Rolling with Middle Grade Reading

Three “teaching” middle-grade books for writers

After my last post I got emails and texts, asking me to talk about more middle-grade books I’ve read recently. So here are capsules of a few more. I don’t always read books in this genre after they come out. My to-read list is an odd amalgam of classics, was-gonna-read (books that are a year or two old), and recents.

undefined Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno (June 2019, Yearling)

This is an ambitious book, because the theme is about finding a place to call home. That’s especially important to middle-schooler Cora, who is homeless and lives in a shelter. Her father is deceased and she is a protective but understandable impatient big sister to mentally-disabled Adare, who rarely speaks and hates to wear shoes. Despite this daunting life, Cora has an undercore of strength. Climbing trees is symbolic of the yearning she feels within to “take root.” While not a flashy novel or concept-heavy one, it takes a talented author to weave this type of story with a character that holds you. The emotions are true and clear.

undefined Front Desk by Kelly Yang (June 2018, Scholastic)

Front Desk is a very popular, talked-about middle-grade book that has won many awards. As an #OwnVoices novel, this emerges as a fresh, needed tale. Ten-year-old Mia Tang lives in a motel, managed by her parents. While they’re cleaning rooms, she’s often working the front desk. Teased at school for her family’s lifestyle and lack of money, she ekes out a couple of friends. When the motel owner finds out the family is hiding immigrants, all heck breaks loose and Mia has to spearhead a way to save them and their jobs. Fresh, funny, and packed with lively characters, this has the kind of pull-through that more hesitant readers needed. 

undefined She Loves You by Ann Hood (June 2018, Penguin)

As a 1960s lover, I could not resist this tale set in 1960–an era one seldom sees in middle-grader books. Ann Hood mastered this story with aplomb, telling of 12-year-old Trudy Mixer and her transition from popular to a “nobody.” Her school’s Beatles Fan Club (which she heads) has dwindled down to three members as other girls and boys mature. Even her best friend Melissa is more interested in boys, and in being a cheerleader. She feels Trudy is suddenly childish and beneath her. Trudy comes up with a plan to reverse this progression, part of her intense desire to see the Beatles when they appear in person in nearby city Boston. She hatches a plan to get there with her friends, whether her parents know or not–and whether it’s entirely safe or not. Sparkled with 60s memorabilia, this captivating and delightful tale is one of the most entertaining middle-grade books I’ve read in the past two or three years.

About Chuck Mall

Author of middle-grade fiction. Mizzou grad. Former writer for men's fitness magazines. Book "The Owl Motel: And Other Places Where You Are Not Welcome" available on Amazon. Avid cook and gardener.
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