Reading Corner

My Top 10 Middle-Grade Books from 2018

Once I got my reading mojo back and understood the reasons for tracking my own progress I joined a Middle Grade book group to support my lower readers.  Middle Grade is considered ages 9-12(grades 3-6). I was excited to find some that I could share it with my own students who are looking for something good, but not overwhelming with vocabulary and content. I read quite a few at this level, but these 10 sort of rose to the top for me, mostly because I didn’t have any specific expectations for them and they ended up surprising me in some way. 

Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters Margaret Dilloway

Summary of the story: 

Xander Miyamoto begins this story as an average middle school boy. He’s not that into school or being picked on for being half asian, but he does like drawing comics and hanging with his best friend Peyton. What he learns is that he’s something beyond an average middle schooler, he’s this generation’s Momotaro, a fairy tale hero born from a peach pit. He is a type of Japanese monster-hunter. During a storm his father goes missing and he’s  thrust into this world where he needs to find out how to use his gifts so that he can bring his dad back and save the world from chaos. What an interesting way to spend a spring break. 

Why I liked it: 

This was action-packed. Save the world kind of action. It had a good protagonist who was a regular joe kid, with regular problems. He comes to find out that he has special powers and that he’s more than he expected. The best part is that he finds his long lost mother at the very end…that’s where the story leaves off. No explanation..just hi Xander. That makes me want to read the next one if only to find out what the heck happened to his mother all this time.

The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman

Summary of the story: 

Bod short for Nobody, is a human boy who’s family in brutally murdered when he was an infant. A ghost guardian  takes pity on him and brings him to the graveyard to protect him. Bod is the only living resident there. His guardian Sal teaches him how to fade, but as is to be expected with someone who really doesn’t belong where he is, he meets a human who wanders into his domain and begins to wonder about life outside the graveyard would be like. What should he do?

Why I liked it: 

While Neil Gaiman is a legend, I wasn’t sure about this book going in and even as I began it. But I needed a book that started with G for my alphabet challenge, so I went for it. Its not normally my go to type of book and I was slightly taken aback at a children’s book having a family murdered in the first pages.  About half way through though, I was hooked. The quirky ghosts who raised Bod, though dead they may be, cared for him as only a family could. I ended up loving Bod and really wanted him to move on from his past. 

The Ninja Librarian Rebecca Douglass

Summary of the story: 

This was a story written by a Middle Grade  book club group member Rebecca Douglass. It’s the story of an unassuming librarian with a secret identity  who moves into small town Skunks Corners and ends up breathing some new life into it. The residents, have nothing new or interesting going on in their tiny little corner of the world and they have no plans to change it. Especially anything having to do with book learning or libraries. When Tom shows up, they even set out to ensure that it stays that way. Tom is not put off by their efforts to keep him down and his secret identity kicks some tail.  Big Al, the town’s female school teacher doesn’t realize at first just how much he will change their life. They are all happier for it.

Why I liked it: 

Tom, the Ninja Librarian reminded me of a favorite character from my childhood, Cain who was the main character in the TV show Kung Fu. He was this unassuming wanderer who moved from place to place relying on the kindness of others for shelter and food in return for work. His backstory is that he was raised a Shaolin monk. While he mostly worked to help others, if there were people doing bad things, he would kick their butts and set them on the right path. The Ninja Librarian was Cain in my mind. He was a great character then and Rebecca did a fresh take on his for today.  Anyway, I also liked Big Al’s character quite a bit. She grew on me as she grew and became a leader in the town. While Tom’s character was fun to watch as he changed people’s lives and thoughts. It was a nice reminder of days too of the days before technology. 

The Unwanteds Lisa McMann

Summary of the story: 

In a world called Quill, all 13 year olds are given one of two fates. You are either deemed Wanted and sent to university, or you are deemed Unwanted and sent to your death. Creativity is seen as pointless and frivolous. For the main character Alex, this determination was particularly tough because his twin was elevated to  Wanted status while he was marked as an Unwanted. Once Alex arrives at the death farm, he discovers that in its place there is actually a magical place called Artime where other Unwanteds are trained to use their artistic gifts to protect themselves. Alex and Aaron his twin end up on opposite sides of what becomes a war between Wanteds and Unwanteds. 

Why I liked it: 

This seemed like both dystopian and fantasy, two of my favorite genres, rolled into one. It discussed the idea of creativity being a plague on society and to squash it out, required getting rid of people who showed any tendency. While many dystopian themes focus on the need to conform to society, the idea of using actual artistic tools and musical instruments as weapons was interesting to me.  The bond between twins added an extra layer of interest for me also. 

The Series of Unfortunate Events Lemony Snicket

Summary of the story: 

The Series of Unfortunate Events, a 13 book series, chronicles the lives of Sunny, Klaus and Violet Baudelaire after they lose their parents to a freak accident. The three orphans are taken in by the evil Count Olaf who wants their considerable wealth but cares nothing for them. While the Baudelaires do find some kindness in various characters, along the way, they realize that if they want to stay out of Olaf’s clutches, they need to rely on each other.  They each bring their own strengths to the table. Violet the oldest is a very capable inventor, Klaus, the middle child in very well read and has an incredible memory and Sunny can bite through just about anything. Between the three of them, they are able to foil all of Count Olaf’s twisted plots to gain their inheritance time and time again. 

