MMGM: 15 Summer-themed Books

With summer coming up, I’ve been craving a middle-grade read set in the summer. Something about the adventure of it. Sometimes the mystery. Always the magic.

And these 15 books have all of these. They will get you ready for summer-or get you through the summer-with a smile on your face.


Publisher’s Description:

In this companion to A Tangle of Knots, it’s summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don’t know is that they’ve been gathered for a reason–one that the camp’s director wants to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper’s head and placed into another. And no one knows why.


Publisher’s Description:

Finding out you were wrong about something important can be a let down. But Poppy is pleased to learn she’s not just a Monday. She’s a Cusper, a weekday lucky enough to have TWO powers. Poppy’s elation is short-lived when she, Ellie, Logan, and Sam return to Power Academy as camp counselors, only to find themselves out of their element and struggling with the new drama teacher and his disaster of a school musical. When some campers go missing, Poppy and her team of weekdays are on the case. Soon, Poppy begins to realize that much like her powers, the seemingly-perfect town of Nova has some flaws, and the origin of her powers is as questionable as Headmistress Clothes-too-tight Larriby’s choice in outfits. If only there were more days in the week!


Publisher’s Description:

11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like.

But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.


Publisher’s Description:

Everyone has secrets…

Who killed Annabel Harper?

When a popular teen beauty’s body is discovered by the pool at an elite tennis club, the regulars are shocked—especially twelve-year-old Evie and her best friend, Chelsea. While everyone else is haunted by Annabel’s death, Evie and Chelsea jump on the case, dogging the footsteps of the lead detective as he investigates. As temperatures soar ver the summer, tensions rise, fingers are pointed, and a heroic act sets in motion a chain of events readers will never see coming.


Publisher’s Description:

It’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.


Publisher’s Description:

When you’re the third of six kids, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but Sunday Fowler is determined that this summer she’ll find the one thing that makes her stand out from her siblings.

And when she discovers a silver box in the basement of the library her parents are renovating, she might just have found something to gain her the attention she so craves. Inside is a series of letters addressed to “The Librarian” and a manuscript. But who wrote them? With the help of annoying neighbor-turned-new-friend Jude, Sunday is determined to track down the author. And when she unveils this novel to the world, she’ll be famous!

But uncovering this manuscript means stirring up secrets that some people in the town hoped to keep buried. And Sunday must decide if some things — loyalty, trust, friendship — are worth more than her name in the headlines.


Publisher’s Experiment:

A boring summer vacation turns unexpectedly interesting when mysterious lights appear over Roberta’s hometown in northern Maine. Roberta is convinced she and her best friend Marillee can win the Maine State Science Fair if only they can find an amazing project to showcase. Communicating with aliens would certainly do the trick. But in order to win they’ll need to defeat their chief competitor, “The 4H’s of the Apocalypse”: Henry Horton Harris Helmsby.

This is a story told in a distinctive voice that is by turns funny, exciting, and sometimes heartbreaking.


Publisher’s Description:

Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They sing Chinese love songs on the bus to summer camp, and I pretend like I don’t know them.

To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Woods in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a campout and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.


Publisher’s Description:

Kids vs. parents! An epic treehouse sleepover! An awesome group of friends! An exciting new book from National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff.

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie s parents got divorced, the day they decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew and grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses and her friends decide to join her. It s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, Winnie discovers that things can get pretty complicated pretty fast! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

In the newest novel by beloved National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff, kids have turned the tables on their parents, and all the rules have been tossed out the window. But does Winnie have what it takes to hold her ground and keep everyone happy?


Publisher’s Description:

Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe is a funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships.

Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). “Readers will be instantly engrossed in this relatable neighborhood adventure and its eclectic cast of misfits.”—Booklist

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.

They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.


Publisher’s Description:

Brian can think of a few places he’d rather spend his summer than with his aunt and uncle in Boring, Illinois. Jail, for example. Or an earplug factory. Anything would be better than doing summer school on a computer while his scientist dad is stationed at the South Pole.
Boring lives up to its name until Brian and his cousin Nora have a fight, get lost, and discover a huge, wooden house in the forest. With balconies, turrets, and windows seemingly stuck on at random, it looks ready to fall over in the next stiff breeze. To the madcap, eccentric family that lives inside, it’s not just a home—it’s a castle. 
Suddenly, summer gets a lot more exciting. With their new friends, Brian and Nora tangle with giant wasps, sharp-tusked wild boars, and a crazed bureaucrat intent on bringing the dangerously dilapidated old house down with a wrecking ball.
This funny, fantastical story will resonate with any reader who’s ever wished a little adventure would find them.


