So you want to find a good book for a 9-year-old! We've combed through the library shelves and read hundred (probably thousands) of middle grade books to find the best classic and contemporary books your 9-year-old (generally 4th grade in the US or Year 5 in the UK) will love.
These books cover a wide variety of genres kids love, like historical fiction, magical realism, mysteries and some of the most hilarious books they'll ever read. But it's not just me and my two kids who love these books, every title on this list is recommended by top critics.
Although there are some more serious titles on the list, overall, this list is populated primarily with titles that will put smiles on the faces of 9-year-old readers.
Note: this list contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn a commission for this blog. Bookshop also supports independent bookstores.
Don't forget the printable list!
THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET (series) by Karina Yan Glaser
This lovely novel may put you in mind of Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays. It is just before Christmas and the Vanderbeekers are going to be forced to move from their beloved Harlem brownstone unless they can change the mind of their grumpy landlord who just happens to be their upstairs neighbors. This creative, bi-racial family sets to work to win him over in this heartwarming story.
HONEY AND ME by Meira Drazen
Best friends Milla and Honey will finally be attending the same school. Milla is very excited but the year gets off to a rocky start and Milla worries she and Honey are drifting apart. Each girl is busy preparing for her bat mitzvah as well as working on their speeche for a school competition. Honey and Me is a classic coming of age story about friends who are going through all the familiar pangs of growing up and finding their own voice.
A DUET FOR HOME by Karen Yan Glaser
June, her mother, and younger sister 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.
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.
SAVE ME A SEAT by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
This funny and touching story of Ravi, an Indian immigrant adjusting to middle school and Joe, a boy who recently lost his best friend due to a move, is told in alternating voices. The two boys become friends when they unite again a school bully and one seriously crazy week full of laugh out loud humor ensues.
BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz
Amy Anne loves reading but when her favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is banned from the school library, she is flabbergasted. The efforts of a small group of parents to ban books from the library sparks student activism and Amy Anne turns her locker into the B.B.L.L., the Banned Books Lending Library. This is not just a tale of the perils of censorship, but one in which Amy Anne learns to speak up for herself. Gratz explains in his endnote that all the titles mentioned have been banned or challenged in some school libraries across the country.
WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE (series) by Renée Watson
Heroine Ryan Hart is absolutely delightful. She is the first one to see the silver lining in any situation, and she always tries to see the best in people. But that doesn't mean everything always goes according to plan. Dad loses his job at the post office and the family has to make some big changes, not to mention her sometimes bossy older brother! A great choice for kids who love contemporary realism.
RICKSHAW GIRL by Mitali Perkins
In Bangladesh, Naimi feels frustrated that she is constantly told she cannot work to earn money for her family because she is a girl. When she accidentally ruins her father’s rickshaw she disguises herself as a boy so she can work, and meets someone who will change her life. The book includes a glossary and an author’s note about micro-finance. There's also now a Rickshaw Girl movie!
THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER (series) by Dana Alison Levy
This book made me laugh out loud. A family of 2 dads and 4 adopted sons (all together they san several ethnicities and religions) lead a rather disordered and hilarious lifestyle. The boys all have different personalities, which could lend themselves to stereotypes, but thankfully do not. After finishing this book I wanted to move right in to the Fletcher household, if only to try out their DIY hockey rink.
THE SEASON OF STYX MALONE Kekla Magoon
Caleb and his brother, Bobby Gene, live in a small town. Caleb wants to get out and see the world, but their father insists everything they need is right where they live. But this summer, Caleb and Bobby Gene meet Styx Malone, a super cool teenager whose magnetic personality draws them in, and takes them on adventures. The three boys begin Styx's "Great Escalator Trade" in which they barter up a series of items in hopes of finally getting a moped. Most of the story takes place outdoors without phones or televisions, where relationships are paramount.
DEAR MR. HENSHAW by Beverly Cleary
Through letters and diary entries addressed to his favorite author, Leigh Botts works through his feelings about his parents’ divorce, making friends at a new school and the mysterious lunch thief. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is that Cleary realistically conveys the complex and urgent voice of an 11-year-old boy. Epistolary novels for children are rare and this one is eminently readable.
