Magical Realism in Middle Grade


Magical realism is a flourishing sub-genre of middle grade literature, but what does it mean, how is it different from standard fantasy and why is it so appealing to young readers and not-so-young authors alike? My first introduction to magical realism came in college when I became enamored with the works of Congolese author Sony Lab’ou Tansi; although, at the time, I wrote a paper outlining how his brand of magical storytelling differed from the classic magical realism tradition of Latin American authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. Nowadays, my thoughts on the subject are not quite so lofty.

Middle grade authors have developed their own version of magical realism, which, of course, varies just as much as previous iterations. Today I’m going to share my specific understanding of the sub-genre and how I have used everyday magic as a tool to develop my characters’ emotional journeys.

First, a definition. I like to define magical realism in middle grade as a story that takes place in an everyday setting with just a hint of magic. However, we need to take the definition a few steps farther to really understand magical realism, especially if we want to differentiate it from contemporary fantasy or urban fantasy, which are also fantasy stories that take place in everyday settings. One of the key differences here is that with contemporary or urban fantasy, the fantasy element is generally a force that characters must strive to overcome. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer; the beasties are primarily there to drive the plot forward and give Buffy landmarks on her hero’s journey.

In magical realism, the fantasy element serves a different purpose. It is generally there in order to spark or highlight an emotional change in the main character. Think of the magic as a spiritual guide, leading the character on a journey of self-discovery. The magical element is often symbolic of a larger idea. For a concrete example, let’s take a look at my first book, Skeleton Tree.


In Skeleton Tree, the main character, Stanly, discovers a finger bone in his backyard. He hopes to dig up the bones and photograph them in order to win a contest, but the bones have other ideas. They start to grow, first into a bony hand reaching up into the sky, and then into a full-sized skeleton that only children and a few special adults can see. The only person who doesn’t find the skeleton creepy is Stanly’s little sister, Miren. She wants to be best friends with the skeleton, that she names Princy, but when she starts to get sick more often than usual, Stanly worries that maybe the skeleton isn’t as friendly as Miren thinks.

Spoiler alert:  as you probably guessed, Princy represents Death in the story. As Stanly’s relationship with Princy changes and grows throughout the course of the book, so does Stanly’s understanding of Death. By the end, he realizes that, “maybe death [isn’t] all worms and nothingness. Maybe, sometimes, there [is] mystery and whimsy and dancing shadow puppets, too. The kind that [need] both light and dark to be seen” (154-155 Skeleton Tree). The magic serves the purpose of guiding both the character and the reader on an emotional journey that might be more difficult to conceptualize without a physical manifestation of a complex topic, in this case Princy as the physical manifestation of Death.


This is one of the reasons why I think magical realism works so well in middle grade. Not only can it give young readers a concrete way to visualize and understand fuzzy existential topics, but, using light magic, often with a big dose of whimsy, is also a great way to ease readers into a conversation about dark or difficult topics, like death in Skeleton Tree or homelessness in Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw.

Another characteristic that differentiates magical realism from contemporary or urban fantasy is that authors of magical realism usually make no attempt to explain the magic. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, we learn an entire mythology surrounding slayers and demons that, while still fantastical, explains the world in a way that viewers and characters in the show are willing to accept. On the other hand, in magical realism, the author makes little or no attempt to explain, because it’s not about developing a larger fantasy world or a plausible system of magic, it’s about taking the character on a specific emotional journey. Once the journey is over, the magic often disappears or goes away until it is needed by a future character looking to undertake a similar emotional journey.

Hopefully this article has given you a greater understanding of magical realism in middle grade literature and has inspired you to go out and read, or even write, some magical middle grade in 2019.



Kim Ventrella is the author of the middle grade novels SKELETON TREE and BONE HOLLOW (coming 2/26/2019). Her short story, ‘Jingle Jangle,’ will appear in the NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology releasing in 2020. Her works tackle tough topics with big doses of whimsy, hope and, of course, magic.

Why Drawing Matters

When I was a kid, I loved drawing. I loved the way it felt to make marks on a page, the sound of the graphite scratching against the paper, the feel of the pencil against my fingers.


I liked the sensation of moving my hand and arm in swooping or looping gestures. And I liked the marks left by these gestures: lines against a surface, the visual contrast and tension. With a little imagination, I could see characters who’d never existed before come to life. But drawing was also an activity that got me in trouble. At school If I had a sheet of paper in front of me, I doodled on it. I would draw in my notebook instead of work on what I was supposed to be doing. Drawing was often seen as an off-task activity. At home, my artistic endeavors were appreciated, but not regarded as something to aspire to. As the child of immigrants, I was encouraged to focus on more serious, scholarly pursuits. I grew up believing that the thing I loved and cared about didn’t really matter. So eventually, I just stopped doing it.

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Like me, many children use drawing as a primary way of responding to and representing experiences, ideas, and imaginings. Before we can form words, we make marks on a page to tell stories about who we are and what we care about.

We draw what frightens us, perplexes us, and excites us. Our early drawings were opportunities to examine ourselves in the world, to challenge concepts and beliefs, and to imagine who we might be in the future. As an act, drawing is deeply entangled with literacy development, but doesn’t often receive the same attention or regard as language.


Drawing  helps us discover what we know. It gives shape to our often divergent and nonlinear thoughts. It helps us construct new knowledge, by offering a non-verbal approach to thinking through logic and causality. But drawing is also a deeply embodied act that activates the body by privileging sensation and desire over linearity and discursiveness. Drawing emphasizes our subjective rationality, highlights our material constraints, and creates the conditions for surprise and delight. Drawing allows us to sidestep the structures of language to speak without saying, to know without articulating, and to sense without containing. Drawing cares more about how we feel than what we think.

body tingling.jpgOkay, I never really stopped drawing. I just pushed it to the margins for a long time, and hid it in places other people couldn’t see. I could never really shake it. In fact, there were times when my body seemed to need it. In the darkest of times, I found that drawing in my sketchbook was the only thing that would help me feel better. It didn’t matter how well I drew, and it didn’t matter if anyone even saw it. Drawing helped me be present with my feelings, it helped me endure confounding thoughts, it helped me wait out the darkness for the light. And this is still how it works for me.
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Not everything we feel or everything we know can be articulated through language. As a cultural-historical system, language not only gives shape to our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, it tells us what they’ll be as well. In order to share (or prove) what we know or how we feel, we necessarily have to render it in language, an act we all struggle with from time to time. Think about all those times we resort to metaphor to explain that what we mean is more than the words we’re using to say it. We’ve been moving from thoughts to words for so long, it’s easy to believe that the only way to know something, is to put it into language.  It’s even easy to mistake thought and language as the same thing.

Can we know something if we can’t say it?

Can we think through drawing?

What are feelings before we’ve named them?


I’m a sucker for cartoon characters. I love how improbable they are. Their impossibility. Their absurdity. As caricatured humans, they also help reveal and uncover the limits of our humanity.

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It makes sense to me that cartoon characters would emerge from drawing. It’s true, of course, that drawing can be used to document and look more closely at the world around us. It can be used to uncover the depth of our thoughts, to reveal the complexity of our world. It can be used inquire. But what excites me most is drawing’s ability—through the ambiguity of line—to render the unimaginable in a visible form, free from the constraints of logic or reason. Drawing offers us an opportunity to imagine new trajectories for ourselves and for the world around us. When I draw, I can act on what I sense—those vibrations and movements in my body—without having to figure out what they are or what they mean.

Screen Shot 2019-01-24 at 1.09.45 PM.pngIn a few months, my own graphic novel, Red Panda & Moon Bear, comes out. It’s a wish fulfilled for my twelve-year-old self. A book full of monsters and creatures, impossible happenings. It’s also got characters who remind me a lot of myself. They’re silly and irreverent. They care deeply about the people around them. They’re powerful and strong. They know a lot of stuff, but they also make a ton of mistakes. They’re helpful and destructive. Beings of contradiction and ambiguity. Just like all of us. The narrative in this book is itself a kind of line drawing: meandering and diverging. It splits apart, goes in separate directions, rejoins itself later. It moves in odd shapes, full of surprise. It resists logic and reason. It’s motivated not by what should come next, but by what could come next.


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Now I’m all grown up—a college professor—and I teach comics and cartooning in a creative writing program. I’ve discovered that people who like to tell stories, often (used to) like drawing as well. I’ve had countless adult students come to my office to confess their desire to go back to drawing. I get to hear stories about drawing with parents as children, making their own comics and zines, and the too-often abandonment of these activities. The older I’ve gotten, the more my actions have been motivated by a desire to retrieve my own past. Like my students, I’m looking for the things I love, and so many of them began in my childhood. Maybe it’s because we’re getting farther and farther away from it. Maybe we’re worried it’ll disappear entirely. Maybe we’re scared to forget. But maybe you still feel that desire to draw, the tingle of excitement in your body. Maybe, when you pick up a comic or watch a cartoon, you get that rushing sensation, that urge to make something. Maybe you left drawing, but drawing never left you.

