Five Middle-Grade Friends Selected by Caroline Starr Rose
Caroline Starr Rose | The Children’s Book Review | February 12, 2017
Every reader knows that books are the most faithful of friends. Whether you’ve known them for years or are newly acquainted, books welcome you in and invite you to stay. They never tire of your companionship and are willing to run through the same familiar stories as many times as you want to hear them. When you have to step away for a couple hours — or days or years — they patiently await your return.
So picking five favorite books feels like a bit of a betrayal. What about those other friends that haven’t made the list? Excuse me for a moment while we have a little talk:
Hey, books. You guys on my shelves and nightstand and over at the library. We’re still good. Just because I haven’t mentioned you here doesn’t mean things are over between us. You’re just as dear to me as you were before.
Now that my unpicked friends know where they stand, there are two more things I have to mention before sharing my list.
First, in an effort to narrow things down, I’ve decided I won’t include any books that are a part of a series. You’ll find no books about Laura Ingalls or Anne Shirley here, even though those girls have played a huge role in my life, my thoughts, my very being. As for books about Ramona Quimby, that’s not happening. You don’t need to remind me Ramona’s the most perfect middle-grade character ever to exist on the page, that she’s influenced my teaching and mothering and writing. Nope. There will be no Ramona stories mentioned here today. No Brian Robeson books, either, even though I cried at the end of Brian’s Winter just because my time with this brave kid was over (thank you Gary Paulsen, for later continuing on with Brian and his world!). And not one book about Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper will be noted in the Top Five, though I pored over the Prydain Chronicles as the most faithful devotee.
Second, this list stands as my favorite middle grade books for today. In other words, the list is fluid and subject to change.
Got it? Then here we go.
Written by Norton Juster
I’ve probably read this book thirty times, first in my six-grade class and later to my own six grade students. It’s got humor, a dash of mystery, a reluctant hero, a daring quest, and a Humbug fond of the number 17. My beloved copy is grimy, marked-up, tattered, and oh so beautiful.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Bullseye Books | 1988 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0394820378
Written by Karen Cushman
This is the book that showed me I wanted to write historical fiction for kids. Catherine transformed the Middle Ages from some old dusty piece of the past to a vibrant world. I examine my own characters alongside Catherine in hopes her realness will somehow seep in.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | 2012 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0547722184
Written by Marilyn Sue Shank
I love stories about regular people who bravely face the world before them. Lydia Hawkins is that kind of girl.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Yearling | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0375873317
Written by Kwame Alexander
Because perfection. Plain and simple. I listened to this book on CD while on a road trip and wanted to shout and applaud when I reached the end.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | 2013 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0544107717
Written by John David Anderson
This book made me sob and laugh and think. It pulled me outside myself, left me feeling bigger, made me want to try to map its structure just to soak it in even more.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Walden Pond Press | 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-0062338174
Five favorites for today. Five forever friends.
Written by Caroline Starr Rose
Publisher’s Synopsis: Hoping to strike it rich, two brothers escape an abusive father and set out on a treacherous journey to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans, and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.
Onboard the ship, Jasper overhears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who’s long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.
In an endearing, funny, pitch-perfect middle grade voice, Caroline Starr Rose tells another stellar historical adventure young readers will long remember.
Ages 10-12 | Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0399168116
About the Author
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. As a girl she danced ballet, raced through books, composed poetry on an ancient typewriter, and put on magic shows in a homemade cape. She’s taught both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. In her classroom, she worked to instill in her students a passion for books, an enthusiasm to experiment with words, and a curiosity about the past. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novels in verse May B. and Blue Birds. Caroline lives in New Mexico with her husband and two sons.
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Caroline Starr Rose, author of Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, selected these five middle grade books. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Middle Grade Books and Books for Kids Age 9-12.