DEAR SWEET PEA by Julie Murphy
Sweet Pea's divorced parents live next door to each other in an effort to co-parent their daughter. Sweet Pea acknowledges that she is a little "plump." While Sweet Pea's friendships are undergoing a transition, a neighbor asks her to look after her mail. The neighbor is an advice columnist and Sweet Pea can't resist answering a few of the letters. Understandably, she gets into a bit of a pickle! Funny and heartwarming.
EL DEAFO by Cece Bell
Although El Deafo doesn't strictly belong in the realism category, I'm putting it here. This popular graphic novel memoir narrated by Cece, who loses her hearing due to spinal meningitis. A very funny and charming book about the experiences, imaginings and wishes of a Deaf girl. Although the story will help hearing kids to see challenges of the Deaf, they will also see similarities.
OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga
This free-verse novel begins in Syria around the start of the Arab Spring. Jude and her pregnant mother decide to emigrate to live with her uncle in America. Her older brother, caught up in the protests against the government, stays behind with their father. In America, Jude meets new friends and discovers an interest in theater. With unflinching honesty and keen perception, Jude describes the transition from Syria to her experiences adjusting to living in America. A splendid book.
LIONS & LIARS by Kate Beasley
When Frederick Frederickson (the name says it all), 10-year-old misfit, accidentally sets himself adrift down the river, he ends up marooned at Camp Omigoshee, a disciplinary camp for boys. The counselors mistake him for one of the campers and Frederick wonders if this is his chance to reinvent himself. The others campers are just as quirky as Frederick, and together they forge a rather strange, but ultimately honest friendship, as true personalities are revealed and Frederick learns to see power and privilege in a new light.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson
I read the beautiful Bridge to Terabithia as a kid and I still list it as one of the books that has stayed with me. Two friends, Jess and Leslie, create an imaginary world they call Terabithia. One day a tragedy leaves Jess alone and he must rely on all he learned through his friendship with Leslie to work through his grief over her death. Sometimes we are reluctant to give a child a book with death as a central motif, but children need books that help them deal with big emotions.
Fantasy and Science Fiction
THE ENCHANTED LIFE OF VALENTINA MEJÍA by Alexandra Alessandri
Valentina has a father who searches for mythological creatures and a mother who is grounded in logic and reason. As a budding artist, Valentina feels stuck between them. One day when she and her brother, Julián are out with their father looking for the legendary patasola, an earthquake traps the siblings in an alternate Colombia and they must figure out a way to get home. Full of suspense, magic and emotional discovery.
THE MANIFESTOR PROPHESY (Nic Blake and the Remarkables series) by Angie Thomas
I knew I was going to like this book when I read Thomas' dedication to Virginia Hamilton, referencing Hamilton's, book, The People Could Fly, a collection of folktales I've recommended countless times on this blog. Nic comes from a family of Remarkables, lives in Mississippi, and hopes to follow in the footsteps of her father, who is a "Manifestor." Manifestors are Remarkables who have extraordinary powers but Nic learns a secret that threatens her father. Nic's best friend, J.P. is an Unremarkable, and helps her on her journey to clear her father's reputation. Angie Thomas (who wrote The Hate U Give) weaves African, African-American and Biblical folklore into this unique adventure.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo
My son said he had also read Because of Winn-Dixie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and The Magician's Elephant during quiet class reading time in 4th grade. "They were all good, mom, but The Tale of Despereaux was my favorite." Masterful and suspense-filled plot lines about a mouse in love with a princess, a rat who loves soup and light, and a not-so-bright peasant girl all come together in a marvelous tale which will get your kids thinking about love and forgiveness.
SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Lily and Wendy are stepsisters, but also friends. One night, during story time with their younger brother, Peter and the fairy Belle arrive and invite them to Neverland. One sister is eager to go. The other turns down the offer, but Peter's shadow convinces her to follow them. Cynthia Leitich Smith has crafted a truly marvelous re-envisioning of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan story centered around a blended Muskogee Creek and British family.
LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA by Erin Entrada Kelly
This book will capture your child's attention from the very first page. Rich vocabulary and imagery drawn from Filipino folklore take readers and listeners on a thrilling and utterly unique adventure. Lalani's mother falls ill and Lalani sets out on a voyage across the sea to the legendary Mount Isa in hopes of curing her. Themes range from the limits of personal responsibility, familial relationships and loyalty, and abuse of power and leadership.
A DASH OF TROUBLE (series) by Anna Meriano
In her Mexican-American family Leonora Logroño has five older sisters. Convinced they are excluding her from something important while they tend to the family bakery in their small Texan town, Leo investigates. She discovers a book, Recetas de amor, azúcar, y magia, and that her sisters use magic in their baked goods! Against her sisters' advice, Leo decides it is time that she learn magic, too, but things don't go exactly as she hopes! A delightful book for 9-year-olds who enjoy magical realism.
WHAT WE FOUND IN THE CORN MAZE AND HOW IT SAVED A DRAGON by Henry Clark
Cal and his pal, Drew, pick up a mysterious binder that a classmate, Modesty, dropped in a cornfield. The binder is full of tongue-twisting, 800 word magic spells. But there's a catch. Magic only works for one minute at several specific times a day, and all the spells are weirdly specific, "To untangle yarn," "to find lost coins," "to change a room's color," to name a few. Eventually, the three kids are whisked away to a parallel world where magic is in danger of disappearing. Lots of humor and fun word play make this an extra magical read.
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (series) by Grace Lin
This children's novel is a modern classic. Hoping to free her parents from poverty, Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change the family's destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twists and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli's quest, her father's stories, and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale. Don't forget the companion books, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver.
A TALE DARK AND GRIMM (series) by Adam Gidwitz
In this subversive re-imagining of "Hansel and Gretel," a sly and snarky narrator offers warnings, observations and opinions on the action. The story, in which the siblings journey on to try and find a set of decent parents, somehow manages to merge eight different Grimm fairy tales into one cohesive tale. An engaging story, but not for the faint of heart.
HEREVILLE: HOW MIRKA GOT HER SWORD by Barry Deutsch
What's that, you say? You are looking for a graphic novel about an orthodox Jewish girl who dreams of slaying dragons? Well, you've come to the right place. Mirka is not interested in the stereotypical "female pursuits," like knittin. The book opens with Mirka trying to convince her stepmother that God must want her to make kitting mistakes. When you see what role knitting plays in overcoming the terrible troll, you will probably agree with Mirka's assessment. One day Mirka finds herself in a kerfuffle involving wrestling a pig (although no one believes her, and what is a pig doing in an Orthodox community, anyway, they all say) but that's just the beginning.
MIGHTY JACK (series) by Ben Hatke
In this wonderful adventure graphic novel series, the titular hero lives with his mother and autistic sister, Maddy. At a flea market he trades his mother's car for a box of seeds and thus the adventure begins. Fans of Hatke's popular Zita the Spacegirl series will particularly enjoy this trilogy and spotting the crossover characters.
ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine
Sure your kids may have watched the movie, but don't forget the book, which is a great fairy-tale inspired book for 9-year-olds. Ella is given the "gift" of obedience, which gets her into all sorts of trouble, not least because she is strong willed. Determined to break the curse, she sets out on a journey and has a much more exciting adventure than Charles Perrault's Cinderella ever had.
DACTYL HILL SQUAD (series) by Daniel José Older
It's 1863 and the Civil War is being fought with troops on the backs of raptors! This is a spectacular and unique historical fantasy story. When Magdalys and several friends are on a field trip, children from the orphanage where they live are kidnapped. Magdalys and the others head to the Dactyl Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn where they learn how to ride pterodactyls as part of a plan to take down the evil magistrate behind the kidnappings. Magdalys has some trouble learning how to be a team player but her skill as a dinosaur telepath helps lead the group to victory.
