Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Majestic Middle Grade Mini Reviews

Check out that quality alliteration in my post title!

Like some fellow FNCers, I write YA. Which means most of what I read is YA. However, I thought I'd take a moment to highlight some of the middle grade I've read in the past few months, because I've really impressed and surprised by a lot of it.

Without further ado, I give you my Middle Grade Mini-Reviews!

The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

This seems to be one of the usual gateways into MG fiction.  I had several friends recommend this to me but I held off for awhile, thinking it looked like the next big Harry Potter rip-off.  But I was wrong!  Riordan has hit on a lot of the same universal elements that make the Harry Potter series so lovable (the goofy trio of friends, magic, adventure and mayhem!) but the Greek Gods really throw in a new twist.  One of Riordan's biggest strengths is his secondary characters--I loved Percy, Annabelle and Grover, but I loved George and Martha, the two snakes of the caduceus, just as much!  Check this one out if you're looking for a new epic ride after coming off your Harry Potter high.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Of course, after adventuring with Percy, I figured I had to keep going.  The Red Pyramid has a similar tone as Percy Jackson--that slightly sarcastic, still vulnerable pre-teen voice that Riordan hits spot-on--but the alternating view points and the Egyptian element make this book stand up for itself.  Riordan is clearly setting up some huge things in later books in this series.  This is definitely one to pick up now and follow along as they come up.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney

I saw so many kids carrying these books around at the school I work at, I had to check them out.  And I wasn't disappointed!  It's easy to see why kids gravitate towards Greg Heffley--the slightly nerdy kid whose constant schemes to make life better for himself never work out quite as he planned.  The combination of drawing and text make this book accessible to younger readers, but they also add an interactive layer to the reading experience.  My favorite thing about these books is Kinney doesn't try to constantly redeem Greg and his questionable behavior.  Instead, Greg owns it (and often is even proud of it!) which was hilarious and refreshing to see.  Check these books out so you're prepared when your younger sibling, cousin, or babysit-ee tries to give you the cheese touch!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

It's easy to see why this book was a Newbery Honor.  Kelly doesn't simplify her language or the concepts she brings up in Calpurnia Tate.  This book is truly a literary work and as I lost myself in Calpurnia's world, I could imagine my 11 year old self doing the same thing.  Calpurnia Tate is set in 1899 in a rural Texas town.  Calpurnia reminded me of a more scientifically-minded Anne of Green Gables, as she starts to understand what it means to be a girl during this time and try to reconcile that with her own not-quite-so-girly self.  My favorite part of this book was Calpurnia's growing relationship with her grandfather.  With him, she begins to study Darwin and naturalism.  Kelly definitely plays with all the different types of evolution Calpurnia is exposed to, which I found clever and enjoyable.  This would be a great mother-daughter read, or daughter-anyone read, or just read it and enjoy it for yourself!

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

This book was my first venture in DiCamillo's magical and bittersweet world-building.  Most people start with The Tale of Despereaux I think--it took me a little longer to come around.  I used this book as a read-aloud for my first grade class.  I found myself having to read ahead so I wouldn't accidentally cry while I read to them--the story is that beautiful.  Orphan Peter Duchene lives with an old ex-military man who insists that his younger sister is not alive, but something in Peter's heart says differently.  A fortune teller tells him an elephant will help him find his sister.  And then, what should happen?  A magician says he meant to conjure lilies, but instead an elephant appears on stage in Peter's town.  The story that follows introduces a cast of characters that are beautiful and flawed.  DiCamillo's writing is like listening to music--it flows and captures you and takes you off on an adventure.  What more can I say?  Read it read it read it!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I still remember reading this book in either 4th or 5th grade, and being so completely absorbed by it.  I remember trying to figure out what all those different dimensions would look like and simultaneously wishing I was Meg and feeling bad for her.  I also remember reading parts I didn't quite understand, which is why I decided recently to revisit this book.  At first, I was a little thrown--it wasn't quite as I remembered it.  Things moved faster than I recalled and the experience was a little jarring.  But then, the next thing I knew, I was off with Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin on the adventure.  Reading this book as an adult and writer made me appreciate how L'Engle creates new worlds in just a few sentences, and explores deep and confusing concepts in a way that makes younger readers understand viscerally, if not analytically.  And those things I didn't understand as a child were brought into a new light for me, making me appreciate the book on a whole new level.

Those are my Middle Grade recommendations, but I know I'm woefully under-educated in the world of these books.  So what about all of you?  What middle grade books should I be running to the store to buy?  Is there a classic I should revisit?  What are you all reading?


  1. Great series. I'm glad you are supporting middle grade writers. As one, I see how little attention they get on the Internet. I loved The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, The Shifter by Janice Hardy, and The Emerald Tablet by PJ Hoover. These are all upper grade middle grade books that will appeal to those who read YA.

  2. I found the Percy Jackson film was fun, but I wasn't sure about the books. Maybe I really should check them out. Thank you.
    Nahno ∗ McLein

  3. I share your love for all these books, Sara.

    Great job of promoting Middle Grade, whether it's majestic or marvelous or any other "m".

  4. I loved The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate also, and so did my nine year old daughter. Honestly, being able to read such amazing books with her is one of the best of many great things about being her mom. If you are open to guest reviewers, I would love to do some mini reviews for you.

  5. These are great books. This is a great resource for teachers who are teaching the middle grades. I would add one new book to the recommended titles: WHERE THE ICE NEVER MELTS by Robert Mann -- now available at Lulu.com. It is a futuristic adventure tale that opens in the Arctic in the mid-22nd century, after global warming has taken a heavy toll. The book cultivates concern for endangered species and for preservation of the environment.


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