It All Begins with Jelly Beans A Kind of Spark The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy Candidly Cline Kingdom of Secrets All You Knead Is Love Say It Out Loud
The Smashed Man of Dread End All You Knead Is Love Generation Misfits Candidly Cline The Thing I'm Most Afraid of Nightingale The Stars of Whistling Ridge
How to Train Your Dad The Swag Is in the Socks The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy Dead Wednesday Both Can Be True A Kind of Spark Sisters of the Neversea
Kingdom of Secrets Fast Pitch The Swag Is in the Socks Tips for Magicians The Smashed Man of Dread End How to Train Your Dad Nightingale

Best of 2021 Middle Grade (ages 9-14)

By Susan the Librarian

By Susan the Librarian
The Smashed Man of Dread End

The Smashed Man of Dread End

J. W. Ocker

$16.99 $15.80

Candidly Cline

Candidly Cline

Kathryn Ormsbee

$16.99 $15.80

From the plucky protagonist who won't give up on her dreams, to the complex mother-daughter relationship, to the sweet glimpse of puppy love between two queer young people--there is a lot to love in this middle grade novel. At the start of the book, Cline already knows she likes girls romantically--and that's just who she is--but questions of tolerance, how and when to come out (and to whom), and emotional safety run throughout the story. Queer tweens will resonate with and take courage from Cline's experiences, especially the encouragement she gets from allies to take care of her own mental health and take the distance she needs from hateful people and institutions, and all readers will root for her in her relentless pursuit of her artistic dreams. A must-buy for library collections, I highly recommend this novel to all middle grade contemporary fiction fans and to middle grade book clubs.

A Kind of Spark

A Kind of Spark

Elle McNicoll

$16.99 $15.80

From the feeling of electricity that comes with sensory overload to the exhaustion of masking to the sense of pride and identity and unique strengths of being autistic–this middle grade novel captures the reality of one autistic girl’s voice in a way that was entirely relatable to me as an autistic reader–and (I believe) accessible to neurotypical readers as well. Although it is in many ways a book about what it is like to be autistic, it is never overly explanatory, making it as much a story for autistic children as about them. I felt an enormous sense of connection with this text–I felt seen–and I’m an adult; I can only imagine that the experience is more poignant for those neurodivergent readers at the same stage of life as the protagonist. Add to this wonderful autistic representation the compelling plot, horrifying villain (the bullying teacher), and underdog heroine you can’t help but fall in love with, and you have a perfect title for any middle grade contemporary collection or book club. I’m so glad this novel finally made it over to the US. I highly recommend it!

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Anne Ursu

$17.99 $16.73

My new favorite Anne Ursu book! Ursu tackles systemic sexism through the lens of a medieval-based fantasy world. Laced with humor, heartfelt relationships, and well-developed secondary characters, the immersive world is one I was reluctant to leave when the book ended. The story itself is a powerful allegory for injustices in our modern world that asks young readers to consider “Who benefits?” from lies and mis- (or dis-) information. As a librarian, I swooned for Ursu’s accessible and subtly-incorporated guidance on how to evaluate historical sources (in this case, tapestries) for bias. But all of this comes within the package of an imaginative boarding-school-fantasy that is as fun as it is thought-provoking. Pick this one up for your middle grade reader or your 4th-7th grade book club!

The Swag Is in the Socks

The Swag Is in the Socks

Kelly J. Baptist

$16.99 $15.80

A powerful story with a humorous and authentic narrative voice, THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS is a wonderful pick for middle grade readers and book clubs. Baptist challenges readers to stop putting people in boxes and to search for their own “thing,” even if that talent or interest isn’t socially acceptable. Between the humor and Xavier’s quest to join the League, there is plenty to keep young readers engaged and turning pages. A great addition to any middle grade collection!

How to Train Your Dad

How to Train Your Dad

Gary Paulsen

$17.99 $16.73

This spirited narrator had me laughing from page one. In addition to hilarious descriptions and zany situations, strong themes of family and identity give the novel the kind of depth you expect from Gary Paulsen. As a dog lover, I especially appreciated how much of a pivotal character rescue-pup Carol ended up being. Any fan of middle grade contemporary fiction will love this new title, especially those looking for an unrelenting comedy. This is also a great candidate for classroom use since the humor will appeal to even the most reluctant readers while the thematic content will allow for meaningful discussion.

All You Knead Is Love

All You Knead Is Love

Tanya Guerrero

$16.99 $15.80

Spousal abuse is a heavy, heartbreaking, and (unfortunately) necessary topic for children’s collections–for the many children who have witnessed such abuses and every child who needs to build empathy for people with those experiences. For her middle grade readers, Guerrero softens the potentially disturbing subject matter by removing Alba–and soon her mother–from the environment where the abuse occurred, limiting the scenes of abuse to memories and devoting the entire action of the plot to healing, rebuilding relationships, and forging a new life in a safe community. Highly recommend for older middle grade readers who enjoy character-driven realistic fiction in rich settings and don’t mind some heavier themes.

Nightingale

Nightingale

Deva Fagan

$17.99 $16.73

Lark’s spirited, snarky voice pulls a consistent thread of humor through this layered narrative that tackles social issues like wealth inequality and unionized labor. An almost Victorian historical vibe grounds the secondary world fantasy while a cast of racially diverse characters ensures that kids will see themselves reflected in the story. The blend of fun and probing thematic content make this an ideal pick for middle grade book clubs!

