I read a lot this year, 100 so far, to be exact. But the biggest kick off for children’s literature always comes in March. Every year a few of my favorite BookTubers (YouTube book chats) do a Middle Grade March marathon and its all about reading Middle Grade during the month of March. Covid helped a lot this year. I almost read 30 books in 30 days. One reason I really love to participate is because there is always so many books that I want us to read but there just isn’t the time for all of them. So this gives me opportunity to weed through all my books and choose the best to keep on our shelves. This is a hard tasks for book-nerds, just sayin’! So after reading and weeding, and then reading more, I decided to put this list together for you! Enjoy.
I would like to give this disclaimer. Everyone has their own values. Everyone has to make a choice as to what lines up with their family beliefs, values, and what is not for your family. I tried very hard to see this from all sides in choosing what I am sharing, but the fact of the matter is that I am human, I make mistakes. Sometimes I will completely forget about something in a book until it is pointed out to me, because I am so focused on the main narrative. I apologize. As with any book list, it is always good to do the research for yourself and if you are especially selective in what you allow in your home, you may want to preread.
This first recommendation actually has a very interesting background. I had come across this on Amazon. I added it as my 497 book title to be saved, in my Amazon cart. Yeah, I know. I have a problem. Anyway, a few weeks later, my daughter came home from the library with her haul and this was at the top. Apparently it was a new book that the library had just placed on their shelves. To say I devoured this book, is no exaggeration. It tells the story of a timid girl in Lithuania during the Russian dictatorship. Her parents are part of the underground book smugglers that work with a network of citizens fighting for independence from Russian tyranny. Yet, Audra wants no part of anything dangerous. She just wants everything to go back to the way she has always known. But her eyes are open, and they will never see life the same again. I shared some amazing quotes over at my Goodreads review and I am so happy to report that there is no language in here. Becoming a rare thing even for middle grade books now. You can request your copy at your local library or purchase Words on Fire from Amazon. Recommended for ages 10+
While this story takes place in a completely made up world, it does have elements of World War 2 threaded throughout the story. This is also about a child that is more in the shadows, not really sure of her use in the world while she is surrounded by those more brilliant than her. Like the book, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (excellent read, by the way), this also deals with some harder topics like whom to trust, how to navigate a completely different world of secrets and lies in order to save others. This does approach some very difficult topics and should be considered when reading with sensitive children. I would recommend ages 11+ Purchase your copy of Beautiful Blue World here, on Amazon, or check your local library! My Goodreads review for this is found here.
This was also another book in my Amazon cart that I found at the library! I was so excited! I read this book told from Annie Sullivan’s perspective in first person. It was like watching the events of Miracle Worker unfold, but also kind of seeing the behind the scenes take outs. You do get some more of how Jimmy and Annie ended up at the asylum, how their upbringing was less than stellar, How Annie dealt with her drunkard father and hid from him on a few occasions, and how she survived being a hurting young girl that just wanted to be loved, to a strong-willed young woman yearning for the same. You really do get to see Annie Sullivan’s vulnerability under her strictness of character. You see her wanting so badly to be Helen’s friend, but sticking by doing what would be best at the cost of her own endearment. It is written more for YA, and I would say this would be best for ages 13+. If you have no problem with Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield then I suspect you will be fine with this book. I do not remember any language at all, but a part of me is hesitant to put that as 100% accurate. If there is, it is not what I would say is strong language, more the kind you would find in typical classic literature, if you get my drift. See my Goodreads review here, and purchase your copy of Miss Spitfire here.
This book is very hard to recommend. I think I said it best in my Goodreads Review: “I would not just hand this to any reader. It needs a lot of discussions and while we want to raise strong, compassionate, and deep thinkers– not just followers, there is a balance in remembering they are kids. This is a depressing work, but it also holds truths. The balance between the two should be taken I to consideration before giving it to your child. I dont feel the need to push some of the harsh realities onto kids if they are not ready for it.” So, why am I recommending it? I actually thought of several of my readers when I selected this list. I know many would be ok with the content and be encouraged that there is a book that isn’t demeaning parents, in fact Annabelle realizes the difficulty of NOT telling her parents and her parents are not portrayed as prejudiced or dimwitted as many are. It was beautiful in that the bully is a bully, but you don’t hate her. You don’t wish all the bad thing, you want her to change. And that I found to be very relevant for what kids are dealing with today. The bullies aren’t always the ones just out to cause destruction and chaos but the ones that are hurting themselves and find ways to process that hurt in some very poor choice decisions. It does deal with guns and death that may be hard the kind of material you don’t want your child exposed to, and I understand. I am sharing why I think it was a fantastic read and why I would also be cautious and who I give it too. I think this would be best for ages 13+
See what others are saying about Wolf Hollow on Amazon.