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
I still remember my elementary school teacher reading The Westing Game aloud to the class. I was completely riveted and it continues to be one of my favorite children's books of all time. Mr. Westing, an eccentric millionaire, writes his will as a game. The named beneficiaries must discover who murdered him in order to inherit his fortune. "Players" are separated into teams with clues. This unusual mystery has a host of curious characters and surprising plot twists.
THE SWIFTS: A DICTIONARY OF SCOUNDRELS by Beth Lincoln
First of all, how can you not love a heroine named Shenanigan Swift? When someone pushes Arch-Aunt Schadenfreude down the stairs at the Swift family reunion and treasure hunt, Shenanigan is on the case! Everyone one in the Swift family is expected to live up to their name but Shenanigan thinks her legacy can be more than just chaos. With some help from her sisters, Phenomena and Felicity, Shenanigan makes progress solving the case and choosing her own path. Utterly delightful, clever and hilarious.
BELLY UP (Funjungle Series) by Stuart Gibbs
Both my kids loved the Funjungle series. The series begins with Belly Up, a mystery centered around the strange death of a hippo. The zookeepers insist it was natural, but 12-year-old Teddy isn't so sure and begins to investigate. Each book in the series looks at a different animal-based mystery.
THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson
After her parents' divorce, Candace and her mother move from Atlanta to spend the summer in South Carolina, where her grandmother used to live. Candace is lonely and misses Atlanta. She makes friends with Brandon, a shy neighbor and the two of them set out to solve a historical mystery involving Candace's grandmother. Along the way they uncover a history of racial tension in the small town and an intriguing story of identity and fortune.
TANGLED UP IN LUCK (series) by Merrill Wyatt
When Sloane and Amelia have to team up to complete a school project, they don't think they will be able to get along. But the mystery of the town's long-lost jewels draws them in and as they discover new clues and solve the mystery, their friendship blossoms and they learn to appreciate each other's differences. This book has has everything you want in a mystery–a house with secret compartments, missing babies, long lost relatives, and a shadowy figure following the young girl detectives' every move!
REZ DETECTIVES by Steven Paul Judd, Tvli Jacob, and M.K. Perker
In this colorful graphic novel set on a Choctaw reservation, Tasembo and his friend, Nuseka, declare themselves the "Rez Detectives" and set about trying to solve the mystery of the missing ice cream. Clever and humorous illustrations and dialogue in addition to well-rounded characters make this a winning choice.
SECRET CODERS (series) by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Mike Holmes
How many graphic novels have your kids read that were written by a MacArthur Fellow (aka "the genius grant")? Hopper is the new kid at school and she starts things off on the wrong foot. She gets her hackles up when she gets into a tussle on her first day at the strange and creepy Stately Academy but soon Hopper and another student, Eni, team up to solve the mystery of the school. There are binary numbers to figure out, coding puzzles to solve, and computer programs to unravel. If your kids can spend hours on coding websites, convince them to enjoy some off-screen time while working on the same type of problems—but with a book.
FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E FRANKWEILER by E. L. Konigsburg
This classic tale for tweens is so well known it hardly needs an introduction. Claudia and her brother Jamie run away to NYC where they hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and try to solve the mystery of a statue’s identity.
MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach
My boys and I loved this book so much! Marvin, an artistically talented beetle makes friends with James, a young boy. The two become embroiled in an art heist when Marvin's drawing is mistaken for James's work.
EDDIE RED, UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE (series) by Marcia Wells
Edmund Xavier Lonnrot a photographic memory and terrific art skills and when he gets in the way of a fleeing witness, the NYPD enlists his help to solve an art heist. We enjoyed this book and I liked the way Eddie's relationships with his parents, his OCD-diagnosed best friend and the somewhat grumpy police detective played out, giving the improbable situation a very realistic feel.