Kingdom of Secrets

Kingdom of Secrets

Christyne Morrell

$16.99 $15.80

A delightful middle grade debut featuring young engineers! Prismena and Abi have distinct and wonderful voices that make you cheer for them throughout their struggles (at one point I literally cheered aloud when Prismena did something particularly awesome). The social commentary is light-handed and thoroughly integrated into the plot, and as in all good MG fiction, the children are the moral compass and the agents of change. The world felt grounded in our own, while the hot air balloons added a whimsical quality to this magic-free fantasy. Highly recommend to middle grade readers, teachers, and book clubs!

Dead Wednesday

Dead Wednesday

Jerry Spinelli

$17.99 $16.73

This novel is exquisite. It exists somewhere between middle grade and YA, between fantasy and realistic fiction, but the book is full of betweens. Becca is caught between life and death, Worm between middle school and high school, childhood and adulthood, responsibility to his parents and individuality, a desire to be noticed and a desire to fade into the background. The narrative is masterfully woven, sending readers on an undulating emotional journey that builds to its climax so subtly that it is both unexpected and grounded. There is humor, realistically cringe-worthy teen interactions, and true heartache (warning to parents: this may upset you more than it will your kids), and Worm’s personal journey is authentic and meaningful. This book is a must-read for middle schoolers and an excellent pick for M.S. book clubs.

Fast Pitch

Fast Pitch

Nic Stone

$17.99 $16.73

Family, friendships, and a quest for justice burn bright in this gripping middle grade novel. The humor and Shenice’s loving community keep the story fun and uplifting even as Shenice’s quest for racial justice forces her to confront the darkness and pain of racism in the past and the present. This novel has something for mystery lovers, realistic fiction lovers, and sports fans–plus plenty of thought-provoking thematic material–making it an ideal choice for classrooms and book clubs. I highly recommend this book to all middle grade and younger YA readers (grades 4-8).

Generation Misfits

Generation Misfits

Akemi Dawn Bowman

$16.99 $15.80

What a sweet, fun middle grade friendship story! I flew through this novel which will please any reader who has ever felt like they didn’t fit in, like their parents didn’t get them (even though they loved them), or like there was a part of themselves they weren’t sure they were ready to share with the world.

Both Can Be True

Both Can Be True

Jules Machias

$16.99 $15.80

Loved this middle grade novel! The voice of both protagonists is so authentically middle grade with just the right balance of humor, sincerity, and self-doubt. A true delight to read. Highly recommend to 5-7th grade readers, especially dog lovers!

Tips for Magicians

Tips for Magicians

Celesta Rimington

$16.99 $15.80

TIPS FOR MAGICIANS is a heart-warming middle grade story about the healing power of art and community. Throughout the story, Harrison remembers and misses his mother, but the true journey is toward restoring the relationship with his father that was damaged by loss. Ultimately, they are able to find a way to keep Harrison’s mother present in their lives while still moving forward as a family. I’d recommend this one to all fans of middle grade contemporary novels, including younger middle grade readers.

Say It Out Loud

Say It Out Loud

Allison Varnes

$16.99 $15.80

This novel took me right back to middle school. The shifting, straining friendships, the bullying, trying to fit in so hard you end up pushing other people out–Varnes captures all of it perfectly. Yet SAY IT OUT LOUD does not feel angsty. The musical theater plot line and positive friendships in that class as well as Charlotte’s decision early on to start practicing empathy and encouraging others keep a constant thread of hope and inspiration running through the novel. This is a stand-out middle grade book that will be excellent for contemporary fiction readers, schools, and book clubs.

It All Begins with Jelly Beans

It All Begins with Jelly Beans

Nova Weetman

$17.99 $16.73

This sweet friendship story has a beautiful blend of humor and sincerity, heartbreak and hope. The extreme opposite behaviors of the two moms allow Riley and Meg to each understand and appreciate their families more, and the way the school community (bullies excepted) supports both girls as they struggle for safety and acceptance made me smile more than a little. I highly recommend this one to middle grade fans of contemporary fiction.

The Thing I'm Most Afraid of

The Thing I'm Most Afraid of

Kristin Levine

$17.99 $16.73

I loved this middle grade historical fiction novel. Becca is a funny but authentic narrator and the setting in Austria is so real that I felt like I was on vacation (a rare treat in a pandemic…). Yet the Bosnian War in the background brought more serious thematic threads that added both suspense and layers of nuance. I highly recommend this novel to fans of middle grade historical fiction, fans of middle grade contemporary novels set in escapist locales (like ALL YOU KNEAD IS LOVE, for example), and book clubs for 4-7th graders.

The Stars of Whistling Ridge

The Stars of Whistling Ridge

Cindy Baldwin

$16.99 $15.80

This imaginative, immersive middle grade fantasy gripped me from page one. I’m a sucker for a well-intentioned protagonist who makes terrible choices! Every character is well-developed and authentic, and the problems are relatable even in their fantasy. I highly recommend this one to fans of contemporary magical realism and to middle school book clubs!

Sisters of the Neversea

Sisters of the Neversea

Cynthia L. Smith

$16.99 $15.80

There is so much to love in this beautiful story of family and redemption. Smith not only acknowledges the morally troubling aspects of Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy but also gives a voice and agency not only to her Muscogee Creek protagonist but to the other Native people on the island. In fact, all of Smith’s characters are complex and well-rounded–a much needed revision of Barrie’s original. And yet, SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA is truly a revision, not a rejection. The omniscient narration nods to the style of Barrie’s work while being accessible and smooth enough for modern young readers. While Peter Pan’s flaws are brought to the forefront, this is a story of redemption, not a horror story. If you (like me) loved the fantasy of Neverland as a child but grew shocked by racism once you began to recognize it–or if you were injured by the hurtful stereotypes in Peter Pan and need your own redemptive experience with the story–SISTERS OF NEVERSEA is a wonderful book to share with your children or your middle grade students or book club.