As I said to an acquaintance the other day, "We are living in a golden age of children's literature." That's why it was so hard to narrow down the titles and put together this list of the 10 best middle grade books of 2022!
Ultimately, I curated the books on this list to reflect a variety of experiences and genres. You'll find some of my favorite historical fiction, fantasy and contemporary realism published this year. If your kids haven't yet read these books, they make great gifts for a wide variety of readers ages 8-13!
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SPARROWS IN THE WIND by Gail Carson Levine
I placed Levine's brilliant book A Ceiling Made of Eggshells on last year's best middle grade book list and she's done it again. Sparrows in the Wind is a historical fantasy set before and during the Trojan War. Cassandra narrates the first half of the story, describing how Apollo cursed her with the gift of prophecy. When Cassandra sees the tragedy of war, she befriends a lesser wind god, who helps her in her efforts to prevent the war from starting. Rin, an Amazon warrior princess, narrates the second half. She is part of a band of Amazons asked to assist the Trojans, and while in Troy makes friends with Cassandra. Levine's page-turning tale is an excellent choice for readers who like ancient history and strong female protagonists. Ages 10 and up.
NORTHWIND by Gary Paulsen
Paulsen's final survival story is set in an unspecified northern location in an unspecified historical period, but the setting is evocative of Norway in a pre-modern age. When a deadly illness sweeps through a ship crew's camp, 12-year-old Leif leaves in a canoe with a few supplies. Instructed to voyage northward by one of the elders, he does so. As he travels, he learns self-reliance and revels in the solitude and natural world. Paulsen's beautiful prose sets the reader on a journey of struggle and triumph. Glorious. Ages 9 and up.
COMING UP CUBAN: RISING PAST CASTRO'S SHADOW by Sonia Manzano
Manzano's divides her extraordinary novel into four stories that share the diverse experiences of four young Cubans whose lives overlap in various ways. In 1959, Ana's father returns home with Fidel Castro's revolutionaries. When Castro's crackdowns on freedoms begin he is disillusioned and Ana's family plans their escape. Miguel's parents send him to America as part of the Pedro Pan operation; he waits for them in an orphanage where he becomes friends with underprivileged boys. Zulema wants to learn how to read and grabs at the chance when the government's literacy program sends brigadistas to her rural community. Finally, Juan, who lives in Havana, finds himself questioning the militaristic pioneros. A splendid book which gives a well-rounded view of Cuba in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Ages 9 and up
THE SECRET BATTLE OF EVAN PAO by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
I absolutely loved this book and the story offers a particularly rich array of topics for discussion. Evan, who has an almost supernatural ability to sense when other people are lying, his sister and mother move to a small Virginia town from California. Evan's new class is in the middle of preparing for "Battlefield Day," a field day when students learn about the Civil War. Evan's research leads him to the discovery that Chinese-American soldiers fought in the war. While Evan becomes friends with Max, he also deals with a bully, Brady. But Max's intuition tells him the there is something deeper to Brady than just his outward meanness. Chapters tell the story from different viewpoints of people who live in the town. Ages 8 and up.
THE KAYA GIRL by Mamle Wolo
Abena leaves her upper class home to spend the summer with her Aunt Lydia, who runs a fabric and sundries shop in a bustling market in downtown Accra, Ghana. Abena meets Faiza, a migrant Muslim girl who works as a kayayoo, or porter, carrying purchased goods in a bucket on her head for customers. The two become fast friends in spite of their differences and initial language barrier. Both girls learn about lives outside their own experiences, how society treats them differently, and how to speak up for themselves. Ages 9 and up.
ALLIANA GIRL OF DRAGONS by Julie Abe
This is a wonderful retelling of "Cinderella" with Japanese elements. After her father falls into the abyss, Alliana is forced to live with her stepmother and step-siblings, working in the family inn, run by her mean-spirited relatives. Alliana dreams of escaping and attending the Regional Ball where she might be chosen for the Royal Academy. She befriends a young witch, Nela Evergreen, and rescues a nightdragon hatchling. Together they take a risk that might help Alliana reach her dreams. Ages 9 and up.
THE PATRON THIEF OF BREAD by Lindsay Eagar
Set in a fictional location reminiscent of medieval France, a group street orphans called "The Crowns" eke out an existence through petty thievery. The leader of the group concocts a plan whereby the youngest of the gang, Duck, an 8-year-old girl one of the other orphans found in the river as an infant, will apprentice to a baker so she can sneak food and coins to the rest of the gang. But Duck's new life with the kindly baker changes her and she is torn between her old family and her new one. An incredibly moving and thought-provoking story. Ages 10 and up.
BLACK BIRD, BLUE ROAD by Sofiya Pasternack
After they read the shocking opening sentence, readers won't be able to put this book down. In the Turkic Jewish empire of Khazaria, Ziva has been taking care of her twin brother Pesah, while he works to invent a cure for his leprosy. On their birthday, the twins learn that their parents and uncle are sending him away to a leper colony, but when Pesah has a vision that he will meet the Angel of Death on Rosh Hashanah, the siblings run away, headed for Luz, where the Angel of Death cannot go. They travel with Almas, a sheydim who Ziva rescues. Ages 9 and up.
WEIRD RULES TO FOLLOW by Kim Spencer
This coming of age story set in 1980s British Columbia follows Mia, an 11-year-old Indigenous girl, as she navigates the ups and downs of growing up. The story is structured as a series of vignettes in which Mia narrates her observations about the differences between Indigenous and white families, how her friendship with her best friend, Lara, changes over time and her sometimes chaotic family life. This book was one of my favorite reads of the year, not just because of Mia's strong voice but because I think even grown-up readers will come away richer after reading it. It will also make a wonderful read aloud. Ages 9 and up.
A DUET FOR HOME by Karen Yan Glaser
June, her younger sister, and mother move into a homeless shelter in the Bronx. Tyrell has been living in the same shelter for three years. He loves to listen to the neighbor play classical music and when he learns June has a viola that she is not allowed to play inside the shelter he convinces the neighbor to giver her lessons. Unfortunately, new housing policies are threatening to move families out of Huey House before they are ready, but June and Tyrell are hoping to find a way to stop that. The narrative voice alternates between June and Tyrell. Ages 9 and up.