LIZARD'S TALE by Weng Wai Chan
In 1940 Singapore, Lizard went to live with his Uncle Archie after his parents died. However, when Uncle Archie disappeared unexpectedly, Lizard finds his way to Chinatown in Singapore, surviving by doing odd jobs. One of those jobs involves stealing a mysterious teak box and delivering it to a mysterious individual. When things don't go according to plan, Lizard is left with the box. He and his friend try to understand the mystery of the box, which somehow connects to the war, secret codes and the disappearance of Uncle Archie.
THE PEAR AFFAIR by Judith Eagle
This wonderful historical mystery takes readers to 1960s Paris, France. 12-year-old Nell has left her English boarding school in an attempt to find out what happened to her beloved nanny, "Pear," whom her unpleasant parents dismissed just before Nell went off to school. Once in Paris, Nell teams up with Xavier, a bellhop at a luxury hotel. Like Enola Holmes, Nell gets drawn into a second mystery–the suspicious contamination of baked goods at boulangeries across the city. (Anyone who has been to Paris, knows that would be a dire situation, indeed!)
MORE: Mystery Books for Tweens
THE HERO'S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM (series) by Christopher Healy
Fans of fairy tale adventures will enjoy this cheeky and humorous story about the "Prince Charmings." The princes, who now have actual names, have been turned out by their princesses for various reasons of unsuitability. They band together in an effort to prove themselves worthy by defeating Rapunzel's witch. The feisty princesses also make an appearance and by the end of the book it is hard not to laugh out loud at the lovable foolishness of the princes' exploits. Great fun.
TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING (series) by Judy Blume.
This is the first title in Blume’s Fudge classic children's book series about Peter Hatcher and his 2-year-old kid brother, “Fudge.” Older siblings everywhere will relate to Peter’s exasperation at his messy, loud, trouble making brother, especially since Peter seems to get the lion’s share of blame.
THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER by Lamar Giles
This is one of the quirkiest books I have ever read aloud and my fourth grader absolutely loved it. Cousins Otto and Sheed live in a Virginia county known for strange happenings. Together they have worked to solve many mysteries but this is the last day of summer and they are not ready for it to be over. They encounter a mysterious man with a camera that stops time and that's when the weirdness really begins! Zany, imaginative, not-a-little-bit-surreal, yet still thoughtful.
THE TERRIBLE TWO (series) by Jory John and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
There's an epic war of tricks and pranks when Miles moves to Yawnee Valley and finds out the school already has a master prankster in residence: Niles. Miles and Niles join forces to become the "Terrible Two" and attempt to pull off the most legendary prank ever. This book is a high interest, easy to read novel for kids who might be classified as "reluctant readers," but will also be loved by voracious 9-year-old readers!
THOR'S WEDDING DAY by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Matthew Cogswell
I will confess that I was not expecting to enjoy this book, but I liked it just as much as my son and we both laughed out loud the whole way through. It's a vary, very funny adaptation of a classic tale from Norse mythology in which Thor must dress as a bride in order to get back his stolen hammer.
FAKE MUSTACHE by Tom Angleberger
Lenny Flem Jr.'s friend, Casper, comes into an unexpected windfall and purchases a suit and fake mustache. Shortly afterwards, a string of robberies takes place and Casper makes a grab for world domination. Sound absurd enough for you? One of the surprising twists of this books is that half-way through, the narration switches from Lenny to Jodie and somehow Angleberger makes it all work brilliantly.
HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS by Thomas Rockwell
Raise your hand if you read this 1973 book when you were a kid! This is a smart, funny, suspenseful book which paints a realistic portrait of boys in a state of "war" against each other. Billy accepts a challenge to eat 15 worms in 15 days. The prize is a whopping $50. (Big money back in 1973!) As Billy thinks of new ways to make the worms palatable, his competitors come up with increasingly complex ways to outwit him.
BARB THE LAST BERZERKER by Dan Abdo, illustrated by Jason Patterson
In this exciting adventure, Barb is the only one of her band of Berzerkers to escape capture by the evil Witch Head. Along with a Yeti named Porkchop, and the powerful Shadow Sword, she heads off to find the Northern Berzerkers so they can help her vanquish Witch Head. A great funny, fantasy graphic novel series!
