When I pick the best (my favorite) middle grade books of 2022 for ages 8 or 9 to 12, you might wonder how I decide which books make the list. I actually want to explain a few things that are relevant to why I prefer some books more than others.
First, the book must engage me from the start to finish. If I have to keep forcing myself to read a book, to finish a book, it’s not for me or this list. Part of that has to do with pacing. The pacing must keep me engaged, and the plot must be interesting.
Another criterion relates to the characters. If I like a character, you’ve hooked me for the whole book. But unlikeable main characters or main characters who I don’t care about will never make the cut. Yes, they have lots of room for a character arc, but I probably will have abandoned the book before then.
Also, I want the book to have comprehensibility. One thing about having had long-term illnesses with a significant amount of brain fog is that I can’t always comprehend books that are confusing in any way — whether from dense, sluggish writing, or confusing concepts. I think our middle-grade readers want that as well, don’t you? They want books they can read and understand — not books that bore them to sleep or make them feel stupid.
Finally, I love anything unique — even if it’s a unique way of doing a trope. But especially if it’s a new world-building concept that I’ve never read before, as Ellen Potter does in HITHER AND NIGH. I especially love unique realistic books that share important truths about life in a masterful, new way, as Courtne Comrie does in RAIN RISING.
Here are 29 2022 middle grade books that I would reread in a heartbeat (oh, that’s another criterion — books I would reread!) and highly recommend.
Best Middle Grade Books of 2022
Fantasy, Mythology, Paranormal
Hither and Nigh by Ellen Potter
Guaranteed to enthrall with masterful storytelling and wildly inventive world-building, Nell is forced to join the Last Chance Club or be expelled from school. The club focuses on magic and begins Nell’s search to find her missing brother. She leaves her world of Nither to the magical world of Nigh where she hopes to track the poachers who kidnapped her brother. This is one of my favorite books of 2022 — and ever.
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack
Set in the historical Turkic Jewish empire of Khazaria, Ziva’s beloved twin brother with leprosy continues to deteriorate. When she learns he’ll be taken away by her uncle to die elsewhere, she steals him away to search for a cure. Along their journey, they meet a half-demon boy who tells them about a mythical city where the Angel of Death can not enter. They journey toward the city, and Ziva clings to the hope that the city will be the answer to everything. She’ll bargain and beg with Death, but ultimately, she’ll have to accept that in life, there always is death.
Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis
Fast-paced with an interesting premise, this middle-grade book with Celtic mythology is about a foster child with a dangerous magical power attending a magical school and searching for answers about her heritage. Foster kid Kelcie arrives at the Academy and discovers that she’s a Saiga, a mistrusted kind of elemental magic. Her new friends help her learn about her unique powers and they fight monsters who continue to attack the school.
Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
In a Thai-inspired world where caste determines your future, Sai joins the Mapmaker on a sailing quest to find a new continent. During the trip, the Mapmaker reveals his regret for mapping already-inhabited lands which were used and destroyed. The Mapmaker leaves the voyage, Sai befriends a stowaway named Bo and the captain’s manipulative stepsister leads a murderous mutiny leading to a shipwreck. Bo and Sai drift onto a new-to-them continent with a gigantic creature and realize that some places and creatures must be kept secret to protect them from humanity’s greed.
My Aunt is a Monster by Reimena Yee (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
After Safia’s parents die in a fire, she goes to live with her aunt, the world’s greatest adventurer. Because Safia is blind, she doesn’t realize that her aunt looks monstrous with three eyes, horns, and fur. Safia is happy with her aunt but longs to explore, and when her aunt must travel again on an urgent trip, she begs to join. On the journey, Safia befriends an agent of chaos, stands up for what she believes, then saves an entire community from danger. Skillfully written with scrumptious artwork — this is an exciting and unique adventure with representation!
Lightcasters by Janelle McCurdy
After the Reaper King’s soldiers attack her forever dark city and capture her parents, Mia, her brother Lucas, and two other friends flee the nefarious soldiers toward the capital city. To make it through the dangerous Nightmare Plains, Mia reluctantly bonds with not one but two wild umbras, creatures made of shadows and starlight, and learns she’s one of the mythical Lightkeepers, foretold to defeat the Reaper King. Unique world-building, fantastic storytelling, and perfect pacing, this is one book you won’t be able to put down! Amazon Bookshop
Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Córdova
A marvelous middle-grade novel with adventure, family tragedy, betrayal, magical creatures, and an amazing kid who saves the day! Val’s family used to be Monster Protectors until a monster killed her dad, and her evil Uncle and his Monster Hunters lured one of her siblings to his side. Val gets her two siblings to help her on one last mission to save the magical creature egg that a boy is live streaming, but they’re chased by the Hunters. I couldn’t put this one down — it’s 100% perfection!
Rain Rising by Courtne Comrie (ages 10+)
RAIN RISING is a multilayered story about mental health, racism, family, friendship, and self-love — with a main character that you’ll cheer on through her tricky and beautiful growing-up journey. Rain’s older brother Xander always has taken good care of her; he helps her on her saddest days, especially after their dad left and their mom is gone at work most of the time. But, when Xander gets brutally attacked, he’s a shell of himself and barely speaks…and Rain can barely cope. In an after-school group, she starts to make new friends, and slowly finds her way back to health through the group and therapy. I LOVE this book. (Sensitive readers: this story contains cutting.)
