This is a great lineup of middle grade books I’m sharing with you today! From historical fiction in verse to a middle school boy’s survival story to a zombie dog and his boy to a girl whose familiar is a kracken, these books will appeal to many interests!
And, since you asked me to do so, I included page length — many of the books I am sharing are SHORT!
I should also tell you that cried reading three of these books. So if you like sad, heartbreaking, and hopeful books that make you cry, you will want to read THE PROBABILITY OF EVERYTHING, WISHING SEASON, and GOSSAMER SUMMER. (I have a few more books to review from this month that were also about grief and I couldn’t read them yet. I needed a break from the sad stories.)
You’ll also notice my 18-year-old daughter Jemma reviewed a few of the graphic novels for me as she did last month. I’m always grateful for her help and love her insights. The good news is that my TBI flare up is much better and I can read graphic novels again. Hooray! When Jemma leaves for university in a few weeks, I’ll be reviewing them on my own again. (Sob.)
Middle Grade Books, July 2023
Misfit Mansion by Kay Davault July
review written by Jemma Taylor
FANTASY / GRAPHIC NOVEL
MISFIT MANSION is a heartwarming story about what it means to Be family, even if you’re not related by blood. The “horrors” who live at the titular mansion have been told that its’ too dangerous to venture outside into the human world. But a young creature named Iris wants to give humans another chance. If you’re looking for a book about found family, learning from prejudice, and friendship, a cannot recommend MISFIT MANSION enough.
The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett
(For this book review, I’m not going to tell you too much about the story– because it would spoil your reading experience.) Kemi adores her close-knit family, her African American artist mom, her baby sister, a baby sibling on the way, and most of all, her beloved Nigerian dad. When an asteroid threatens everyone on Earth with imminent death, Kemi and her family leave for her cousins’ house, where she starts a time capsule. The exceptional storytelling is emotional (I cried SO MUCH) and important with themes of family, racism, and values. A must-read, must-experience-for-yourself-kind-of book.
Haru Zombie Dog Hero by Ellen Oh
Edge-of-your-seat writing and action, the bond between a dog and boy (and family) grounds this paranormal adventure in love even though it’s also about evil scientists and zombies! Luke loves his dog, Haru, more than anything. So he’s devastated when their family’s mean landlord gets Haru taken away by the pound. But instead of going to the pound, Haru is sent to a sinister laboratory where scientists experiment on dogs. (This part is hard to read for us animal lovers — but hang in there, Haru will be okay.) Instead of dying like the other dogs, Haru wakes up changed. Violent. A stray cat named Penelope reminds Haru of his people, which helps his impulses. Then, the other more violent zombie dogs escape the lab — and Haru knows he must protect his people no matter what!
The Fire, The Water, and Maudie McGinn by Sally J. Pla
Maudie is an autistic girl staying with her father for the summer but a California fire forces them from their cabin. She and her dad head south to where her dad grew up. A friend sets them up in an old camper at a campground near the beach. While her dad looks for work, Maudie works up her courage to ask an older surfer woman for lessons. She spends the summer worrying about her big secret and learning to surf, hoping to win the beginning surfer competition at the end of the summer. Maudie makes a new friend who is friendly and neurodiverse like her. All of these things help her consider that she is more than what her mom and her abusive stepdad think of her. This is a moving coming of age story of a girl who learns to thrive instead of survive.
Mythics: Marina and the Kraken written by Lauren Magaziner, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
(lower middle-grade ages 7 – 10)
What an exciting start to what is sure to be a smash-hit series of adventure, girl power, and mythical creatures! When Marina doesn’t get matched with a familiar like the other kids, she and four other 10-year-old girls discover their familiars aren’t everyday animals but mythical creatures and together, they’re destined to save Terrafamiliar. The girls start their search by boat to look for Marian’s familiar. But they’re chased by a golden jumpsuit lady who wants to steal their mythical powers. As they evade their pursuer, Marina discovers that her familiar is a kraken– a kraken who accidentally capsizes their ship. Now she and her kraken must save her friends from drowning and escape the sinister lady.
Once In a Blue Moon by Sharon G. Flake
HISTORICAL FICTION / VERSE
James Henry hasn’t left the house in months. His twin sister Hattie encourages him to start small so they can be ready for the upcoming blue moon and a visit to the Lighthouse. When James Henry eventually ventures outside, they begin their long journey to the lighthouse. But their trip is fraught with dangers, including mean neighbor kids and racist men. Surprisingly, the perils draw James Henry farther and farther out of his shell, especially when his sister needs him, and we learn what happened that traumatized him. This lovingly written verse novel set in the historical South is a masterpiece of forgiveness, healing, and family bonds. I loved everything about it!
