We've been reading a lot of new middle grade books lately and we've found 4 that are really fantastic!
I love to read middle grade books. For one thing, reading middle grade books gives me a lot to talk about with my kids. Some of my favorite family conversations at the dinner table and in the car have been about a great book. We've even had some very lively conversations about books we didn't like at all and books that we were divided on.
There's also something about seeing mom reading a kid's book that suddenly makes that book the most interesting book in the house. Even if it's been sitting on the shelf for months, if I pick it up and start reading, it's almost guaranteed that my kids will develop a new interest in the title and start begging for a turn to check it out.
And then there's just the pure pleasure of reading a really great middle grade book. The best middle grade authors tell stories that transcend age. Beverly Cleary captured both the joys and hardships of family life with young kids better than anyone I've ever read. And just you try, no matter how old you are, not to cry when you read Where the Red Fern Grows. A good book is just a good book.
These 4 New Middle Grade Books published in 2018 are really great reads. I've read them all and at least one or two of my children have read each of them as well. So, they have adult and kid approval at our house!
4 Excellent New Middle Grade Books
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
This book is amazing! It's historical fiction set in the fictional southern town of Possum Moan in the 1850's. The story is told from the perspective of the protagonist, Little Charlie Bobo, a poor, white southern boy who's spent most of his 12 years working in the fields.
As the book opens, Charlie's dad has an accident and dies a gruesome and unexpected death. When Cap'n Buck, the most feared man in Possum Moan, shows up at Charlie's door and claims that his deceased father owed him money, Charlie is forced to accompany him on a journey to Detroit as repayment.
In the book, the characters make a physical journey, from South Carolina up to Detroit. Cap'n Buck, a slave overseer and one of the scummiest villains I've ever encountered in middle grade literature, tells Charlie that they're on a journey to reclaim stolen property. What Charlie doesn't initially understand, however, is that the stolen property is human.
While they travel across the country, Little Charlie takes another kind of journey and grows to understand race in a different way. He's a rural, ignorant white character with all the prejudices and biases of the time, but he's also still a kid with room to grow. His growth is slow (although maybe fast too, considering the time period), but Christopher Paul Curtis has created a wonderful 3 dimensional character, a flawed hero with real conscience and heart.
The book is gripping - a definite page turner. I read it in a day and my twelve year old read it even faster. It's fast paced, especially for such a character driven book.
I should warn you, however, that the book is written in dialect. I'm afraid readers, especially kids, might abandon it in the first few pages because it's tricky to find your footing. Don't give up though! It's such a rewarding read and while the dialect carries through the whole book, I think you'll find that you stop noticing it as much after a chapter or two.
But I seent it, and unseeing something’s the same as unringing a bell; it ain’t never been done. I don’t care how much you want to get rid of the remembering, you might as well not fight it, you might as well jus’ go ‘head and make yourself a holster, ‘cause that memory is yourn and you gonna be toting it ‘round for the rest of your life.”
This is a wonderfully well written book. The characters are fantastic - even the vile villain and his sadistic sense of humor that literally made me shiver more than once. It would be a great conversation book for middle school classrooms and family dinner tables. There's so much to discuss about the historical setting, racism, and the courage that it takes to do the right thing even when you're afraid.
Note: Make sure you read the author's note at the end! Also, because of the heaviness of some of the themes here, as well as some pretty intense violence, I would recommend this more for 10 and up, maybe even 12 and up.
The Mad Wolf's Daughter by Diane Magras
The cover of this one initially fooled me. I expected it to be fantasy based on the cover art and was pleasantly surprised to discover a wonderful historical fiction story full of action set in medieval Scotland.
Twelve year old Drest, the only girl in a family of men, lives with her father and brothers on a remote Scottish island. The book opens one dark night when the island is invaded and Drest's entire family is taken as prisoners back to Faintree Castle on the main land. Left behind are Drest and a wounded enemy knight.
But Drest is the kind of courageous girl character you can root for and she quickly cooks up a plan to take the wounded knight to Faintree Castle to trade him for her family. What follows is a fantastic, exciting adventure fraught with peril and challenges. Drest makes allies and enemies. There are castles and sword fights and village mobs, all with the backdrop of the 13th century Scottish countryside. It's just wonderful!
This is Diane Magras' debut book and I'm really looking forward to more from her! This one is really a fantastic read and I highly recommend it.
Note: The author's note at the end of the book has a ton of great information about the historical setting of the book - feudalism, women, village life, etc. Definitely check it out. I'd recommend this for 8 and up if you're reading it aloud as a family, or 10 and up if your kids are reading it on their own.
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
This is such a unique and interesting book. It reminded me at times of The Inquisitor's Tale, but The Book of Boy felt very different in tone. I was enthralled to the last page.
The main character is just called BOY, and he's fine with that. It's 1350 and Boy tends goats at a retired knight's manor house and lives a very simple life, sometimes complicated by his hunchback. When a stranger, ostensibly a religious pilgrim, shows up at the manor house and hires Boy to carry a mysterious bag on a journey, the book gets really interesting.
The stranger, Secundus, is hunting religious relics - specifically the relics of St. Peter to save his soul. Boy realizes that if he helps, he may be able to ask St. Peter to heal his hunchback. But there's so many twists and turns that you really can't ever guess what's going to happen next.
