Favorite Middle Grade Books

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Kid Lit Blog Hop for Children’s Book Week!

There is not much dearer to my heart than books for kids. During my early marriage, my husband was always furious about how much money I spent on picture books when I went to teaching conferences, but we still have 90% of those books on the shelves or in the attic–waiting for the next generation of our family to enjoy them.

For this blog I thought I’d focus on middle grade books because it is a genre that is often confused, misunderstood, or blurred into the young adult group. It is also the genre of books that I currently publish with my Cats in the Mirror series. At the end of this post I’ll give you some recommendations of my own and those shared by friends and former students, but first let’s be clear on what I mean by middle grade books.

Middle grade book are specifically designed for elementary age students–around ages 8-11. The print is larger and easier to read, the vocabulary simpler, and the book itself is normally not very long. I limit myself to 35,000 words for my middle grade books. Middle grade readers will avoid a book simply because it looks too long.

Listening to agents and editors over the years, I’ve clarified that middle grade also focuses on main characters who are in elementary school and worrying about the problems that go with being that age. As with my books, the characters are often animals as well. If the characters in a book are worrying about puberty, boys, or middle school and high school issues, you have made the jump into the young adult genre. Middle grade genre is not the same as middle school age. That’s very confusing, but I don’t make the rules. Middle school (ages 10-13) is where kids begin to make that transition into reading longer, more complicated books, but not all of them will be ready. Those middle school years are often a mixed up time in more than what they are reading, but by 7th grade most kids are leaning toward vampires, shifters, and darker themes.

In general, middle grade books also tend to have themes that are lighter, funnier, and more upbeat–unless you want to win a Newbery Award. Then something awful has to happen or someone has to die. It’s rather like winning an Academy Award. Again, I don’t make the rules, but these are things you should be aware of when simply picking books off a list of award winners.


“The One And Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate is a perfect example. The print is large, the vocabulary is appropriate, but the subject matter is actually quite dark/depressing and includes discussions about horrible things that poachers do to gorillas. A large part of me thought the book didn’t need to go there. The story was wonderful and thought-provoking enough without a few sentences that made me cringe, even though I was already well aware of the horrors it mentions. Newbery Award winners are traditionally like this, so just use caution if your child is tender of heart. I’ve never heard quite as impressive a collective gasp as I did in the movie theater during “Bridge To Terebithia” when a certain horrible event occured. Clearly, they had not read the book. It’s an amazing story, but be ready to talk with your child or students about it.

Here are some of my favorites from days gone by that would qualify as middle grade, as well as recommendations from friends–trying to avoid the obvious ones that you can find on any published list:



It’s probably not terribly shocking that one of my favorite books was “Socks” by the outstanding Beverly Cleary. She is the epitome of a middle grade writer, and I would recommend all of her books. They are light and fun and reach elementary school kids perfectly. The Ramona series, everything with a mouse on a motorcycle, and “Henry and Ribsy” are delightful.



Ballet Shoes


Not sure how I missed out on them since ballet was my life, but I didn’t learn about the shoe book series until I saw the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” My daughters loved them. I hate to draw lines, but I would say the series falls firmly into the girly section of things.  Being from a different era, the shoe books don’t have all the trademarks of a current day middle grade book as far as vocabulary and print size, so it would be best for a stronger reader.



“Tangle of Knots” by Lisa Graff

“The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill” by Megan Blakemore

Big Honey Dog Mysteries by H. Y. Hanna

Wayside School Series by Louis Sachar

“Frindle” and anything else by Andrew Clements

“Castle in the Attic” and “Battle of the Castle”  By Elizabeth Winthrop

Time Warp Trio Series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Indian in the Cupboard Series by Lynne Reid Banks

“City of Orphans” by Avi

“Privateer’s Apprentice” by Susan Verrico,

“Liar & Spy” by Rebecca Stead,

“The Shadow Collector’s Apprentice” by Amy Gordon.

“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster

“From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Koingsburg

“Charlotte’s Web,” “The Trumpet of the Swan, and ” Stuart Little” by E. B. White

Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Maniac McGee” by Jerry Spinelli

“Sarah Plain and Tall” by Patricia MacLachlan

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Sleznick (slipping into the young adult genre)

Elsewhere Series by Jacqueline West

“The Hero’s Guide To Saving Your Kingdom” by Christopher Healy

The Keepers by Lain Tanner


Please feel free to post your own favorites in the comments section so everyone can find them!


I will be randomly selecting two winners from the comments on this post to receive free copies of both of my award-winning middle grade Cats in the Mirror books (either paperback or ebook). Last entries to be considered will be at midnight on May 18th. I don’t use a service for this because it will require you to share information you might not want to, so be sure to agree to follow the other comments on this blog or check back to see if you won.


New cover with Mom's Choice Award in place.

Winners will be notified on May 19th.

You can also add both books to your “to read” library at Goodreads by clicking on their links here:

“Why Kimba Saved The World”

“Vacation Hiro”

Many thanks go out to the friends and students who helped me compile the list of favorite books: Kim Piddington, Ruth Outland, Tori Ellithorpe, Lori Kilkelly, Janet Anderson, Leanne Raymond, and Michelle at Reading is Better Than Real Life.

And thanks to all of you for taking part in the Kid Lit Blog Hop!!