So, I’ll quote the cartoonist and educator, Lynda Barry: “To all the kids who quit drawing…come back!”drawnig.jpg

Some drawing and art-making resources:

  1. Marjorie & Brent Wilson’s book, Teaching Children to Draw, is not just a resource for working with children, but an exploration of what it means to draw.
  2. Andrea Kantrowitz’s article, Drawn to Discover, details a cognitive approach to drawing.
  3. Nick Sousanis’s essay in comics form, The Shape of Our Thoughts, explores the way drawing comics approximates human thought. His book, Unflattening, furthers and continues this conversation.
  4. Deanna Petherbridge’s, The Primacy of Drawing, is an theoretical and historical text on the ways drawing helps us construct knowledge and the ways we think through drawing.
  5. Elliot Eisner’s The Arts and the Creation of Mind, is an argument for  art-making in an educational context, and draws from a lifetime of research in art education.  
  6. Dave Eggers’ short short story, How the Water Feels to the Fishes, is a great example of the ways we use metaphor to articulate sensations of the body.
  7. Maxine Greene’s collection of essays, Releasing the Imagination, approaches art-making (including writing and literacy) from a curricular and pedagogical perspective, and situates it as an imaginative endeavor that can be used to construct a more equitable future.
  8. My article/comic, Drawing with Milo, documents the ways drawing is entangled in the life of a ten-year-old boy.

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Jarod Roselló is a Cuban-American cartoonist, writer, and teacher originally from Miami, Florida. He is the author/artist of the middle grade graphic novel, Red Panda & Moon Bear, and the forthcoming (adult) graphic novel, Those Bears. He teaches fiction and comics in the creative writing program at University of South Florida. You can find him at and on Twitter and Instagram at @jarodrosello.

MG at Heart Book List: Middle Grade and Picture Books for Grief, Loss, and Funeral Rites

THE LAND OF YESTERDAY is a beautiful, whimsical and fantastical journey through grief. Reynolds’ deftly weaves so many truths and emotions about the grieving and healing process into Cecilia’s journey. The book is truly a healing balm to  children and adults alike who have lost someone near and dear to them.

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If you loved THE LAND OF YESTERDAY and would like to read more children’s books about grief, or if you know a child who is grieving but perhaps is not ready for THE LAND OF YESTERDAY yet, we’ve put together this list of books around death, grieving, and funeral rites. Each one hits on a bit different part of the topic and is aimed at different audiences and age groups. So hopefully, you’ll find just what you’re looking for.


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The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price asks the question, “Would you be willing to give up memories of a lost loved one in exchange for the illusion of being with them again?” At once a bit dark and scary, like Coraline, but also incredibly heartfelt. It helps the reader to feel gratitude for what they have of the person they lost.

TIM’S GOODBYE by Steve Salerno

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When a young child has to say goodbye to a beloved pet, this may be the picture book for them. Gentle illustrations show a group of kids getting ready for something. It’s only at the end that you realize it is a send off for a dead pet turtle, which they release into the sky with balloons. Comforting without being preachy or instructive.

THE FUNERAL by Matt James

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This picture book shows a funeral for a semi-distant relative from a child’s point of view, which may not always be the most reverent. But it is a good way to open the conversation for any families who will be attending one soon with young kids.


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This was the book I needed as a child. My closes friend died when I was in 4th grade but my last interaction with her was me declining to go play at her house because I didn’t feel like it. That isn’t nearly so bad as the last interaction that haunts the main character of this book, but it spoke to my heart that still feels the prick of that. In the end, this is a book for anyone trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy, who has to come to the painful realization that sometimes bad things just happen and there’s no good explanation.


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This picture book was a turning point in my 4yo son’s therapy after the death of his favorite uncle (the father of his dearest cousin.) About six months after the death, my son started having intense anxiety breakdowns about death and dying. We took him to a therapist who gave us this book. After reading it a few times, and inserting the name of his uncle into the words marked in red (allowing any reader to properly personalize the book) we were able to have a conversation about what happened and how it made us feel, without a breakdown. Very gentle and perfect for the very young.

I am also going to highly recommend all the other books on death and grieving from Magination Press (the children’s publishing arm of the APA). There is a picture book for losing a parent, losing a pet, losing a sibling, losing a friend, and even one for a child who finds out they are going to die. They may not be standard story time fare but are important to have on hand when someone in your community needs it.

As luck would have it, Corrina Allen asked for grief and loss recs and gave two of her own earlier this week. So we are also listing a few of those here.Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 3.05.05 PM.png

Princess Wu Yinmei vs Chen Peasprout: Petition to Strip Chen Peasprout of Points

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Sagacious and Venerable Senseis of Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword,

I, Princess Wu Yinmei, as petitioner in this proceeding, demand that you strip respondent Chen Peasprout and her battleband, called by the tragically inauspicious name “Nobody and the Fire-Chickens,” of all points they earned during the First Annexation and that such points be transferred to me.

I restate here all the undisputed facts that the senseis need consider:

  1. I am the great-great-granddaughter of the Empress Dowager of Shin.
  2. I fled here to the city of Pearl seeking sanctuary from the Empress Dowager’s ruthlessness.
  3. The Empress Dowager is preparing to invade Pearl.
  4. Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword has thus been transformed into a military academy.
  5. The academy students are being taught to use their skills in martial skating not just for theatrical performance, but to protect against the invasion.
  6. Chen Peasprout falsely and hatefully accused me of coming to Pearl to spy for the Empress Dowager, which is a vile slur soaked in vicious lies.
  7. The Empress Dowager demands that Chen Peasprout be deported back to Shin to be executed as a traitor.
  8. Chen Peasprout is granted sanctuary to stay here in Pearl only if she takes first ranking at each of this year’s three Annexations.
  9. I foolishly accepted Chen Peasprout’s invitation to join her battleband. During the First Annexation, we performed shamefully and were rescued from defeat only by my seizing prized possessions belonging to our opponents, and threatening to hurl them into the sea if we were not awarded first ranking.
  10. Chen Peasprout then expelled me from her battleband, simply because she had not authorized my stratagem, in a pitiful public tantrum exhibiting an utter absence of shame or dignity that was an embarrassment to witness.

I will not say that Chen Peasprout has trash for leadership skills, for I am a kind person and have a complete lack of opinion about her character or the fact that she was only one of two students that Sensei Madame Liao sentenced to remedial leadership class.

I will say that I tenderly urged Chen Peasprout to learn from me for I was groomed for leadership from birth. I wrote an entreaty in the form of a harrowing opera scene entitled “The Bitter Tea of the Dynasty in the Dynasty.” It recounted how the Empress Dowager threatened to poison me, like she poisoned everyone else in our family, if I proved to be an unsuitable leader to inherit the throne. I include with this petition a letter orb recording the performance of this scene.


Why have you summoned me, great-great-grandmother?
The invitation called me to a feast.

But if this is a feast why aren’t there any others
To join us but the honorable deceased?

Empress Dowager:

I’ve summoned you to feast, great-great-granddaughter
On something that is precious beyond price.

So what I pour into your cup is more than water,
What I put in your bowl is more than rice.

Will you take the bitter tea
Of the dynasty in the dynasty?

For your sake, commit to me
And the dynasty in the dynasty.

Will you join us, will you Empress Yinmei be?

They talk of vicious things that I have done to
Each person who’s inheriting my throne.

It’s only that I’m searching for the special one to
Convince me with some merit of her own.

A girl who has the courage to put finding
A way to change the law into her plan.

When she is Empress, Shin will have no more foot-binding.
Our girls will walk as far as any man.

Will you take the bitter tea
Of the dynasty in the dynasty?

For your sake, commit to me
And the dynasty in the dynasty.

Will you join us, will you Empress Yinmei be?


Then she claps and orders me to eat and drink.
I don’t know what to do, don’t know what to think.

But she put our family into their graves,
And that’s where she’ll put me too unless I’m brave.

So for four days and four nights I stay composed,
With my spirit steady for my mouth is closed.

I refuse your poison, I will not comply!
I live unafraid until the day I die!

I won’t take (Why won’t you break) your bitter tea (Come drink my tea)!

Of the dynasty in the dynasty,

I won’t break (I tried to make), so set me free (you into me)

Of the dynasty in the dynasty!

I won’t join you, I won’t Empress Yinmei be!

What I have learned from my experiences is that a leader makes decisions that no one wants to make.

What you will learn, as the waves of war hurl toward our shores, is that Chen Peasprout is not the leader who will save Pearl.

I am.

– Petitioner, Princess Wu Yinmei

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 5.28.27 PMHenry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West. His short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning multiple Nebula Award nominations. He is the author of the Peasprout Chen series, on which he was mentored by George R.R. Martin, Chuck Palahniuk, and Kelly Link. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood. Henry has worked as an attorney, fine art dealer, and college instructor. Hobbies include pets, vegan cooking, writing and performing campy science fiction/fantasy anthems, and losing Nebula awards.

For more about artist Afu Chan, visit:

Cover Reveal: THE LIGHT IN THE LAKE, by Sarah R. Baughman


I am thrilled to welcome Sarah Baughman to the MG Book Village for the cover reveal of her debut novel, THE LIGHT IN THE LAKE.  Many thanks to Sarah for letting us host the reveal and for taking the time to answer a few questions about her novel.

~ Corrina

Corrina: Hi Sarah – welcome to the MGBookVillage! Before we share your cover, can you tell us a bit about The Light in the Lake?

Sarah: I’m thrilled that you’re hosting my cover reveal! Thanks so much. The Light in the Lake follows the journey of Addie, a 12-year-old girl who lost her twin brother when he drowned in a lake near their rural Vermont home. Addie has recently been accepted for a summer position studying water pollution, but she finds her scientific view of the world challenged by a notebook her brother left behind, filled with clues about a magical creature living in Maple Lake. The book is close to my heart, as the setting is strongly inspired by where I used to live in Vermont; I actually got the idea for the story while walking in the woods behind our old house.

Corrina: I’ve always been fascinated by the tension between a scientific view of the world and a magical view of the world.  Do you see them as compatible?

