It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time to talk about the best books for young readers that came out this year! 2018 featured some incredible middle grade reads, including robotic adventures and poignant road trips, incredible graphic novels and stories of magic and mystery. But what titles shined above the rest? Here, Barnes & Noble booksellers pick the best 2018 titles for young readers.
Monstrous Devices, by Damien Love
Damien Love splashed onto the middle grade scene this year with his adventurous, sensitive debut Monstrous Devices. When Alex receives an old tin robot from his grandfather in the mail, he doesn’t expect it to start changing the world around him—and he certainly doesn’t expect that it will drag him into assassination attempts for those both human and mechanical. Love’s debut explores the charm of the hidden mysterious of our world and of our own family histories.
The Wild Robot Escapes (Wild Robot Series #2), by Peter Brown
Looking for a book to read aloud with your family? This modern fairy tale continues the story of wild robot Roz, who readers first met after she arrived on a remote island and befriended the animals there. Now, she must survive her time in the so-called civilized world as she works to return to her island. This story, inherently about what happens when technology and nature meet, brings to mind a written WALL-E—a story sure to charm kids as well as adults.
The Last Kids on Earth and the Cosmic Beyond (Last Kids on Earth Series #4), by Max Brallier and illustrated by Douglas Holgate
Who doesn’t love a monster story? The Last Kids on Earth are back like a modern-Scooby Doo team, fighting those who would destroy their world. They thought that the fight might be over now that the Monster Apocalypse is over, but their first winter since the big battle—which should only be about Christmas celebrations and epic snowball battle—is thwarted by a new villain. A human villain. When she steals Jack’s Louisville Slicer, it sets the Last Kids on Earth onto a trek to get it back, because if they don’t, her plan could threaten their whole world.
Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo
It’s a new Kate DiCamillo book! Wait, you want more explanation as to how it ended up on our best-of list? It’s Kate DiCamillo. But Louisiana’s Way Home, a companion novel to last year’s Raymie Nightingale, is a heartbreaking, tender story of self-discovery. Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her in the middle of the night, declaring that the day of reckoning arrived and dragging Louisiana away from her home to a small town in Georgia. Away from her friends, Louisiana only wants to get back home to her friends—but as she gets to know the folks in her new town, the fear that her life will only be a series of good-byes begins to sink in. Katie DiCamillo’s writing is as poignant and irresistible as ever, making this a must-read for her fans and new readers alike.
Short & Skinny, by Mark Tatulli
This year was an incredible year for graphic novels. The first of several on this list, Short & Skinny is a nonfiction graphic novel that reflects on Mark’s own experience in the summer after seventh grade. Mark is short and skinny and plans on beefing up through the miracle cures in the back of his favorite comics—at least, until Star Wars comes along. Why does bulking up matter when he can spend time leaving a legacy on his new favorite movie series instead? Perfect for fans of Sunny Side Up, this funny and charming graphic novel tackles body image issues and creativity in against a 70s backdrop.
Making Friends, by Kristen Gudsnuk
Danielle is facing a new school, new friends, and new cliques—so when her eccentric aunt gives her a magical sketchbook, she draws herself a best friend that springs to life. But even magical best friends have their problems. To make matters worse, she doodled the head of her favorite cartoon villain, and not only is he giving her bad advice, but he’s going to rampage all over the school pep rally. Can Danielle and her brought-to-life bestie defeat him? When it comes to hybriding magic and middle school, the solution is simple: more, please. Making Friends is a fun story about friendship perfect for fans of Kate Messner and Svetlana Chmakova.
Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
There are thousands of kids in the world who dream of one day becoming teachers, much like Amal. She, like them, loves learning, loves poetry, loves asking questions—but she lives in Pakistan, where after an accidental run-in with the son of her corrupt landlord, she must work as a servant to pay off her family’s debt. Dreams shelved, Amal must learn how to survive in the Khans’ household—and work with the other servants to take them down. Aisha Saeed’s beautiful, compelling writing makes Amal Unbound impossible to put down.