JULIUS ZEBRA (series) by Gary Northfield
I'm embarrassed to say that it was one of my son's 9-year-old friends who noticed that title character is a pun on "Julius Ceasar," and not me! This is a silly, ridiculous, tale of a "definitely not a stripy horse" who is taken from the African savanna and transported to Ancient Rome, where he must train as a gladiator. With that premise, you can imagine that this book is one big zany adventure. The text is peppered with many black and white drawings and speech bubbles and kids won't stop reading until they finally reach the end, after which they will pick up the next book in the series.
THE TAPPER TWINS (series) by Geoff Rodkey
My son loves this series and checks it out repeatedly from the library! Claudia and Reese are engaged in a prank war at their private New York City school. The writing is funny and engaging and full of outrageous humor, which I'm guessing Wimpy Kid fans will love!
THE WILLOUGHBYS by Lois Lowry
Does your kid like literacy references and tongue-in-cheek, melodramatic humor? Fans of Lemony Snicket will enjoy this tale of four children, Tim, Barnaby A, Barnaby B, and Jane who fancy themselves to be "old-fashioned" in the vein of book heroes and heroines. When their unpleasant parents go off on a world trip, the siblings are left with a not-so-odious-after-all nanny and end up being semi-adopted by their lonely neighbor who has taken in a baby found on his doorstep.
ZORGAMAZOO by Robert Paul Weston
The fast-paced, clever, rhyming verse novel follows Katrina Katrell, who runs away from her evil guardian, and alights on an adventure with a strange creature called a Zorgle from Zorgamazoo. A twisting mystery, with bizarre and hilarious characters follow.
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Curtis' book is a tender and very funny portrait of a loving African-American family living in Flint, Michigan. Young Kenny’s parents decide to drive the family down to Birmingham where older brother Byron will spend the summer with grandma in an attempt to correct his delinquent behavior. Most of the action takes place before the family gets to Birmingham and despite the serious undercurrents of the story, there are many moments of this book which are laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended and very enjoyable.
TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer L. Holm
11-year-old "Turtle" moves in with her extended family in this lovely gem of a book set in 1930s Florida Keys. Turtle’s time running around the neighborhood, meeting new people and having pirate adventures with her boy cousins make for a charming and funny story with old-fashioned overtones.
A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Park
In 12th century Korea, Tree-Ear, an orphan, lives under the bridge with the disabled Crane-man. The two survive from day to day but Tree-Ear is fascinated by the local revered potter, Min. Circumstances collide and Tree-Ear becomes Min's apprentice. Tree-Ear must learn patience, an appreciation for hard work, as well as suffer through Min's bad temper. When Min sets about creating pottery to impress an emissary, Tree-Ear is determined to help him succeed and undergoes an important, life-changing journey. An utterly fantastic book.
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, young Leif leaves in a canoe with a few supplies. Instructed by one of the elders to voyage northward, 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.
FRONT DESK (series) by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang lives in a motel where her immigrant parents are the managers for an exploitative owner. Mia wants to be a writer but worries about her English skills. She takes over running the front desk of the motel and makes friends wherever she goes. She experiences anti-Chinese prejudice and witnesses racial bias against People of Color in her neighborhood. She dreams of winning a writing contest so her parents can own their own hotel instead of working endlessly for little pay. Yang based the novel on her own experiences growing up in similar circumstances. A winning, funny and heartwarming novel; not to be missed.
THREE STRIKE SUMMER by Skyler Schrempp
In the 1930s, Gloria's family farm is the victim of the Dust Bowl. She and her parents head for California to work as agricultural laborers in hopes of earning enough to buy their own land again. They find work in a peach orchard but what Gloria really wants is to play baseball, but first she must find a way to convince the boys to let her play on the secret orchard team. Meanwhile, her father is organizing a labor strike, which has unexpected consequences. It is Gloria's compelling narration draws readers into her story, where they will also learn about labor history and The Great Depression.
