Read Harder 2016: Middle Grade Novels

I so enjoyed doing the Read Harder challenge in 2015, that I am thrilled Book Riot is doing it again! Task 5 is to read a Middle Grade Novel, and those are my JAM. So I thought I would make a list of recommendations of MG books that I think are great and would appeal to folks who don’t usually read them.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (2014).

Who can resist a book about a sixth grade restaurant critic? Gladys Gatsby *loves* food, but after an unfortunately creme brûlée incident, she is banned from the kitchen by her non-culinarily inclined parents. When an essay she wrote for a newspaper contest is mistaken for an actual job application, Gladys finds herself reviewing a restaurant for the New York Standard. Fans of Ruth Reichl’s Delicious, should sample All Four Stars.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George (2007).

When Creel’s family sacrifices her to the local dragon, they never would have imagined that she’d talk her way out of his cave and head off to the capital with a pair of magical slippers. She arrives just in time to save the kingdom. If you like YA fantasy, then you should give the MG’s Dragon Slippers a try!

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014).

Middle School schemer, Jackson Greene, swears he has reformed his ways, but when he suspects that the Student Council elections have been rigged against his friend, Gaby de la Cruz, he decides to pull off one last con for the greater good. If you like heist capers like Ocean’s Eleven, you’ll enjoy The Great Greene Heist.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford (2014).

Sometimes good things come from judging a book by it’s cover. I picked this one up because I liked the way it looked, and found such an engaging tale inside. Milo lives in a smuggler’s inn with his adopted, innkeeper parents. The holidays are usually a quiet time, but for some reason, this year, the inn has filled up with some very eccentric characters. It’s up to Milo to figure out what they are seeking before something bad happens. If you are a mystery reader, pick up Greenglass House!

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (2014).

Celeste Marconi is forced to flee her home in Valparaiso, Chile after a brutal dictator seizes control. This book does a great job of showing life under/around a dictatorship through the eyes of a child. If you’ve avoided middle grade books, because you thought they couldn’t deal with serious topics, you should check out I Lived on Butterfly Hill.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (2014).

A fun (and often funny) family tale of two dads and their four sons, who range in age from 6 to 12. If you have found memories of Ramona Quimby, or if you just really want to read a story where two dads are just life and not a plot point, I totally recommend The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher.

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez  (2015).

Middle school student, Cassie Arroyo, is at school in Rome where her art historian father is doing research. All of a sudden her world is shaken when her father picks her up unexpectedly from school and then is shot in their attempted escape. Her injured father sends her to see a Monk, while warning her against a secret group – the Hastati – who are out to get her. If you enjoyed the action and art of The Da Vinci Code, give Moving Target a try.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (2010).

Delphine and her two little sisters travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, CA in the summer of 1968 to spend time with their mother who abandoned the family when the youngest was a baby. Their “crazy summer” include Black Panther summer camp and a mother who wants little to do with them. This Newbery Honor book is a lovely mix of a historic moment in time and normal childhood. If you like historical fiction, you’ll enjoy One Crazy Summer. And bonus: This is a trilogy, so if you like this one, there are more to read!

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (2015).

When Sophie Brown’s parents inherit her Great Uncle Jim’s farm, they move from LA to a more rural, agricultural part of California. Sophie discovers some of Great Uncle Jim’s very special chickens and starts a self-education campaign to become an exceptional poultry farmer. If you enjoy magical realism, I like you’ll like Unusual Chickens!

Read Harder 2016: Middle Grade Novels

Read This! A Penguin Story


Our weather this weekend calls for a snowy read. In A Penguin Story, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis, Edna, our penguin heroine, is on a quest. She wants to find something that is not white or black or blue, like all the things that surround her in the snowy Antarctic. She sets out alone and discovers something amazing! Lovely illustrations and great fun. You can find a few more recommendation for great picture books about snow here.

Read This! A Penguin Story

Books for Queer Families: Heather Has Two Mommies

Heather Has Two Mommies (written by Leslea Newman) was first published in 1989, making it a CLASSIC of lesbian children’s literature. It was reissued with new illustrations last year. Reviews of the reissue (illustrated by Laura Cornell) focused heavily on the fact that Heather’s mommies were now married (this portrayed through weddings band in the pictures, not mentioned outright), but as someone who actually read the first edition, I’m here to tell you that the big news is that the awkward pages on Mama Jane’s artificial insemination are now gone! Plot-wise, this is your basic, kid with two moms goes to school, discussion of family structures ensues story.