So, as I was compiling this together, I realized that I don’t have a lot of boy centered books. A lot of the books written for boys today are to grab the readers that don’t like to read. That is generally the issues isn’t it. Here’s the thing, I actually do not like most books that have been written for boys. They dumb down everything into farts and ridiculousness that I do not need to feed into my boys. Can I hear an Amen anyone? I am hearing this from many parents, along with “well, at least they are reading…” but that trails off and we all know we don’t believe it. So I only have a few I can share but now I have a goal to increase my recommendations for you. As a general rule, my girls fly through books and my boys take a bit longer, therefore I read, or preread more girl themed books than boys.
Is this too old school? Because my boys, who are 8 and almost 12, have been consuming these books left and right. It actually began with an audio version at the library just before Covid closed everything down. After that, they wanted more. The Hardy Boys gave my boys the adventure they crave, the mystery that gets their brains going, and a bit of humor that all guys enjoy. They have fun informational tidbits that my boys tuck away and pull out at random moments. I got to listen to a couple of the books and found myself enjoying them with the children. Isn’t that always something to hold up as a good read? If both young and old enjoy it? One of my favorite things about this book is that quite often the boys are working alongside with their father, “solving a case”. I think that image still resonates with boys today that quite often try to show themselves as men to their fathers. It’s always nice to find characters that can relate to something to can’t fully explain. Even though the Hardy Boys are a classic, I think their work will withstand the test of time. We have read through many and even recently picked up a couple at the local thrift store. Even though my 8 year old is enjoying these, typically they are recommended for ages 11+
Anything by Linda Sue Park is superb! The Kite Fighters are about two brothers and the King boy who yearns to have the fun that the children of the village have. The King struggles deeply between duty and childhood. The brothers have their squabbles but ultimately their relationship is the glue in the binding of this book. It is through their loyalty towards each other and their family that brings about this lovely tale. If you have a Karate Kid image in mind, erase it. The Kite Fighting games are held with dignity and honor and true sportsmanship. It was so well written. It also has insight into Korea during the end of the Middle Ages time period. Although I would see this resonating more with my older boy, I think the brother aspect of the younger verses older boy would help keep my younger interested. And it’s kite fighting, what more could be intriguing? I really enjoyed this one and I set it aside to read with my sons as soon as we have finished Little Britches.
This book was a more recent read for me. It was a beautiful and enlightening story of what it was like for the people of India to transition from what they lived like in India under British rule to suddenly a massacre of the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. For twin motherless children, Nisha and Amil have to leave what is now Pakistan as it separates from India and try and reach New India safely. Nisha is, once again, a very timid child and Amil is a dyslexic boy that sees himself as a failure to his doctor father. It is a beautiful story as it is told through journal entries Nisha makes to her mother who died in birth. I did not know much of this part of history and the author did such a beautiful job and even went so far as to explain the reason for writing it. Her family was one of the fortunate ones that survived the migration, and while the characters in the story had it more difficult than her family, they also were more fortunate than many and I really appreciated her explanation of this. She also sights sources for her research and opens the conversation up for us today. This book does tackle some brutality in the murders that happened. I think it was handled well but it is there. Recommend for ages 12+ There is no language in this book. Amazon has The Night Diary for fairly inexpensive and I was super thrilled that my library had this book and could reduce my Amazon cart numbers down to 496.
That Wild Berries Should Grow. I actually highlighted Whelan as an author everyone should read in this post. But I had yet to read this one because I didn’t actually own it until about a month ago. Everything about this story points to a simple time, a childhood innocence that is preserved like blackberry jam. Elsa does not want to build a snowman in this story, in fact she doesn’t even want to be at this farm. She is recovering from an illness and the farm is a desperate attempt of her parents to help build up her health, but just like Betsy in Understood Betsy is not cuddled by her Aunt Abigail and Uncle Henry, neither is Elsa by her grandparents. Her grandmother is so endearing and patient and patiently cultivates Elsa and waits for her to really blossom. Elsa develops a love for poetry and each chapter gives a peak into what is going to happen by the poem Elsa writes. This is very simply written. It felt like it was wrapped up too quickly but then I wondered if the author intentionally did that, like how the summer seasons draws to a close much to soon. I loved all the little farm tidbits and simple life that was weaved within the story lines. Nothing heavy or unearthing, just simple childhood sweetness. Recommended for children 9+
There you have it. There are some fantastic children reads I completed this year and wanted to share with you, especially as many homeschoolers are gathering books to read outloud in their homeschool year. What are some books your children have really enjoyed recently? Leave it in the comments below.