Publisher’s Description:

A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.


Publisher’s Description:

Garland, Derby, and Triple Clark spend each season traveling highways and byways in their Rambler—until summer, when small-town Ridge Creek, Virginia, calls them back. There they settle in, selling burgers and fries out of Garland’s Grill after each game the Rockskippers play in their battered minor-league baseball stadium. Derby’s summer traditions bring her closer than she’s ever been to a real home that isn’t on wheels, but this time, her return to Ridge Creek reveals unwelcome news. Now the person Derby loves most in town needs her help—and yet finding a way to do so may uncover deeply held stories and secrets.
Told in Derby’s unforgettable voice, this warm-hearted debut novel is about taking risks, planting roots, and discovering the true definition of home.


Publisher’s Description:

In this heartwarming, funny middle-grade novel by the bestselling author of Counting by 7s, Julia grows into herself while playing a Munchkin in a production of  The Wizard of Oz
Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive–one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins. With her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background–and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!
Bubbling over with humor and tenderness, while emphasizing the importance of role models, this is an irresistible story of self-discovery.


Publisher’s Description:

he magic-infused story of a golden gator, two cursed kids, and how they take their destinies into their own hands.

When the red moon rises over the heart of the Okefenokee swamp, legend says that the mysterious golden gator Munch will grant good luck to the poor soul foolish enough to face him.

But in 1817, when TWO fools reach him at the same time, the night’s fate is split. With disastrous consequences for both . . . and their descendants. Half of the descendants have great fates, and the other half have terrible ones.

Now, Tumble Wilson and Blue Montgomery are determined to fix their ancestors’ mistakes and banish the bad luck that’s followed them around for all of their lives. They’re going to face Munch the gator themselves, and they’re going to reclaim their destinies.

But what if the legend of Munch is nothing but a legend, after all?

MMGM: Interview with Abby Cooper & Review of STICKS AND STONES



Author: Abby Cooper

Publication Date: July 12, 2016

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publisher’s Description:

A feel-good middle grade debut with just a hint of magic about a girl who has a rare disorder that makes the words other people say about her appear on her body.

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.

I am so happy to have Abby Cooper here today talking to us about her books and her love of middle grade in particular.

I featured STICKS AND STONES in my magical realism round up, HERE, but I knew I wanted something special to highlight how important this book is.

Particularly today, in the world we live in, kindness matters. Middle school is hard enough, without the climate we find ourselves in today. I think more than ever, kids (and adults) need to find out who they are, stand up for what and who they believe in, and use kindness to make a difference.

Abby and her book STICKS AND STONES are here to help us get there.

1. Where did you get the idea for this book?

I’m a pretty curious person, and I’m always wondering about different things. Sometimes I’ll have random thoughts: what if rainbows came out of my glasses? What if cupcakes appeared anytime I wanted them to? What if words showed up on someone’s body? Writing is a great way to explore your questions and curiosities. Sticks & Stones came from that idea, plus various things I saw and heard as a school librarian.

2. What’s your favorite scene in STICKS AND STONES?

I liked writing the scene where Elyse plays the piano in her school talent show. I got to take my character through a broad range of emotions in those few pages: nerves, anxiety, fear, excitement, happiness, relief, etc. I like living out those emotional scenes right along with my characters.

3. What did this story teach you about writing?

That revision is your friend! I’m a messy first-drafter, so I was pretty overwhelmed by all that I needed to go back and fix. (Though I was thrilled to finally have the ideas out of my head!) The more I revised, though, the more I truly came to love it. It was exciting to see things improve and come together in ways I never expected.

4. What is your favorite thing about middle grade?

I love how middle grade explores serious, real-life issues while also maintaining a sense of wonder and fun.
5. Can you please list your top 3 middle grade reads?
I’ll do my best, but it’s so hard to only choose three!! My all-time favorite is Frindle by Andrew Clements. More current favorites are The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt and Two Naomis by Audrey Vernick and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.
6. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to write middle grade?

Read! I strongly believe that reading middle grade novels improved (and continues to improve) my writing tremendously. Also, test your writing out on actual middle grade people. Kids generally won’t be afraid to give you their honest opinion!

7. What can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

My second book, BUBBLES, will be out July 18th, 2017, from FSG/Macmillan. So excited!
Thank you so much, Abby! We’re excited for BUBBLES as well!
For more MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE check out Shannon Messenger’s website.




