Exceptional Middle Grade Novels That You Don’t Need To Be 8-12 Years Of Age To Read, Thank You Very Much

Hello everyone!

I am writing this post because the dear Eden @ The Happy Hedgehog has requested that I write a post about my favorite Middle Grade novels. And how, may I ask, do you expect me to pass up such an excellent opportunity to talk about such excellent books?

Well, just don’t expect me to. That’s all I can say.

Frankly, most of my favorite books are technically middle grade level. (This is totally normal, considering that I am twenty-something years of age.) To fit them all into one post would be madness. So I will just pick a goodly number of them that I feel like talking about and throw the rest at you in an honorable mention or something wildly creative like that.

Are you ready for me to hurl books at your head? Because that is what is about to happen. Never mind that I have abysmal aim.

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

There was a time in my life when I read tons of Beverly Cleary books. And this one was my favorite. I have always liked Leigh and related to his ambition of becoming a writer.

This short contemporary is written as a series of letters from Leigh Botts to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. They start out as real letters, but partway through they become pretend letters- essentially a diary written in letter form. Most of the story is about Leigh coming to grips with his parents’ separation.

At least, that’s mainly what I remember.

It’s been a while since I read it.

Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

If your only exposure to Winnie-the-Pooh is Disney, I forgive you, but you do not know what goodness you are missing.

A.A. Milne’s prose and poetry are child-like yet sophisticated, something I have admired for ages. His Winnie-the-Pooh stories are silly, entertaining, and filled with clever jokes, and the ending of The House at Pooh Corner is so beautiful that you will quite possibly cry when you read it. It’s nostalgia at its finest.

Here are a few quotes:

Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one- Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers. –Winnie-the-Pooh, ch. 3

He squeezed and he squoze, and then with one last squooze he was out. –The House at Pooh Corner, ch. 8

A.A. Milne sure knows how to conjugate a verb.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Mrs. Frisby is a field mouse trying to look after her children in the wake of her husband’s death. Her son Timothy falls ill and can’t be moved, which is a problem because she has to move her family out of the field for the summer before the tractors come. It’s more than she can handle on her own. Which might be where the rats come in. And there is something about these rats that isn’t quite normal. They may know more about Mrs. Frisby’s husband’s death than she does.

This story is fascinating and has nothing to do with magic, no matter what the movie adaption might lead you to believe. It’s really science fiction and it’s brilliant.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Everything about this book is beautiful. The cover. The pictures. The characters. The writing. The story.

Despereaux Tilling is the smallest, most pathetic mouse in the castle. He is odd too. He would rather read the words than nibble on the page, he stops to listen to music and look at light instead of scurrying into dark corners. His family doesn’t understand him at all.

And I haven’t even gotten to talk about Roscuro, Miggery, or the princess. Or the king, who thinks Despereaux is a bug because he can’t see too well. I relate.

(I just realized that I have talked about two books in a row about mice. Mice are cool, okay?)

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Yeah, I know that this is a series, but only the first book is on my list of favorites.

Reynie is an orphan. He is also a Gifted Child looking for Special Opportunities. After entering into a series of mysterious and peculiar tests, Reynie finds himself in a group of children who feel as lonely and odd as he does. Maybe together they can…I don’t know, save the world?

This book is funny, charming, compelling- and a whole bunch of other complimentary adjectives. It has memorable characters, a satisfying plot, and an emotional center in spite of the wacky circumstances.


The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca K.S. Ansari

This contemporary fantasy novel is about a boy named Charlie who is trying to rescue a brother that no one remembers exists. Liam disappeared a year ago, and everyone else is convinced that he’s a figment of Charlie’s imagination. But Charlie refuses to believe that.

I don’t really know how to describe this book without giving stuff away, but it’s good and you should read it.

(I actually did a bit better at describing it in this post. Sort of.)

House Arrest by K.A. Holt

I couldn’t not mention this book and scream at you to read it.

It’s written in verse, which doesn’t distance you from the narrator AT ALL. So don’t use that as an excuse not to read it. Timothy has the most endearing voice you could ask for.

This contemporary is about a boy who is writing in a court-ordered journal after he stole someone’s credit card to pay for medicine for his little brother.

(I suddenly got the urge to sing, “I STOLE A LOAF OF BREAD.” Timothy is basically Jean Valjean, guys.)

The whole book is entries in Timothy’s journal. And it’s beautiful.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Any word nerds out there?

A tollbooth appears in Milo’s room one day and he he swept away on a very linguistic adventure. This fantastical book is absolutely crammed with clever plays on words and things of that sort. The best way to describe it is to give you quotes:

“Be very quiet,” advised the duke, “for it goes without saying.”

