An NPR Best Book of the Year
★ A Booklist Best Book of the Year
★ An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle-Grade Book of the Year
★ A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
★ A Shelf Awareness Best Book of the Year
★ A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
★ A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of the Year
★ An ALA Notable Children’s Book
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.
“The honesty of Wolf Hollow will just about shred your heart, but Annabelle’s courage and compassion will restore it to you, fuller than before. This book matters.” —Sara Pennypacker, New York Times bestselling author of Pax
“An evocative setting, memorable characters, a searing story: Wolf Hollow has stayed with me long after I closed the book. It has the feel of an instant classic.” —Linda Sue Park, Newbery Medalist and New York Times bestselling author
The Mystery Of Hollow Inn: Samantha Wolf Mystery Series #1 by Tara Ellis – Mystery
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo – Friendships
Two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo returns to her roots with a moving, masterful story of an unforgettable summer friendship.
Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home.
To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds – Dealing with Anger
A National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.
Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award-winning author Jason Reynolds.
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other but to themselves.
Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?
The Dream Keeper (The Dream Keeper Chronicles) (Volume 1) by Mikey Brookes – Trust & Fantasy
Dreams: Dorothy called it Oz, Alice called it Wonderland, but Nightmares call it HOME. When an evil shifter takes over the gateway to the realm of Dreams, it falls to 14-year-olds Parker and Kaelyn to stop him. Their only hope lies with Gladamyr, the Dream Keeper, but can they trust a Nightmare to save their world? THE DREAM KEEPER is an upper middle-grade fantasy-adventure that will keep you turning the pages.
“The Dream Keeper is a fun, fantastic ride through both Dream and Nightmare. Brooks has written a book that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Bravo!” —Michaelbrent Collings, bestselling author of The Billy Saga and Hooked: A True Faerie Tale “This really is a cracking novel. Action-packed and spellbinding!”—Cas Peace, author of The Artisans of Albia series. “If you like the Percy Jackson, Fablehaven, or the Harry Potter series, you’ll love this!” -Brooklyn
Seven Miles Deep – Chantrea – by Valerie Lord – Curiosity & Adventure
Thirteen-year-old Jake is an ordinary boy, much like any other boy. Except maybe he’s a bit short. And he doesn’t like spiders or snakes.
He does like the ocean though, and when he gets to visit his dad on a (supposedly) deserted tropical island and discovers a submarine hidden under the house, all he can think about is taking it down and exploring. But when he gets his chance, will he make the discovery of his life, or the biggest mistake ever?
Unlike Jake, Cori actually lives in the ocean, but he’s never gotten to explore it either. He’s always dreamed of seeing the endless, mysterious waters beyond the caves of Chantrea, so he’s thrilled when he’s sent on a mission into the great Outside.
But Cori’s mission isn’t the adventure he’d hoped for. Now he must hide from predators and fight for his life, and he may never find his way home. Even if he can, it may be too late…
“It is so well thought out, taking you places you would dream of going. This book should be an instant success.”
“What a great sea adventure – submarines, seahorses, under ocean cities, great reading for boys and girls alike.”
Cora and the Nurse Dragon by H. L. Burke – Bullies & Fantasy
Cora’s a young girl with two dreams: to be a dragon jockey when she grows up and to own a pet dragon now. She constantly buys “egg packs” at the dragon emporium in hopes that one will hatch into a rare pet-sized dragon, but only gets short-lived mayflies. However, when an unexpected egg does develop into something new, Cora may be over her head.
“This is so much more than just a fantasy. It has great lessons about friendships, ethics, and even a child running their first business. Great book for a family to read together and discuss.”
Mary’s Song (Dream Horse Adventures) by Susan Count – Hope & Friendship
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown – Technology
When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is–but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a violent storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island’s unwelcoming animal inhabitants.
The Candle Star by Michelle Isenhoff – Slavery/cultural diversity
“I would read anything from this author. She has a beautiful gift for bringing stories to life. It’s like magic. This would be a great conversation starter between you and your children, students, and friends on the history of slavery in America.”
Missing by Peggy M McAloon – Faith
Elle’s desperate to find her kidnapped brother. She teams up with the winged warriors from the dimension of Fiori to save him, but JJ isn’t the only one in danger. What will Elle sacrifice to bring her brother home? Can she fulfill the ancient prophecy and restore the magic of the Bronze Pendant?
If you like magical realism you will love this action-packed fantasy for middle-grade readers. Elle Burton’s goal is to rescue her brother. What she discovers is pure evil. The author provides a female role model who strives to overcome her flaws and inspire kids everywhere.
“Missing” blends the magic of a fairytale with the contemporary realities of the world today’s youth inhabit. You will discover a new world order through the journey of a young girl who exhibits both compassion and jaw-dropping courage in her quest to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Find yourself caught in the ultimate struggle between good and evil. “Missing” is the second book in the “Lessons from Fiori” series.
Kibble Talk by Cynthia Port – Dog lovers
On a dare from her best friend, nine-year-old Tawny gags down a piece of dog kibble. Suddenly she can hear and talk to dogs, including her own dog, an enormous and demanding Great Dane named Dinky. Dinky explains to Tawny that his fondest wish is to be a tiny lap dog and Tawny promises to help him become one.
From helicopters to the five o’clock news, Tawny soon finds out what it means to make a promise to a friend. Along the way, her parents can’t help but question her sanity and her best friend Jenny turns into her worst enemy. If Tawny can just keep her own thoughts straight, maybe she can make things right in her family, get her best friend back, and decide for herself how she will handle having such a special gift.
Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon by H. L. Burke – Cat lovers
Thaddeus F. Whiskers is a pampered palace pet, a kitten enchanted to never become a cat. Princess Clarice loves him, for in the entire kingdom, there is no other kitten as cute or as clever. He leads a life of cushions and cream until a wizard’s “gift” results in his banishment. Determined to make it back to the princess he loves, he escapes into the wilderness where he discovers the lair of a dragon.
Grandious, the dragon, doesn’t care about anything besides himself. He wants to be left alone with his treasure. However, there is something about Thaddeus that has him entranced. He finds himself opening his home and his heart to the little cat.
Thaddeus is a small creature in a big world. Between him and his beloved Princess stand conniving wizards, would-be-step-mothers, and rampaging rats. However, when danger threatens both Clarice and Grandious, Thaddeus won’t allow his size to get in the way of saving his friends.
The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis by Sharon Ledwith – Time travel
When 13-year-old Amanda Sault and her annoying classmates are caught in a food fight at school, they’re given a choice: suspension or yard duty. The decision is a no-brainer. Their two-week crash course in landscaping leads to the discovery of a weathered stone arch in the overgrown back yard.
The arch isn’t a forgotten lawn ornament but an ancient time portal from the lost continent of Atlantis. Chosen by an Atlantean Magus to be Timekeepers–legendary time travelers sworn to keep history safe from the evil Belial–Amanda and her classmates are sent on an adventure of a lifetime. Can they find the young Robin Hood and his merry band of teens? If they don’t, history itself may be turned upside down.
The Last Timekeepers is a series that will probably appeal to you no matter how old you are. It’s that perfect mix of real-world humor and pure escapism into an alternate reality, plus there’s a good bit of historical fiction thrown in (which I always love).
Now It’s Time to Go Shopping
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Enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend to the fullest!
Be Safe – Be Loved – Pass It On!