5 Middle Grade Books to Grow Up, Out, and Old With
Sarah Jean Horwitz | The Children’s Book Review | April 30, 2017
When I was eleven, I dreamed of Canada.
Canada, to me, was a magical land of dresses with puffed sleeves and toast with homemade preserves (I didn’t really understand what ‘preserves’ were, but they sounded delicious) and friends who loved you dearly even if you were skinny and awkward and used big words. It was a world of romantic wooded paths and fresh, salty sea breezes and small towns where the biggest scandal was that someone wanted to paint an advertisement – an advertisement! – on their fence. It was a world frozen in time, and I wanted desperately to be a part of it.
Eventually, I learned I was a little bit wrong about Canada. This wasn’t surprising, considering my perception of the entire country was based on the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, which takes place in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. First published in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has become a classic for all ages – and that’s precisely why it’s always on my list of favorite books. The best books I read when I was eleven are ones I still love today, and the new middle grade reads I’ve come across as an adult are books I wish I could send back in time to my younger self.
There are books and characters we grow up with – the Anne Shirleys and the Harry Potters who grow and change and age right along with us, right there when we need them. Those of us who stuck with Anne remember her adventures walking ridgepoles and baking cakes and playing make-believe – but we also remember her first job, her first romance, and her first college roommates.
There are stories we grow out with, too – stories that widen our worlds and show us new ways of seeing, or help us face the gnarliest, scariest monsters under the bed – illness, addiction, absence, war, and even death.
And then there are the stories we grow old with – in all different ways. They’re the books dog-eared and warped from countless rereads, yellowing with age. The books we go back to years later with a fuller understanding and appreciation. (Those who really stayed with Anne remember her first failed romance, her marriage and the death of her first child, and the toll of World War I on her family.) Sometimes, they’re the children’s books we discover as adults that remind us why we loved reading in the first place.
The very best books, of course, are books we can grow up, out, and old with – even after we’ve internalized the reality of modern Canada. I’m pleased to present a few of my favorites here.
5 Favorite Middle Grade Books
Written by L.M. Montgomery
At once a heartwarming collection of zany, small town anecdotes and a full, honest journey from Anne’s girlhood to the complexities of being a woman of her time, I’ll always remember my fictional trips to Prince Edward Island – and I’ll always be on the lookout for ‘kindred spirits.’
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Puffin Books | 2014 (Puffin in Bloom Edition) | ISBN-13: 978-0147514004
Written by J.K. Rowling
Like many younger authors, no fantasy story has shaped my love of reading and storytelling more than Harry Potter. I feel so incredibly lucky to have grown up with this boy wizard and his amazing friends. (What frizzy-haired little girl didn’t want to be Hermione Granger? I still want to be Hermione Granger.)
Ages 11-15 | Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Written by Neil Gaiman
If you ever worry the story you want to tell is too strange or too scary or too something, just remember that The Graveyard Book is a Newbery award-winning children’s novel that opens with a triple homicide. A vivid and delightfully macabre adventure from beginning to end, this is a book that grabs you from the first page and never quite lets go.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: HarperCollins | 2008 | ISBN-13: 978-0060530921
Written by Patrick Ness
Speaking of letting go…I’m not crying, you’re crying. (We’re all probably crying.) This beautiful book, simultaneously so raw and so delicate in its exploration of death and illness and grief, is a story I wish had existed when I was younger. To read it now, lingering over each carefully chosen word and powerfully haunting illustration, is always a bittersweet pleasure.
Ages 11+ | Publisher: Candlewick | 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0763655594
Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Everyone, no matter how old they are, needs a good fairy story once in a while. Sometimes, that fairy story doesn’t even have many fairies in it (!) and it’s still a rollicking, wondrous adventure packed with heart. I can’t think of a better book for a young reader’s first trip to fairyland – or the occasional visit by a grownup like me.
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Feiwel & Friends | 2011 | ISBN-13: 978-0312649616
Written by Sarah Jean Horwitz
Publisher’s Synopsis: A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.
Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly.
In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1616206635
About the Author
Sarah Jean Horwitz was raised in suburban New Jersey where her love of storytelling grew from listening to her mother’s original “fractured fairy tales.” She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Carmer and Grit: The Wingsnatchers is her first novel. You can visit her online at sarahjeanhorwitz.com and on Twitter: @sunshineJHwitz.
Sarah Jean Horwitz, author of Carmer and Grit: The Wingsnatchers, selected these ‘5 Middle Grade Books to Grow Up, Out, and Old With.’ Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Family Favorites.