Finding the perfect novel to give a middle grade reader doesn't have to be difficult. Just ask the reader what interests them most and head to the corresponding category below!
Our gift guide to middle grade books takes the guess work out of finding a book your readers ages 8-12 will love.
- Graphic Novels
- Spy Novels
- Historical Fiction
- Fairy Tales
- Contemporary Realism
- Future World Leaders
- Science and Nature
(Note: this list contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn commission.)
Books for Kids Who Love Fantasy:
Fantasy books evoke magic, mythological beings, time travel and portals to other worlds. For more fantasy books for middle grade readers check out our big list of fantasy books for tweens.
THE TROUBLED GIRLS OF DRAGOMIR ACADEMY by Anne Ursu
When 12-year-old Marya Lupu upsets an important visit by sorcerers come to test her older brother for magic, she is sent away to Dragomir Academy. Dragomir is a boarding school housed in a castle donated by a Count for the purpose of educating "troublesome" girls. The teachers, while not unkind, insist that girls follow rules. Marya, and her new friend, Elana, find this difficult. At the academy, Marya, starts to build relationships and questions what she's told about magic, who can wield it, and why it threatens the land. Her discoveries lead to uncovering secrets about the structure of Illyria's society.
THE PRINCE OF NOWHERE by Rochelle Hassan
I confess that I did not see the twist coming in this time traveling tale. Other readers may figure out the twist earlier but it won't take away from the page-turning nature of this fast-paced story. Roda lives with her mother and aunt in a city surrounded by a freezing mist. She starts to get mysterious anonymous letters which foretell of things to come and which lead her to an injured crow. The crow turns out to be Ignis, a shapeshifter from Aerlands, outside the mist. Events soon have the pair following clues from the letters which take them on an incredible journey.
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, Michael, 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 the Peter Pan legend centered around a blended Muskogee Creek and British family.
For Kids Who Like Graphic Novels
Kids love graphic novels and they are a particularly good book to put in the hands of a reluctant reader. Fortunately, graphic novels come in loads of different genres, so you can find the perfect book gift.
MILES MORALES: SHOCK WAVES by Justin A. Reynolds, illustrated by Pablo Leon
Even kids who aren't into Spider Man will love this graphic novel. Miles Morales is just a kid attending high school in Brooklyn who starts a fundraiser for victims of an earthquake in Puerto Rico. However, he finds himself delving into the connections of his friend's missing father and the corporation behind his fundraiser. Spider-Man must spring into action!
CARDBOARDIA by Lucy Campagnolo, illustrated by Richard Fairgray
Four kids are transported via cereal box prizes into a parallel world where everything is made of cardboard. In this new universe, their creativity is unleashed, but they also meet the evil Grey Queen and must band together with the Carboardians in order to defeat her.
PASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani
This is a simply lovely graphic novel about a girl who seeks answers about her family. One day, Pri finds a pashmina in an old suitcase. When she puts it on, she is transported to a vibrant India where she encounters an elephant and a peacock who become her guides. Pri begins a journey to find the answers to her questions in this marvelous story filled with magical realism.
MISTER INVINCIBLE: LOCAL HERO by Pascal Jousselin
Everyone in our family loved Mister Invincible! This French comic features a masked crusader who helps ordinary people, fights villains and foils the devious plots of mad scientists. What's his superpower, you ask? It's breaking through the walls of the comic strip boxes. Mr. Invincible can reach through one panel to affect the action in previous and future panels. Great fun!
Books for Future Detectives
INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS (series) by Dusti Bowling
This funny and moving book is fantastic! Aven Green and her family move from Kansas to Arizona, where her dad has taken a job as the manager of a western theme park. Aven was born without any arms but that hasn't stopped her from accomplishing anything–she just does it with her feet! Aven narrates her own tale with a humorous, clever and truth-telling eye. With the help of her new friends, she sets out to solve a mystery and learn the secrets of Stagecoach Park.
LIZARD'S TALE by Weng Wai Chan
Half-Cantonese, half-British Lizard went to live with his Uncle Archie after his parents died. However, when Uncle Archie disappeared unexpectedly, Lizard finds his way to Chinatown, surviving by doing odd jobs. One of those jobs involves stealing a mysterious teak box. 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, codes and the disappearance of Uncle Archie. Lizard's Tale has a lot going for it. An uncommon setting of 1940 Singapore, themes of belonging, prejudice and friendship, surprising turns of events and character revelations make this a book not to be missed.
THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
I still remember my 5th grade teacher reading The Westing Game 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.
Books For Future Spies
THE GREAT GREEN HEIST (series) by Varian Johnson
This fast-paced heist story is a fun choice for summer reading. Jackson Greene decides to intervene when he thinks his classmates are rigging the school election against his friend, Gabby. Jackson and his friends engage in a scheme to make sure the election ballots are counted honestly. With school political shenanigans, a diverse group of protagonists and a clever, twisting plot, your kids will love this book.
THE APOTHECARY (series) by Maile Meloy
The action is set in 1952 against the backdrop of the cold war. In London, 14 year old Janie befriends Benjamin, the son of a mysterious apothecary. Benjamin wants to be a spy and enlists Janie in his efforts. When his father disappears, Janie and Benjamin get caught up in a plot involving a magical book called the Pharmacopoeia, spells which allow humans to turn into birds, Russian spies, and unbelievable potions. I couldn't put it down!
Books For Kids Who Like Mythology
Has your kid been reading Percy Jackson or D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths? You could go the Rick Riordan route and pick up one of his other series of books. Or check out the two books below that contain heavy mythological elements. Or, try one of the thrilling adventures on my list of books for kids who like Percy Jackson.