Sarah: This is a great question, and I actually do see them as compatible even though they might seem contradictory! One of my best friends in college was a chemistry major, and I have a distinct memory of walking back from cross-country practice with her on a foggy afternoon. I made some poetic comment about the fog looking otherworldly, and she said, “that’s funny; I was thinking about condensation.” I believe and find value in both perspectives. That said, I’ve always sensed magic in nature, and still do; so although I’m deeply committed to the science of conservation and believe we’re all in debt to scientists who continue to discover new information about how best to protect our environment, I also feel that noticing those touches of magic creates a kind of emotional connection to nature that’s very important.

Corrina: Let’s take a look at the cover!

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Corrina: That is gorgeous! Who is the artist that designed your cover?  And what did you think when you saw the final version?

Sarah: I’m so grateful to the people who created this cover: illustrator Ji-Hyuk Kim and designer Karina Granda. The final version absolutely took my breath away! I was amazed by how beautifully all the elements we’d discussed came together. The colors and light really capture the beauty of the setting, along with Addie’s sense of wonder.

Corrina: Sarah – thank you for letting us take a peek at the cover of The Light in the Lake! When can readers get it, and where is a good place to preorder?

Sarah: The book is scheduled for release on September 3, 2019! In the meantime, you can pre-order it on Amazon, IndieBound, or Barnes & Noble. You can also add it on Goodreads and stay posted for more retailers on the Little, Brown site. Thanks again for hosting this reveal, and for doing such a wonderful job of supporting and promoting middle grade books!

Corrina: Thank you!

srbaughman_authorphotocolorSarah R. Baughman grew up in Michigan, then taught middle and high school English on four continents. After living in rural northeastern Vermont for six years, she recently moved back to Michigan with her husband and two children. She now works as an educational consultant and author, and spends as much time as possible in the woods and water.

You can find Sarah on Twitter at @sarahrbaughman  , Instagram at @sarahrbaughman, or on her website


MG Trends & the Most Anticipated Books of 2019: Books Between, Episode 68

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a teacher, a mom, and battling a cold this afternoon! So if I sound a little…off – that is why!

This is episode #68 and today I’m answering some questions about trends in middle grade and sharing with you some fabulous 2019 titles to look forward to this year!

Q&A – Trends in Middle Grade Fiction

Last month, my husband asked me some questions about trends in middle grade fiction. He teaches a class at Seton Hall all about trends in genre fiction and wanted some input on middle grade. So I thought I would share my responses with you. And I would be very curious about what YOU would answer.

1. What genres or subgenres do you believe are the hottest right now?

Well, it’s a format and not a genre but graphic novel memoirs like Hey Kiddo, Real Friends, and Be Prepared are still really popular. And also graphic novel adaptations of classics (like Anne of Green Gables) and popular novels (like Wings of Fire or Percy Jackson).  And again, not genre, but I see more books that are based on the core experiences of the writer. Those novels that draw on the real-life backgrounds of the authors like Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, Tami Charles’ Like Vanessa, and Supriya Kellar’s Ahimsa.  They’re not memoirs but they are books rooted in a very personal experience. To authors, I’d say – take those things that make you unique, that make you a bit quirky, that set you apart from most other people – and write THAT story. Like Kelly Yang taking the experiences of her family coming from China and running motels to write Front Desk. Jarrett Krosoczka writing the critically acclaimed graphic novel memoir Hey Kiddo about his life living with his grandparents after his mom lost custody of him due to drug addiction. Crack that door open and invite us inside.

2: What genres or subgenres do you believe are passé or overexposed?

I don’t know…. I wonder how long the unicorn and narwhal craze will last but that seems to live more in picture books than middle grade. Magical realism – or rather realistic fiction with a magical twist – doesn’t seem to be slowing down. You know – anything can be new and fresh with the right spin.  And also, authors from marginalized backgrounds are still underrepresented in just about every genre so those are stories that will likely have new points of view. I thought I was totally over zombie stories but Dread Nation popped up and whoa!!  I’ve never read a zombie story like THAT before!

3: If you had to predict, what genre or subgenre do you think is primed to be the next Big Thing in the next year or so?

I would say stories about immigrants, refugees, and the unique experiences of marginalized groups (especially by #ownvoices authors) will continue to be popular. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an explosion of critically acclaimed middle grade stories like Alan Gratz’s Refugee, Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, and Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai among many more. We also have more and more books coming out that tell stories of police violence in developmentally appropriate ways like Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Blended by Sharon Draper.  I’m also really excited about a new crop of middle grade #MeToo stories on the horizon like So Done by Paula Chase and the upcoming Barbara Dee novel Maybe He Just Likes You.

4: Any comments about where you see genre fiction heading?

In middle grade, like everywhere else,  #ownvoices books are still underrepresented  – everyone has a unique story to tell or a unique POV to offer.  EVERYONE. So my advice to authors, take the spark of your unique life experiences and let that burn throughout your story.  My advice to educators – scour those shelves to find a wider variety of books. Also – if you write for a YA/MG audience, librarians and educators are more and more eager to the ditch the old canon and form partnerships with authors. Look for opportunities like #KidsNeedMentors or reach out to your local schools and libraries.

Main Topic – Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2019

The last couple of episodes were all about looking back on some of the best that middle grade had to offer in 2018. (If you missed those, go check out episodes #66 and #67.)  But today is all about looking forward into the new year.  Last year, when I did our Most Anticipated MG of 2018, I went chronologically by month. But this year I’m going about it a little differently and discussing the new releases by category.  

First, we’ll chat about the new graphic novels coming up in 2019. And then we’ll talk about new releases from authors who debuted in 2018 and 2017 and see what they’re up to now. After that, I’ll give you a peek at some of the 2019 debut middle grade authors.  Then we’ll see what new books are coming out in favorite series and what sequels we have to look forward to. And finally, we’ll finish up with the 2019 releases from more established authors.

So, buckle up and get ready to add to your wish list. And remember – no need to go hunting for a pen and paper. You can find every book mentioned AND a picture of the available covers AND a link to pre-order them right on the Books Between post for this episode, #69, at  I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you. And as I’ve said before, I’ve come to really love pre-ordering – it helps out favorite authors and it’s like a little surprise to your future self.

Before we jump in, just remember that this is just a sampling of all the incredible books coming out this year. I’ll add some links to some other great resources in the show notes and on the website where you can find more complete listings of titles to browse through and the MGBookVillage website has a great release calendar so that’s one to bookmark for sure.

Also – publication dates occasionally change, so just be aware of that. Alright, get your Goodreads tab open, or your library website pulled up, or your Amazon/Indiebound shopping cart ready, or ….. print out the show notes and bring it to your favorite local bookstore! Alright – let’s get to it!

2019 Graphic Novels

  • This January, Lincoln Peirce, the author of Big Nate, has a new graphic/illustrated novel series set in the middle ages called Max and the Midknights that looks really, really cute.
  • Also out on January 8th is Click by Kayla Miller – the story of 5th grader Olive who is having some trouble finding where she “clicks” in middle school. The sequel, called Camp, is being released this April so fans won’t have to wait long for the next one.
  • A fantasy graphic novel that Mel Schuit recommended I check out is The Chancellor and the Citadel by Maria Capelle Frantz so that’s on my radar now – and yours! Thank you, Mel!
  • On January 29th another Hilo is coming our way! Hilo 5: Then Everything Went Wrong. And on that same day the 5th Bird & Squirrel is coming out called All Tangled Up.
  • One graphic novel adaptation that has really piqued my interest is Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Tercerio and illustrator Bre Indigo. The classic is reimagined as a blended family living in modern-day New York City. I don’t think I’ve ever hit “pre-order” faster and will be eagerly stalking my delivery person on February 5th for that one!
  • My mailbox is going to be brimming on February 5th because I also HAD to preorder New Kid by Jerry Craft!  It’s about seventh grader Jordan Banks who loves drawing cartoons and dreams of going to art school. But his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school instead, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. Looks amazing!! 90-Second Newbery was singing its praises on Twitter last night and said this about it: “The amazing graphic novel New Kid by @JerryCraft should definitely be on everyone’s tbr list and it has a full-cast (and all-star cast) audiobook released at the same time….perfect for rich, nuanced convos abt race, class, identity, school systems, how we share books, code switching, starting new school, just so much!”   So, yeah… I’ll just wait here for a bit while you hit pause and go order that!
  • This August brings us Best Friends, the sequel to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends –  out on August 27th. And have you seen the cover? It’s Shannon at the top of a rollercoaster with this vibrant purple background. Love it, love it, love it!
  • And Dog Man fans (like my daughter) will be psyched this August because we are getting Dog Man #7: For Whom the Ball Rolls!
  • The seventh graphic novel adaptation of the Baby-sitters Club, Boy Crazy Stacey, illustrated by Gale Carrigan, will be out September 3rd. That’s one of those no-brainer preorders for my classroom library.
  • Also – I was interested to hear that R.J. Palacio is publishing her first graphic novel Wonder story this fall called White Bird. This one is Julian’s grandmother’s story about her life as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. So be on the lookout for that one September 3rd as well.
  • You want another don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it-just-preorder-it graphic novel? Guts – the long-awaited new Raina Telgemeier graphic memoir is out September 17th!!
  • September also brings the latest from Tillie Walden – Are You Listening.  The peeks I’ve seen of that online look incredible, so that one is definitely on my radar this fall.
  • And then….….. Drumroll please…… Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl!! Ahhhh!!  I knew it! That last page in Mighty Jack and the Goblin King was just too good not to be followed up with a joint adventure. Yay!
  • Jen Wang –  author of last year’s hit, The Prince & the Dressmaker, has a new graphic novel coming out in September called  Stargazing. This one draws on her personal experiences and is the story of two friends – Moon and Christine.
  • And this November we’ll get The Midwinter Witch – the third and final book in the trilogy that includes The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch.
  • And – wow, I’m just going to start saving up now for September because the graphic novel adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover is also coming out on September 24th!  It’s going to be a pancakes and ramen noodles for dinner kind of a month if I want to keep up with all these awesome books coming out!  (And I haven’t even gotten past the graphic novels!)
  • And…. I think, maybe, possibly.. that Amulet #9 (the final one of the series) will be released late this year. But I can’t find much info on it. No title, no date, no synopsis – nada! So, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will arrive in 2019.
  • Finally – another graphic novel to be on the lookout for later in 2019 is Twins by author Varian Johnson who you may know from The Parker Inheritance and illustrator Shannon Wright. The publication date isn’t yet announced, but apparently it’s about twin sisters struggling to figure out individual identities in middle school and it’s based on Johnson’s own childhood experiences as a twin.

