Give the Gift of Reading: 7 Books for Your Middle Grade Reader

Author Kate Hannigan and some of her awesome author friends stopped by our Dallas Flagship store in September as part of a Middle Grade Mania author panel. We asked Kate to share with us her gift recommendations for the holidays.


Though I write for children, I do actually take a break and read grownup books: Girl Waits With Gun and Boy, Snow, Bird, to name a few recent titles. But I always find myself drawn back to the  middle-grade section at the bookstore. That’s because, of all genres, I believe middle-grade is where the heart is. It’s where young readers discover life’s truths for the first time: courage, loyalty, honesty. Here are some recommendations for great middle-grade reads to keep in mind this holiday season:

IMG_3107Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones is a whole lot of quirky fun. Twelve-year-old Sophie’s chickens have, well, superpowers … like invisibility, levitating their own chicken coop, transforming their enemies to stone. And soon it seems someone wants to steal them from Sophie. Filled with warmth as Sophie writes letters to her beloved Abuelita and great uncle (both deceased), Unusual Chickens unfolds through newspaper stories, quizzes, and wonderful ink drawings.

519sKS-pjSL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Brotherband Chronicles: Scorpion Mountain by John Flanagan is the fifth book in this wonderful series. If you happen to live with a danger-loving fifth-grader like I do, you’re in luck with this breakaway from the Rangers Apprentice series: smart, well-written stories that feature elaborate worlds populated with sailing ships, wicked pirates, and clanging swords. Advice my son gives me all time: “You need more battles in your books, Mom.” There is a reason Flanagan has sold millions of copies.

the-war-that-saved-my-lifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is far and away one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure to read recently. Set amid the perils of World War II London, young Ada’s difficult life with a cruel mother is made even more challenging when she learns her little brother is relocating to the countryside. Ada boldly decides to join him. Already possessing a strong spirit, she pushes herself to learn new things – to ride a pony, to read, and to keep an eye out for German spies. Along the way, Ada learns how to trust. A beautiful story about strength and love.

Cover-Penderwicks-Spring-450wThe Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall is the fourth book in an amazing series that started with her National Book Award-winning introduction to Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. An instant classic, The Penderwicks series features deft storytelling, gentle humor, and tremendous warmth. I cannot recommend these books enough – fun to read aloud, heart-warming to watch a child discover the four sisters and join them on their delightful adventures.

cleo02_frontcoverCleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword is Book 2 in the delightful middle-grade graphic novel science-fiction series by Mike Maihack about Cleo, an Indiana Jones-styled space traveler who time-travels from ancient Egypt and finds herself in the middle of a centuries’ long war in the really far future. She learns to battle for the galaxy, make new friends, and avoid detention – all the ordinary things that come with being a teenage savior of the universe.

indexRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is a compelling graphic novel that explores friendship and the agonies of middle school amid shifting friendships and growing self-awareness. It hits the raw nerves of adolescence and the painful void left when friends suddenly stop being friends. Ultimately, 12-year-old Astrid is saved by the healing power of roller derby.


24795925The Bamboo Sword by Margi Preus: A tale set in 1853 Japan might sound like a hard sell, but Preus is an amazing storyteller and can lure in even the most reluctant readers with her suspenseful adventures (Heart of a Samurai, West of the Moon). This one is a swashbuckling story of a Japanese boy, Yoshi, who dreams of becoming a samurai, and his unexpected new friend, an American boy named Jack.

Kate is the author of the historical middle-grade novel The Detective’s Assistant from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and the early middle-grade series Cupcake Cousins from Disney-Hyperion.

You can visit here online here or follow her on Twitter @KateChicago.

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