Spy School Goes South (Spy School Series #6), by Stuart Gibbs
The best books are the fun ones. The beloved Spy School books continued this year with Spy School Goes South where Ben should really, really know better than to trust his nemesis Murray Hill. After all, handing over the SPYDER elite isn’t a promise that comes without risk—but Ben takes the chance anyway, rushing off to Mexico to try to catch SPYDER in its web. But Ben’s plan quickly falls to pieces, forcing Ben once again in a race against the clock in a story sure to keep kids on the edge of their seat.
Hardcover $17.99 | $19.99
Flashback (Keeper of the Lost Cities Series #7), by Shannon Messenger
Shannon Messenger’s Keepers of the Lost Cities series is addictive, and the latest installment in the series—which just released last month—is no different. With the Neverseen still hunting Sophie—and with them proving Sophie more vulnerable than she can ever imagine, Sophie decides to change the rules. It doesn’t matter how powerful she is if she can’t fight. But fighting can’t always protect her friends, and when one of them ends up in danger, Sophie’s determination to save her could give the Neverseen the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. Fast-paced and fun, this is an unputdownable continuation of a beloved series.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty
It’s like Holly Goldberg Sloan and the Marvel universe had a glorious, clever child. Stacy McAnulty’s The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl features super genius Lucy Callahan, a girl who earned college-level math skills when a bolt of lightning struck her. But her grandmother won’t let Lucy run off to college to study calculus just yet. She insists that Lucy go to middle school for one year: make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that isn’t a math book. But who wants to be friends with a supergenius? This hopeful story on friendship is full of both warmth and heart.
Sheets, by Brenna Thummler
There’s something to be said about a story that combines an emotional commentary on death and friendship with a literal laundry ghost. Sheets by Brenna Thummler—the artist behind the graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables—manages to do just that. Marjorie Glatt wakes up, goes to school, and comes home to her family’s laundry business. It’s all she has—until Wendell arrives. The ghost of a boy who died too soon, he spends his evenings haunting Glatt’s Laundry, shattering any illusion of normalcy in Marjorie’s life. Sweet yet supernatural, Thummler’s beautiful art will enchant kids who loved Raina Telgemeier’s books.
The Storm Runner, by J. C. Cervantes
Kids who can’t get enough of Rick Riordan’s mythological books are in for a treat with The Storm Runner, the latest addition to the Rick Riordan Presents series. This page-turner from debut novelist J.C. Cervantes hybrids Mayan mythology with our modern world. Mocked in school for his limp, Zane finds his happiness hiking the dormant volcano around his New Mexico home with his dog Rosie. When a strange new girl at school tells him that the volcano is a gateway to another world and Zane is at the center of a prophecy, he isn’t sure what to believe—until the girl turns into a hawk and a demon attacks them in a cave. With Rosie’s life in danger, Zane splashes head-first into the prophecy, discovering a war between the gods (including, it turns out, his father). With the ensemble cast that Riordan-loving kids have grown to love—and the addition of one Very Good Dog—this fun adventure will please any mythology fan.
Sunny (Defenders Track Team Series #3), by Jason Reynolds
If Jason Reynolds isn’t on the list, is it really a best-of list? The National Book Award-nominated, New York Times-bestselling author’s list of books grows every year, and he only seems to get better with every book. Sunny, the third book in his Defenders Track Team series, follows—shocker—Sunny. the most cheerful of the four members of the popular middle school track team. His cheer is an illusion—after all, murderers shouldn’t get to be happy, and his mom died giving birth to him. He only runs to make his dad happy, invoking his mom’s memory, and when he decides to stop in favor of dance, his relationship with his dad becomes worse than ever. Leaving the track team would leave him with no friends and no dad, though, and so Sunny’s coach helps him find a sport that can combine both: the discus throw. This beautiful story tackles privilege, loss, and friendship head on in a story that works just as well alone as it does in a series. (Though you can binge the entire series now in this beautiful boxset.)
