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A Middle Grade Reading List

Like many of you, I have placed holds across many genres through the Library's Libby app and waited for wonderful reads to arrive in library. The list below was pulled from my favorite reads for tweens. If you've had a chance to read or listen to any of these books, congratulations. If not, they're well worth the wait.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Earlier this year I got to see the author discuss Prairie Lotus, her latest book, and knew it had to be at the top of my list. I too was a fan of the Little House books growing up (and the television show as well).  I too couldn't reconcile some of the passages with the places and people that filled my young imagination. Linda Sue Park mines her own personal experiences growing up in the Midwest and those of other people of color to render a tale that expands the Western narrative.

After three years of traveling east from Los Angeles, Hanna and Papa have arrived in LaForge, Dakota Territory (based on Wilder's De Smet, South Dakota). Papa has picked this area because the local lawman is a friend he knows to be fair-minded. Hanna and Papa have endured much; half-white/half Chinese and Korean Hanna more than she can let Papa know. Papa doesn't want Hanna to attend school in LaForge, anticipating the trouble that soon comes, but with determination and her late mother's many lessons Hanna stands up to Papa and her new neighbors. Hanna's encounters with the Dakota-speaking Oceti Sakowin adds yet another layer to what Linda Sue Park describes as "the whole story" of the West.

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey
Geoff Rodkey's latest book also dealt with the struggles of a family working to dispel misconceptions. Earth’s remaining people flee to Mars following a sudden planet-wide nuclear apocalypse. Unable to decide on one place for everyone to settle, the people of Earth split into three groups with a small contingent setting off for the planet Choom. Choom has four coexisting species, all of whom welcome the humans, but the trip takes twenty years, enough time for things to change drastically. Upon arrival in Choom's orbit the refugees are denied entry by Choom's Immigration. After days of negotiation, the Mifune family is sent to the surface of Choom to be the test family unit.

Narrated by tween, Lan, the Mifunes work to undo the effects of anti-human propaganda. They join the workforce, attend school and try to show how peace-loving and kind humans, especially their small and desperate group, can be, but antipathy continues to build. Attempts at sharing Earth culture make things worse. Can the Mifune's save the people of Earth. We're Not From Here is a thrilling yet thoughtful futuristic fable just right for the times.

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
Lalani is an average child with no special accomplishments. Like many on her island she cannot sail or swim and lives in fear of the forces of nature. A drought on the island makes gathering nutritious and healing plants difficult. People grow sick and never get better. The sailors set out for better islands never to return. Lalani journeys up Mount Kahna to extract the promise of rain, but gets a devastating flood. To put things right for her people, Lalani journeys to Mount Isa, the land of good fortune.  While Lalani discovers her strengths, her people discover theirs.

Reminiscent of Terry Pratchett's Nation, Lalani of the Distant Sea is another heart-stopping coming of age story, this time with Filipino folklore at its heart. At times scary, but always wondrous, I loved this story of discovery and hope you will too.

Song for Whale by Lynne Kelly
Drawn from the real-life story of the whale 52 Hertz and Lynne Kelly's experiences as an ASL interpreter, Song of a Whale is an adventure that begins and ends community. Twelve year old Iris is an expert radio restorer and has a friend in her widowed grandmother, but struggles with social isolation. Her father and classmates don't sign well making it harder for Iris to communicate with the hearing world that surrounds her. When Iris learns about Blue 55 she finds a kindred spirit. Blue is a whale that sings at a higher frequency than other whales along its annual migrations. As a result Blue has no pod, but thrives all the same. Iris wants to help Blue and recruits her grandmother on her quest, making friends along the way. 

The budding marine biologist will not be disappointed in Song for a Whale, but there is something for everyone. Full of wonder and adventure with a plucky heroine leading the way I couldn't put this book down.

Orphan Train Rider by Andrea Warren
By the mid-nineteenth century, social reformers and philanthropists began looking at ways to adopt out the increasing number of abandoned, neglected and abused children overcrowding state and private orphanages. The growing rail system soon proved a useful conduit and children, mostly under fourteen, were soon sent to stops in the South, Midwest and West for wholesome upbringing. Readers of the Anne of Green Gables books get a glimpse of the expectations that the average family would have had for these children. At best the adoptees were made to feel different by their peers in their new communities. Some, like Ann Shirley were taken on as childcare providers or farm laborers.  Still, others were physically abused.

In addition to providing background information on the orphan train movement that ran until 1930, Orphan Train Rider tells the story of Lee, a seven year old middle child of seven. When his mother dies shortly after giving birth to his youngest brother, Lee’s father puts out the three older children to live on the streets, gives the newborn baby to friends and sends Lee and his brother Leo to an orphanage. What happens to the sixth sibling between the ages of one and three is a mystery. Lee’s recollections are heartbreaking, but a testament to familial love across time and distance. 

Summer Challenge 2020 is here. Remember to log all the reading and listening you've been doing June 1 through August 31. Prize drawings will be held throughout the summer. Happy reading!