Author: Megan Shepherd

Publication Date: October 11, 2016

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Publisher’s Description:

There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

So, I really wanted to read this book anyway. The magical realism premise is right up my alley. But, then I read that Megan Shepherd called it the book of her heart and I wanted to read it a million times more.

I love her other books and was looking forward to an MG book from her, but books of author’s hearts are my favorite.

So I got a copy of this from NetGalley and I read it in a few hours. I was swept up in the story and I couldn’t put it down.

When you start reading you know the setting is a royal family’s country house that isn’t being used anymore except for as a hospital for children who have been evacuated from London and the main bombing zones in WWII. But the way Shepherd transports you into that time and setting is as magical as a winged horse in the mirrors of the halls in Briar Hill.

Emmaline is such a genuine narrator, if even a little unreliable. She’s honest in her thoughts, desires, and reactions. She sees these horses that no one else can see and finds comfort in them during the lonely days of fighting tuberculosis.

Her best friend in the house is an older girl named Anna, who is on bed rest because her case of “the stillwaters” is further advanced than the rest of the kids. Anna is kind and patient, in spite of her hardships, and she’s always coloring with her beautiful colored pencils and telling Emmaline she hopes to see her flying horses someday.

The other kids in the hospital are rather nasty to Emmaline, and are perfect little villain type characters to keep us rooting for Emmaline, who constantly disobeys orders and sneaks around … even steals things at certain points in the book. But it’s all to save an injured horse who has crossed over from the mirror world into her own.

The metaphors for death aren’t subtle but they are magical. This dark winged horse is threatening the injured Foxfire and if Emmaline can’t find some color in her gray world, the dark horse will win and all will be lost.

To say this is a happy book would be wrong, it’s quite dark. But there was hope, like a silver lining of a storm cloud, or a rainbow after a storm. It’s the childlike quality of searching for good in everything and smiling when no one else thinks it’s possible.

The resolution to keep going when everything is against you and to believe in magic is a quality I think is necessary to get by in the world today.

The historical elements of the story ground the reader even though there are fantastical parts. I’ve heard it compared to Chronicles of Narnia, and there are some similarities, but there is less fantasy in this book, and more childlike imagination.

The last chapter was one of my favorites. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say, keep reading after the last chapter. Read Shepherd’s notes at the end. I may have gotten more teary eyed in her notes and acknowledgements than the whole book combined. She gives the reader the freedom to choose how they think the book ends, and I think it’s lovely.

One of my favorite characters was the Horse Lord, even though we never meet him. He writes Emmaline letters and helps her to continue on through hard times. In one letter from him, he talks about how he knows she is angry at “the dark horse” but she needs to know everything has it’s place in life and we can fight or resist bad things, but we can’t blame dark things for fulfilling their purpose.

What an important message to children about death. Sure when we or others we know get sick, we fight it, but there is a season and a time for everything and to everything, a reason. This, is such a grown up message, expressed in a truly childlike way. My heartstrings were pulled.

The illustrations in the book were so sweet and her website for the book has printable coloring pages for readers to print off and she encourages readers to share the finished product with them.

I can see why this book is the book of Shepherd’s heart and why it steals/touches the hearts of so many who read it.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade reads, visit Shannon Messenger’s website.



MMGM: THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick



Author: Brian Selznick

Publication Date: September 15, 2015

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publisher’s Description:

Two seemingly unrelated stories–one in words, the other in pictures–come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

This is one of those books that I was looking forward to it coming out, and then it came out and my TBR list was so huge, it somehow got lost. But I am so glad I found it again, even if it was a year later.

Being a huge Brian Selznick fan, I wasn’t surprised that I loved this book. The way he made a name for himself doing what he loved and kind of inventing a new format for himself was amazing.

Selznick’s talent for using a picture to say a thousand words is truly enchanting. Even my younger boys with the shortest attention spans in the history of ever, will spend a lot of time examining each page and can tell me exactly what is going on in the story as they turn the pages. But they get to decipher the story in their own words with their unique thought processes and imaginations going into it, and that is what is so special about this.

Yes, the pictures show the history of the Marvels family and their rise to fame and the falls that also happen along the way, but each reader gets to put the words to it on their own and apply their own emotions and turn the page when they are done, not when the words tell them to.

