HomeBooks by AgeAges 9-125 Favorite Upper Middle Grade Reads

5 Favorite Upper Middle Grade Reads

Nicole Valentine | The Children’s Book Review | September 27, 2019

Fans of time travel fiction unite! There’s a new book in town: Nicole Valentine’s A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity. Just for fun, we asked Nicole to tell us about her five favorite upper middle grade reads…

The recent interest in upper middle grade books is making my heart soar. Finally, we are seeing more interest in books for kids who aren’t interested in reading YA yet. My favorite middle grades have always been books with a 12-13 year old protagonist. Here are five that I don’t want readers to miss. They are unique in plot and give readers space to interpret intelligent themes on their own.

Buy the BookLalani of The Distant Sea 

Written by Erin Entrada Kelly

I was lucky enough to score the arc at ALA in DC and I’m so glad I did. I’m always a fan of Erin Entrada Kelly’s work, but this may be her opus. Inspired by Filipino folkore, she grabs it and riffs like a jazz musician then takes the reader on a journey with Lalani that I can only say will slake the thirst of those who miss Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series. That is probably the highest praise I can bestow on a book.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Greenwillow Books | September 3, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0062747273

Buy the BookWild Blues

Written by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart’s rare departure into middle grade was one of my favorite reads of 2018 and it’s now out in paperback. Lizzie chooses to spend the summer with her eccentric Uncle Davy while her mother recovers from cancer. She loves being at her Uncle Davy’s cabin, and spending time with her friend Matais. When Matais and her Uncle Davy disappear after two convicts go missing from the local prison, Lizzy knows the woods better than anyone and it’s up to her to save them. Kephart won me over with the way she crafted a timeless Adirondack setting that could be any year, yet seems always now. It’s a story of friendship, survival and riveting suspense. Every page is a masterpiece.

Order a Copy Now: Amazon | Indiebound

Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | June 5, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1481491532

Buy the BookThe Dollar Kids

Written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Another favorite 2018 read that is now out in paperback, The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Jacobson deftly handles the mourning of a friend in this novel about guilt, forgiveness and finding a sense of belonging. After losing a close friend to violence, Lowen convinces himself it’s all his fault. On top of this, his family is also having serious financial trouble. He decides running from his problems is the way out. He convinces his parents to look into applying for a program to purchase a house for a dollar in an economically depressed mill town. But no fix is easy, no problem can be outrun and just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you’re actually wanted. This book is full of nuanced moments of empathy and I loved how it covers economic territory seldom touched upon in middle grade fiction.

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Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Candlewick | August 7, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0763694746

Buy the BookThe Other Half of Happy

Written by Rebecca Balcárcel

This one is my latest read and its language is pure poetry. Quijana is one half Guatemalan, one-half American and lately she’s feeling that her whole world is made up of halves. Balcárcel has expertly depicted what it’s like living between two cultures and growing up inside them both. It’s so riveting it will speak to anyone who has ever made the mistake in believing that they didn’t belong somewhere. Balcárcel shows how we all belong in this world. It’s a stunning debut and I can’t wait for more from this author.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Chronicle Books | August 20, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0763694746

Buy the BookThe Season of Styx Malone

Written by Kekla Magoon

And while not strictly upper middle grade, I feel like The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon needs a mention here, because even though he’s not he protagonist, the character of Styx is sixteen and he drives the story to a different level. Magoon is a genius with character. Brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene Franklin are still alive in my brain months after reading, and Styx Malone is as real as a memory. Everyone knew someone as cool as Styx Malone. Magoon has a way of making the reader feel like they’ve gotten away with reading something more scandalous than they did. Cigarettes (okay, they are candy ones), sneaking out, dangerous mopeds, boxcar hopping… did the librarian really let me have this book? Should it have been on the restricted shelf? It’s the type of middle grade adventure I wish I had when I was a kid. The Season of Styx Malone also gives teachers the opportunity to peel back layers and discuss some big truths. It makes the reader feel good about their ordinary life, sympathetic towards the so-called cool kids, and in the end… believe in miracles.

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Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books | October 16, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1524715953

About Nicole Valentine

Nicole Valentine
Photo credit: Nina Pomeroy Photography

Nicole Valentine earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches writing workshops at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, PA. As the former chief technology officer at Figment.com and Space.com, Nicole loves science and as a writer enjoys pondering the times when science falls short of explanation and magic has room to sneak in. When not engaged in fictional world-building, Nicole can often be found with a hawk on her arm. A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is her debut novel. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

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Buy the BookA Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity

Written by Nicole Valentine

Publisher’s Synopsis: He believes in science, but only magic can help his mom.

Twelve-year-old Finn is used to people in his family disappearing. His twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. A few months ago, his mom abandoned him and his dad with no explanation. Finn clings to the concrete facts in his physics books―and to his best friend, Gabi―to ward off his sadness. But then his grandmother tells him a secret: the women in their family are Travelers, able to move back and forth in time. Finn’s mom is trapped somewhere in the timeline, and she’s left Finn a portal to find her. But to succeed, he’ll have to put his trust in something bigger than logic.

Ages 9-14 | Publisher: Carolrhoda Books | October 1, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-1541555389

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Book Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win a copy of Nicole Valentine’s A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity!

Three (3) winners receive:

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Giveaway begins September 27, 2019 at 12:01 A.M. MT and ends October 27, 2019 at 11:59 P.M. MT.

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Nicole Valentine, author of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, selected the middle grade novels for this book list: 5 Upper Middle Grade Books for Kids Who Aren’t Interested in Reading YA Yet. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with  and .

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.

Comments
  • Sounds like an interesting read.

    September 29, 2019
  • A great adventure series I recommend is by Patrick Matthews, book 1 is Dragon Run and the new one is The Boy With the Sword. I’ve picked them up for stocking stuffers for my nieces and nephews and they love fantasy and adventure!

    October 3, 2019

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