The book is capital E Exciting. I could not put it down, and I'm not just saying that either. Once I started, I really did have to read to the end. It's that kind of book.
It's also the kind of book that feels like a light in the dark. Boy was lovable. The story was uplifting and humorous and kind. And it's less than 300 pages so there's really no good reason not to check it out.
I'd recommend this one for 10 and up.
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss
This is such a sweet, happy, quirky, whimsical book. A perfectly middle grade book.
When she was very young, Bicycle was abandoned at a monastery in Washington, D.C. She was wearing a t-shirt with a bicycle on the front so they called her "Bicycle" in the beginning, which officially turned into Bicycle in the long term too.
The monastery where Bicycle grows up is a "mostly silent" monastery. The monks use only 8 words to communicate - words like yes, no, and maybe. Bicycle likes it just fine, but as she gets older her guardian, Sister Wanda, begins to worry about her making friends. When Bicycle finds out that Sister Wanda has signed her up to go to a Friendship Camp for the summer she is adamantly against it.
When Sister Wanda won't relent, Bicycle takes her bicycle and sets off on a cross country journey to meet her idol, the great cyclist Zbigniew Sienkiewicz, and hopefully befriend him. When Sister Wanda sees that Bicycle has in fact made a friend, she won't be so mad at her for running away. At least, that's what Bicycle is hoping! Either way, there's an adventure in store.
This book is adorable. It's full of hilarious, memorable characters like Brother Otto, the not-so-silent monk, and Griffin, the ghost that haunts Bicycle's bicycle. It's a simple story packed full of zany characters. It has an old fashioned feel to it and is just the sort of book I would have loved as a kid and that my kids love now.
I'd recommend this one for 8 and up.
If you enjoyed this post about New Middle Grade Books, you may also enjoy these posts:
- Great Middle Grade Book Series for Kids
- 10 Best Chapter Books We Read in 2017
- Reading Poetry With Kids
I always love your reviews! The books seem to come alive when you talk about them.
I have a question. When you recommend these for age 8, or 10, or whatever it may be, is that based on reading level or maturity of content? For The Journey of Little Charlie you mentioned specifically the more mature themes, but what about the others? My Audrey was tested at a high school reading level, and she excels at vocabulary and comprehension, but she is only 8 and may be too young to handle some heavier themes. However, I know my tendency is to be a bit overprotective, and I'm afraid that she'll be too sheltered to handle the realities of life. Any thoughts about when she might be ready for middle grade reading?
Thank you so much Christina! Middle grade books, as designated by the publisher, are generally written for reading levels between ages 8 to 12. I sometimes change my recommendations based on content. I think that there is a lot of middle grade literature out there that Audrey would love and that you would not find objectionable. I don't know what her reading interests are specifically, but I think that The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle could be a fun read for her and it's really a sweet story. The Mad Wolf's Daughter is also wonderful and fits your criteria (in my opinion).
If you ever want to fill out the form in the side bar on my blog (or scroll down to the bottom of the page if you're reading on a mobile device) with more specific reading interests, I'd be happy to find her some more middle grade books that would be appropriate for her reading level as well as content for her young age. Esme has been a very high level reader from a young age too so I know how tricky it is to find books that challenge without mature content. Hope this helps!
Gorgeous pictures and I love the detailed reviews. Books I would never pick on my own, but now they are on my to check out list. Thank you!
Thank you Loraine! It's always so good to hear from you.
Thanks for the recommendations! They make me want to read them as well as encourage my kids! I have a 10 year old who is a high level reader. When you say middle school books, would they appropriate for a 10 year old as well? Thanks!
Thanks for stopping by Lisa! I definitely enjoyed these books as much as my kids did - they're great books. Middle grade books, as far as publisher recommendations go, are generally written for kids 8 to 12 years old. Sometimes I adjust my recommendations based on more mature content. I think all four of these books are appropriate for a 10 year old content wise. However, I did mention that The Journey of Little Charlie is one parents may want to screen first only because there is violence (as there always is when dealing with slavery) and it may be a little intense for some kids. I let my 10 and 12 year old read this, but I think I'll hold it back from my 8 year old a little longer.
I hope that helps. And I hope you enjoy these books - I'd love to hear what you think if you do pick any of them up. There's nothing I love more than talking about/recommending books!
I’m excited to try these books with my girls.
Great! I hope you find one you all enjoy. Happy reading!
Bethany Bassett says
These reviews are great! I'm always looking for new books to pique the interest of my 11-year-old who is mostly "meh" about reading on her own. The Mad Wolf's Daughter looks especially up her alley. Thanks so much for the detailed summaries!
Thank you so much Bethany! I can't stop talking about how wonderful The Mad Wolf's Daughter is. It's pretty gripping right from the first chapter so I hope it does the trick. I'd love to hear what she thinks of it.
Thanks for describing new books. We have classics we love to read in our family, but we are always elated to find new reads. I don’t have time to research as much as I’d like and I would miss so many great books without your posts about what is new. I don’t want to waste time on books that don’t deliver entertainment AND inspiration. It matters to me that our reading material is educational, engaging, and uplifting. Thank you so much!
Thank you so much Janet! That's exactly why I share these book reviews and I'm so glad you find them helpful!