Which isn’t a bad thing, either. I love words on a page, or I wouldn’t read them daily and talk about them almost as often. And Selznick excels at the prose portion of his story as well. The whole book, which is extremely large, but so beautiful (the gilded edges of the pages!), is full of images and words that help the reader to FEEL the story. We only know the brother for a few pages at the beginning but we are crushed when his brother buries him and we see the driftwood angel wings at the sides of his grave.

When we get to the prose section, we are in 1990 following a child, Joseph, as he runs away from boarding school and goes to spend some time with his uncle. Of course, the house his uncle lives in is steeped in history and there’s some sort of mystery begging to be solved. There’s a few mysteries actually, with a missing friend and the Marvels family as well. And Uncle Albert is eccentric and intriguing.

In the end, the thrilling conclusion returns to drawings, but stays in the present time and comes together in a tragic but magical and satisfying way that answers all of the questions Selznick presented.

The fact this story is partially founded on a true story of Dennis Severs is what makes it utterly irresistible. Dennis Severs is an American who moved to London and eventually bought an old home at 18 Folgate Street in London’s East End and turned it into a 3D story/museum filled with the lives of a fictional family he created named the Jervises. Severs passed away and the home is now owned by a preservation trust, but is open to visitors.

Uncle Albert’s character is based on Severs’ real life story, but the story of the Marvels is a fictional story, only inspired by Severs and his life.

This story promotes a love of art, books, and magic and is also LGBT friendly in a way that is not forced or over the top, just fits into the story perfectly.

For more middle grade reading recommendations go to Shannon Messenger’s Blog for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.


MMGM: Spooky Middle Grade Reads

I know, I know. It’s not October yet, but it will be at the end of this week and I just can’t contain myself from posting a list of books for middle grade readers of all ages to get into the spooky mood.

I’ve put together my top 13 books, because 13 just seems like a spooky number, don’t you agree? Here are the books I like to read when October rolls around and the air gets a chill in it, the leaves start falling off the trees, and the ghosts and witches come out to their favorite haunting places.

Once again, I’ll start with a classic Halloween tale. One that I still enjoy today.


Publisher’s Description:

“A fast-moving, eerie…tale set on Halloween night. Eight costumed boys running to meet their friend Pipkin at the haunted house outside town encounter instead the huge and cadaverous Mr. Moundshroud. As Pipkin scrambles to join them, he is swept away by a dark Something, and Moundshroud leads the boys on the tail of a kite through time and space to search the past for their friend and the meaning of Halloween. After witnessing a funeral procession in ancient Egypt, cavemen discovering fire, Druid rites, the persecution of witches in the Dark Ages, and the gargoyles of Notre Dame, they catch up with the elusive Pipkin in the catacombs of Mexico, where each boy gives one year from the end of his life to save Pipkin’s. Enhanced by appropriately haunting black-and-white drawings.”–Booklist


Publisher’s Description:

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .


Publisher’s Description:

Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there’s something odd about the place–not least the walls covered in strange antique paintings. But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that’s strangely quiet . . . and eerily like her own. Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets–and Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper. As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It’s up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.

(This whole series is a fun one for kids. I previously reviewed the fourth book in the series as part of round up HERE.)


Publisher’s Description:

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…


(Upper Middle Grade/borderline YA)

Publisher’s Description:

From the remarkable imagination of acclaimed artist Jim Di Bartolo and the exquisite pen of bestselling author Kiersten White comes a spellbinding story of love, mystery, and dark conspiracy, told in an alternating narrative of words and pictures.

Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.

Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t.

(I previously reviewed this book in full HERE.)


Publisher’s Description:

What you will find in this book:

– A rather attractive bearded lady
– Several scandalous murders
– A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
– Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
– A quite loquacious talking bird

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events. When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich
knowledge of the notorious relics collector H.C. Chester.

What you will NOT find in this book:

– An accountant named Seymour
– A never-ending line at the post office
– Brussel sprouts (shudder)
– A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
– A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys.

(There are two books in this series so far, the third to come out next April.)


(Lauren Oliver writes magically, spooky middle grade)

Publisher’s Description:

Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice,until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable.

Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.


Publisher’s Description:

Steve just wants to save his baby brother—but what will he lose in the bargain? This is a haunting gothic tale for fans of Coraline, from acclaimed author Kenneth Oppel (Silverwing, The Boundless) with illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen.

For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered.

All he has to do is say “Yes.” But “yes” is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back?

(I previously reviewed the book in full HERE.)


Publisher’s Description:

Grave robbing is a messy business. A bad business.

And for Thomas Marsden, on what was an unremarkable spring night in London, it becomes a very spooky business. For lying in an unmarked grave and half covered with dirt is a boy the spitting image of Thomas himself.