Illegal, by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano
It’s been a good year for Eoin Colfer. His Artemis Fowl series was re-released in paperback, the trailer for the movie adaptation came out, and his new graphic novel Illegal made our best-of list for 2018. (And the best-of list is clearly the most exciting of those three things.) Illegal is a timely, thoughtful graphic novel that combines Colfer’s talents with the writing skills of Andrew Donkin and the illustration skills of Giovanni Rigano to tell a story of undocumented immigrants. When Ebo’s brother disappears, embarking on a dangerous journey to a potentially safer life in Europe, Ebo refuses to be left behind. All he has to do is find his brother, survive the trek across the Sahara Desert, and find a new life. This graphic novel is a great pick for kids who love emotional stories and a great conversation starter for kids asking questions about the immigration policies they may be seeing in the news or discussing in their classrooms.
Hardcover $14.99 | $16.99
The Magic Misfits: The Second Story (Magic Misfits Series #2), by Neil Patrick Harris
When Neil Patrick Harris isn’t playing the villainous Count Olaf, he’s busy writing delightful fantasy books for kids. The second of the Magic Misfits series—a delightful read for kids not quite ready for Harry Potter—continues the story of the Magic Misfits crew as they battle to keep their small town safe from evil outsiders. While the first book followed street magician Carter, the second focuses on escape artist Leila, who is determined to keep Mineral Wells safe from the new psychic that’s come to town. This fun, light-hearted story will enchant aspiring magicians, who are certain to have favorites among the ensemble cast.
The Meltdown (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series #13), by Jeff Kinney
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is back, and this time, Greg’s school is closed for a snow day. What should be a cause for celebration instead turns into a wintry nightmare. Kids are teaming up, forming alliances, fighting over neighborhood territory, and staging the most epic snowball fights—with Greg and his best friend, Rowley Jefferson, as the primary targets. Hilarity ensues as these BFFs look for a way to ice out the competition.
Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas (Captain Underpants: Dog Man Series #5), by Dav Pilkey
He’s half-man, half-dog, and all-cop—and he’s back with the fifth book in Dav Pilkey’s hilarious graphic novel series. This time, Dog Man is facing a new batch of villains, but he won’t have to do it alone. He has a kitten and a robot as stellar sidekicks. But this crew is going to need an extra pair of paws this time from an unusual suspect: Petey, the World’s Most Evil Cat. What?! Plus, this Barnes & Noble exclusive edition includes an awesome colorable poster and comic strip.
Squirm, by Carl Hiaasen
This is Hiaasen’s 14th novel! Like in his stories Hoot and Chomp, readers head off on a wild adventure. This one is led by Billy Dickens, who has lived in six different towns in Florida because his mom insists on getting a house near a bald eagle nest. Billy’s dad left when he was four years old, and recently, Billy found his dad’s address—in Montana—which is why Billy decides to fly across the country to find him. On the way, he’ll hike a mountain, float a river, dodge a grizzly bear, shoot down a spy drone, save a neighbor’s cat, save an endangered panther, and then try to save his own father.
Hardcover $14.99 | $16.99
The Hive Queen (Wings of Fire #12), by Tui T. Sutherland
The latest in this beloved series focuses on Cricket, the dragon with a million questions, including one she dare not ask: why is she immune to Queen Wasp’s powers? Cricket is forced into hiding after Queen Wasp uses her telepathic powers on the HiveWings and Cricket steals the Book of Clearsight. Her new friends might be able to help her uncover the secret to Queen Wasp’s powers, but can one dragon and her friends really stop a queen?
Tales from a Not-So-Happy Birthday (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Dork Diaries Series #13), by Rachel Renée Russell
Nikki Maxwell’s thirteenth illustrated outing centers on one of those crucial grade-school rites of passage: the birthday party. Will hers rock, or will it be a total disaster? Tune in to find out, with plenty of laughs along the way. B&N’s exclusive edition comes with a removable birthday card featuring Nikki and friends!
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (the Original Screenplay), by J.K. Rowling, with illustrations by MinaLima
In the follow-up film to 2016’s cinematic delight Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is back on the lam. His dark agenda: the subjugation of all nonmagical people by pure-blooded wizards. At the behest of a young Albus Dumbledore, Newt Scamander joins the fight to apprehend Grindelwald and stop the spread of his dangerous ideals. The script is enhanced with beautiful, detailed illustrations of the expanded wizarding world.