New Releases from 2017-2018 Debut Authors

  • Early February brings us the second in Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series called A Sprinkle of Spirits and oh is that cover gorgeous!
  • And definitely snag a copy of the sequel to Jarrett Lerner’s EngiNerdsRevenge of the EngiNerds out on February 19th. It is EVEN FUNNIER than the first one. And that’s saying something!
  • Another book I’m looking forward to is Jen Petro-Roy’s Good Enough – about a young girl with an eating disorder.
  • Game of Stars by Sayantani DasGupta – the follow up to The Serpent’s Secret is out on February 26th.
  • And the end of February also brings us Bone Hollow  by Skeleton Tree author Kim Ventrella.
  • Also be on the lookout for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras on March 5th. That sequel is getting rave reviews so it’s definitely one to add to your library.
  • Alyson Gerber, author of Braced, will have a new novel out called Focused. It’s about a middle school girl who loves chess and has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. Definitely a book a lot of my students will be able to connect with!

2019 Debut Authors

So – I’ll just say right now that I could have had an ENTIRE show just dedicated to the amazing middle grade debuts coming our way this year but at some point, I had to cut myself off.  So – I’ll include a link to the Novel19s website where you find many more middle grade debuts and discover some of your new favorite authors.

  • The Whispers is Greg Howard’s middle grade debut and one that has really caught my eye. Just listen to this description: “Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home.” Oooo…. This one is out January 15th.
  • If you are looking for a new book for younger middle grade readers – something along the lines of Ramona Quimby or Stella Diaz – check out Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternatch.
  • One book that keeps popping up into my radar is the middle grade debut of Padma Venkatraman called The Bridge Home about four children who discover strength and grit and family while dealing with homelessness. That one comes out Feb 5th so be on the lookout for that one.
  • Another debut that I have been dying to read is The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo!  Let me just read you the teaser: “Born in a dismal room in a pet store, Alastair the African grey parrot dreams of escape to bluer skies. He’d like nothing more than to fly away to a palm tree with his beloved sister, Aggie. But when Aggie is purchased by twelve-year-old Fritz, and Alastair is adopted by elderly dance-enthusiast and pie-baker Albertina Plopky, the future looks ready to crash-land.”  My step-mother had parrots when I was growing up, so this one in particular I really am interested in reading! So I’ll be checking my mailbox for that one on February 12th.
  • Another debut I am excited to read this year is Joshua Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy! Since one of my goals this year is to introduce my students to more science fiction, a story about a school on a spaceship orbiting Jupiter would be perfect!
  • On March 12 we get Lisa Moore Ramée’s debut A Good Kind of Trouble about a girl who just wants to follow the rules. And sometime this spring we get rather the opposite in Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz. This one is about a “bully” who ends up living with her aunt who is a nun and tries to turn over a new leaf.
  • This March is the debut of Julia Nobel with The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane about a girl who gets shipped off to a British boarding school and finds a box of medallions that might just be connected to the disappearance of her father.
  • A graphic novel debut coming in March that looks fabulous is Red Panda & Moon Bear by Jarod Roselló. It’s about two Latinx kids who defend their neighborhood from threats both natural and supernatural.
  • And in late April is the first book in a new MG detective series called Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by Shauna Holyoak and a time-traveling action adventure that will transport readers to ancient Egypt called Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh by Malayna Evans.
  • Hurricane Season by debut author Nicole Melleby comes out May 7th and oh how do I want to read this novel!  On a recent #MGLitChat focused on the 2019 debut authors, the moderator asked, “What do you hope young readers take away from your book?”  And Nicole Melleby said the following, “ I want them to take away that they’re not alone, that they’re seen, that mental illness is hard but manageable, and that love may have its limits, but help comes in all shapes and sizes. Also that Van Gogh was a brilliant man.”  After reading Vincent & Theo last summer – uhhh…. gimme that book!!
  • Another great middle grade debut to look for on May 7th is Just South of Home by Karen Stong which is described as Blackish meets Goosebumps. The story follows a rule-abiding girl who must team up with her trouble making cousin, goofy younger brother, and his best friend to unravel a mysterious haunting in their tiny Southern town.
  • Also coming this spring is a book that I immediately knew I wanted to read. It’s called Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. (So, I was pretty much ALREADY sold by the Bowie reference.) The book follows Nova, an autistic, nonverbal, space-obsessed 12-year-old who is awaiting the Challenger shuttle launch and the return of her big sister, Bridget, as she struggles to be understood by her new foster family.  I was a 4th grader when The Challenger Disaster happened and vividly remember watching it happen live on tv, so I am really interested to see how that plays out in this book.
  • Another debut to look for early this summer is All of Me by Chris Baron – a novel in verse about a 13 year old boy who is dealing with a big move, struggles in his parents’ marriage, and his own body image issues.
  • So… if you are a close listener, you have probably figured out that I’m a sucker for books involving baking or cooking.  Maybe that’s why Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca just leapt out at me when I stumbled across it last month. This is a contemporary-fantasy retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream about an 11 year old Indian American girl whose father is a food writer and whose mother is a successful businesswoman. But when she adds some rather…. unusual (and maybe magical?) ingredients to her baking, things get out of hand. So look for that one on June 4th.
  • And if your kids are looking for a fun spooky read this summer, Ollie Oxley and the Ghost comes out on June 18th and looks really cute. It’s about a boy who moves to California and ends up becoming friends with a ghost from the Gold Rush era.
  • Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega is another paranormal middle grade coming this September and it’s described as Coco meets Stranger Things. So, uh… yeah…gimme that for sure!
  • Also coming out this September is The Light in the Lake by Sarah Baughman – a book about a young girl who finds herself caught between her love of science and her late twin brother’s belief in magic.

2019 Sequels and Favorite Series

  • Lion Down by Stuart Gibb is out on February 26th. The second in his FunJungle series and the follow up to Panda-monium.)
  • In March comes book five in The School for Good & Evil series: A Crystal of Time , a new Emily Windsnap novel called Emily Windsnap and The Pirate Prince, and another in the Fairy Tale Reform School series called Wished.
  • In March we also get a seventh Jedi Academy Book called Revenge of the Sis. This one starts a new storyline and is written by Amy Ignatow with Jarret Krosoczka illustrating. And an as yet untitled 8th Jedi Academy novel is scheduled for September 2019.
  • AND I’m really excited for the third BAT book: Bat and the End of Everything by Elana K. Arnold.  My daughter’s 4th grade class read the first book and they – of course! – fell hard for this series!
  • Jeff Kinney fans will be excited about Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid – a book told from Rowley’s point of view that is out this April.
  • And that month also brings us another Unicorn Rescue Society novel – The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande.
  • And my 9 year old is going to be thrilled when I tell her that Katherine Applegate’s sequel to The Endling is coming out May 7th. It’s called Endling: The First and is already in my cart.
  • The second book in Laura Ruby’s York series – The Clockwork Ghost is also headed our way this May and so is Another Fenway & Hattie book – In the Wild!
  • Natalie Lloyd’s sequel to The Problim Children – Carnival Catastrophe is due to be out June 25th.
  • And not quite a sequel but more of a spin-off, is Dough Boys by Paula Chase – author of 2018’s So Done. Characters Simp and Rollie are the leads in this novel told in two voices.
  • Also – Karina Yan Glaser’s third Vanderbeekers novel is coming this September – The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue!
  • And finally – just announced this morning – is Kate DiCamillo’s new novel coming September 24th – Beverly, Right Here. And if you guessed that this is the Beverly from Raymie Nightingale – then you are correct!  So now each of the three girls will have their own novel. By the way – if you haven’t seen it yet, the cover by Amy June Bates is stunning!! Those eyes…..