And, sure enough, as soon as they were all quite still, it began to move quickly through the streets, and in a very short time they arrived at the royal palace. –The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 79

“Of course, the half bakery,” snapped the king. “Where do you think half-baked ideas come from?” –The Phantom Tollbooth, p. 91

City of Orphans by Avi

This historical novel, set in 1893, New York, follows the story of Maks (who is a newsie, by the way) in his attempt to clear his sister’s name before she is deported to Denmark for a crime that she didn’t commit. He may need some help.

(Spoiler: he gets help.)

Also, if you are wondering why they call it hokey-pokey ice cream, this book does not answer that question.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

12-year-old Jonas is about to receive his Assignment, like all the other 12-year-olds in his community. But Jonas’ Assignment is different. And it will change everything.

How’s that for dramatic?

This book is so short and simple, but it deals with such profound issues. The plot is engaging and the concepts are thought-provoking.

Also, Asher is my child and he talks about salmon.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Miranda, a 12-year-old living with her mother in New York, starts to receive mysterious notes with troubling contents from an unknown source. (Creepy? Yeah, a little bit.)Β  Around the same time, Miranda’s best friend stops wanting to hang out with her, and she doesn’t understand why.

This book is hard to describe (maybe I am just bad at describing things) but it is one-of-a-kind and once you meet Marcus you will love him for the rest of your life. Probably.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Holling’s English teacher hates his guts. At least, that’s how Holling sees it.

Holling is stuck learning about Shakespeare when all of his classmates go off to their separate religious programs on Wednesday. Trust me, it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.

Holling’s voice is unforgettable and his story will make you laugh and cry. At least on the inside.

Gary knows how to write. Let me tell you.

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora is a cynic. Her mother writes romance novels. Let’s just say they don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

Speaking of seeing, William Spiver is a boy who is suffering from a temporary blindness induced by trauma (or so he tells us).

And speaking of vacuum cleaners (even though we weren’t) Ulysses is a squirrel who got sucked up in a vacuum cleaner and acquired superpowers. He is the finest squirrel poet I know. (Writing poetry is one of his superpowers.)

As always, Kate DiCamillo is a master of words and the human heart.

But Wait, There’s More

(And just to be clear, these books are not lesser than the aforementioned ones, I just didn’t have time to talk about them.)

Fantasy/off-the-wall: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend~ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory~ A Series of Unfortunate Events~ A Wrinkle in Time~ The Chronicles of Narnia~ Harry Potter series~ The Hobbit~ The Gammage Cup~ Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief~ The Magician’s Elephant~ The Princess and the Goblin~ The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane~ Fairest~ Ella Enchanted~ Echo

Contemporary: Bubble~ Pictures of Hollis Woods~Β  Knock Out~ Some Kind of Happiness~ Lenny’s Book of Everything~ See You in The Cosmos~ The Tiger Rising~ The Great Gilly Hopkins~ Raymie Nightingale~ Louisiana’s Way Home~ Maniac Magee~ Because of Winn-Dixie~ Beverly, Right Here~ Bridge to Terabithia

(I didn’t realize until now how many of these “contemporaries” take place in the ’60s or ’70s. Weird.)

Historical: The Bronze Bow~ The Whipping Boy

Also there are probably more that I accidentally left off.


When I set out to write this post I didn’t realize how fuzzy the line between MG and YA is sometimes.Β  Some of my favorite books might be YA after all.

But as you can see there are plenty of MG novels here, and I haven’t even listed them all. A well written MG book can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults as well as children. A good book is a good book, no matter who it’s geared towards.

And I want to read them all.

What are some of your favorite Middle Grade novels? Have you read any of the ones I mentioned? Did you stop reading Middle Grade once you became a teenager? Why or why not? Do you have any Middle Grade recommendations for me?

18 thoughts on “Exceptional Middle Grade Novels That You Don’t Need To Be 8-12 Years Of Age To Read, Thank You Very Much

  1. I did read a lot of those books (some of which I was required to read for high school).

    The Giver was one of those books I did not like.

    Harry Potter Series, Narnia Series, Percy Jackson Series, Winkle in Time, are just some of the middle grade books I read growing up. There are some middle grade series I read in my college years: I am still an young adult: I fell in love with Sisters Grimm series, Land of Stories series, and Avalon Series in much later years.

