Best Middle Grade Books of 2016

best-of-2016Yesterday, we brought you our picks for the Best Young Adult Books of 2016 — and today, we turn our attention to the Best Middle Grade Books of 2016! These are the middle grade books that made us laugh and cry and feel something powerful, and although the intended audience may be kids in the 8-12 age range, I think it’s safe to say they’re appropriate for anyone older than that, too. In fact, I’ve taken great pleasure in discovering great middle grade books since I started blogging here at Novel Novice, and these books represent some of my favorites from the past year.

So whether you’re looking for a book to recommend to a young reader, or want to dive into a really wonderful book yourself, here are my picks for the Best Middle Grade Books of 2016:


Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

hour of the beesAn exquisite story about family, love, and loss, Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar is a moving tribute to personal history, and the stories that make us who we are.

Though rooted deeply in reality, Hour of the Bees is filled with magic, gorgeous prose, and lovingly flawed characters, and the crazy-beautiful way they each make up the whole of a family. Though the focus of this novel is on Carol — and we experience the story through her perspective — Hour of the Bees is really the story about three generations. It covers the prickly differences and arguments that can tear families apart, and the love and magic that can bring them together.

Elegant prose and thoughtful storytelling combine to make Hour of the Bees a truly magnificent book for all ages to read and share.

See our full review here.

My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

my life with the liarsLight and dark, truth and lies, love and family. These are the themes at the heart of My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter. At times difficult and heartbreaking to read, Zylynn’s story is — still — ultimately uplifting. It’s sad to discover how much joy she can experience from such simple things, like a strawberry, a yellow t-shirt, or pink walls. And it’s sadder still to see how much she’s willing to give up all the new, wondrous and wonderful things she has discovered in the outside world — just so she can return to the cult that raised her, with its hunger and cold and discipline.

An older reader could read much into the story of the compound where Zylynn was raised; but the real heart of the story isn’t about their beliefs or their practices as much as it is about Zylynn finally discovering her free will to choose. Who she is, what she believes, and what she wants her life to be.

My Life with the Liars is ultimately a triumphant story about finding your own way.

See our full review here.

Summerlost by Ally Condie

Summerlost_BOM.inddAlly Condie’s first middle grade book, Summerlost is a story packed with nostalgia, heart, and gorgeous prose.

Condie’s writing is always beautiful, but the prose is exceptionally stunning in Summerlost. Her writing brings the town of Iron Creek and its iconic Summerlost festival to life across every page. Evocative of childhood and days filled with new adventures, Summerlost captures the unique magic and nostalgia of the summers of our youths, and that tentative time between childhood and adolescence.

I adored Summerlost and everything about growing up that it managed to capture so elegantly.

See our full review here.

The Boy on the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

boy at the top of the mountainAny book about World War II is bound to be a tough, tense read filled with moments of heartbreak. But nothing could have prepared me for the gut-punch I felt while reading The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne, the remarkable story of an orphaned boy who finds himself living in the home of Adolf Hitler.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is at times heartbreaking, horrific, and deeply disturbing. Your heart aches for the young Pierrot, who loses everything and finds hope in a new life with his aunt. But as World War II unfolds, Pierrot finds himself falling under the influence of Hitler, intoxicated by the attention and power the Fuhrer bestows on him.

In this simple story of one boy, Boyne demonstrates how so many fell under Hitler’s spell; how evils were overlooked, ignored, and even, sometimes, justified. It’s an unsettling but deeply honest look at the human flaws that allowed the atrocities of World War II to happen, and a lesson to not let something like this happen again.

The ultimate gut-wrenching twist comes at the very end of the story — a shocking twist that I, for one, did not see coming at all. An already tragic story, this surprise had me unexpectedly bawling over the book’s final pages. It was both devastating and uplifting at once — which, I know, sounds impossible — but Boyne pulls it off with aplomb.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is a stunning portrayal of love, sacrifice, and redemption.

See our full review here.

Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce

ollies-odysseyThe story of a beloved stuffed rabbit and the boy who loves him, Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce is a gorgeous new classic of children’s literature and a stunning tribute to all Favorite Toys.

Ollie’s Odyssey demonstrates the powerful bond between a child and their beloved stuffed animal. For me, that was Bear Bear, the stuffed teddy bear my parents got me for my very first Christmas, and who’s still kicking it at my side 30+ years later — so this book felt especially meaningful to me.

Joyce’s writing and illustrations combine for a true masterpiece of storytelling, capturing all the grandeur and emotion of childhood. As kids, the loss of a beloved toy is no small thing, and we see that demonstrated beautfiully as Ollie and Billy both go on epic quests to find their way back to each other. Ollie’s Odyssey is a book that children will relate to and adore, as they sneak a peek at the lives of toys when they’re not around.

