Mad For Middle Grade: The Recommender

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Welcome to THE RECOMMENDER, where we take popular middle grade books and suggest similar, lesser known titles that readers would enjoy. We (the recommenders) LOVE sharing books we love, so naturally, we thought we were way overdue for a blog post such as this one.  This is our way of shouting from the rooftops with a megaphone about the books we adore without, you know, actually shouting from the rooftops with a megaphone.  So without further ado…

The Recommender Says:

So You Like: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket
Then Try: GUSTAV GLOOM by Adam-Troy CastroGustav

These two stories are quite different, but Gustav shares many of the elements that made me fall in love with Lemony. Sweet, forlorn characters who are not overly depressing? Check. Larger-than-life creepy villains? Check. A mystery that deepens with each book? Check. Wonderfully strange settings? Oh, that’s a check. Added bonus: the covers of Gustav are stunning. Trust me, this series will look amazing on your bookshelf.

Recommended by Michelle Schusterman, I HEART BAND, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

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So you like: ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred Taylor
Then try: KATERINA’S WISH by Jeannie MobleyKaterina's Wish

As a kid, I adored ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred Taylor (Puffin, 1976). Like all great historical fiction, it made me forget that I was learning something about another time period and simply sucked me into the story of Cassie’s life and struggles. KATERINA’S WISH by Jeannie Mobley (McElderry/S&S, 2012) had the same effect on me years later, immersing me in Katerina’s quest to build a better life for her immigrant family despite the challenges of surviving in a turn-of-the-century coal-mining camp.

Recommended by Tara Dairman, ALL FOUR STARS, Putnam/Penguin

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So You Like: WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
Then Try: KING OF SHADOWS by Susan CooperKing of Shadows

For older MG readers, this book offers complexity and challenge in the form of a boy who travels through time to Shakespeare’s age. Like WHEN YOU REACH ME it touches on mature issues — in this case the death of a parent — through the use of the fantastical. Both books pull readers in and through tough times, but both also bring the protagonist and the the reader to a truly satisfying conclusion.

Recommended by Dana Alison Levy, THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, Delacorte/Random House

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Prairie EversSo you like: WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech
Then try: PRAIRIE EVERS by Ellen Airgood
Also try: SPARROW ROAD by Sheila O’Connor

Ellen Airgood’s PRAIRIE EVERS, which features a year of change—geographic and otherwise—for its sweet, strong-willed protagonist, Prairie. Her close relationship with her Grammy (a truly wonderful character) reminded me so much of Salamanca’s relationship with her grandparents.

Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road SPARROW ROAD, in which a spunky, creative protagonist, Raine O’Rourke, travels with her mother to a mysterious mansion that serves as an artist’s colony. Throughout the summer, Raine tries to solve the mystery of the mansion—and one about her own family.

Recommended by Rebecca Behrens, WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE, Sourcebooks

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So you like: WAYSIDE SCHOOL by Louis Sachar
Then try: SCARY SCHOOL by Derek the GhostScary School

WAYSIDE SCHOOL was the defining moment of my fourth grade literature education, so I don’t take comparisons lightly. But SCARY SCHOOL is a really apt comparative title. In other words, much like what happened when I first read WAYSIDE, SCARY SCHOOL made me laugh so hard I was literally chortling and snorting. (One person sitting near me even asked me what I was reading that was making me laugh so much.) Scary School is the paranormal cousin to Wayside, with similar short-story-esque chapters and the same silly spirit!

Recommended by Lauren Magaziner, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES, Dial/Penguin

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So you like: LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
Then try: THE CASSON FAMILY series by Hilary McKay

If you loved Little Women (and who didn’t?) Saffy's Angel you will adore the contemporary novels of Hilary McKay that feature the Casson sisters–daughters of two distracted artists–who get through good times and challenging ones with a little help and a lot of love from one another. Each book centers on one of the sisters, who are each named after a color. Titles include award-winning SAFFY’S ANGEL, PERMANENT ROSE, CADDY EVER AFTER, FOREVER ROSE, and CADDY’S WORLD. There is also one brother in this family. His name is Indigo, and his story is told in INDIGO’S STAR.

Probably most appropriate for upper middle grade readers, these would also be delightful books to read aloud together as a family.

Recommended by Gayle Rosengren, WHAT THE MOON SAID, Putnam/Penguin

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So you like: AMULET series by Kazu Kibuishi
Then try: THE ELSEWHERE CHRONICLES by Nykko and Bannister Elsewhere

Like AMULET, THE ELSEWHERE CHRONICLES stars a girl, Rebecca, who discovers that her (now deceased) grandfather had discovered another world full of magic. Rebecca becomes trapped in this world with three of her friends, and they soon learn how dangerous it truly is. This is one of my favorite graphic novel series for kids. The art is fun and vibrant, and the story, much like the greatest middle grade novels, is a little dark.

Recommended by Robin Herrera, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Amulet Books

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So You Like: THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall
Then Try: THE MELENDY QUARTET by Elizabeth EnrightThe Saturdays

Like the PENDERWICK series, these combine siblings, silliness, small-scale mysteries, and a celebration of childhood. The siblings run away to the circus, rescue stray dogs, chop off their hair, and have endless adventures that resonate even decades after the books were written. They’re perfect as read-aloud to younger kids or for MG readers to discover for themselves.

Recommended by Dana Alison Levy, THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, Delacorte/Random House

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So you like: MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
Then try: TIME STOPS FOR NO MOUSE by Michael HoeyeTime Stops for No Mouse

Like Mrs. Frisby, Hermux Tantamoq is just your average mouse… until he’s pulled into a conspiratorial plot by a mysterious (and beautiful!) mouse named Linka Perflinger. Soon Hermux is having far more adventures than he ever has before (and probably more than he’d like!). What impressed me the most in this book was the lavish world-building. And also the names. How can you not love a mouse named Hermux Tantamoq?

Recommended by Robin Herrera, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Amulet Books

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Have you read any of our recommendations?  And do you have any recommendations for us?  (Seriously. We love adding to our MG reading lists!) Be sure to drop us a line in the comments!  We’ll be back on August 5th, but until then, we hope these amazing books will fill the Mad For Middle Grade-sized hole in your hearts!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
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