2019 New Releases from Established Authors

  • First up here is the book I am devouring right now – The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart which just came out on January 8th. And oh…. does this book live up to its hype! Brace yourself to hear lots more about this one later!
  • Also out this January is a book my friend Sandy has been raving about – The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, U.S.A by Coretta Scott King honor nominee Brenda Woods. Definitely need to check that one out!
  • This January readers will get a new Gordon Korman novel – Unteachables AND a new Andrew Clements novel – The Friendship War.
  • January also brings us the first book in the really incredible Rick Riordan Presents ImprintDragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. This is a space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. (By the way – if you have kids who love Rick Riordan’s novels or who love adventure books with a dash of humor and myth – then check out his Imprint site. I’ll include a link in the show notes so you can check them all out. From those lucky enough to read advanced copies, I haven’t heard anything but praise.)
  • Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas by Andrea Pyros is one to watch out for this February.
  • And another upper middle grade February release that caught my attention is a joint novel told in letters by Counting by 7s author Holly Goldberg Sloan and The Interestings author Meg Wolitzer. It’s called To Night Owl from Dogfish and it’s about two very different 12 year-old girls named Averie and Bett who are sent off to the same sleepaway camp in order to bond after their single dads fall in love with each other.
  • February also bring us another novel by Anne Urso (author of the critically acclaimed The Real Boy) This novel, The Lost Girl, is about identical twins Lark and Iris.  
  • On March 5th we get another Lisa Graff novel called Far Away about a girl, CJ, whose aunt is a psychic medium who claims that she carries messages from the dead.
  • And I’m really psyched for We’re Not From Here by Tapper Twins author Geoff Rodkey. This novel is also out March 5th and is about refugees from planet Earth who need to find a new home on a faraway planet. I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this one and it’s quirky and hilarious… and timely. Definitely add this one to your pre orders.
  • March also brings us another Rick Riordan Present’s book called Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. I’ve been hearing lots of great buzz about this one, so I’ll definitely need to pre-order a copy.
  • On March 19th we get a new Kevin Henkes novel called Sweeping Up the Heart and this one is the story of the spring break that changes seventh-grader Amelia Albright’s life forever.
  • In late March Natalie Lloyd fans will be treated to Over the Moon – a story about twelve-year-old Mallie who lives in a mining town where boys leave school at 12 to work in the mines, and girls leave to work as servants for the wealthy. But of course with that quintessentially Lloyd magic interwoven.
  • And another Cynthia Lord book is coming out this March! She is the author of Rules and A Handful of Stars. This one is titled Because of the Rabbit and is about a young girl who starts public school for the first time after being homeschooled.
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is coming out April 2nd and a really interesting looking book called Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway will be released April 16th. It’s about a girl who has to save her aunt’s pie shop. I think this one would be  a winner for kids who enjoy shows like The Great British Baking Show.
  • In early May, we get to read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s next novel, Shouting at the Rain about a girl named Delsie who lives with her grandmother, loves tracking weather, and who starts to wish for a more “regular” family and life. You can’t go wrong with the author of Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys so… just pop this one in your cart now!
  • And another novel that is getting all kinds of early buzz is the latest from K.A. Reynolds called Spinner of Dreams. It’s being called “inventive, empathetic, and strange in all the best ways.”  Plus – it has a really otherworldly cover that I just want to stare at…
  • And finally – I know you all have heard me rave about this one before – but Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You is going to be AMAZING!  My students and I got the chance to read the first chapter and we were all already hooked. But let me give you a little taste from the teaser: “For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like? They don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.” I can’t WAIT!!

Phew!!  Alright – I am both energized and – I gotta be honest – a little daunted! But – I am reminding myself and I hope you’ll remember too that it’s not about a mad dash to read all of these books. But to give you a taste of what’s to come so you can match readers with books they might like and get them excited about new releases.

I hope you have a wonderful year reading and I would love to know – what are the books that you and your students are most looking forward to in 2019? You can email me at or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   


Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Talk with you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.




Interview: Kara LaReau


Kara LaReau’s The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is one of my all-time favorite series. The books are sharp, savvy, and seriously funny, and I am seriously upset that the series has come to a close. I will miss Jaundice, Kale, and the cast of one-of-a-kind characters that they met on their adventures. Fortunately for us all, Kara (along with illustrator Jen Hill) has given the girls a glorious sendoff in the form of Flight of the Bluebird — it might just be the best book of them all. I’m delighted that Kara chose to stop by the MG Book Village to chat about the book and what else she’s been working on lately. Check out the interview below — and then, if you haven’t already, fly over to your local bookstore or library to get your hands on Flight of the Bluebird!

~ Jarrett

. . .

Thanks again for stopping by the MG Book Village on your tour, Kara! Let’s get right to it. Flight of the Bluebird is the third book in the Unintentional Adventures trilogy. What are some things readers will learn in this final installment?

Among other things, they’ll learn just who (and where) Jaundice and Kale’s parents are, whether or not the Bland Sisters are twins, and how they got their names. Oh, and they’ll learn that this isn’t exactly their “final” adventure!

In the second book, The Uncanny Express, Jaundice and Kale have a series of mysterious dreams involving their parents and a ringing phone. Will we learn more about this mystery in Flight of the Bluebird?

Jaundice and Kale learn that what seemed like a souvenir paperweight Jaundice pocketed in The Uncanny Express is really one of a pair of magical scarabs that allows them to communicate with anyone in possession of the scarab’s twin — as long as the scarab is placed near one’s head. Jaundice had the scarab in her smock pocket during The Uncanny Express, which is why she kept dreaming of a phone ringing; it was like a “missed call” from their parents. Readers will learn a lot more about these scarabs and their origins in Flight of the Bluebird. And there will be a lot more mysterious dreams!

Dreams figure prominently in this series. Can you talk more about that?

Well, aside from writing, sleeping is one of my favorite things to do (especially now that I have a 5-year-old, and a writing career, and a full-time day job!) and I’ve always been fascinated by dreams, so it’s no surprise that I’ve incorporated both into these stories. Dreams are so powerful; while they often seem random and ridiculous, they can be full of meaning if you break them down. And while Jaundice and Kale seem bland and pretty reserved, there’s a lot of emotion they’ve repressed in their parents’ absence, so it felt right that some of those emotions would manifest in their dreams.

What was the hardest thing about writing this story?

For sure, the hardest thing was saying goodbye to the Bland Sisters. I love them so! But this was also the first story in the series (and in my writing career, to be honest) that takes place in a real location (Luxor, Egypt) and features a real, rich culture, so I really wanted to do it justice. I got very lucky (Jaundice and Kale might even call it “serendipity”) to find a renowned Egyptologist from Brown University, just a few minutes from my house; he and his wife (also a well-traveled archaeologist) were very generous with their time and energy and expertise and helped me to keep the details in this story respectful and authentic — although, of course, I did take a few artistic liberties!

What’s up next for you, now that you’ve said “Bland voyage” to Jaundice and Kale?

I’m still working on the Infamous Ratsos chapter book series; I just saw Matt Myers’ (brilliant!) jacket and interior sketches for Book 4 and delivered the text for Book 5. And I’m working on a new chapter book trilogy about a cat who may or may not be a zombie; the first book, called Rise of Zombert, is being illustrated by Ryan Andrews, and I’m hard at work writing Book 2 right now. And I have a picture book called BABY CLOWN coming out next year, illustrated by Matthew Cordell; I’m just about to see some artwork for it and I couldn’t be more excited!

As bummed as I am about saying bye to Jaundice and Kale, I’m so glad we’ve got so much more to look forward to you from you! Can’t wait!

%j7qk2tkrl21hu0oabod7w_thumb_3f8cKara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and Good Night Little Monsters, illustrated by Brian Won; an award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill.  Kara lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

(Some of the) Best MG Graphic Novels of 2018: Books Between, Episode 67

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a teacher in Central New York, a mom of two tween girls, and currently – all about the new Miles Morales Spiderman movie. It’s the lockscreen on my phone, my girls and I have the soundtrack set to shuffle in the car….and I already have plans to go see it a second time.  Into the Spiderverse is the most innovative and fresh and exciting movie I’ve seen in years. It’s some next-level stuff. Just – go see it!! And see it on the BIG screen!

This is episode #67 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade graphic novels published in 2018. On our last episode, I listed my top 25 middle grade novels of the year and I’ll include a link to that if you missed that episode.

I think it’s important at the outset when making a list of this kind to explain what “best” means to you. What are your criteria? Is that popularity? The Goodreads best of lists tend to veer in that direction. Is it literary appeal? That is more along the lines of say, the Newbery Awards. For me, an outstanding book has to fit three criteria:

  1. I couldn’t put it down. Meaning – it was immersive, it has flow, it kept me turning the pages.
  2. I can’t forget it. Meaning – it had some extra special sparkle. An unforgettable character, an intriguing setting, a ground-breaking format, or a powerfully poignant message.
  3. I think kids would like it. There are books out there marketed to middle grade readers (sometimes those big award winners) that adults love but kids don’t seem to latch onto as much. So I also try to be mindful that kids books are for kids. Not for me. I am just the conduit to getting books into their hands and helping them discover what they like.

Okay – let’s jump in!

Main Topic – The Top 9 MG Graphic Novels of 2018

#9: Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

51UC7FkO2FL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis full-color graphic novel is about a 7th grade girl named Dany. She has just started middle school and is pretty lonely. Her friends are in different classes now and have new in-jokes and stories that she doesn’t get anymore. So she’s feeling socially vulnerable when her eccentric (and loaded) great-aunt passes away and she ends up with the woman’s sketchbook. A magical sketchbook that will turn your drawing into real-life. So when Dany draws the head of her favorite anime character (uh yeah… JUST the head) and a super popular girl to be her friend, there are (as you can imagine!) some unintended consequences. This book is FUNNY but you won’t catch half the stuff unless you read the background texts – like the store names:  “Hot Topic” is “Cool Subject” and the indredients list on the food have some interesting things listed on them. This book is like a mix of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends with a touch of Suee and the Shadow with a little sprinkle of Amulet. If you have readers about ages 10 and up who like graphic novels about friendships and would be up for something with a supernatural twist, then this would be a great recommendation. And… I see Gudsnuk has a sequel in store as well!