THE RHINO IN RIGHT FIELD by Stacy DeKeyser
This is an excellent, funny book for kids who love baseball. Set in the late 1940s, the story follows Nick Spirakis, the son of Greek immigrants, who plays ball with his friends in a field by the zoo. The field contains perils such as Tank the Rhino, who lives just beyond the outfield (where balls occasionally land!). When the local baseball team comes under the control of a new owner, Nick and his friends vie for a spot as batboy. Amidst the humor and action, the story also addresses life as an immigrant, dealing with bullies and the status of girls who play baseball.
CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD by Avi
Set in the 14th century, this award-winning book is a page-turning adventure! Asta's son doesn't have a real name, and he doesn't know who his father is. When his mother dies, he comes under the guardianship of Father Quinel, who gives him a cross of lead owned by his mother. But before Father Quinel tells him his paternity, the boy (now named Crispin) must flee. He goes on the run from the wicked lord who owns the village and a hair-raising adventure begins.
THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani
I could not put this book down! Nisha and her twin brother are half-Muslim, half-Hindu siblings living with their father in India just before the time of Partition. When word comes that their town is to become part of the new Pakistan state, Nisha, her brother, her Hindu father and grandmother must make the harrowing and dangerous journey to the Indian border. Each chapter is an entry in Nisha's diary as she leaves her comfortable life behind and struggles with her own questions of identity.
WHEN MISCHIEF CAME TO TOWN by Katrina Nannestad
In early 20th century Denmark, an orphan girl meets her grandmother for the first time when she goes to live with her after the death of her mother. Inge Maria is a free spirit and even though trouble seems to follow her wherever she goes (hilarious trouble, to be sure) the townspeople and her grandmother can’t help but fall utterly in love with her. I thought Nannestad masterfully handled Inge Maria’s grief over her mother’s death, her joyous attitude towards new experiences, and her headstrong imagination.
NATHAN HALE'S HAZARDOUS TALE (Series) by Nathan Hale
Both my middle grade readers love Nathan Hale's historical graphic novels. The topics range from the Revolutionary War to the Donner Party, the Alamo to WWI and more. As a narrator, Hale makes history fascinating and funny. If your kids say they aren't "into history" sneak a few of these books into their reading stash.
THE MOFFATS (series) by Eleanor Estes
If you are looking for a gentle, humorous, classic book a 9-year-old will enjoy, this is a great choice. The Moffat family lives in the town of Cranberry and the Moffat children do things like get stuck in bread boxes, hop on trains and enjoy life around them without the aid of an iPad. There are several books in the series: The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., The Moffat Museum.
VOYAGE OF THE SPARROWHAWK by Natasha Farrant
Farrant's marvelous novel reads like a classic. In 1919, 13-year-old Ben wants to find his adoptive brother, Sam, who disappeared in France during the First World War. Back in England, he meets Lotti, who is being looked after by her unsympathetic aunt and uncle. Lotti is about to be sent away to boarding school and so she and Ben decide to take the Sparrowhawk, a narrowboat that is Ben and Sam's home, across the channel to find Sam and Lotti's grandmother. On their journey, Ben and Lotti meet supportive adults who help them to their destination. The story is full of dynamic characters that pull at your heartstrings.
LETTERS FROM CUBA by Ruth Behar
I could not stop turning the pages of this excellent epistolary novel. In 1938, Esther leaves her mother and brother in Poland and joins her father in Cuba. Esther tells her story in a series of letters to her sister. Making the journey by herself, as a Jewish refugee, Esther looks forward to her new home. Once in Cuba, she falls in love with the island and her neighbors. Her father has been working as a peddler, but Esther is a talented seamstress and finds success selling sought after dresses so that she and her father are finally able to send for the rest of the family. Behar based the book on the story of her grandmother and introduces readers to an incredibly diverse population.
A WOLF CALLED WANDER by Roseanne Parry
At the age of two, Wander's pack is attacked by a rival wolf pack and Wander is separated from the rest of his pack. Unable to learn the fate of his family, Wander sets out on a journey of survival. The wolf narrates his own tale and–wow–is it fascinating. The book is full of observations about other wildlife, the impact of humans, and the perils of life as one of nature's most important predators. In the endnotes, Parry explains that she based her book on a real-life wolf that scientists had been tracking.