A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
When their family becomes homeless after her dad dies, June helps her little sister and non-functional mom get settled at Huey House. Despite the shock of their new situation, June finds kindness from many of the people at the shelter including a music-loving boy named Jeremiah and Abuela who helps June find viola lessons. When their exceptional social worker named Mrs.G gets fired for not agreeing to the city’s new homeless policies. June helps organize a protest and June discovers that home isn’t a place and family isn’t always blood. Ultimately, this is a powerful, hopeful story with complex, three-dimensional characters about grief, family, community, and homelessness.
Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega, illustrated by Rose Bousamra (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
In a family with good hair and bad hair, Marlene’s mom and relatives judge her hair as bad. Marlene dreads Sundays when she’s forced to spend all day at the salon getting her hair straightened to look presentable in her mom’s eyes. On a weekend sleepover, her tía shows Marlene how to properly take care of her hair and the right products to use so she can wear her naturally curly hair. It’s a fantastic journey of empowerment and self-love!
Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Spanish-speaking kids are thrown together to complete before-school community service hours. When the kids notice the homeless mom and her child living in a van, they try to help with leftover food. But they get into trouble with the mean cafeteria lady who thinks they’re stealing and watches them like they’re delinquents. This is a story about kindness, racism, differences, and marginalized individuals — both non-English speakers and homeless individuals. It’s excellent, and I love the Spanish dialogue written first with English-translated text second.
The Summer of June by Jamie Sumner
I love this hopeful, beautiful story about living with anxiety! June experiences severe anxiety, which sometimes makes her pull out her hair and have panic attacks. That’s why she starts the summer by shaving her hair off completely– no chance of pulling it out. She spends her summer days at the library with her youth librarian mother, where she meets a boy named Homer. Her mom is her biggest supporter (she shaved her head in solidarity), her therapist’s gentle and firm care gets June the medication and guidance she needs, and her new and old friends from the library show June that many people care about her and accept her for who she is.
Tumble by Celia C. Pérez
Pulsating with longing and confusion about family relationships, this heartfelt story is about heritage, identity, and…Mexican wrestling. When Adela’s stepdad wants to adopt her, Adela secretly uncovers who her biological dad is — and finds out he’s from a famous luchador family. She contacts him with high hopes of connecting, but those hopes are slowly dashed when her bio dad, drops her off with his family and leaves. But, Adela loves getting to know her extended family, especially her twin cousins, even though she wishes Manny would want to spend time with her.
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
Set in Mumbi, this is a deftly narrated, hope-filled story of the inequities around water with themes of advocacy, education, and community. 12-year-old Minni’s community gets water only a few hours per day. When she sees men stealing water one night, she about water mafia bosses stealing the community’s water for profit. When her mom gets sick from the bad water, Minni must leave school and work as a maid for a family with indoor plumbing and no water shortages. But when she accidentally discovers that the family’s dad is the water mafia boss, she must decide if she’ll report him. She does, which gives us hope that one person can make a difference.
Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed
Incredible writing about one boy’s fight to stay in a prestigious private school, this is a superb book of determination, resiliency, and community set in Pakistan. Omar gets a scholarship to attend a prestigious Pakistani boarding school, a step toward fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronomer and buying his mom a house. But, his hopes are dashed when he’s told that scholarship students must work, must get A+ grades, and can’t do sports or clubs. Despite his efforts, his grades aren’t enough, and he gets kicked out. But, that’s not the end of the story. He shares his story with his classmates, and he gets support from them and the headmaster — which helps him get readmitted.
Science Fiction, Dystopian
First Cat in Space by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Absurdly hysterical, this is a bizarrely perfect adventure in space! When rats eat a slice of the moon, the world’s leaders send their secret weapon– a cat and a stowaway toenail-clipping robot. The two adventurers travel to the moon where they meet the Queen of Moonopolis. Their journey is bizarre and hilarious. But the spaceship’s computer joins the Rat King’s evil side, and when the heroes arrive at the Rat King’s, they GET CAPTURED. Don’t worry– somehow they’ll escape. Right?
Your Pal Fred by Michael Rex (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Fred is a former kids’ toy robot who brings kindness (and STICKERS!) to a war-filled dystopian world– and you will love his genuine good nature and hopeful attitude amid war, injustice, and chaos. When Fred discovers that two warlords are capturing innocent people to fight as soldiers for them, Fred knows what he has to do–ask the two bad guys to try peace. He irritates and surprises everyone he meets with his cheerfulness and positive attitude, even when he’s caught and “tortured” with drumming, which, of course, he loves. Will Fred succeed in his seemingly impossible mission?
