It’s no secret that I LOVE giving books as gifts to kids in my world, so I was happy to oblige the request of several family and friends to make a list of some of my favorite books of the year. This might be a handy gift-giving guide or list to keep handy when you head to the library. In this latest installment, I’m sharing my favorite 2012 novels for middle graders and teens. In case you missed it, check out my list of Favorite 2012 Picture Books, here. Stay tuned for my lists of Chapter Books and Graphic Novels for Younger Readers.
What’s “middle grade” mean, you ask? For me, these are books that are in general, good choices for kids ages 8-12. Keep in mind that these books can move up or down based on reading ability and interest level, especially if they’re being used as a read aloud. It was a challenge to select a list of my favorite titles for the year, so be sure to check out my Goodreads “middle grade” or my small, but growing, “young adult” shelf for even more great titles . . . you usually can’t go wrong with one of my 4-star or 5-star books. As you can see below, I do have a liking for good realistic and historical fiction, but you’ll also see a few books in the fantasy or sci-fi genres, too.
All of the book covers will link to a more thorough synopsis of a book over at Goodreads!
This is a must read, and a great one to share as a read-aloud, or read-together. This is a story about Auggie, who has severe facial deformities that have made him a target of bullying at his new school. Uniquely, the story is not just his own, as you get perspective from many other people in his life. We read this aloud as an entire family and had so many good discussions about bullying, and the true meaning of kindness and friendship. The characters were real and honest, and give great insight to motivations of others, which again generated lots of great talking points.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Read together grades 3-8, read alone grade 4 and up.
This is the latest installment in the Tom Angleberger’s best-selling Origami Yoda series and my favorite of the bunch. Like the other books, it is filled with lots of humor and funny doodles, but this one also has some more poignant moments as the kids at McQuarrie Middle School jockey the social ins and outs of friendship and challenges of being true to yourself. While the characters are older in these books, I think it’s okay for younger readers. They’ll lap up the Star Wars references and humor, though I suspect a lot of the social issue stuff might slide over their heads.
Genre: Realistic Fiction. Read together grades 3-6, read alone 4-8.
Carley is removed from an abusive situation and placed into foster care with the Murphy family. She slowly learns to trust others and sees what a healthy family life looks like. This will have you pulling on your heart-strings. I don’t have any personal first hand knowledge of foster-care, but Lynda Mullaly Hunt gives a beautiful voice to the children and families involved.
Genre: Realistic Fiction. Read together 4th – 8th grade, read alone 5th – 9th grade.
This is a lovely book that is both heart-breaking and filled with moments of hope. Fern, is 12 and filled with all kinds of typical tween/teen motions as she enters middle school. A lot of the time her family annoys her. She’s not quite sure what to make of evolving friendships at school, or a brother at home who is struggling to share that he is gay. When tragedy strikes her family, Fern is slammed with deep sadness, guilt, anger, and eventually moments of happiness again as she tries to come to grip with the new normal in her world.
Genre: Realistic Fiction. Read together grades 5 -8, or alone grades 6 and up.
Okay, I’ll tell you upfront: This is a book about cancer. Teens with cancer. But John Green and his smart, clever writing let us inside the lives of teenagers, Hazel and Augustus as they chart their way through disease and love. The characters felt so real and honest to me. I smiled, laughed, and of course felt their heart-ripping angst and sadness. Read its beauty for yourself.
Genre: Realistic Fiction. For ages 14 and up.
Historical Fiction This was personally one of the best books I’ve read in years and one I’d love for adults and kids to read. The story focuses on the friendship between Marlee and Liz, two girls in Little Rock, Arkansas, the year after school integration was enforced. A powerful story about an interesting time and a great one to show how complicated such social issues can be in a community, or even within a family. Marlee is a quirky and memorable character who is right up there with Atticus Finch, of To Kill a Mockingbird, in my literary character hall of fame.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Read together grades 4-9, read alone grades 5-9.
Moses is a young child in a middle-class black family in Wilmington, North Carolina and his story wraps around the race riots that gripped that city in 1898. The suspense of the story is gripping and makes for a great vehicle to learn about life in the Jim Crow-era. The harsh realities of lynching and sexual violence are mentioned, though not described in detail, so I think sharing this book with some background context would be necessary.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Read together or alone grades 5-9.
This lovely book is a tale of animal friendship. It is told from the perspective of Ivan, the gorilla, and is written in a poetic, verse-style. The story is inspired by real-life gorilla Ivan, who lived in captivity for many years in a mall in Tacoma. This has been a consistent kid-favorite for both boys and girls both as a read aloud, or for independent reading. It does have several moments that will play with your heart strings much the way E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web does, so brace yourself, but overall it is a wonderful message of hope and friendship. Read together grades 3-6, read alone grades 4-7.
Genre: Animal Fantasy. Read together 3rd – 6th grade. Read alone 4th grade and up.
This book is great fun. It is the “real” story of the Princes Charming from famous tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. With its tongue-in-cheek campiness and filled with familiar characters and storylines from fairy tales, kids will gobble this one up. Lots of laugh out loud moments paired with some nice evolving friendships between very different characters make for a nice balanced read. It reminds me a lot of the humor you find in the Shrek movies. This is the first installment in the Hero’s Guide series, with the next title, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle due out in 2013.
Genre: Fantasy. Read together grades 3-6, read alone grades 4-8.
This story is set in the near future, around 2050, when climate change has lead to super intense storms. Jaden goes to live with her weather scientist father and quickly learns that things aren’t as they should be. While the main character is a girl, boys are bound to like this one a lot. This is an exciting and intense story-line filled with some great relationship twists. I’m not in general a sci-fi reader, but I loved all the weather science carefully researched and presented by Messner.
Genre: Science Fiction. Read together grades 5-7, read alone grades 5-9.