This is only the first clue that something very strange is happening. Others follow, but it is a fortune teller’s frightened screams that lead Thomas into a strange world of spiritualists, death and faery folk.

Faery folk with whom Thomas’s life is bizarrely linked. Faery folk who need his help.

Desperate to unearth the truth about himself and where he comes from, Thomas is about to discover magic, and ritual, and that sometimes, just sometimes, the things that make a boy ordinary are what make him extraordinary.


(By posting the first I am endorsing the whole series)

Publisher’s Description:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.


Publisher’s Description:

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.


Publisher’s Description:

Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.

Her mother’s left, her neglectful father—the maestro of a failing orchestra—has moved her and her grandmother into the city’s dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.

Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help—if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.

Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living…and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.


Publisher’s Description:

A collection of thirty-six eerie, mysterious, intriguing, and very short short stories presented by the cabinet’s esteemed curators, otherwise known as acclaimed authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire LeGrand, and Emma Trevayne. Perfect for fans of Alvin Schwartz and anyone who relishes a good creepy read-alone or read-aloud story. Features an introduction and commentary by the curators, and illustrations and decorations throughout.

For more fun Middle Grade Reads visit Shannon Messenger’s Blog for


MMGM: Magical Realism in Middle Grade

As a writer of magical realism, I am an avid reader of magical realism as well. There are always people asking, what is magical realism? What are your favorite books that include magical realism? Today, I will try to answer those questions.

To me, magical realism is an every day setting that is infused with magic, but not in a fantastical way like wizards or magicians. In a way that it is part of the setting and world, part of the characters themselves. That the story wouldn’t be complete without this magical element.

Also, usually, this magical element is easily accepted in the story. People don’t gawk or doubt, they just know it exists as part of life. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. In my own writings I do show a little hesitancy in parts, but there are other stories I write that the magic is just a part of normal life.

I write magical realism because I love to think that magic is real. I would love to live in a world where bits of magic happen every day and no one thinks twice about it. I think that’s why a lot of people read: to believe in magic. To step outside the real world they live in, if even for an afternoon. Magical realism blends the real world and the magic so there is no clear boundary.

In middle grade especially, the kids will go to school. They will interact with their families and with their towns. They will like that cute boy/girl. But there will be something special and magical about it. Magical realism books are like dreams/nightmares: little alterations to the real world, that while you’re dreaming them, it’s like it’s how it was always supposed to be. It’s only when you wake up you realize you can’t really lift a thousand pounds or travel across the country in one night. But what if you could?

Here is a short list of some of my favorite Middle Grade magical realism books. I have many more recs in this genre, and plenty in YA or Adult if anyone is interested, but for the sake of this post, I’m sticking to Middle Grade. (In no particular order, although I will say all of these stories received 4 or 5 star ratings from me.)

All of these are more recent, but I couldn’t start a list without mentioning the magical realism book that’s held my heart since I was very young, one that I still re-read on a regular basis.


Publisher’s Description: Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.


Publisher’s Description: A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It’s too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents’ separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran’s house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder’s most thought-provoking book yet.


Publisher’s Description: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.


(These two books from Rebecca Stead are two of my all time favorite:)

Publisher’s Description: For the first time, Newbery Medal–winning Rebecca Stead’s two brilliant books are available together in an eBook-only omnibus.
In the award-winning When You Reach Me, readers uncover an astonishing New York City puzzle with Miranda. Someone is sending her anonymous notes, and each one reveals more about a mystery that changes her life forever.
Stead’s debut novel, First Light, is a dazzling tale of science, secrets, and adventure at the top of the world. While on a research expedition with his family, Peter discovers a hidden world beneath the arctic ice of Greenland, and meets Thea, a bold explorer.


(Some people may not consider books like this or PAX, but I do)

Publisher’s Description: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.


(Natalie Lloyd is a modern front-runner in magical realism)

SNICKER Publisher’s Description: Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.

KEY Publisher’s Description: Everyone in Emma’s family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians–every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.

For Emma, her own dream can’t come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she’d do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn’t want to let her mother down.

But when Emma’s dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task–finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town’s cemetery. If Emma fails, she’ll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that’s been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?

(and series…)

Publisher’s Description: For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a “savvy” -a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it’s the eve of Mibs’s big day.

As if waiting weren’t hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs’s birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman’s bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up-and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin.


TANGLE Publisher’s Description: Told in multiple viewpoints, A Tangle of Knots is a magnificent puzzle. In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady’s past and how she became an orphan. If she’s lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent.