Pros: First of its kind! Plot is pretty basic and boring, but since it was first children’s book about two moms EVER that was in fact a novel concept at the time, so I will forgive it. It’s very respectful and having two moms is never presented as weird or a problem, just a thing to talk about, which is how you can tell the book was written by lesbian and not a straight lady.

Cons: I’m not that crazy about the new illustrations. The old ones were like some sort of tribute to 1970s lesbian feminism, so I can get that they needed an update, but the new ones are just kind of… messy. Not my favorite illustration style.

Bottom Line: If your kid has two moms, you should probably read this to them at some point (otherwise someone may reclaim your toaster), but you can totally get it from the library. Public/school libraries and non-two mom families could do way worse than the reissued version of this book if they are looking for a book about two mom families to share. Basically, go for it!

Books for Queer Families: Heather Has Two Mommies

Read This! Rocket Writes a Story


This is a sweet tale of a story-writing dog, Rocket, and a very shy Owl, who smells of pine needles and feathers and the story that brings them together. We adopted our very own shy Owl (a 2 year old lab mix) this past weekend, so this story which we got out of the library a few weeks ago seems oddly prescient. Great for preschoolers or older toddlers!

Read This! Rocket Writes a Story

2015 Caldecott Medal: The Adventures of Beekle


Born on an island for imaginary friends, Beekle gets tired of waiting for child to claim him and sets off to the “real world” to find a child of his own. It takes a while, but he does meet his friend and then they go on to have adventures of imagination together. A simple, sweet tale.

The illustrations in The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend are colorful, whimsical, and friendly. There is a clear contrast between the imaginary creatures (bright! vibrant! full of color!) and the “real world” (grey and stark). It’s a joy to watch the color spread once Beekle meets his friend. All of Santat’s illustrations are just a joy for the eyes, I have to say.

Dan Santat has been illustrating picture books for other authors for about a decade now – including one of our favorites, Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos, and has both written and illustrated three books total (Beekle, The Guild of Geniuses, and a graphic novel, Sidekicks, which is where I first discovered Santat a few years ago!). Santat also does commercial illustration, and created the Disney Channel series, The Replacements.

Simple enough to appeal to younger toddlers, with enough visual interest to engage preschoolers, The Adventures of Beekle is a winner!


One of my Life List goals is to read all of the Caldecott winners. This is my seventh post about a Caldecott book. You can read the other Caldecott posts here.

2015 Caldecott Medal: The Adventures of Beekle

Read This! Spots in a Box


A young guinea hen, concerned with his lack of spots, orders some in the mail. The first batch are way too big, the second “too sneezy, too small” (pepper, anyone?). Finally, after a number of misses, the hen finds his spot. They may not be traditional, but they fit him perfectly! Spots in a Box by Helen Ward is a cheerful, rhyming read.

Read This! Spots in a Box

2015 in Book Statistics

I love keeping track of what I’ve read. It gives me a good idea of what I like and where I have room to grow. In the middle of 2015, I decided I wanted to try to have at least 50% of my reading be by writers of color or native authors. I didn’t make it this year (mainly because the first part of 2015 was VERY white), but I’m going to keep this goal in 2016. Interestingly, to me, while only a third of my reading this year was by writers of color, half of my favorite books of 2015 were by writers of color, which shows there are great books out there that I was missing by not having more diversified reading. Here’s to a great reading year.

Five Star Books of 2015:

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
The Martian by Andy Weir
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber
Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Total Books Read in 2015: 103

Number Read in Best Month: 15 (January)
Number Read in Worst Months: 5 (March, October & November)

Total Books Read in 2014: 63
Total Books Read in 2013: 75
Total Books Read in 2012: 64
Total Books Read in 2011: 130
Total Books Read in 2010: 130
Total Books Read in 2009: 200
Total Books Read in 2008: 80
Total Books Read in 2007: 122
Total Books Read in 2006: 70

Fiction/Non-fiction Split:
2015: 64%/36%
2014: 66%/34%
2013: 60%/40%
2012: 72%/28%
2011: 70%/30%
2010: 68%/32%
2009: 84%/16%
2008: 63%/37%
2007: 50%/50%
2006: 59%/41%

Percentage of Books by Women:
2015: 77%
2014: 83%
2013: 68%
2012: 61%
2011: 59%
2010: 55%
2009: 44%
2008: 68%
2007: 60%
2006: 74%

Percentage of Books by Writers of Color or Native Authors:
2015: 33%

Kindle vs. Print vs. Audiobooks:
2015: 47%/49%/4%
2014: 45%/55%
2013: 53%/47%
2012: 73%/27%

2015 in Book Statistics