Why I liked it: 

There was part of me that felt bad that I liked reading these stories. The kids were treated so badly and the adults were so inept that is was absurd.  And hilarious. I loved the self deprecating writing style. It reminded me so much of Roald Dahl’s work, but it was different because as the storyline goes on we realize the author Lemony Snicket is actually part of the story too. 

One and Only Ivan Katherine Applegate

Summary of the story: 

Ivan, a gorilla,  resides in a roadside shopping mall where he’s been living in captivity for 27 years.  He was good with his life such as it was spending time with his , watching TV and painting. When a young elephant named Ruby joins them, he is reminded of just what his life has become and that he can do something about it. 

Why I liked it: 

While this story is a work of fiction, it is based on a real life gorilla with a similar story. I had not seen many books being told from the perspective of an animal in captivity before this one, so it was a new feel. I enjoyed meeting and watching Ivan and the other animals transform.  I’m glad they found their way out. 

Al Capone Does My Shirts Gennifer Choldenko

Summary of the story: 

It’s 1935.  Moose’s family is uprooted and moved to Alcatraz, a place infamous for its clientele,  where his dad now works as a prison guard. All to help his sister Natalie be closer to a  treatment program that can help her be more normal. Moose meets a lot of new friends, learns the ropes of being at the prison, but he also ends up learning something more about himself and his sister as he goes through the story. While she may not be normal, who’s to say what is? Why does she need to change? 

Why I liked it: 

I loved this one because I wasn’t expecting anything special when I picked it up. I was looking for a book that started with A.  What I found was a teenager coming to terms with a sister who has a disability all while finding his way in this new world he was thrust into.  It was heartwarming and the twist at the end was great. It left a few questions. Who was 105?

The School of Good and Evil Soman Chainani

Summary of the story: 

I liked this one because it was a twist on a fairy tale theme. This one has two characters Sophie and Agatha who anticipate very different fortunes from the ones that are handed to them.  Sophie expects to be placed in School for Good where she will join the ranks of others like Cinderella. Agatha expects to join the School for Evil.  Then everything turns upside down. Agatha ends up in with the Good students taking the classes like Princess Etiquette, while Sophie ends up with the other Evil students taking Uglification training. The aftermath of the switch, and the true nature of each young lady was interesting to watch unfold. 

Why I liked it: 

It had a slower start, but once I got to the halfway point, I couldn’t put it down– I read the last half of the book in one sitting!  Even though readers can guess that they are both placed in the right schools, there were still quite a few twists and turns to keep me guessing as to who was really good and who was really evil.  Sophie’s sacrifice came as very unexpected to me. While Agatha was my favorite character, I think I really liked both of the girls in the end. 

Keeper of the Lost Cities Shannon Messenger

Summary of the story: 

Sophie starts out the story in the human world where she lives with her mom and sister. She’s 12, and intelligent enough to have skipped several grades, and she’s keeping a big secret–she is able to read people’s minds. One day she meets a stranger named Fitz who tells her that the reason she doesn’t feel that she fits in is that she belongs somewhere else–a world of Elves and magic. So she leaves behind the only home she’s known to uncover the truth about herself. Even in the Elven world, she comes to finds she is an anomaly. Her powers put her and everyone around her in danger.  She really needs to figure out who she is, what she can do, and why all these strange things are happening to her. 

Why I liked it: 

I enjoyed this world almost as much as Harry Potter which is saying something! It was good enough to be pulled in several times a day.  With all the choices out there, I rarely find a book where I want to read the whole series for. This one stands out in that category. Sophie is a well fleshed out character that you can’t help but root for. I don’t exactly understand how she came to be yet, but that’s part of the fun. Because she’s so different and has enemies, she’s unsure who she can trust. There is just enough mystery about that keeps you wondering what the heck is going on. Who are the good guys really? Who is Sophie really? A good action packed MG fantasy read!

Ungifted Gordon Korman

Summary of the story: 

Donovan impulsively hits a statue of Atlas holding the world. The world comes off the statue and  ends up crashing into the gym incurring some pretty serious property damage. His name is turned over to the superintendent for punishment, but instead he ends up on a roster for gifted kids. Rather than admit the truth, he attempts to  hide out to keep his parents from having to pay for the damages. While there is much angst and hiding, and hilarity this ends up being one of the best things he’s ever done because he finds true friendship there. It turns his whole life around. 

Why I liked it: 

This was an alphabet challenge book for me, no expectations. It was told from multiple character perspectives with the chapter heading being the person name, their IQ and a word that starts with un-. I thought this was really clever. I also appreciate all the funny quirky characters and while Donovan is the most changed….the rest of the characters also learn something about life and themselves. Donovan begins the story super impulsive and really relishing in that part of himself. Yes, he would sometimes feel bad about his actions, but he didn’t really think to stop himself. As the story goes on, he learns that there are other people in the world that also matter, so his choices matter. I think that makes this story both heartwarming and funny. It wasn’t a tearjerker really, but it’s definitely a feel-good kind of story. 

So that’s my list..what are your favorite middle-grade books?

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