Grownups who think “middle grade” fiction books (for 8–12 year olds) are too young for them are depriving themselves of some great reading! Sure, some have too many fart jokes for adult sensibilities, but most don’t, and the stories get to the point more briskly, and the characters are more likable than is the case with many adult books. It is also a fact that the fonts tend to be bigger in middle grade books, something that is sadly welcome to readers who are getting older. Here are eight recent books, a mix of science fiction/fantasy and realistic fiction, that will appeal to adults as well as to their intended audiences.
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Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson
A hundred and fiftyish years in the future, our sun is going supernova, long before it should. Humanity has abandoned Earth for Mars, but now it’s Mars’ turn to be engulfed by the sun, so colony ships have set off for a new solar system. Liam and his friend Phoebe will be on the last ship leaving Mars; their parents must finish the terraforming project that will make their new planet habitable in the few hours left before the colony ship must leave. But things go wrong. The first half of the book covers these last few hours. The clock is ticking…and if the kids and their parents don’t make it onto the colony ship, they die. And then things get worse, when the kids realize that there’s deliberate sabotage involved, with the whole future of humanity at stake. It’s a nail-biting adventure that will entertain science fiction fans of all ages.
The Goat, by Anne Fleming
A mountain goat, living a secretive, reclusive life on the rooftop of a New York apartment building, is the star of this amusing, strangely believable story. Kid and her parents are in New York for six months while the play her mother wrote is being rehearsed. Kit, painfully shy, expected six months of solitary drifting, but the goat, a tiny white blur bouncing around the top of the building, proves to be the catalyst that brings her and the other slightly odd residents of the apartment building together. She and her new friend Will are determined to find out if the goat is real, and if so, how on earth it got on the roof. And in the meantime, the mountain goat would very much like to get off the roof. It’s a quick read that’s diverting as all get out, though there’s considerable emotional depth as well.
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, by J. Anderson Coats
Here’s one for us grown-ups who love Anne of Green Gables! Jane’s young stepmother is bringing Jane and her little brother off to Washington Territory, where Civil War widows will have swarms of eligible bachelors to choose from. When they arrive, though, Seattle and the single men inhabiting it aren’t quite what Jane’s stepmother had in mind. Instead of the prosperous banker of her dreams, she ends up with a goodhearted homesteader who lives a canoe trip from town in a tiny cabin. Jane is desperate for an education, and her new stepfather wants to help…and with pluck and determination, Jane sets herself on the road to a future of her own devising.
Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe
The ritual of the Stag Boy, hunted to the edge of a cliff to bring fertility to the land, is a quaint tourist attraction in 13-year-old Ash’s village in the north of England. But this year, with the sheep dying from drought and disease, and tragedy hitting the village, the darkness of the present calls up the darkness of past rituals where the Stag Boy died in truth. Ash has been chosen to play the part of the Stag Boy in this year’s re-enactment, and as the day of the race comes closer he is haunted by visions and ghosts of the past, and by the threats of his former best friend, Mark, who seems driven almost insane by grief. This is a gripping read full of tension, both between past and present and between Ash and his friends and family. If you enjoy books about the old magics of Britain, like The Dark is Rising series, check this one out!
The Someday Birds, by Sally J. Pla
Charlie tries to keep his life simple and organized, safe and predictable. But when his dad comes back from Afghanistan badly injured and is sent across the country for medical treatment, his routines are shattered. A stranger, who plopped herself down in Dad’s hospital room and who’s now supposed to be looking after them, is going to drive Charlie, his big sister, and his annoying twin brother across the country to their father. Charlie doesn’t know if he can survive his siblings, or the disgusting bathrooms they encounter on the way. But he has his own mission that gives him strength and patience—he and his Dad had made a list of birds that they someday hoped to see and Charlie is determined to find them on the cross-country drive (even though two are extinct). The quest goes well, and with the help of strangers met along the way, Charlie learns that he is stronger than he realized. It’s a great family story and a fun road trip!
A Crack in the Sea, by H.M. Bouwman
Here’s a middle grade fantasy novel that combines krakens, the tragedy of the Atlantic slave trade, the horrors endured by Vietnamese boat people, and a second world where people (some with magical gifts) live on tropical islands and on a floating raft town. What unites all these threads is a magical crack in the sea; unpredictably opening to let people from our first world fall though. The stories of three sets of siblings, two kidnapped by slavers, and thrown overboard into the Atlantic, two escaping post-war Vietnam, and two born in the second world, come together in a moving tale full of enchantment that is a testimony to the power of family bonds and the power of stories. There’s a poignancy to the story, but it is full of hope. Though it feels almost like a fable or fairy-tale, the characters are more than vivid enough to make their stories come to life.
Train I Ride, by Paul Mosier
When her grandmother can no longer look after her, a younger girl finds herself stuck on a train heading to Chicago, with a label stuck on her identifying her as Rider, an unaccompanied minor. She decides to adopt Rydr as her traveling name for the journey of several days on the train taking her to an unknown relative. As Rydr, she can put distance between herself and her sad memories of her mother and grandmother. Her days are spent thinking of creative ways to get food after her money runs out on the first day, days spent talking to other folks riding the rails with her, letting them become part of her story and in turn becoming part of theirs. It’s a sad, happy, funny, and ultimately hopeful book about not letting the past define the future.
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood
In a walled city, kept safe by magic, Chantel attends Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens. Along with useful spells, deportment features prominently in the curriculum; Chantel excels at the former, and struggles with the later. Chantel’s disinclination to be a biddable girl comes in useful when the sorceresses who have defended the city disappear. She leads her friends in investigating the secrets and subterfuges that are taking place, and with the help of a dragon companion and a long-dead queen she sets things to rights in fine style! Chantel is a strong young woman to cheer for, and the rush of alarms and excursions that fill the story makes for entertaining and thought-provoking reading!
What middle grade books do you recommend to adult readers?