The Hired Girl – Laura Amy Schlitz

Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life – Rachel Renee Russell

dork-diaries-book-1-pink-cover__140325175756-275x398This is the first book in a very funny series aimed at middle schoolers. The books represent the diary of 14-year-old Nikki Maxwell and, in addition to text, feature drawings, doodles and comic strips chronicling her life. In this one, Nikki is unhappy her father arranged a scholarship for her to attend a private middle school as part of the contract for his bug extermination services. Nikki doesn’t fit in with the wealthy students like popular but mean, MacKenzie Hollister. MacKenzie labels Nikki a “Dork” and tries to make her life miserable especially when the boy she likes seems to prefer Nikki instead. Things get better when Nikki makes a couple of friends, but the school art competition pits her against MacKenzie who is determined to win at any cost. This author absolutely nails the middle school voice. I could relate to Nikki and her drama even as an adult and found myself laughing out loud more than once. A light, funny read for any age.

Hattie Big Sky – Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky cover 2Charming middle school book about a young orphan, who at the age of 16, sets out for Montana to homestead a claim left to her by her uncle.  “At least now my letters will be more interesting,” she writes to her good friend, Charlie, who is fighting the Kaiser in France.   Set during WWI, the book details the hardships Hattie endures on the farm such as harsh weather, a cantankerous cow and her helplessness at the cookstove.  She is helped in her endeavors by neighbor Perilee Mueller, her German husband and their children, as well as others in the community.  With their encouragement, she finds the strength to stand up to Traft Martin’s attempts to buy her out.  A central theme in the story is the animosity shown towards the Germans living in the area as the war rages on.  Will Hattie succeed in keeping her claim or will she lose the land as so many others have?  The book was crafted from the author’s own family history, and was a Newbery Award Honor designee.

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret – Judy Blume

Are-You-There-God-Its-Me-MargaretThis middle grade book was a rite of passage for all tween girls when I was a kid.  I believe it holds up mainly because of the timelessness of Judy Blume’s writing.  Margaret, a girl in the 6th grade, is growing up without a religious affiliation because her mother is Christian and her father Jewish.  The novel explores Margaret’s quest for a religious identity even as it confronts typical tween issues such as discovering boys, being jealous of girls who are developing figures, whether or not to voice an opinion that might differ from the norm, having a first period and buying a first bra.  I love Judy Blume, an amazing author, who has written for every age group. Her adult books Wifey and Summer Sisters are equally wonderful!

The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton

the-outsiders-by-s-e-hintonThis remarkable coming-of-age novel was written when the author was only 16, and although it is now somewhat dated, it is also a timeless classic,  Its theme of the haves against the have nots still rings true today.  Two rival gangs in the 1960’s, the Socs and the Greasers, are divided along socioeconomic lines.  When a Greaser boy falls for a Soc girl, gang warfare erupts and teens die. This is a sad but poignant book that is so well written its hard to put down.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_StoneThere may be no new stories, but Rowling’s take on witches and wizards is certainly unique.  This is a truly wonderful children’s book — although a great read for anyone — about a young English boy, Harry Potter, who is a wizard of amazing, yet unrealized power.  Harry champions good sorcery over evil as he attends boarding school and comes in contact with all manner of mythical creatures.  In this book, and the ones that follow, the story moves toward the final confrontation between Harry, the most powerful of the good wizards, and “he who shall not be named,” the leader of evil.  What makes these books truly special is Rowling’s wit.  She’s very dry and funny. (On a personal note, I visited Edinburgh, Scotland recently.  I had lunch in The Elephant House, where Rowling penned some of The Sorcerer’s Stone.  Overlooking the restaurant is Edinburgh castle, a brooding medieval, grey-stone edifice set high on a hill. Hogwarts anyone?)

Holes – Louis Sacher

HolesThis middle grade book about Stanley Yelnats, a boy living under a curse incurred by an ancestor, seems almost perfectly crafted.  It won the Newberry and National Book Awards for its humor, interesting characters and finely wrought plot.  Stanley is unfairly sent to a boy’s detention camp where the warden makes them dig holes all day, every day.  It doesn’t take Stanley long to figure out that they are digging for more than to just “build character.”  Great read at any age.

Okay For Now – Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt.Okay for NowThe characters in this middle grade book are so wonderfully drawn its obvious the author is at the very top of his game. Schmidt was a Newberry Award Honor winner for this one. Doug is the new boy in town.  Everyone thinks he’s a thug because of the actions of his father and brother.  With the help of Lil Spicer, a popular girl from a prominent family, he is able to prove them wrong, endure an abusive father, and survive the return of his oldest brother scarred forever by a stint in Vietnam.  Funny, charming — you can’t help but root for Doug.