This year, I found that I’ve read a lot more middle grade novels than I normally do. I think that’s partly due to the fact that I have more time for reading this year, or maybe that these books have been more on my radar this year. Or maybe it’s because I read some really spectacular middle grade novels and it’s made me realise that this is a readership I don’t want to miss out on.
While YA has a special place in my heart, expanding my reading sphere this year has given me the opportunity to realise that there’s so much more out there and that I don’t just like YA. I love middle grade, and some adult fiction, and some non-fiction, and I just… wow. My TBR is suffering, but in the best way possible. So here are three of the best middle grade books I’ve read this year, and some of the ones that I want to read ASAP!
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate.
But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle.
To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
Ever since I realised there was a novel that inspired one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies ever – and one of my favourite movies of all time – I just had to pick up a copy of it. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you’re really missing out. It’s magical, and captivating, and instils you with a sense of wonder that I only get (aside from watching other Studio Ghibli films) from Harry Potter.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a film that was so entrenched in my childhood, and I can’t believe it wasn’t until this year that I realised it was inspired by this series by Diana Wynne Jones. I still remember warm weekday afternoons in a classroom at primary school where we put aside learning how to count from one to ten in Japanese and decided to watch a Studio Ghibli film instead. We only had three at school, so we alternated between Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Ponyo on a monthly basis.
Although the book is, of course, different to the movie (like so many adaptations are), I thoroughly enjoyed it and I felt the same sense of amazement I felt when watching the film for the first time. I adored the way I got to know the characters in a slightly different way from what I did in the film, and experienced the story I knew so well in its original format. I’ll definitely be reading more books by Diana Wynne Jones soon! It’s a must-read for anyone who loves Studio Ghibli.
Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.
But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.
It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
As I shared in my earlier review, Nevermoor was a phenomenal mix of Harry Potter and Doctor Who – it’s a must-read for lovers of magic and the fantastical, regardless of age. The hype for this book has been unbelievable, and I’m surprised that it not only lived up to it, but surpassed the hype. I simultaneously wanted to read this book in one sitting and find out what would happen, but I also wanted to savour it. I think you know you’re reading a really great book when you’re torn between devouring it and trying to make it last. It was just incredible.
Each character was so well-developed, and I loved the banter between them, but my favourite character was definitely Jupiter North. He’s a mix between the 10th and 11th Doctor from Doctor Who, and he’s basically the uncle you wish you had. And then the trials that Morrigan had to face were enthralling and made this book just fly by. I just can’t express how much I loved this book, and how much I want the second one to be in my hands right now. If you haven’t picked up this novel yet and you’re considering it, I urge you to do so. You won’t regret it!
From Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Katherine Rundell comes an exciting new novel about a group of kids who must survive in the Amazon after their plane crashes.
Fred, Con, Lila, and Max are on their way back to England from Manaus when the plane they’re on crashes and the pilot dies upon landing. For days they survive alone, until Fred finds a map that leads them to a ruined city, and to a secret.
I hadn’t read any of Katherine Rundell’s books before picking up this one, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them in future because The Explorer was simply delightful. The Explorer is a book about friendship and adventures, revolving around four unique and three-dimensional characters that I loved being taken on this journey with. It was just so beautifully-written, and plus, that cover is absolutely gorgeous. It’s just a wondrous read, and if you find yourself looking for a book to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this is the perfect one to lose yourself in.
Middle Grade Books I Want to Read
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like.
But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.
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 and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned 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 enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule — but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her — even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball.
They aren’t friends – at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.
When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.
Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?
Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955.
Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.
Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? Do you read much middle grade? What’s your favourite middle grade novel? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for providing me with a copy of The Explorer and to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of Nevermoor in exchange for an honest review!