It’s the most (we hope!) wonderful time of the year. Time to take stock, revisit what’s been done and be thankful for what’s still to come. Time for food, family, and fun. And yes, books! And so, on the eve of Thanksgiving, B&N Kids asked fifteen (yes, fifteen!) of your favorite middle grade authors to share the books that they’re most grateful for, books that shaped and changed them in profound ways, as readers, as writers, as people.
A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
I’m a middle grade fantasy writer who is also a doctor, but I don’t think I ever would have been brave enough to combine my love for words with my love for science if not for A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. It was from these magical books that I learned that art and science aren’t necessarily separate things, but can twist around each other like strands of DNA, each enriching the other. As a writer whose Bengali-folktale-inspired fantasy series also draws from astrophysics, including string theory, I am grateful to L’Engle herself who said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” A Wrinkle in Time taught me that there might not be that much separation between inner and outer space, that a part of finding the route to the stars might just be tracing the path to your own heart.
– Sayantani DasGupta, author of The Serpent’s Secret and The Game of Stars (from the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series)
A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, by Fred Gwynne (of Herman Munster fame)
Last week my six-year-old grabbed A Chocolate Moose for Dinner and climbed into my lap. I was pleased. It was a favorite from my own childhood. And then we started reading. Oh my. Picture this. (Because words alone won’t do it.) A car perches on a diving board, ready to jump into the “car pool.” Airplanes hang from actual hangers. A girl is chased by a herd of disembodied arms—the “arms race.” Get it? When I was a kid, I did not get it. Through Augie’s eyes, I saw this book for the first time, understanding what I didn’t when I was six. That language is wonderful but also bizarre. That words often don’t mean what they claim to. That one sound can have two (or three!) very different definitions. That words are pure treachery. What’s a kid to do? Keep reading, of course. Now a writer for children, it’s my job to unlock the power and perfidy of language for the next generation—helping new readers see that however slippery words might often seem, they help us connect more deeply, understand more acutely, feel more precisely, and have a few good laughs along the way. My deepest gratitude to this book for getting the (figurative) ball rolling.”
-Matthew Swanson, author of The Real McCoys series (illustrated by his wife Robbi Behr)
There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, by Louis Sachar
While Holes and the Wayside School series are Louis Sachar’s most popular books, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom has been lodged in my chest ever since I first read it. It’s the story of Bradley Chalkers, a boy island in a sea of empty desks. You know the one. He’s pushed everyone so far away, nobody can reach him. When a quirky guidance counselor named Carla arrives at their school, Bradley finally starts to open up—until Carla’s progressive methods turn the old-school PTA against her. The book’s silly title belies its enduring themes of open-mindedness, kindness, and the transformative power of empathy. Sure, you’ll laugh—this is Louis Sachar, after all. But you’ll also find yourself forever devastated by a tiny plastic rabbit with a broken ear. I’m still writing from that place, I think: striving to break hearts beautifully, but more importantly, to open them.
– Kirsten Hubbard, co-author of The Secrets of Topsea: A Friendly Town That’s Almost Always by the Ocean
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
I lost count of how many times I read The House on Mango Street as a kid. I didn’t own it, since we rarely bought books and used the library instead. But I must have checked it out at least a hundred times. It was the first time I felt seen, really seen, in any book. It was a book about being brown, about what happens on your block. It’s a book about heartache, and feeling things for the first time. Growing up in the South Bronx, never feeling Dominican enough or American enough, Mango Street was my anchor – the book I kept coming back to when I felt misunderstood by my immigrant parents and left out by my American friends. One of my teachers, encouraging my love for writing, recommended the book to me and used it as an example of Latinx people being published. Sadly, there weren’t many books like that when I was younger but that’s changing! And I’m grateful to have had at least one book to help me navigate a childhood with a foot in two different worlds.