CLATTER Publisher’s Description: In this companion to A Tangle of Knots, it’s summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don’t know is that they’ve been gathered for a reason–one that the camp’s director wants to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper’s head and placed into another. And no one knows why.


Publisher’s Description: Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.


Publisher’s Description: Charlie feels like she’s always coming in last. From her Mom’s new job to her sister’s life at college, everything seems more important than Charlie. Then one day while ice fishing, Charlie makes a discovery that will change everything . . . in the form of a floppy fish offering to grant a wish in exchange for freedom. Charlie can’t believe her luck but soon realizes that this fish has a very odd way of granting wishes as even her best intentions go awry. But when her family faces a challenge bigger than any they’ve ever experienced, Charlie wonders if some things might be too important to risk on a wish fish.


(You can’t go wrong with Kimberly Griffiths Little, these are just 2 of hers)

BUTTERFLIES Publisher’s Description: Everybody thinks Tara Doucet has the perfect life. But in reality, Tara’s life is anything but perfect: Her dear Grammy Claire has just passed away, her mother is depressed and distant, and she and her sister Riley can’t seem to agree on anything. But when mysterious and dazzling butterflies begin to follow her around after Grammy Claire’s funeral, Tara just knows in her heart that her grandmother has left her one final mystery to solve.

A strange butler brings Tara and Riley to Grammy Claire’s house, where Tara finds a stack of keys and detailed letters from Grammy Claire herself. Note by note, Tara learns unexpected truths about her grandmother’s life. As the letters grow more ominous and the clues more difficult to decipher, Tara realizes that the secrets she must uncover could lead to mortal danger. And when Tara and Riley are swept away to the beautiful islands of Chuuk to hear their grandmother’s will, Tara discovers the most shocking truth of all — one that will change her life forever.

FIREFLIES Publisher’s Description: When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family’s tragic past–deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.

With her signature lyricism, Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a thrilling tale filled with family secrets, haunting mystery, and dangerous adventure.


Publisher’s Description: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.






(oh my goodness, this cover!)


Author: Claire Legrand

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publish Date: May 17, 2016

Publisher’s Description:


• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real–and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.

With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination.

My Championing:

Every once in while a book comes along that really speaks to you. That makes you want to pick up every book this author has ever written. Makes you wonder how you’ve gone this long without reading their words. Convinces you to buy every book they ever write in the future.

SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS is one of those books for me.
I wanted to pull Finley out of the pages and hug her close. Help her with her darkness and her blue days. Explore with her in Everland. Struggle with her through her 10-year-old life.

This book felt so real that I felt depressed, anxious, and breathless as I was reading it … even though when it was done, I couldn’t stop smiling. That’s not saying the ending is tied up in a neat bow, it’s just one of those books that I was so happy I read. And it’s not saying the book is depressing, it isn’t. I was just pulled into Finley’s head and world so completely that when she felt something, I felt it right along with her.

Legrand’s prose was on pointe, as was her ability to not just set the place, but the mood and the tone: the atmosphere. SKOH has so much atmosphere.

This book is one of those real issues books that are good for young readers today. I didn’t deal with anxiety or depression as a child, but have had bouts and days of it as an adult, and I know there are children who do experience this. How special and important is it for them to see themselves on the page and know they are not alone. How many kids do you know who have had to deal with their parents’ divorce or even talk of it? How many have family secrets? Are exploring relationships and wondering how to fit in? There are so many real kid characters in this book, it’d be hard for a kid to not find themselves or their situation.

As a reader and a storyteller, there is a special appreciation for the representation of words and stories and imagination healing a broken heart/soul. Everwood is the place Finley writes about when she is so blue she needs a place to escape. When her Everwood world starts entwining with the real world, it is magical, mysterious, and makes your heart break and burst.

The importance of truth is an important theme. We need to be truthful with ourselves, with our family, with our communities, or tangled webs are weaved and there isn’t always a way out. In this book, there isn’t always a way out.


But the characters are living. And they are trying. And there is love, and trust, and betrayal, and forgiveness, and playfulness, and emptiness, and tender moments, and life-changing hours. Causes you to remember not to judge a book by its cover, or a white house with a picket fence by it’s appearance, or a well-dressed, put together, smiling person by theirs.


Be true to yourself, be honest about your feelings (allow yourself to feel), allow yourself to heal.


This is part of MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY over on Shannon Messenger’s Blog, where there’s always other middle grade reads to find out about.