Garvey’s Choice: The Graphic Novel written by Nikki Grimes, art by Theodore Taylor III
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Garvey’s dad wants him to play sports instead of reading. Making life even worse, everyone seems to make fun of Garvey’s size, calling him names like chunky and little piggy. Then, a new foodie friend helps Garvey enjoy food and not feel guilty about eating. That same friend also encourages Garvey to join the chorus, which he does secretly and loves it. Singing makes Garvey feel more like himself. This sweet coming-of-age story is written in tanka poetry, so it reads like a graphic novel in verse with some dialogue. It’s fast, mesmerizing, and emotion-filled.
How to Stay Invisible by Maggie C. Rudd
240 pages (ages 10+)
A heartbreaking and hopeful survival story. Raymond’s neglectful parents abandon him completely so he takes his dog Rosie, and they set up camp in the woods behind his middle school. There, he survives on his own, foraging in dumpsters and fishing for food as he continues to attend school. When a playful coyote hurts Rosie, he meets an old man who helps them both — which is especially significant because it’s over the Christmas break when he can’t get dumpster food from school. Raymond doesn’t want to tell anyone, including the old man or his two friends at school, what he’s surviving, but the truth comes out when another boy discovers his campsite and a snake bite almost kills him. HOW TO STAY INVISIBLE is a powerful story of grit, survival, and longing for family. I couldn’t put it down.
Gossamer Summer by H.M. Bouwman
Since her grandmother died, Jojo has lost the magic of the stories she told her three sisters. Now at her grandmother’s house, unsupervised because their mom is on deadline, Jojo, her sisters, and their new neighbor see a muddy fairy that seemingly stepped out of a previous Jojo story. The fairy needs their help, so they enter fairyland and see bone birds, the same birds Jojo made up in another story. Grumpy, sad Jojo is forced to reckon with her grief so she can find a way to save the fairies. If you love stories with tight sister bonds, imaginative play adventures, and the power of stories, read this book next.
Wishing Season by Anica Mrose Rissi
It’s Lily’s first summer vacation since her twin brother Anders died of cancer. But she still sees Anders in the woods, an overlap of their worlds, so she spends every day there with him — playing like they used to. But little by little, the overlap is shrinking, and she’s trying to map it so she can get it back. Only Anders wants her to let it go so they can be together and play for whatever time they have left. Lily can’t let go of her panic that she’s losing Anders once and for all. Then her mom comes out of her room and starts to interact again, and Lily makes a new friend. Ultimately, as the overlap disappears, Lily learns to live with the weight and space of the pain of grief. It’s a heartbreaking and beautiful grief journey that will probably make you cry. (I did!)
Mystery of the Radcliffe Riddle by Tarum Spiders
Grady’s dad hasn’t been the same since his mom died, and now the bank is foreclosing on their house. He’s missing his dead mom and distant dad. When they inherit a sampler (needlework) from an old lady and distant relative, Grady and his friends are convinced it’s a treasure map that can save their home. As they follow clues all over town, someone else is, too; someone who wants that sampler so much they’re willing to rob and kill for it. Will the friends find the treasure before the sinister person hurts them? And what is this mysterious treasure anyway?
New Dragon City by Marci Mancusi
After dragons attacked world, humans must survive hidden, avoiding the skies filled with human-eating dragons. When Noah meets a young dragon, he’s surprised to feels compassion for her. The dragon Asha, in turn, saves his life. This goes against everything his father preaches about killing all dragons. It goes against Asha’s herd’s hatred of humans, also. Can Noah and Asha change the world with their new bond?
Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
review by Jemma Taylor
ADVENTURE / GRAPHIC NOVEL
This book is genuinely one of my new favorite graphic novels EVER. The world collapsed on New Year’s Day of the year 2000, but not because of technology; because magic became real. Billions died, electricity became a thing of the past, and everyone had to rebuild their lives in the new post-apocalyptic society. Everything sucks, but Marguerite is the chosen one who will save the world. (Or is she?) With visually stunning art, a creative setting, and a fantastic story, I cannot recommend this book enough.
Dungeon Club Roll Call written by Molly Knox Ostertag and illustrated by Xanthe Bouma
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
8th grader Olivia and her best friend Jess love the tabletop RPG game Dungeons and Dragons. Jess is a loner and only wants one friend Olivia, their Dungeon Master. But when Olivia starts a D&D club, Jess gets mad that Tyler joins. She is mean to him and kills him in the game. (Jess didn’t like Tyler because in 6th grade, to avoid being called gay, he said they were going out.) Jess’s father helps her see the power of friends to fight monsters and she apologizes to Tyler and makes room for more friends in her life. A great life lesson, stunning artwork, a tabletop RPG game, what’s not to love!?