Blog HopAre you a children’s book or teen literature blogger, an author, a publisher, or a publicist looking to share copies of a fabulous book?  Mother Daughter Book Reviews  and Youth Literature Reviews  are joining forces to provide you with the opportunity to take part in the Children’s Book Week Giveaway Hop 2014, featuring links to giveaways for fabulous children/teen’s books, gift cards, cash, or other prizes.  What better way to celebrate Children’s Book Week?





40 thoughts on “Favorite Middle Grade Books

  1. MegDendler Post author

    Congratulations to Dorothy Teel and Cheryl@Tales of the Marvelous! You have each won copies of my books! I have sent you a private email with directions on how to claim your winnings.

    Thank you so much to everyone else for hopping by and being a part of this Children’s Book Week KidLit Giveaway Hop. I hope you’ll consider sticking with me by subscribing to my blog or newsletter–and maybe even picking up a copy of “Why Kimba Saved The World” to begin the alien rescue cat adventures.

    Keep Reading!!

  2. lstanziani@yahoo.com'Leslie L Stanziani

    These all sound like books my 3 older kids would love. We are major cat lovers in my house so those 2 books would be the biggest hits.

  3. lkish77123@gmail.com'Linda Kish

    Thanks for the chance to enter your giveaway. These books all look terrific. That’s a very well-rounded list, too.

  4. writersideup@aol.com':Donna Marie

    Aside from my beloved Harry Potter Series and pretty much ANYthing written by Kate DiCamillo, I thought I’d mention what I considered a VERY compelling, well-written book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. I literally sobbed for at least the last 3rd of that book!

  5. i.teel@sbcglobal.net'Dorothy Teel

    Ilove cats and my granddaughter does also, it would be fun toe read Why Kimba Saved the World and follow what choice Kimba makes between freedom and her human family and with Vacation Hiro we can follow if Hiro joins the alien cats in the mirror and does Hiro leave Earth, Both of my granddaughters and I would love to share these books.

  6. katja9_10@hotmail.com'Les Johnson

    I know my daughter would love to read Why Kimba Saved the World. She loves reading books about animals and the cat on the cover looks just like her cat. Thanks for the giveaway!

    1. MegDendler Post author

      Thanks! The cat on the cover is really my cat Kimba. My book designer used a photo of her. I’ve never had a white cat before, but they are so beautiful. If you don’t win the giveaway, just watch for the specials I’ll be running before Book 3, “Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge,” comes out in September. So glad you stopped by!

  7. claudine.g@carryusoffbooks.com'Claudine @ CarryUsOff Books

    I’m glad to find a list of middle-grade novels here. My favourite MG authors are Karen Hesse and Sharon Creech, so I’ll definitely recommend their works. Happy Children’s Book Week. Good to hop by here!


  8. cherylslife67@charter.net'Cheryl Rogers

    I loved the book, A Wrinkle in Time, it intrigued me so much I made sure to read all of that authors books.

    1. MegDendler Post author

      I LOVED “Wrinkle in Time,” but I left it off this list because if it was written today it would probably be YA not MG. I actually changed my nickname from Molly to Meg after I read that book, and I’ve lost track of how many times I have read it since to my students and my own kids. Thanks for commenting and sharing your favorite.

    1. MegDendler Post author

      Wonderful! That’s all I could hope for. Check out the books in the comments section as well. I’m learning about so many others!

  9. tuxdelux@gmail.com'quizzlerslammer

    Meg—Thanks for the great list! You are so right about “The One and Only Ivan”—just spectacular—-so unique, so insightful. Since you love Laura Ingalls Wilder and similar books, you should read Gayle Rosengren’s “What the Moon Said,” which was published by Penguin/Putnam in February and has received wonderful reviews. I have read it twice and it is just terrific Middle Grade historical fiction, with a main character (Esther) who is just one of the most interesting & lovable in all of MG literature. It is beautifully written and it flows perfectly, without a hitch. I can’t think of a knowledgeable MG reader who has read it (or read it and reviewed it) who has not loved it. So add to your TBR list! Thanks again.

  10. hl_carpenter@hlcarpenter.com'HL Carpenter

    Thanks for “hopping” by our site, Meg, and for tweeting and sharing. 🙂

    We have returned the favor.

    Best of luck with your books–great storyline! Our TBR list grows again…

  11. sherriepetersenbooks@gmail.com'Sherrie Petersen

    Our family adores the audio book of The Indian in the Cupboard, read by Lynn Reid Banks herself. So many good MG books listed here! That’s why it’s my favorite to read and write 🙂

    1. MegDendler Post author

      I haven’t heard that one. It’s always fantastic when an author reads their own books because she knows exactly how it should all flow. Thanks for sharing & feel free to post a link to your books here as well, Sherrie!

  12. swlothian@gmail.com'S.W.

    Wow, what an enlightening and interesting post. Your definition of middle grade has sent the cogs in my head spinning. I’ve always thought of my books as middle grade, but you have me questioning whether they would better fit into the YA category.

    1. MegDendler Post author

      Thank you! From what I hear at SCBWI conferences, the age of your characters is one of the big guidelines. That’s how publishers are sorting it all out. I hope it helps you to find tons of perfect readers for your books.

    2. MegDendler Post author

      Oh, I just found your books on amazon.com and they are adorable. Great covers! They are definitely going to appeal to middle grade kids more than teenagers. I think what one reviewer said would just hold true — they are for the older end of middle grade — that slippery area of 11-13 year olds who need good reads.

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