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5 Books that Inspired Melissa Sarno to Write Middle Grade

Melissa Sarno | The Children’s Book Review | December 11, 2018

Before writing my debut novel, Just Under the Clouds, a few novels I had written were lounging in a dark drawer (or, actually, on my hard-drive.) Some were for adults, another would have been categorized as YA. It wasn’t until I sat down to write a book about a city kid who loved to climb trees that I thought I might be writing for readers who hadn’t yet entered their angsty high school years.

I looked at my bookshelves and scanned the books that had moved and inspired me, not as a child, but as an adult. They were all middle grade books. And I wondered why I hadn’t been writing the books of my reader-ly heart all along.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon CreechWalk Two Moons

Written by Sharon Creech

In one of the first writing workshops I took as a young professional, another writer in the class looked at me with horror when she brought up this book I hadn’t yet read. What are you waiting for? she asked. I’m so glad she pointed me toward this book, the first middle grade book I read as an adult, which sent me back into the wonderful world of children’s literature.

In this powerful story, Salamanca (Sal) Tree Hiddle tells the tale of her friend Phoebe Winterbottom and reveals her own story of grief and loss. Sal’s voice is pitch perfect and Creech seamlessly weaves the two narratives together.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: HarperCollins | 2011 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-0064405171

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonBrown Girl Dreaming

Written by Jacqueline Woodson

I love this collection of poems which explores Woodson’s girlhood in the 60s and 70s, living between Brooklyn and South Carolina, during the remnants of Jim Crow and into the civil rights movement. The joy that young Woodson finds when she begins writing and telling stories still makes my own writerly heart sing.

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Ages 10+ | Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0399252518

The Thing About JellyfishThe Thing About Jellyfish

Written by Ali Benjamin

When Suzy Swanson loses her best friend, Franny, she’s convinced there’s a scientific explanation behind her death: a rare jellyfish sting. This is one of my favorite middle grade titles out there. It’s sophisticated, soulful, intelligent, and innocent in the way that I feel the best books for children are.

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Ages 10-13 | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0316380867

One Crazy Summer Rita Williams-GarciaOne Crazy Summer

Written by Rita Williams-Garcia

I love this poignant, beautifully written story of eleven-year-old Delpine and her sisters. It’s impossible not to get invested in their summer visiting their estranged mother who sends them to a summer camp sponsored by the Black Panthers. It made me laugh. It made me think. And I love that it captures the complexity of an adult character while staying true to Delphine’s unforgettable young voice.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Amistad | 2010 | ISBN-13: 978-0060760885

When You Reach Me

Written by Rebecca Stead

When I finished this revelation of a book, my first thought was how? As in, how did Rebecca Stead write this mesmerizing, intricate, and impossibly clever story? As a writer and reader, it’s a joy to bask in the magic of this powerful mystery about a girl who receives a series of strange notes and must get to the bottom of them before it’s too late.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books | 2009 | ISBN-13: 978-0385737425

Just Under the CloudsJust Under the Clouds

Written by Melissa Sarno

Publisher’s Synopsis: Can you still have a home if you don’t have a house? In the spirit of The Truth About Jellyfish and Fish in a Tree comes a stunning debut about a family struggling to find something lasting when everything feels so fleeting.

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | June 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1524720087

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About the Author

Melissa Sarno is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA in screenwriting. She writes about middle-grade books for Barnes & Noble’s BNkids blog and edits YA and children’s book reviews for Cleaver magazine. Read more about her at melissasarno.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @melissasarno.

Melissa Sarno, author of Just Under the Clouds, selected these ‘5 Books that Inspired Melissa Sarno to Write Middle Grade.’ Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with

The Children’s Book Review, named one of the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Great Web Sites for Kids, is a resource devoted to children’s literacy. We publish reviews and book lists of the best books for kids of all ages. We also produce author and illustrator interviews and share literacy based articles that help parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to grow readers. This article was written and provided by a guest author.

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