#8: Mr. Wolf’s Class  by Aron Nels Steinke

511oq0yhbul._sx331_bo1,204,203,200_This graphic novel started as a webcomic and is a great option if you are looking for something for younger middle grade readers who’d enjoy a sweet, gentle story. And it looks like lots of sequels are on their way! Mr. Wolf’s Class is about the first day of 4th grade – for brand new teacher Mr. Wolf and his students. By the way, Mr. Wolf is a wolf and the students are… rabbits and frogs and pigs and… well, just suspend your disbelief over the whole predator/prey thing! The book includes a cool preview of each student the night before school starts  and then the day unfolds with short slice-of-life stories as we get to know each of the students and their teacher. A strength of this book is that the author clearly KNOWS what an actual classroom community is all about – the interactions of personalities. It feels really authentic in that way.  And uh… I can definitely relate to being late to pick my kids because I was distracted by a donut in the break room!

#7: Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Unknown-5.jpegYou might be familiar with Thummler’s brilliant artwork from last year’s graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. And if you haven’t yet gotten to that gem, bump it up on your TBR pile! This is her first solo graphic novel and I have a feeling we have a lot more in store from her! It’s the story of 13 year-old Marjorie who has been thrust into the responsibilities of running her family’s laundromat and taking care of her younger brother after her mother dies and her father has fallen into a deep depression. She is just barely hanging on and resisting the awful Mr. Saubertuck who wants to run them out of business and turn their building into a spa. But then… enter Wendell. He’s a young ghost  – young meaning new and young meaning died when he was young who winds up being pulled out of the afterlife world and into Marjorie’s life. He’s looking for.. meaning. And after a rocky start with Marjorie, does end up finding it. For me, the strength and charm of this book is really about the outstanding illustrations – the gorgeous pastel palette and the nuances of the wordless panels. And based on how this book is flying through my classroom, it clearly also has that all-important kid-appeal.

#6: The Night Door (Edison Beaker Creature Seeker) by Frank Cammuso

61UVuyGPlpL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and the Misadventures of Salem Hyde has really taken things to the next level with this incredible and hilarious new world he’s created.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who is afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids (and their hamster!) on a late-night “emergency” job where the two kids (and the hamster!) wind up going through a portal into a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of weird and cool creatures! This is one of those few books that has kids laughing out loud while they read it.  It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who love those two series, and want something similar, introduce them to Edison Beaker Creature Seeker.

#5: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

61cPaoCSDfL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI loved this graphic novel for a lot of reasons but one of them was that it features a friendship between a girl and boy that doesn’t ever fall into that trope of “well, maybe things are changing because you two really just have crush on each other!” Nope! It’s real, platonic – and has rocky parts – but it’s not a stepping stone to a love interest. And – thank you Hope Larson!  What it IS about is that one defining summer is a young teen’s life when you start to realize that your childhood is something behind you that you’re looking back on and you are entering a new era with new interests. Where music – and finding people that like the same music as you do – takes on heightened importance in your life. At least, for me it was like that. Maybe for other kids it’s sports or art or theatre.  But you start to find your people. And not just be freinds with the people who are in your class or happen to live next door. This graphic novel is about 13 year-old Bina whose best-friend and neighbor, Austin, is off to soccer camp this summer. So she ends up.. Binge-watching Netflix until her mom cuts her off. (Relateable!)  Also – it’s a little thing but I like the pale orangey-peach tones of the book, which one reviewer described as orange creamsicle.

#4: Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

51x1vUzCj2L._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI really, really loved her  two earlier Berrybrook Middle School stories – Awkward and Brave, but this one just might be my favorite. This one takes a step away from the intrigues of the art club and the school newspaper and focused on Jorge Ruiz, a big kid, a pretty-popular jock who nobody really messes with, who seems to have it all together. Until he realizes that he’s got a massive crush on Jazmine and his world is suddenly tilted.  This graphic novel really captures those quick relationship changes in middle school and that dynamic between texts and social media and how that influences and complicates face-to-face interactions. Sometimes novels totally leave out modern technology. I mean, half the time the problem in the book could be solved with a quick Google search or you know – maybe talking with the person that you’re having an issue with!  But Chmakova knows that technology might solve some problems but ushers in a whole host of other ones. Crush is another one of those graphic novels that is getting passed from kid to kid to kid in my classroom with a big enough waiting list I ordered a second copy. And – a bonus – kids don’t have to read the three books in the series in order. They each definitely can stand alone.

#3: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

61ePY6FO5EL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis graphic novel is loosely based on the author’s real-life experiences and her Russian-American background and that makes for a unique twist on a familiar setting for some kids – summer camp! 9-year old Vera is a Russian immigrant and we learn at the beginning of the novel, she doesn’t doesn’t exactly fit in with the popular crowd. Or really any crowd at all.  Her family is poor and their traditions and food are just enough “culturally off” to make her feel awkward among the girls she invites to a birthday sleepover that goes bad…. And oh man… how I felt for poor Vera that night! That’s some real-life cringe-worthy stuff though.  Vera desperately wants to fit in and finally convinces her mother to send her and her brother to a Russian summer camp sponsored by their Orthodox church where they will learn the Russian language and religion along with the typical summer camp things – like learning why you shouldn’t feed the wildlife and finding a comfortable place to poop! Brosgol’s illustrations are outstanding with a foresty green color palette.  And this book about the poor choices one can make in the quest for friendship along with that added layer of feeling like you don’t really belong enough in any culture makes this graphic novel feel like a blend of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Kelly Yang’s Front Desk. This would be a great recommendation for kids in about grades 4 or 5 and up.

#2: The Prince & the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

51pemn3j0vl._sx351_bo1,204,203,200_Oh how this book made me smile!!  It’s set in a 19th century-ish Paris where 16 year-old Prince Sebastian has a huge secret he is keeping from his parents – from everyone except for his trusted butler. He loves getting dressed up in fancy gowns and makeup and wigs.  Eventually he discovers a lowly dressmaker, Frances, who has shown she is willing to break societal norms – and secretly hires her to help him transform into a different, more glamorous person. But things go awry when Sebastian’s parents try to arrange his marriage and his alter-ego (and her designer) become the talk of the town. It’s like Project Runway meets Versailles with a twist of Cinderella. And I really, really want Disney to make this into a movie!  We need more books that go beyond the traditional gender norms so kids can both see themselves and also so that kids can see others not like them at the center of important and positive and fun stories. 

#1: The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (and others)

51J47VzqXdL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI was reading the last third of The Cardboard Kingdom after dinner one night. I may have mentioned before that we have a post-dinner reading routine of 20-30 minutes. All of us. And since the girls had taken over my prefered reading spot on the couch, I was off in the easy chair in the corner. Chuckling and smiling and just… reacting as I read it. And suddenly, Helena, my 9 year old, is reading over my shoulder, looming over me.  Then she’s sitting on the arm on the chair, her head pressed against mine to see every angle of the illustrations. Then she’s in my lap with her hands on the book slowing down my turns of the pages so she could absorb each panel. Until finally, I relinquished it to her and just said, “Start from the beginning babe. It’s all yours.”

I just happened to pick up this graphic novel right after I finished The Prince & the Dressmaker, and I loved the parallels between it’s main character, Sebastian, and the first character we meet here – The Sorceress!  The first section is told completely through wordless panels as we witness two siblings playing with a kiddie pool, a chair, and a bunch of cardboard boxes and how their imagination has transformed that into magic and adventure.  A girl peeking over the fence at them starts laughing and at first it breaks the spell and ends the game. But then she gets drawn into their world in her own unique way. And the story takes off from there – with each neighborhood kid bringing in their own personalities and quirks and their own imaginative spin on adventure.  There are knights and robots and banshees and beasts. And entreupreneurs. There are conflicts and battles. And quieter moments of understanding. The stories stack and intertwine and build and build to create an amazing collection of backyard adventures! And just as the kid’s adventures are collaborative – so is this book! Chad Sell is the illustrator but each section was crafted along with a different writer – Jay Fuller, David Demeo, Katie Schenkel, Manuel Betancourt, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Cloud Jacobs, Michael Cole, and Barbara Perez Marquez.  And somehow, those diverse authors and illustrators have captured that magical feeling of childhood where there’s boundless inspiration and freedom and when it’s good – acceptance and transformation of flaws into strengths and positive energy. It’s hard to describe the special magic of this book. But it gave me the same feeling as watching the new Spiderman movie I mentioned at the top of the show. A feeling of witnessing some of the best that collaboration has to offer – it’s some next-level stuff!

Well – you’ve heard from me and now I want to hear from you!  What graphic novels from the past year did you and the kids in your life love?  Which ones are really making an impact among your students? And which ones are you all looking forward to in 2019?   

You can email me at or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

We’ll be back to our every-other Monday schedule starting January 14th and make sure you check out the next episode which will be all about the most anticipated middle grade books of the upcoming year.


Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Talk with you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.




(Some of the) Best Middle Grade Books of 2018: Books Between, Episode 66

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone! This is Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying my extra reading time over the holiday break and the chance to relax.

This is episode #66 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2018.

I’m a bit of a data nerd, and I have always been into tracking my reading – from my color-coded index card system in high school to my alphabatized Excel Spreadsheet in the early 2000s to now where I do a mix of Goodreads and a bullet journal. So looking back over the last couple of years since I started doing this show, in 2016 I read 60 middle grade books with 31 of those published in 2016. And my top three books of that year were Booked, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, and The Wild Robot. (You can find that list here.)

