9 November 2018 | Uncategorised

Christmas wishlist – middle-grade fiction

I’ve read many fabulous middle-grade books for 8-12 year-olds this year. This list might help you to choose some books for a Christmas stocking. Of course, some eight-year-olds may read these books on their own and others will need to read them with an adult. And some of these books may be too young for a mature 12-year-old. But all of these books are well-written with fabulous plots and interesting characters.

One dog and his boy by Eva Ibbotson – if you have a dog-loving reader in your home, they’ll love this book. Hal has always wanted a dog but his parents don’t want one – imagine the ruined carpets! Eventually, Hal’s dad rents him a dog for the weekend, assuming Hal will have lost interest by the time the dog needs to be returned. But Hal is devastated when he finds out Fleck the terrier is only his for the weekend, and his only choice is to run away with Fleck, followed by the rest of the dogs in the Easy Pets rental agency. This is a story with lots of action and lots of heart. We borrowed it from the library but I’m tempted to buy our own copy because I know it would be reread.

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead – this story about an alien who waits for years in a cupboard in an Australian country house for his friend Liv to return from America, is heartwarming and quirky. Rebecca Stead is one of my favourite, favourite writers and her collaboration with Wendy Mass is a winner. It’s perfect for 8-11 year-olds. You can read a longer review here.

Figgy in the world by Tamsin Janu – while this story had a slow start, it did become a page-turner as I wanted to read on to find out whether Figgy, an orphan in Africa, could find her way to America to buy medicine for her sick grandmother. Figgy, while innocent of the ways of the world, is resourceful, hard-working and utterly likeable. Miss 12 studied this book in class – there are themes of resilience, geography and working out what type of people can be trusted. It is a slim enough, and simple enough story that 8-10 year-olds could enjoy on their own.

The three doors trilogy by Emily Rodda – a fantasy trilogy for 11-13 year-olds, these books follow the adventures of Rye and Sonia. After Rye’s village has been threatened by skimmers, large birds who destroy and kill, the young men of the village are invited on a quest to venture through one of the three doors to find a way to stop the skimmers. In true quest fashion, Rye’s two older brothers, one by one, leave but never come back. Rye is determined to find out what happened to his brothers, and Sonia, who has her own reasons to hunt the skimmers, joins him. I read these books one after the other, eager to find out the overarching story behind each of the three doors. This is a more sophisticated read for older middle-grade readers.

Louisanna’s way home by Kate di Camillo – for those fans of Kate di Camillo – author of Because of Winn Dixie, Flora and Ulysses, Raymie Nightingale and other titles – Louisanna’s way home follows Louisanna Elefante, Raymie’s friend. Louisiana has a strong voice, a distinct way of thinking and a problem because her Granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to drive across the state in order to break the curse of their family. This is a beautiful, tender book for thoughtful, perceptive readers. It’s currently available in hardback and my copy came with a matching bookmark.

Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend – this is the highly-anticipated sequel for Nevermoor, the book many critics claimed to be the next Harry Potter. I wasn’t disappointed – I read this thick doorstopper of a book in a day. I’d suggest reading Nevermoor first, so you can understand how Morrigan Crow, a cursed child, became the protege of the elusive and quirky Jupiter North and how she made her way through the trials to enter the revered Wundrous Society. Wundersmith continues with Morrigan looking forward to her education within the Wundrous Society but its limited curriculum, her group’s fear of her and the people who go missing in Nevermoor mean all is not what it seems.

The slightly alarming tale of the whispering wars by Jaclyn Moriarty – I haven’t read this one yet but I certainly will because I loved the first book, The extremely inconvenient adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and reviewed it here. As far as I can tell, there are a different set of characters but it’s still set in the same fantasy world. I really love reading books where the characters are so solid and real that it doesn’t matter how many pirates or water sprites turn up, the story just rings true. The main action of the whispering wars – alluded to in the first book – takes place between the  orphanage school and the boarding school. There are stolen children to be rescued, witches and sirens to be dealt with and the darkness to be fought against. I may be fighting Miss 12 for the privilege of reading this book first!

The bubble boy by Stewart Foster – Joe is eleven and has spent all his life in his London hospital room. His only family is his older sister, Beth, who is studying to be a doctor and sees him as much as her studies allow her. His only friend – apart from the hospital staff – is Henry, a boy in Philadelphia who has the same rare condition as Joe which means they can’t go outside. To venture outside could mean death. Although Joe’s world is small, Joe is a large character. His acute observations, his courage and his positive attitude all make for a wonderfully interesting character in a unique book.

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – Miss 12 suggested I read this book and its sequel, The war I finally won, because she claimed I would just love them and as usual, she was right. These two historical novels are set in the second world war in England in 1939. Ada has a club foot, a horrible mother and begins a new life when she and her brother are evacuated to the country. You can read a longer review here.

Have sword, will travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams – Odo and Eleanor stumble on an ancient sword in a dry riverbed and Odo is immediately knighted by the talking sword. And as the title says, once you have a sword, you’re expected to save the day. Odo and Eleanor set off on a quest to fight the dragon who is drying up the rivers. Odo is reluctant, Eleanor excited. I really enjoyed this quest story for younger middle-grade readers because it followed quest traditions with a light touch and lots of humour.

Happy Christmas shopping! Let me know if I’ve missed any other wonderful middle-grade books.


Ovarian cancer day



Thanks again Karen. I’ll search out some of these books for our grandchildren.

November 9, 2018 at 6:55 am


Karen, your reviews make me wish (just a little bit) that I was still teaching so I could share them with my class. I only have a Mr almost 19 and a Miss 5 to buy for so I’ll wait for your suggestions for younger readers. I’ll recommend these titles to my goddaughter for her children. They all sound excellent! Thank you

November 9, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Karen Comer

    Thanks, Kathy – I’m sure Miss 5 will be reading some of these titles in a few years! Thanks for passing this post on to your goddaughter.

    November 11, 2018 at 8:18 am


Great thanks Karen, I love your Christmas book recommendations – I have already purchased a couple of these after reading this. I look forward to hearing your older age reviews.

Thank you

November 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm

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