HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-85 Middle Grade Book Favorites Selected by a Middle School Teacher and Author

5 Middle Grade Book Favorites Selected by a Middle School Teacher and Author

Matthew Landis | The Children’s Book Review | May 30, 2018

Matthew Landis, Author of The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody, shares 5 of his favorite middle grade books …


A Monster Calls- Inspired by an idea from Siobhan DowdA Monster Calls

Written by Patrick Ness

I herald this book in my classroom and every school I visit, primarily in penance. For years my 8th graders would haul this title in, and I judged it by the cover; I thought it was a horror book. But then I actually read it, and the novel now sits atop my all-time MG favorites. Stunning in its direct prose and imaginative reworking of the sick-parent narrative, Ness (building on an idea from deceased author Sabwaan Dowd) delivers a stunning book about facing the truth of impending grief, and more importantly, surviving it.

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Ages 11+ | Publisher: Candlewick | 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0763655594

The Frame UpThe Frame Up

Written by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

A few years ago, my LKG Agency sister Wendy asked me to read the opening of a book about an art gallery where the paintings come to life. The now-titled THE FRAME UP is going to be published this June by Greenwillow, so I get to (and often do) tell people I knew Wendy before she was famous. Inspired by an art gallery in her native New Brunswick, Canada, this story looks to be as warm-hearted, witty, and original as the Wendy I’ve come know. I am really pumped to finish the story, if only our shared agent would GET ME AN ADVANCE COPY PLEASE.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Greenwillow Books | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0062668301

The-Night-DiaryThe Night Diary

Written by Veera Hiranandani

I recently had a group of students turn in a National History Day project on the partition of India and Pakistan. Being that my exposure to this history was extremely limited, I found the content fascinating, specifically the girls’ thesis that dealt with the conflict brought about by the compromise to divide the lands largely on religious grounds. Enter: Hiranandani’s book about a twelve-year-old Nisha, a half-Hindu, half-Muslim girl on the scene in 1947 Pakistan. I’m really excited to take this train journey with Nisha as she tells of a homelands lost and an identity found through a series of heartfelt letters to her deceased mother.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Dial Books | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0735228511

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein- Based on a True StoryPlaying Atari with Saddam Hussein: Based on a True Story

Written by Jennifer Roy and Ali Fadhil

This book is a great example of how titles can tractor-beam you in. Immediately I wanted to know “What game and who won?” and the novel is now topping my TBR list. Set during the First Persian Gulf War (1991), this true account follows eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil during the forty-three day conflict. And that’s what attracted me–the insider vantage point on a topic widely recounted from the outside. A decade in the social studies classroom has hammered this truth into my head: war narratives are infinitely varied and complex as the people who live through them. I am ready to add Ali’s story to the tapestry of the first American war I was exposed to as a kid.

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Ages 10-12 | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0544785076

The River Between UsThe River Between Us

Written by Richard Peck

Nobody gets you back in time like Peck. Nobody. My partner teacher will yet again feature this novel in our Civil War Book Club starting next week, and it remains my favorite historical fiction piece of the time period. Set in southeastern Illinois at the start of the Civil War, Peck hammers home the painful truth that loyalty and geography can be tricky in war. Told from the perspective of eight-year-old Tilly Pruitt, the novel explores tensions along the border states, the horrible realities of soldier camp life, and the taboo subject of placage, by which wealthy Louisiana men fathered illegitimate children with African American women. Poignantly spun with dead-on era dialect, you will be instantly transported to Grand Tower, Illinois circa 1861.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Puffin Books | 2005 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0142403105

The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private NobodyThe Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody

Written by Matthew Landis

Publisher’s Synopsis: A trio of seventh graders become one another’s first friends as they discover the secrets of a Civil War soldier in this middle grade novel for fans of Gordon Korman and Gary Schmidt.

Twelve-year-old Oliver Prichard is obsessed with the Civil War. He knows everything about it: the battles, the generals, every movement of the Union and Confederate Armies. So when the last assignment of seventh-grade history is a project on the Civil War, Oliver is over the moon–until he’s partnered with Ella Berry, the slacker girl with the messy hair who does nothing but stare out the window. And when Oliver finds out they have to research a random soldier named Private Raymond Stone who didn’t even fight in any battles before dying of some boring disease, Oliver knows he’s doomed.

But Ella turns out to be very different from what Oliver expected. As the partners film their documentary about Private Stone–with Oliver’s friend Kevin signing on as their head writing consultant–Oliver discovers that sometimes the most interesting things are hiding in uninteresting places. Even Private Stone is better than expected: There’s a mystery buried in his past, and Oliver knows he can figure it out.

Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Dial Books | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0735227989

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About the Author

Matthew Landis slays boredom wherever it lurks in his eighth-grade social studies classroom. He lives in his hometown of Perkasie, PA, with his wife and two kids, and a boxer that acts much like the forgotten eldest child.

Matthew Landis, author of The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody, selected these ‘5 Favorite Middle Grade Books.’ Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with

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