Middle grade is an immersive and magical genre. It’s full of heart, humor, and more. It’s a genre that I’ve really come to enjoy and am always saying that I need to read more of. It’s a genre that has so many different varieties and subsets that, well, you can honestly get a bit lost if you don’t have a map.
I’ve been hearing a lot of people say that they feel the same – they want to try more middle grade, but they don’t know where to start. There is definitely a couple of different ways that you can go about it without aimlessly wandering through this genre. I’ve broken down a few different places that you will allow you an introduction into middle grade and hopefully find your next great mg read! Trust me, this is no means an all inclusive guide, but just a way to start into this genre.
Here at BPR, we’re going to be starting to do Middle Grade Mondays (official name still in the works) – where we feature both mini, regular, and ARC reviews of middle grade books or at least some sort of middle grade content. You definitely might be seeing some of the books listed below included in these upcoming posts.
Your Favorite YA Authors Go Middle Grade
When first diving into the middle grade world, it might be better to start with someone’s work that you might already know. Since most of the audience that is currently reading this blog post is interested into YA, why not start with some of our favorite YA writers that decided to dip their own toes into the middle grade pond? They tend to keep their fantastic writing, but they then add in a dash of that middle grade magic and whimsy along with younger characters and voices. Big YA names include: Victoria Schwab, Kiersten White, Jessica Khoury, Will Ritter, Claire Legrand, and more.
SOME BOOKS TO TRY: Roshani Chokshi is a name known for her beautiful writing and high intense YA novels. Aru Shah and the End of Time is a middle grade that merges Chokshi’s lush worlds with action and fun new characters. Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs are big names in their own rights, but they combined to create a spooky and fascinating world in The Darkdeep with an eclectic crew discovering new things and going on emotional journeys. Katherine Arden is known for her amazing, intensely magical worlds that invoke fairytales and folktales, but in her middle grade novel, Small Spaces, she tries out the contemporary and some deeply spooky scarecrows.
The Rick Riordan Formula
Let’s face it: a lot of us have read Rick Riordan at some point. A good deal of us read his work earlier on in our reading careers. Percy Jackson was akin to Harry Potter for some people, and I read his books right at the end of my middle school days – and I was in love. Riordan has a formula of sorts – add in a dash of amazing diverse cast of characters, emotional and physical journeys, and bring in some dynamic action sequences that have you on the edge of your seat. Since many of us have dabbled and loved this formula, let’s take a peek at a few MG books that fit this successful sequence. RR even made it easy for us and created his own imprint.
SOME BOOKS TO TRY: As I mentioned, RR has his own imprint, with many of the books following his very tried and true formula – however, they don’t just focus on the mythologies that RR has introduced but their own heritage’s. From African to Mayan to Korean to more, you’ll find a wide array of diverse stories and mythologies to choose from. My personal favorite so far as been Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, taking on both American and African folktakes with one strong (emotionally and physically) Tristan.
If you want to try one without RR’s official imprint, Changeling by William Ritter might be a good try for you. It has quirky characters, mythical beings, and a journey with many bumps in the winding road. Although it’s less action packed and more whimsical, it follows some of the same patterns. Other books that I haven’t read yet, but seem like they could fit: The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao, Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo, and The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta.
The Contemporary World According to Middle Grade
As I showed up above, there is definitely a lot of diversity that you can find in middle grade – especially with #ownvoices reads. There are such a big collection of stories that share different heritages and perspectives in this section of fiction – much like how middle grade should be to help kids learn more about the people around them. While there are certainly a lot of action/fantasy novels, you will still find a very good collection of contemporary reads. While these contemporary reads can focus on hard hitting cultural issues or just infuse a main character’s heritage into the read, you will find some contemporary reads in this section that might fit your fancy.
SOME BOOKS TO TRY: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed is the first one that came to mind. This is definitely one of those hard hitting cultural that tells the story of a young girl who is forced into indentured servitude in Pakistan. It’s dark and emotional at times, but still maintains that classic message of middle grade: hope. While I haven’t read My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva, it has gotten some amazing reviews. It features a Filipino protagonist who needs to change her fate after she sees a black butterfly, which is a omen of death, and tries to reconcile her family. Another book that is on my list that has some great reviews is I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day. This story follows our main character, Edie, who is trying to discover her Native heritage after finding a mysterious box in her attic from a woman that shares her name.