Last year, I read 79 middle grade with 55 of those published in 2017. A jump I will totally attribute to the intensity of being on the CYBILS committee. And my top three books of 2017 were Posted, Refugee, and Orphan Island and my top three graphic novels last year were Real Friends, Pashmina, and All’s Faire in Middle School.  (You can find the full list here.)

This year, I read 59 middle grade books with 41 of those released in 2018.

Before I start – a quick caveat. Selecting ONLY 25 titles was almost impossible.  I enjoyed just about every book I read this year, and I know each one will find it’s reader.  So how to choose the top twenty-five? I have two criteria – the writing is immersive (a book I couldn’t put down) and the story has that something special – unique character, an intriguing plot twist, or a thought-provoking theme (a book I can’t forget).  

And again this year, I decided to separate out the graphic novels so be on the lookout for another best of podcast soon featuring just the middle grade graphic novels.   

Okay, let’s get to it!  Here are my Top 25 middle grade novels of 2018:

Main Topic – Top 25 Middle Grade Novels of 2018

#25: Granted by John David Anderson

41hpsm-ci0l._sx321_bo1,204,203,200_From the author of the soon-to-be movie, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and last year’s amazing
Posted is this story about Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets – one of the few remaining fairies entrusted with the job of Granter – a fairy who ventures into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. Ophelia’s increasingly difficult quest to grant a little girl her wish of a purple bike will keep you turning the pages. And her reluctant friendship with the slobbery dog Sam – along with some other hilarious touches like Ophelia’s special song – will make this novel one you won’t forget.


#24: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

511OD4J9dbL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book – better than any I’ve read – captures the heat and the swelter of a scorching-hot drought-ridden summer. Our protagonist, Della, is feeling the weight of that and also the burdon of her mother’s re-emerging schizophrenia. But this novel is also laced with the sweetness of friendship and watermelon and hope and a touch of maybe magical honey.  



#23: Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen & Laurie Morrison

Unknown-2.jpegThis dual narrative novel is about Lauren and Sierra.  The two girls end up living next to each other and becoming friends when Lauren’s neighbors become Sierra’s foster parents.  As Lauren starts to become more aware of her priviledge, she comes up with a – shall we say “ill-advised” Robin Hood scheme that quickly starts to spiral out of control.  Watching Lauren and Sierra get deeper and deeper and deeper into that pit and wondering how on earth they were going to dig themselves out is what kept me turning those pages. And what makes this book unique and fresh was the strength of the two perspectives – Lauren’s chapters in prose and Sierra’s in verse.

#22: The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

51rHsGVmYkL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBelieve. Give. Trust. With those three magical rules passed on to her from her grandmother, Kate tries to grapple with the changes in her life. Divorce, faltering friendship, and her grandmother’s worsening dementia. Along with the typical difficulties of a 12 year old! I loved this book for its blend of beautiful prose and realism.



#21: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

512OEqiZhIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis middle grade coming of age novel tells the story of 8th grader Marcus Vega who ends up traveling to Puerto Rico with his mom and younger brother in search of the father who seemed to abandon them years ago. And yes, his journey is about discovering family, but it’s also about discovering his culture. This book is a beautiful homage to Puerto Rico and a story that captures the experiences of many kids with family connections that represent multiple languages and backgrounds.  It reminds me a bit of the graphic novel Crush with a twist of Torrey Maldonado’s Tight.


#20: The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

61+M5Z1q23L.jpgThis novel was not only unforgettable but it utterly changed the way I experience walking into a musuem forever. And to me – that is the mark of an excellent book. It makes you see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Frame-up is set in a real-life place – the Beaverbrook Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. And the art director’s son soon discovers that the paintings are…. alive. And they can travel into other paintings – which is completely fascinating when you consider that this museum includes art from different eras. And multiple paintings of the same person.  What the author does in this world is spell-binding. But things start to get dicey when suddenly the art director’s son and Mona, a young girl in one of the museum’s prized paintings, find themselves desperately trying to stop both an art heist and a plot to destroy their community forever.


#19: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

51zpTkmHcLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was a fun mix of humor and history intermixed with realistic depictions of issues that young people are coping with – like body shaming and eating disorders and figuring out that whole friendship thing while staying true to yourself and your values.  What made this book stay with me long after that last page was read was the main character, Tally, whose self-confidence and style and body positivity are inspiring.



#18: So Done by Paula Chase

41LCRf2z+AL._SX297_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis upper middle grade coming of age story centers around friends Mila and Tai.  The girls have spent the summer apart and as fall starts, it has become more and more clear that their friendship is sputtering out. And yes, part of that is typical things like finding new interests and more focus on boys, but there is this one massive secret hanging over both girls’ heads that threatens to not only destroy that friendship, but could destroy families, too.The slow, shocking reveal of what that secret really IS kept me turning the pages and what made this book stick with me so long afterward are the voices of the characters that are so fresh and unique and real!  During the first chapter, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other – and don’t think any adult is within earshot. Chase has this incredible knack for voice, and I cannot wait to see what other middle grade books she has coming our way!

#17: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

51NbyoNb6SL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJohnson has expertly woven together multiple storylines across two different eras that are beautifully fused together in the final chapters.  The main character, modern-day Candice, discovers a decades old mystery that takes her and the quiet bookworm boy across the street on a quest for a long-lost treasure. But to figure out the clues, they have to delve into some long buried town history that some folks would rather keep hidden. This book is rich with details and touches on topics that are not common in middle grade – like the end of segregation and its impact on black schools and the concept of passing. It’s beautifully written and if you have older middle grade kids who loved The Westing Game and who love mysteries, this is a great book to put in their hands.

#16: You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

41B5C2bSAUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAlex Gino’s second novel for middle grade readers is a sweet story about Jilly, White and hearing, who befriends a Deaf Black ASL user on a fandom website where they connect over their mutual love of a fantasy series. When Jilly’s new baby sister is born Deaf,  she and her parents struggle with which expert advice to follow and everyone makes some missteps along the way. Based on reviews from those in the Deaf community, Gino does seem to get that representation right. To me this book is one to have in your classroom or library because it shows one character’s pathway through learning about incredibly important but tricky topics like white priviledge, racism, micro-agressions, and abelism. And done in a way with warmth and heart.

#15: Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

515Byj+ku+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI’ll admit – this one almost got past me!  I was at school and had forgotten my book at home. And so on a whim, I picked up this book from my classroom library and promptly forgot that any other book existed and promptly fell for Stella’s sweetness and charm. Stella is a third grader, born in Mexico, but now living in Chicago with her mom and older brother. She’s struggling with being in a different class than her best friend, Jenny,  and dealing with the accompanying worries that Jenny might be forming a closer relationship with another girl. Stella is also figuring out where she fits in with her outgoing family since she is more quiet and is working through some speech difficulties. Three things stand out to me about this book – its utter realness, the excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, and also the fact that this novel intersperses Spanish in the most organic and well-executed way that I’ve ever encountered before. They pop up frequently and naturally, and yet I feel confident that most non-Spanish speaking readers can fairly easily figure out what those words mean from the context.

#14: Takedown by Laura Shovan

51lhPg+K-oL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI LOVE books that immerse me in a subculture – like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish. I was fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process in this novel. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the two main characters – Mikayla (known as Mickey) and Lev are written so vividly and honestly. Told in alternating point of view chapters, Mickey and Lev are each dealing with their own middle school difficulties of faltering friendships and dicey family dynamics. When they both wind up wrestling for the same elite traveling team, Lev needs to cope with having a new wreslting partner (a girl), and Mickey has to deal with a wrestling culture that isn’t exactly keen to accept her. How these two characters grow and how their stories intertwine have stayed on my mind – months later.

#13: Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

51nG51FFIIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother incredible story from a favorite author of so many of my students. Good Dog is told from the point of view of Brodie – a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our sweet, noble Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him.  I love this book for so many reasons – but mostly for how it quietly but powerfully connects with Gemeinhardt’s previous novel, The Honest Truth.  I don’t want to say more, but…. if you have a kid who has read and loved that book – give them Good Dog right after.

#12: Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

51Qo0bV-oNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is another novel that snuck up on me and then wouldn’t let go of my heart. For the last couple of years, my 5th graders and I have read Home of the Brave together as the first read aloud. This year I decided to have their book clubs centered around refugee and immigrant stories – with a focus on #ownvoices novels. And Escape from Aleppo was the only book club choice I hadn’t yet read – and so I read along with the kids in that club and followed their reading schedule and joined their discussions. And I completely agree with their assessment – this book is fabulous. It’s about 14-year-old Nadia, who we meet as her family is evacuating their home in Syria in an attempt to flee to Turkey. But in the carnage, Nadia ends up separated from her family and has to make her way through the city of Aleppo in a dangerous effort to reunite with them and to figure out who in the war-torn city she should trust to help her. What stands out to me most is the searing depiction of modern-day war and how much my students saw themselves in Nadia’s flashbacks to pre-Arab Spring Aleppo. Scenes were everything seems stable and Nadia is all about the latest episode of her favorite reality TV singing show and what color she should paint her nails. If you are looking for a companion book to Alan Gratz’s Refugee, this is an excellent choice. And one that will stay with you for a long, long time.

#11: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

41bpl0Wp5jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the much-awaited prequel to the much-loved and much-awarded, novel-in-verse The Crossover. This book is all about Josh & Jordan’s father – Chuck “Da Man” Bell. But – this is an origin story. So when we first meet him, he is just Charlie – an 80’s kid reeling from a family tragedy and trying to find his way forward and trying to find his smile again. When home becomes tense, he is involuntarily shipped off to his grandparent’s house for the summer where he starts to find that path forward. I loved this book for it’s awesome illustratations and all those great 80s references.