-Claribel Ortega, author of Ghost Squad
Matilda, by Roald Dahl
I still have my childhood copy of Matilda. Its faded yellow spine peeks out at me from the shelf, standing proudly beside Mrs. Dalloway and East of Eden. As a child who had a Much Ado About Nothing-themed birthday party in second grade and wore a tattered, red cape to school every day for a year, I knew what it was like to feel like a bit of an outcast. When I read of the genius Matilda performing acts of vengeance upon her anti-literacy parents and sadistic principal, I felt the cathartic relief of empowerment. In Matilda, who tirelessly fights the villain of a judgmental and unseeing world, I found my first superhero. The fact that she has actual magical powers, but that her greatest super power is a love of learning and reading, only made her an even greater Wonder Woman-like figure in my eyes. Matilda teaches us that the fight to be our true selves is of the utmost importance. By imparting that message, Roald Dahl hooked me, creating a lifelong reader who continues to search for stories of underdogs, particularly those taking the form of young, underestimated girls.
-Brigit Young, author of Worth A Thousand Words
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
The book I’m most thankful for is Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. As a young reader, I felt like I knew the Logan family and every time they came up against discrimination my heart ached. But Taylor’s earnest telling of these stories through the lens of Cassie impacted me most as a writer and it’s why I work to make sure I’m being as honest as possible with young readers about the tough situations they come up against.
-Paula Chase, author of So Done
Listen, Slowly, by Thanna Lai
As a first-generation American I firmly believe that the greatest storytellers have never been published. They are our parents and grandparents, who have passed down epic tales of what their lives were like before they came here. I was reminded of this all over again when I read Listen, Slowly. In this book, the main character, Mai, gets the rare and wonderful chance to have a role in her family’s tale (which of course she doesn’t appreciate at first). This is a short novel, which makes it all the more amazing that Lai manages to immerse us so completely in Vietnam and in Mai’s thoughts. The book has been a great teacher for me, showing me what is possible when an author makes every word earn its place in the story.
-Christine Soontornvat, author of The Changelings and In a Dark Land
Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
All writers have a book or books that have left an indelible mark on them as a person and/or a writer. For me the following did both and I couldn’t be more grateful for the magic and imagination that they ignited. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan: This beautiful fairy-tale-esque book is masterfully and richly woven. The first time I read it, I was in awe. With each turn of the page, I felt as if some far away door was opening to a world of possibilities, of stories I could tell. Stories that grab your heart and never let go. This is the book that whispered to me, “you can be a writer, too.” And D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths: I devoured this book and was utterly captivated by the gods, myths, and legends. When I told my grandmother (quite excitedly) that Kronos eats his children, she sighed and said that he had nada on the Maya god of death, darkness and destruction. I tucked that seed away for a long time, never knowing the impact it would have on my life as a writer.
-J.C. Cervantes, author of The Storm Runner and The Fire Keeper
Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
Hands down, the book I’m most thankful for is Harriet the Spy. It’s one of the first books I really connected with and still go back to every few years. Harriet is unapologetically bold. She forges her own path and gets into all sorts of adventures in New York City, a place that feels so big and scary, but Harriet travels through with confidence. She makes her own opinions and lives her life how she wants to — and eats tons of tomato sandwiches (a favorite of mine because of this book). Harriet’s a prickly character, but that’s why I identify with her. She taught me that it’s OK if not everyone likes you — which is a hard need to overcome, especially for girls. Most importantly, she’s always true to herself.
-Meg Cannistra, author of The Trouble With Shooting Stars
The School Story, by Andrew Clements
The book I’m grateful for is The School Story by Andrew Clements. In this story, writer Natalie uses a pseudonym to submit her novel to her mother’s publishing house, with help from her fast-talking friend Zoe who becomes a first-time literary agent. I don’t think many grown ups would expect a book about the publishing industry to be interesting to a middle grade audience, but reading this book in third grade turned me from a natural writer into a *determined* writer. It was the first time I heard anything about the ways books get published, and I immediately set my sights on getting my own novel published just like Natalie. This book encouraged my love of passionate, driven girl characters and showed two friends supporting each other to accomplish their goals.