Phenomena: The Golden City of Eyes by Brian Micahel Bendis and Andre Lima Araujo (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
In a wildly unique world, this is a journey of a boy and a cyper named Spike who travel towards a mysterious city. They follow a deceitful girl who stole Spike’s blade. As they venture north, they experience new places, creatures, and methods of travel, including the girl’s flying abilities. When they arrive at the fallen Golden City, they fight the invaders which reveals Spike’s true purpose. Exceptional artwork and storytelling.
A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar
A tender and poignant middle-grade novel in verse showing an important time in history, the power of collective voices against injustice, and a girl finding her strength. Lula’s family are migrant workers. When Lula’s mom gets sick from pesticides, they can only get her medical care if they join the worker strikes started by Phillipino migrant workers. Eventually, the kids convince her violent dad who drinks too much to join the strike. This transforms their family, gives the girls hope, and helps Lula’s mom get the health care she needs. A beautiful coming-of-age story.
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Hector lives in communist-controlled Cuba with his mom and older brother, but his dad lives in exile in the U.S. He doesn’t understand why his mom would want to leave Cuba — and doesn’t see the lack of freedoms until his neighbors attack them with rocks and someone dies. Hector’s mom applies to leave Cuba during a short window where it is possible for gusanos (worms) to leave. Their journey is fraught with complications and dangers. This book is excellent on every level– character development, plot, history, and writing. Highly recommended.
The Other Side of the River by Alda P. Dobbs
A stunning sequel to Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, this poignant historical story about family, literacy, immigration, growth mindset, and community shows Petra Luna’s grit and determination to help her family and survive in their new home in Texas after escaping the Mexican Revolution. 12-year-old Petra Luna is a complex, likable girl with big dreams and fierce loyalty. Once she gets the family to San Antonio with a bartered train ticket, she finds them shelter and gets a job. She becomes close with Sister Nora who encourages and supports Petra’s dreams of learning to read while she’s still providing for her family.
Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire, illustrated by David Litchfield
With delicious figurative language and deliberate word choice, this is a stunningly beautiful story about family, community, grief, and stories. Cress and her family leave their cozy burrow after the death of her father for the Broken Arms oak tree. Cress helps her mom collect moths to pay their rent, leaving her mom time to work and to help gather ingredients for her sickly brother’s special tea. In a beautiful character arc, Cress navigates her new environment, the natural world, and the stories around her which help her understand her inner world, especially how grief waxes and wanes like the moon’s cycles.
Always Clementine by Carlie Sorosiak
A heartfelt story of friendship, adventure, and care for animals that will appeal to many ages and interests. Our narrator, Clementine, is a genius lab rat who is freed by a lab tech and hidden in the mailbox of a former chess champion. Clementine narrates everything that happens in letters to her friend Rosie, a chimpanzee who is still trapped in the lab. She’s found by the chess champion’s grandson, and he and his grandfather vow to keep her safe, which is tricky because the lab is hunting her down.
The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters
Logan is an amazing, neurodivergent main character orphan who lives at a foster home where he’s been tested out and returned by many prospective parents. He doesn’t expect this latest couple, Gil and Margie, to last either — especially because he can tell that they’re lying about something. Then, Logan and his neighbor, a super cool older girl named Elena, discover that his foster parents are lying because they’re actually superheroes. But just when that revelation sinks in, Logan’s foster parents are double-crossed and captured. In an exciting, fast-paced adventure, Logan and Elena use his wits and her strength to save his foster parents and other supes from the villains and the traitor.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace
An outstanding, surprisingly philosophical, poignant story about bullies, growing in confidence, and the complexities of human beings set in a world with superheroes and supervillains. Matt doesn’t think he can survive three more years of middle school bullying, so he writes supervillain Master Plan who is also a “gentleman of size”to ask for his help. Surprisingly, Master Plan emails back with helpful advice. What will Max do to cause his bully’s downfall — and is Master Plan actually looking out for Max or for himself? This is a VERY thought-provoking, warm-hearted story that will appeal to all readers.
Forbidden City by James Ponti
Action-packed as usual, this third book gives us our favorite spies, nuclear missiles, and espionage with themes of friendship, identity, and family. The City Spies need to help a North Korean nuclear scientist defect to the UK before he’s stolen by Umbra. It’s a group effort but Paris takes the lead. He competes in a chess tournament with the scientist’s son, hoping to communicate with chess moves and help them escape during a pop concert with Sydney’s insider help. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned — and it makes for an exciting twisty-turney adventure. (Book 1: City Spies)
Crabgrass Comic Adventures by Tauhid Bondia (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
You will LOVE the friendship adventures of Kevin and Miles. These stories are fun, hilarious, relatable, and entertaining.
Two-Headed Chicken by Tom Angleberger (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
If you like wacky, bizarre humor then this is your next favorite read. This is a story about the multiverse in which you are a two-headed chicken being chased by a moose…and it’s laugh-out-loud funny. If you’ve ever listened in to a little kid pretend playing something and making up weird scenarios–that is this book in a nutshell. You’ll follow the two-headed chicken through the multiverse, take funny quizzes, and meet a fish with deep feelings as well as a lawyer!
Best Chapter and Middle Grade Books of 2021
Best Picture Books of 2022