#10: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

51NmZ2v2BdL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgEsteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton, Haley – these six kids are brought to an abandoned art room each Friday, left on their own, and allowed to simply talk. And eventually – their stories unfold. Stories of deportation, of harassment, of parent death and incarceration. Of hope and of despair.  And by the end of that year, they have formed a bond and a vow to harbor each other. It’s Jacqueline Woodson so you know it’s gorgeously written, but it also speaks to a great need for empathy in our country right now. And I can attest that it’s not just one of those “important” books that kids don’t really like. It was one of the top requested book club selections and currently has a huge waiting list in my room, so I can vouch for it’s kid appeal.

#9: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

51s4JmcDnDL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOkay – this book creeped me the heck out! And it was glorious! This paranormal horror story is about a young girl named Ollie whose mom tragically died last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and rather raw.  One fall day, Ollie disovers this strange book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly battle to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. This book is so immersive and atmospheric and has one brilliant twist at the end that has me shuddering just thinking about it! Oh – and if you’re the type of person that isn’t at all freaked out by scarecrows – read this book and that will change.

#8: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Unknown-3.jpegThere has been sooo much love for this book this year – and if you haven’t yet read it, I will add my voice to all the others telling you…. it’s incredible.  This novel is about a young Pakistani girl whose dream is to finish her education and to become a teacher. But when her mother is struggling with depression after having her fifth baby – another girl – Amal ends up staying home to take of the household. And then, to make matters far worse, she ends up insulting a poweful man in her village and be forced into indentured servitude to work off her family’s debt to him. It was this section of the book and Amal’s complicated relationship with man’s family and other servants that was the most compelling to me.  Amal Unbound was the  middle grade pick for the 2018 Global Read Aloud and is worthy of a spot in any middle grade collection.

#7: Blended by Sharon Draper

41ddtlH41+L._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAs 2018 came to a close, I started scouring the social media feeds of readers whose taste I rely on to see what books from the previous year I may have missed. And by far the one that I kept bumping into… was Blended. And oh were they right to push me to read it! And…confession time – this is the first Sharon Draper book I have read! You may already know her work from Out of My Mind or Copper Sun.  This novel is about an 11-year-old girl – Izzy to her mom but Isabella to her Dad.  Her parents are divorced and every week Isabella has to switch – switch households, switch bedrooms, switch backpacks, switch expectations…. and sometimes feels like she has to switch identities. Her father is black and and lives a far more swanky lifestyle now and Isabella’s mother is white and their home definitely has a more casual vibe. I loved this book because I know how many students can relate to Izzy’s frustrations with parental tug-of-war and that awkwardness with people coming into their lives. But this book had so many more themes that will definitely strike a chord with kids today – racial profiling, school threats, micro-agressions, police shootings, and the myriad other things that make up children’s day-to-day experiences.

#6: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

41l+Ug74d7L._SY346_.jpgAhhh – this book!  I just…. Okay – plot first. This is the story of Zoey – a seventh-grader whose primary goals in life are to keep her two young siblings quiet and out of the way of her mom’s boyfriend and his father, to scrounge up enough for them to eat, and to stay completely invisible at school. But all of those things become tricky when her teacher pushes her to join the Debate Club after school. This book is about rural poverty, the nuances of the gun debate, domestic vioience… but the way those threads play out are not at all what I had expected – and so much better. This is the novel I wish I had read as a young middle school teacher when I thought that giving an hour’s worth of homework that required colored pencils, a ruler, and internet access was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  

#5: Front Desk by Kelly Yang
51HQ7BPwFaL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother stand-out debut! And every time I see another starred review or another reader gush about this book, it just makes me heart a little more happy. Front Desk is about Mia Tang whose family – recent immigrants from China – wind up running a motel under less than ideal circumstances. Mia’s expectations of life in America – juicy burgers, a pet dog, a yard, and big pool – differ A LOT from her true life, which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Her life is tough. But once she starts to harness the power of her writing, Mia starts to realize that even the big injustices in life can start to change. Front Desk was another fall favorite of my students and a perfect book club book.  And the last time I checked, it was offered through Scholastic for a great price.


#4: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Unknown-4.jpegWhen a sequel comes out to a book that you adored – characters who have found a home in your heart – it’s with trepidation that you crack open that cover and start a new journey with them. Oh but thank you Peter Brown because you did not disappoint and in fact…. I may love this story even more than the first. It’s hard to say anything without giving away the first book if you haven’t read it yet. (And if that’s the case – get on that!) But I will say that this sequel has more action, more human interactions, and therefore – more personal connections that kids can latch onto. And it deals with some big moral and ethical questions!  It’a a brilliant story with a touch of the Iron Giant, a sprinkle of The Odyssey, and a little dash of The Good Place.  

#3: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

51OH1565NkL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the story of Jermone – a young black boy playing outside his home with a small toy gun. A black boy who gets shot and killed by a police officer in the first pages and whose presence haunts the rest of the pages – and whose story – along with the other boys – haunts me still.  And I can see in my classroom the impact it makes on the young kids who read it. There are instantly caught by that first title page – “Dead” – and those first words – “How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching the ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.”  Jerome is the first ghost boy we meet, but later there will be Emmett Till and others who get to tell parts of their stories. This book was both completely immersive and has that quality of staying with you long after you’ve read it. And it’s a rare book that deals honestly with racism and police violence in a way that is age appropriate and clear.  And so many people have said, “This is an important book.” It IS – but don’t get it just because of that – get it and read it with kids because it’s an excellent book.

#2: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

51DkEFaFGRL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is, I believe, the first sequel that Kate DiCamillo has ever written. And if this is the quality of a DiCamillo sequel then I hope she writes a TON more – because this book ripped me apart and put me back together again. And I mean that in the best possible way! This book is the follow-up to Raymie Nightingale and focuses on Raymie’s quirky friend – Louisiana Elefante. Lousiana’s grandmother wakes her up in the middle of the night, piles her into the car, and is off to face her reckoning with the curse that has hung over their family’s head. Well, they end up in a Georgia Motel run by a cranky lady – where Louisiana has to take on more than anyone her age should have to.  But also learns a lot about grace and the goodness of humankind as well. Raymie Nightingale was a book I liked pretty well, but nothing compared to this. It’s like this story sat in a rock tumbler until all the extra grit fell away and this sparkling gem emerged at the end.  

#1: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

51uRYls0EcL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was fast-paced, fresh, and had such a…. bite to it!  It’s the story of 6th grader, Bryan, who loves comics, who loves drawing superheroes, and who loves his mother and a life of no drama. His dad brings enough of that into their life. Money in their family is… tight. So he worries about that and worries about being perceived as “soft” – not tough enough. But then his parents, sort of… set him up with a friend – this neighborhood kid named Mike. And at first, Bryan resists. He gets  weird vibe from this kid. But then the boys bond over comics and Netflix shows and spend more and more time together. They’re tight. But that friendship turns toxic when Mike starts luring Bryan into skipping school, hopping the turnstiles in the subway…and worse. Tight is an exceptional books – raw and real. If you have kids who like Jason Reynold’s Ghost and who liked the Miles Morales Spiderman – this is the book for them!

Alright – those are my top 25 middle grades books of 2018. Now – I want to hear from YOU! What were your favorite reads of the last year and which ones should I make sure to read in the year ahead?



Alright, that wraps up our show this week!  If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

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Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.




The MG at Heart Book Club’s January Pick: THE LAND OF YESTERDAY by K. A. Reynolds!

It’s a new year, and we at MG @ Heart are excited to spend 2019 discovering fantastic new middle grade reads with you! We’ll be releasing our full January-June reading list later this month. But for now, we’ve got the scoop on our January pick—a dark, whimsical story of loss, adventure, and healing…

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A tender and fantastical adventure story perfect for fans of Coraline.

After Cecelia Dahl’s little brother, Celadon, dies tragically, his soul goes where all souls go: the Land of Yesterday—and Cecelia is left behind in a fractured world without him.

Her beloved house’s spirit is crumbling beyond repair, her father is imprisoned by sorrow, and worst of all, her grief-stricken mother abandons the land of the living to follow Celadon into Yesterday.

It’s up to Cecelia to put her family back together, even if that means venturing into the dark and forbidden Land of Yesterday on her own. But as Cecilia braves a hot-air balloon commanded by two gnomes, a sea of daisies, and the Planet of Nightmares, it’s clear that even if she finds her family, she might not be able to save them.

And if she’s not careful, she might just become a lost soul herself, trapped forever in Yesterday.

What people are saying about The Land of Yesterday:

“From its first words, The Land of Yesterday has the pure crystal ring of a classic, like The Little Prince or The Phantom Tollbooth–beautiful, unique, and shimmering with truth. It’s a balm for grief, and a bursting fantastical joy of a story.” — Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Strange the Dreamer

“Told with riveting language, this is a poignant tale that will resonate with readers of all ages and leave them reeling from such an emotional, gorgeous story.” — Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of Aru Shah and the End of Time

“Richly imagined, creative, and entertaining.” — School Library Journal

“The novel is beautiful and often surprising, rich with images (like a purportedly magical pen, loaded with tears; a small door opening in Cecelia’s midsection, revealing “a miniature rusted lamppost inside a tarnished Victorian birdcage”; and people turning to paper as their life energy drains away) that serve both as fantastic elements and metaphors for grief and loss.” — Quill & Quire

The newsletter will go out on 1/28/19, and the Twitter chat will be held on 2/5/19. 

Happy reading!