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my favorite middle grade books of the year and all-time

As a young adult librarian and a writer of YA books, I don’t often venture into middle grade territory. But I have been reading more, because a lot of the “teens” who come to my library programs are middle schoolers, and they aren’t always ready for YA books.

Over on The Page Half Full, the blog my critique group runs, I just posted about the top circulating middle grade titles this year. I’m sad to say I haven’t read many of those titles… But here are my favorite middle grade titles of 2019:

Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

I had the pleasure of listening to Lynda speak at the NESCBWI conference last spring, and in preparation I had read Fish in a Tree, which was amazing. She spoke about writing Shouting at the Rain after the major success of Fish in a Tree, and I just knew I had to read it. It was another heartfelt story about what family and friendship really means, one that I connected to more personally than her more popular title.

Guest: A Changling Tale by Mary Downing Hahn

I have loved Mary Downing Hahn ever since I read Wait Till Helen Comes when I was ten and it scared the bejeezus out of me. This story has less creep factor, but it’s still quite a haunting story about a girl whose brother is taken by the fae and a changeling is left in his place. Her journey into fae to try to get her brother back, and slowly coming to care for her changeling brother, led to some unexpected places.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Telgemeier’s books have been hugely popular at the library, and I got my hands on an advanced copy of this one. My sister growing up had IBS and I’m sure there are plenty of other kids out there who suffer from it – and this is the first fiction book I have ever read that mentions it, making it an important one.

These were my three favorites published in 2019. To be fair, I read only 20 middle grade books in 2019, and most of those were older titles. I do have 682 titles on my middle-grade shelf on Goodreads, so my list of all-time favorite middle grade books has a bit more variety – but also some things in common.

Here are my all-time MG faves:

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

This is a classic story that I’ve loved since my fourth grade teacher read it aloud to us in class. It always makes me cry, so much so that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the movie.

The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is one of my absolute favorite authors of all time, she captured that period of time between ages 10-13 so accurately. The Changeling doesn’t actually have a changeling like the one in Mary Downing Hahn’s Guest. This is a story about the unlikely friendship between two girls and how it changes over the years, as well as about the power of imagination.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is one of those stories that feels timeless. It has an orphan and magic and all of those elements of a classic middle grade story, and is just so charming – especially if you listen to the audiobook narrated by the author. It’s creepy enough to interest me (it is about a boy raised by ghosts), but not so creepy that anyone will be scared.

Just As Long As We’re Together by Judy Blume

Another story about friendship and how it changes during that middle school period, this one is my favorite Judy Blume book and resonated with me at the time.

This list makes me want to re-read all those old classics I loved as a kid! What were your favorite books as a middle schooler? Have you tried to read them again as an adult?

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