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. I adored this book and couldn't put it down. 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.
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 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. I highly recommend it as a read aloud.
Books For Young Historians
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.
SHOW ME A SIGN by Ann Clare LeZotte
In 1805, Mary Lambert lives in a community where everyone speaks sign language and a quarter of the population is deaf. One day, a young man arrives in the village hoping to research the reason for the high rate of deafness. Mary narrates the story and her observations of the interactions between the English, Black, Irish, and Wampanoag peoples, as well as on racism, prejudice and ableism are perceptive and thought-provoking. The author's endnote gives historical background on the town of Chilmark and Martha's Vineyard are fascinating.
Books For Kids Who Like Fairy Tales
THE FAIRY TALE DETECTIVES (The Sisters Grimm series) by Michael Buckley
This series could not be more fun! Sabrina and Daphne Grimm, descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm, live with their grandmother in Ferryport Landing. The entire series is filled with wonderful, reimagined fairy tale characters and madcap humor. In this first book, the sister must solve the mystery of why a giant is on the loose in the town.
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.
Books For Kids Who Prefer Realism
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.
THE SEASON OF STYX MALONE by 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.
ROLL WITH IT by Jamie Sumner
Ellie loves to bake! Her cerebral palsy means her mom is a bit overprotective, and that she has to spend more time than she would like with doctors. Ellie's grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease and so Ellie and her mom move in with her grandparents to help out. Starting a new school means Ellie finally finds some good friends and feels like she fits in somewhere. Roll With It is a marvelous book, tackling so many themes, but with good humor and likable characters.
Books For Kids Who Love to Ride the Rails:
Not every kids outgrows thier love of trains! Here are two books to capture their attention.
THE BOUNDLESS by Kenneth Oppel
Take an action packed adventure aboard a mysterious train. Will embarks on the maiden voyage of "The Boundless", a train with 987 cars! One of those cars contains priceless treasures that nefarious individuals would like to get their hands on. Will teams up with colorful characters in order to save the train and the treasure.
ON THE BLUE COMET by Rosemary Wells.
Like the Hogwart's Express, the Blue Comet is a magical train that takes children on unexpected adventures. However, the Blue Comet crosses time and space, taking its riders back and forth between the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. You can only board the Blue Comet if you possess an intense need to escape your current situation. That's exactly what happens when Oscar witnesses a crime. He is transported through time and must find his way back again.
For Drama Seekers
SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES by Stephanie S. Tolan
Jake has gotten kicked out of his last school and is now living with the eccentric, artistic, homeschooling Applewhite family. The father is directing a local production of "The Sound of Music" and no one is more surprised than Jake when he discovers he loves performing. I loved the quirky characters and the boundless energy of this book. When the family has to pull together to get the show up after they are blackballed by a local stage mom, the results are hilariously successful. I really enjoy how the story reinforces the necessity of cooperation when putting on a play.
STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG! by Jessica Kim
Yumi Chung's family owns a Korean restaurant but times are tough and the only way Yumi can continue her enrollment at her private school is to earn a scholarship. Her parents sign her up with a tutor but Yumi longs to hone her stand-up comedy. When an identity mix up lands Yumi in comedy camp, she gets twisted up in a pretzel of deception (yes, I made that terrible metaphor up myself). This a an entertaining story of a girl learning to speak up for herself, engaging in creative problem solving and figuring out exactly what she wants. Highly recommended!
Books For Future World Leaders:
WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
In this graphic novel memoir, Jamieson and Mohamed tell the story of Mohamed's experience as a refugee living in a camp in Kenya. Readers will learn of the difficult life in a refugee camp but relate to the hopes of Omar and Hassan. Omar faces tough choices that could affect his future as well as his family and although the experiences of Omar and Hassan are likely to never be known by most readers of this book, readers will not soon forget them.
THE GIVER QUARTET by Lois Lowry
Once your child has read The Giver, they will enjoy reading the rest of Lowry's moving quartet. Each book takes place in the same world but narrates the lives of different character. Readers will discover the connecting thread of all four stories in the final book. Titles include Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Ages 10 and up.
Books for Young Scientists and Naturalists
ME AND MARVIN GARDENS by April Sarig King
This was such an interesting read. Obe Devlin lives in a house that has sat on his family's farmland for several generations. But his grandfather lost much of the land and it is now under development for tract housing. Obe spends his time down at the creek looking for animal tracks and one day he spies a strange new creature that eats plastic. Obe names the animal, Marvin Gardens because his dad loves Monopoly. Obe tries to keep Marvin a secret but then he discovers Marvin's scat is toxic to the land. While I was reading this book I kept thinking Marvin must be a figment of Obe's imagination, but he wasn't and that makes the book so much better. It would be easy for King's book to devolve into environmental preachiness but it is not at all didactic.
THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly
In 1899, Calpurnia loathes the expectations set for 12-year old-girls; she'd much rather read Darwin's The Origin of Species and catch and study wildlife with her naturalist Granddaddy. I loved this tale of a girl coming of age at a time when natural science and engineering discoveries were changing the world. Be sure to pick up the sequel, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate.
Martha Kiger says
Are you familiar with the Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng? They are stories about a brave girl her clever boy friend and her adventurous pug who travel in time and have adventures, some pretty harrowing, but my son loved the series when he was 10, 11 years old.
Erica MomandKiddo says
Thank you for the suggestion!
I'm truly grateful to have subscribed to your newsletter. I've been living overseas and have a bit of difficulty engaging my son to read books. I will most certainly introduce your reviews of the books and hopefully something will click. You're wonderful!
Erica MomandKiddo says
Thank you, Irene!