-Anna Meriano, author of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble and Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Secrets
Escape to Last Man Peak, by Jean D’Costa
Escape to Last Man Peak by Jamaican writer Jean D’Costa was required reading for me at school in Trinidad, but the adventure, set on a Caribbean island, with kids in the lead was one that stayed with me for a long time. We were fed a steady diet of old white British authors, so having some Caribbean flavor was likely essential to seeing myself as an author some day. My first books were unabashedly centered in the Caribbean and had leads with the mix of African and Indian ancestry that was my own DNA. Thanks to D’Costa’s band of brave kids, I felt totally free to write more Caribbean kids who go off on adventures of their own.
-Tracey Baptiste, author of the Jumbies series, including the upcoming The Jumbie God’s Revenge
Overturned, by Lamar Giles
I am thankful for Lamar Giles’s Overturned. Back when I was in college, and in the decade after when I was a teacher, I would relax by reading books for young people. It’s how I got into children’s literature in the first place. But when children’s books became my job, I started reading them differently—analyzing, judging, and learning from them. It is only once in a long while that I find a book that sweeps me away so completely that I stop thinking and fall headfirst into the story. Overturned is one of those few: a mystery-thriller set in Vegas that weaves the real and deep emotions of a teenage girl who’s dad is wrongly incarcerated with the page-turning pace of a high stakes poker-inspired murder. It stops being a page-turner as the finale approaches—because I just didn’t… want… it… to… end. Do a favor for any twelve-plus boy or girl in your life—or, frankly, for yourself—and go get Overturned.
-Adam Gidwitz, author of the Grimm series, the Unicorn Rescue Society series and the Inquisitor’s Tale
Love, Hate & Other Filters, by Samira Ahmed
I’m thankful for Love, Hate & Other Filters, by Samira Ahmed. It’s the story of Maya Aziz, an Indian-American, Muslim teenager living in a small Chicago suburb. Maya often finds herself torn between a world where expectations have been put on her for years, and a world she wants to figure out for herself. I was rooting for her throughout, whether it was choosing between two love interests, or deciding between a traditional career choice and pursuing a film degree. And I was utterly devastated when an act of terror brought hate and prejudice to both of Maya’s worlds. This brilliant, heartbreaking, empowering debut also happens to be the first time I ever saw myself in a book…at the age of 37. It reiterated to me, as a writer, just how important it is for all kids to see themselves in books. It’s my go-to book gift and I love it when friends tell me how deeply they, too, were able to connect to the story.
-Supriya Keklar, author of Ahimsa
Honey, I Love, by Eloise Greenfield
Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield had such a profound effect on me as a young reader. Such lyrical, lush language being used to describe to daily lives and small joys of Black people — Black girls, was a balm. It was evidence that my life mattered, my thoughts had value, my voice had the right to be heard. And Leo and Diane Dillon’s illustrations — girls with braids like mine, noses like mine, girls who did the things I did and were unapologetically, wholly Black — made me feel loved. And please please please can I do two? Because Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was life-changing for me as a young writer. At that point in high school, I’d never read a Black love story before. Hurston also showed me the possibilities of writing about uninterrupted Blackness, with all of its humor, love, pain, and complexity.
-Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of 8th Grade Superzero and Someday Is Now, co-author of Two Naomis and Naomis Too
Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu
My life has been changed for the better by multiple fairy tale retellings and adaptations. However, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is particularly dear to me because of how it transforms one particular story – Hans Christian Anderson’s classic, and a childhood favorite, The Snow Queen – not just in plot line, but in the heart of the world and who it welcomes into its beautiful, frosted domain. The fact that a brown girl—a girl like the girl I used to be, and so many girls currently are—is swept up into an adventure with the usual tropes of saving a friend, going up against evil and gaining allies along the way, while having her ethnicity recognized and given as much respect and natural acceptance as the original heroine’s, was downright heartening at a moment when I was on a threshold between writing more characters who didn’t look like me…or venturing into the uncertain, possibly perilous world of taking my favorite story threads and weaving them into something all my own. I am grateful for it and its wonderful author, and the fact that it continues to be a guiding light on my shelf when I look at my favorite happily ever afters and wonder if I could possibly change its heart and open its mind. (The answer is yes.)
–Karuna Riazi, author The Gauntlet and The Battle