Got My Mind on Middle Grade, Middle Grade in My Mind
This was certainly not a section that I ever saw when I was growing up and reading middle grade novels. I could read all about ghosts and people with wings, but to see a book that discusses mental health and people that dealt with similar issues like me – anxiety and paranoia and more? Yes, I literally had a better chance of going through a wardrobe into a magical land. Thankfully, middle grade is bringing more of these stories into the norm especially at an age where it’s most needed. From grief to anxiety to depression to bipolar, these stories show the diversity of mental health and more. If you enjoy reading more about mental health, here are some books that might be perfect for you.
SOME BOOKS TO TRY: I will forever forever forever recommend this book: Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby. It’s one of the most real depictions of living with mental health I’ve ever read (no sugarcoating or painting on rosy colored glasses). Fig is lives with her father’s mood swings while also dealing with her coming in her own in this beautiful coming of age story (it also features LGBTQIA+ rep). Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand features one of the realest depictions of depression that I’ve read – it gets quite dark in this read, but it really is a stunning journey. But, seriously, it gets dark. It’s the End of the World As I Know It by Matthew Landis is a book I’m so so excited for. It deals with grief, but it also seems to deal with anxiety/paranoia, which hopefully it does so we can get some good rep in this genre.
The Reading Rainbow
Middle grade is already a confusing time – it’s a time where you’re trying to figure out who you are as a person and what your identity is going to be. It’s time of hormones and growing into your own skin. Readers usually tend to go to books to try to see if they are alone in this world with their thoughts or feelings or perhaps, there is someone – or some amazingly written fictional character – that has gone through what they have and come out on the other side. Middle grade is no exception with trying to figure out your sexual identity, and this genre has a plethora of LGBTQIA+ stories to help. From stories that focus on where the character falls on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum as the main event or if their sexual orientation is just added in with a bigger plot, here are a few books that are just a sampling of the middle grade LGBTQIA+ canon.
SOME BOOKS TO TRY: I discovered this book hidden in the depths of my TBR, but it’s the perfect way to start this off. Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass talks about gender identity with trans rep written by a non-binary author all set in the world of competitive ice skating. And now for one of my most anticipated reads of the year: In the Role of Brie Hutchens… by Nicole Melleby. Brie is a girl just trying to understand her feelings for another girl at her Catholic school, all with the charm and wit that middle grade brings. Rick Riordan has two series that feature LGBTQIA+ main characters: The Trials of Apollo features a bisexual hero and Magnus Chase features a pansexual MC that has a gender fluid love interest. Both are on the upper MG side.
Tales to Read in the Dark
I think the book that broke me on spooky middle grade reads was Wait Till Helen Comes. It’s been well over ten years since I read this book, and it still haunts me – the creepiness and images that it still invokes. Ever since reading it, I’ve had a passion for spooky middle grade books. You get all of the great atmosphere and chills – without any of the gore. There is just something so wonderful about fully immersing yourself in the world of ghosts, shadow monsters, and more. If you ever want to try out horror or paranormal stories, these are the tales to pick up. From the fun (monster/ghost hunting) to the creepiness (being trapped with spooky ghosts on the loose) to an amazing combo of the two, you’ll find something for you.
SOME BOOKS TO TRY: Ghost Squad is number one on my most anticipated middle grade releases this year. It’s a mix of Ghostbusters, Stranger Things, and Coco – which sounds like the best thing ever. This is definitely one of lighter sides of the spooky stories. Dead Voices – the companion book to Small Spaces – is definitely one of the scarier stories and honestly read like The Shining at times meets Stranger Things. The Jumbies has a classic scary story cover vibe – and with an inside that matches. It mixes Caribbean folklore, growing pains, and more into a different side of a scary middle grade tale.
What do you think? Do you love middle grade or want to read more of it? Let’s discuss in the comments below!