    This does not count yet because it has not been published; but I have fallen in love with my own middle grade book: Tale of the Cattail Forest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I have fallen in love with a lot of middle grade books in more recent years, even though I am not in that age category anymore. There are just some really good books out there.
      It’s always good when you fall in love with our own books. πŸ™‚


  2. Rats of Nimh! I read that one!! And I love Fairest and Ella Enchanted. I always kind of thought those two books were YA, but now that I think about it they really do fit into both categories. I think my favorite book about talking animals is Watership Down, but I’m not sure you’d call that middle grade. I honestly don’t know what you’d call it. I read the book as a kid and enjoyed it a lot, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I found while writing this post that categorizing some books is hard. Some fit really well into one category or another, and others are more stubborn.
      Watership Down is a tricky one! It’s written almost more like an adult book, but it’s about rabbits and some kids really like it. I read it just recently as an adult, and it seemed too serious to be middle grade, but I liked it, I don’t think the author was gearing it towards any particular group. He was just telling a story. I read something that said he had a lot of trouble getting it published because they couldn’t figure out how they would market it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read a few of those books. These are great recommendations!!! I think you can’t really grow out of any books. I mean, I still like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” πŸ˜‚. I will have to read some of these books I had never heard of. There are lots of good books out there that are considered Middle Grade level.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I love recommending books. Hehe.
      I have grown out of some books, but that just happens as I’ve become more discerning and picky. I think it’s true that you can never grow out of GOOD books though. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is an excellent book. There are even some board books that I still thoroughly enjoy. Good books come from everywhere, but not all books are good books.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. These books sound amazing!! I have read a few of them and recently listened to the audiobook for Wednesday Wars. I loved it! The way it was narrated really brought Holling to life! Aww! I had forgotten about the tale of Desperaux. As a kid, I looovved this book!! I would also throw in Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes and the Greenglass House. A little bit on the weirder side, but reminded me of the Mysterious Benedict Society!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Huzzah, I am glad that you loved Holling as much as I did. I just recently reread that book, and Gary D. Schmidt’s writing style never ceases to impress me.
      The Tale of Despereaux is so good! I read that book aloud with my cousins. So many good memories.
      I haven’t read Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, but that’s a fun title! I recently read Greenglass House, and it was fun, but I liked The Mysterious Benedict Society a lot better. I did think they were similar.


  5. YOU DID IT!!! 😊 You wrote the post I asked for and you did not disappoint. This is a FABULOUS!! ❀️
    Those were all excellent choices (I highly approve); unfortunately there’s quite a few I haven’t read yet. Let’s see…I’ve read Winne-the-Pooh, all the Kate DiCamillo books you mentioned except for one, The Mysterious Benedict Society (I agree, the first one is the bestπŸ˜‰), The Phantom Tollbooth (I absolutely adore this book), The Giver. As well as a bunch in the honorable mention.
    I would recommend The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. ❀️❀️❀️
    Truly, middle-grade novels are underrated. Thank you for such a wonderful post…you’re amazing! πŸ€— (and now I want to write my own “favorite MG novels” blog post πŸ˜‚)
    Alright, now I need to go read. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the inspiration, and I am happy to hear that the post did not disappoint!
      Thank you for the recommendations! Walk Two Moons has been recommended to me before, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, and I haven’t heard of The Night Gardener. I will have to get on that. πŸ˜‰
      MG books are indeed underrated! I feel like people look down on them because they are for “kids” but so many of them are just excellent stories.
      You are most welcome! I would love to read a post about your favorite MG novels!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The Phantom Tollbooth– my word, how I love that book! Yet I didn’t read it until I was 24 or so. A friend of mine, noticing the Mysterious Benedict Society on my coffee-table, said that she enjoys some children’s books more as an adult. I’ve found that as well– perhaps because I discover new layers to a story whenever I return, perhaps because I’m just as much a kid as I ever was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad that you discovered The Phantom Tollbooth! It really is excellent.
      Yes, I have found that there are some children’s books that I enjoy on a deeper level as I get older. Those kinds of books are my favorite kind, the kind that you can enjoy on the surface as a kid, but there are enough layers that you can still be unpacking them as you grow older. The Narnia series is a great example of that.
      On the other hand, I think it’s true that a part of me is still a child and can still find joy in the ridiculous stories I loved back then, whether they get deeper or not. πŸ˜‰
      Thank you so much for commenting!


  7. AHHHHHHHHHHH SO MANY FAVORITES ON THIS LIST!! I really enjoy middle grade books, but I don’t really read them often? I think I read like 6 last year. I LOOOOOVED Dear Mr. Henshaw as a kid, but like you, don’t really remember it, haha. The Phantom Tollbooth was my J A M as a pre-teen: I thought it was the most genius book ever written! I just read The Mysterious Benedict’s Society last year and am needing to read the rest of the series, and I’m currently halfway (4/7) through the Harry Potter series. The Giver quartet is one of my ALL TIME favorite series!! So many favorites here πŸ™‚

    Am definitely book marking this for future reference!

    Liked by 1 person

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