And adults will treasure the way Ollie’s Odyssey captures the magic and wonder of childhood, and the unique bond we form with That One Special Toy and carry with us into adulthood.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

ms bixby's last dayA love letter to the teachers who shape our youth and the childhood friendships that we never forget, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is a moving portrayal of one remarkable teacher and the students whose lives she changes.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is at times laugh-out-loud funny, and at other times utterly heartbreaking. Anderson has so elegantly captured the essence and magic of childhood friendships, and the life-changing impact a teacher can have on a student’s life. Ms. Bixby is one of those teachers, and through the eyes of these three boys, we see how she has touched them in different, meaningful ways. As the boys go on a quest to give Ms. Bixby the celebration she deserves, we see what they mean to each other, and what Ms. Bixby means to each of them.

A truly remarkable book, if you don’t need a Kleenex by the time you’ve finished reading Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, well, then, your heart may be two sizes too small.

See our full review here.

Frazzled by Booki Vivat

frazzledMove over, Wimpy Kid. There’s a new illustrated diary on the block, and Frazzled by Booki Vivat will have you cheering for a lunchtime revolution, cringing in sympathy at Abbie Wu’s antics, and rooting for her to make it through the wild jungle that is Middle School.

Frazzled is the kind of book I could just keep reading, except the pages and the story ended. I can easily see this turning into a series — something beloved and devoured by kids between classes and after school, and shared and swapped and talked about. Abbie Wu’s struggles are not altogether uncommon, but the way Vivat has portrayed them here — in illustrated diary-like chapters — feels fresh and uniquely approachable in ways other middle grade books aren’t. It’s easy to dive into Abbie’s world, and sympathize or even relate to her anxieties, fears, and hopes.

Fresh, witty, and irreverent, Frazzled is the complete package.

See our full review here.

The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

poets-dogA minimalist and poignant story, The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan is about the bond between a dog and two lost children, and how they come to save each other.

Based on the concept that only poets and children can hear dogs speak — one that is lovely and executed to perfection here — MacLachlan has written an achingly beautiful story using simple, sparse prose. The technique boils everything down to the heart of the story — and lets you really sink into her message, and the poetry of the relationship between Teddy and Sylvan, and Teddy and the two children.

Though a quick read, I fell in love with The Poet’s Dog slowly — as I took my time reading each page, savoring each word. MacLachlan’s prose is not overly complex – easily accessible for young readers – and yet she still captures a certain sort of beauty in this minimalism. It’s the kind of writing that can be appreciated by lovers of literature and the written word, while still telling a story that is genuinely moving for readers of all ages.

See our full review here.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

ghostsThe perfect book to kick-off autumn, Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier is an honest and emotional celebration of love, loss, and family.

Ghosts is truly a celebratory book; it celebrates the northern California coast — with Telgemeier’s lovely drawings and descriptions of the cliffs and trees and seascapes, and the windy, misty weather. It celebrates heritage and tradition, with a truly stunning portrayal of the Day of the Dead celebration, and a beautiful interpretation of what it means to one community. It celebrates family: the family we have now, and the family that’s come before us, and the family we make for ourselves. It celebrates love.

It also hones the spotlight in on a topic that we all find difficult to face: loss and death. Ghosts finds a way to celebrate even these things, by giving Cat (and Maya, too), a way to discuss death and grief through a tangible possibility of life after death.

See our full review here.

The Dragon’s Gate by Barry Wolverton

Dragon's Gate - Cover FinalGuys, I can’t tell you how much I love The Chronicles of the Black Tulip series by Barry Wolverton. The first book, The Vanishing Island, just knocked my socks off last year. And the newly released sequel, The Dragon’s Gate did not disappoint.

This latest book is jam-packed with fantastic new destinations and unexpected challenges. New characters dazzle throughout, perhaps none more so than the bad-ass lady archaeologist-adventurer Lady Jean Barrett, who is sort of like a 16th/17-th century female Indiana Jones.

The Dragon’s Gate also sees Wolverton further explore his alternate history, with a touch of magic that makes this book a truly enchanting masterpiece. The game-changing conclusion just further sets the stage for the third book, and will leave readers eager to follow Bren and his companions on their next adventure.

Filled with heartfelt and endearing characters, gorgeous writing, and a plot rich with surprising and delightful new adventures, The Dragon’s Gate is the perfect escape.

See our full review here.

For the comments: What were the best middle grade books you read in 2016?







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