I, COSMO by Carlie Sorosiak
This unique book is narrated by the family's elder golden retriever, Cosmo. Cosmo considers himself to be Max's big brother and his life's work is to keep Max safe. However, the family is in turmoil. Max's parents are fighting and Max and his sister are feeling anxious. Max gets the idea to enter a contest by teaching Cosmo a dance routine, which he hopes will make his parents take notice of him and stop fighting. A wonderful, tender story.
WOOF (Bowser and Birdie series) by Spencer Quinn
With the help of his excellent sense of smell, and his human companion, Birdie, Bowser the dog solves mysteries. Bowser narrates these humorous adventures. In the first book, Bowser and Birdie investigate the disappearance of grammy's stuffed prize marlin. This serie is a great choice for readers who love mysteries, as well as for animal fans.
RAGWEED (series) by Avi
Ragweed follows the trials and tribulations of an adventurous mouse who sets out to see the world. Along the way he meets some super cool mice living the good life, except for the occasional encounter with a tricky kitty. Your 9-year-old will be enchanted by the entire Tales from Dimwood Forest series.
ODDER by Katherine Applegate
Applegate is best known for The One and Only Ivan, but Odder's setting of Monterey Bay, California steals my heart. Also, sea otters are the best. Applegate's free verse novel is narrated by the titular character who finds herself in the middle of a rescue operation when she goes to the aid of another otter who is being attacked by a shark. Odder and her friend, Kairi end up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where humans are work to heal and rehabilitate otters into the wild.
MORE: Books like The One and Only Ivan
CLEVER POLLY AND THE STUPID WOLF by Catherine Storr
I 100% LOVE this 1955 classic. We've read it aloud multiple times, and my son still reads it on his own! As you might guess from the title, Polly readily outwits a not-so-shrewd wolf who would like nothing better than to eat her for dinner. Storr's storytelling ability is just as clever and witty as her heroine.
THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt
Bingo and J’miah are two raccoons who descend from a long line of raccoons who are entrusted with the job of alerting the mythic Sugar Man in case of an emergency. They decide to do so when a band of feral hogs invade the swamp, their sights set on the sugarcane. Meanwhile, Chad is dismayed to learn that the slimy Sunny Boy Beaucoup (what a name!) wants to convert the swamp into Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park.
VIOLET AND JOBIE IN THE WILD by Lynne Rae Perkins
Although there are many wonderful children's novels featuring anthropomorphized mice, you can always make room for one more. Violet and Jobie are house mice. They love the comfort of dry shelter and all the yummy human food. They also love to play SNAP! the cheese game in which they poke a platform, cause it to jump, and then feast on cheese. Their love of this game gets them trapped and transported to wilds where they must learn new survival skills. But nature, even with its dangers, turns out to be less scary and more exciting than they thought.
DOMINIC by William Steig
This is one of our favorite read aloud books! Dominic is a dog who sets out to find adventure. Along the way he meets the Doomsday Gang, a band of ne’er-do-wells who are spreading havoc among the local population. Dominic easily foils the greedy gang and earns everyone’s awe and respect. His kindness towards towards others earns him a reward, which he spreads around to the less fortunate as he continues on his journey. Dominic has such a positive attitude towards life, your kids will be smiling from ear to ear while reading.
MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Here's a classic book for every fourth grader! Mrs. Frisby must move her children to a warmer home for the winter. But her youngest, Timothy, is sick and she needs assistance. Mrs. Frisby enlists the help of a community of rats who have been bred in a lab to have superior intelligence. Winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal.
SAVING WINSLOW by Sharon Creech
Young Louie misses his brother Gus, who is in the army. Nursing a small, sickly donkey he names Winslow helps to fill the gap of loneliness. Winslow also helps him to befriend Nora, a charming and quirky girl who lives close by and who is dealing with a loss of her own. Delightful and heartwarming.