The best middle grade adventure stories with talking animals and a dash of magic

Why am I passionate about this?

As a girl, I would roll around on the floor with my Labrador retriever, beg my parents for horseback-riding lessons, and dream of being a vet. A proficiency in language and lack of science skills led me to writing instead, but my intense love of animals never waned. I adore adventure stories featuring animal characters and human ones, and some form of communication between them. That’s why I wrote Shannon’s Odyssey which, like many Middle Grade novels, also explores family secrets and the all-important act of forgiveness. It’s not fantasy but contains mystical elements rooted in reality, because who doesn’t want to believe magic exists in our everyday lives?


I wrote...

Shannon's Odyssey

By S.M. Stevens,

Book cover of Shannon's Odyssey

What is my book about?

Shannon Simpson has a kind soul, sometimes questionable judgment, and courage to spare. When her parents are seriously hurt in a car accident, she treks a hundred miles through the forest seeking her long-lost grandmother, rather than stay with the mean, smelly Zielinskis. Finding Gran means navigating safely through the woods with only a compass, her wits, and a mysterious, possibly magical marra mamba stone to guide her. During her journey, Shannon faces bad weather, injuries, hunger, thirst, and wild critters–some nice and some not so nice. To her amazement, she realizes she can communicate with the animals. And she uncovers secrets about her family and herself. (Fun fact: My daughter illustrated the cover.)

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

S.M. Stevens Why did I love this book?

I love this story because it feels like a folk tale come to life, and has gorgeous illustrations and a kind and resourceful hero. When Minli leaves her poor village in search of the Man of the Moon at Never-Ending Mountain, seeking a way to improve her family’s situation, she befriends a cast of colorful characters including a talking dragon, goldfish, and stone lions. Each encounter reveals a clue that leads Minli along her journey. You’ll feel Minli’s internal struggle when the girl faces a hard choice. Happy Ending: Her selfless sacrifice breeds fortune for her village and family.

By Grace Lin,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. While her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man in the Moon, Minli's mother chides him for filling her head with stories. But inspired by these stories, Minli spends one of her precious copper pennies on a beautiful goldfish, which is said to be able to change the fortune of the owner. Her mother reprimands her for the silly purchase, but, it pays off when the goldfish talks and offers to show her the…


Book cover of Coo

S.M. Stevens Why did I love this book?

Coo’s journey covers only a few city blocks but is long in emotional impact. At age 11, she enters the world of humans for the first time, having been raised by pigeons on a roof. A second, longer journey follows but to define it would spoil the surprise. The human-animal communication in the story will be considered fantastical by some, but others will believe it entirely possible that a child who has only known pigeons would speak their language. Coo touched my heart and gave me a new appreciation for these oft-maligned birds!

By Kaela Noel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Coo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

“An unforgettable story of friendship, love, and finding your flock.” —Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Medal-winning author of Hello, Universe

In this exceptional debut, one young girl’s determination to save the flock she calls family creates a lasting impact on her community and in her heart. Gorgeous and literary, this is an unforgettable animal story about friendship, family, home, and belonging. For readers who love books by Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate.

Ten years ago, an impossible thing happened: a flock of pigeons picked up a human baby who had been abandoned in an empty lot and carried her, bundled in…


Book cover of Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

S.M. Stevens Why did I love this book?

Clever, comic-book reading, word-loving Flora is more cynical than ever since her parents’ separation. She’s sure her mother loves a shepherdess lamp more than her own daughter. When Flora saves a squirrel sucked up by a neighbor’s vacuum and he returns with super strength and the ability to understand language and write poetry, she finds a kindred spirit. I love this book for its colorful (human and squirrel) characters and subtle exploration of family dynamics. And I love that Flora’s journey, which is emotional rather than physical, isn’t wrapped up with a tidy bow at the end.

By Kate DiCamillo, K.G. Campbell (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Flora & Ulysses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by a master storyteller.

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw it coming - the vacuum cleaner, that is. As for self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, she has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You! so she is just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight and…


Book cover of The Wolf's Curse

S.M. Stevens Why did I love this book?

This is one of those books that catches you by surprise. I wasn’t sure I could handle all the death pervading this story from start to finish. But woven amidst the grief are determination and courage as Gauge and his friend Roux fight for survival and evade the authorities. By the end, friendship and hope twinkle through death’s veil and they’re out in full force by the epilogue. I love the magical wolf narrator, who may seem secondary to the plot but in fact mirrors Gauge’s and Roux’s despair from loss and intense need for love and family. In the end, friendship saves them all.

By Jessica Vitalis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Wolf's Curse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Gauge's life has been cursed since the day he witnessed an invisible Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá's soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf--and death. Narrated in a voice reminiscent of The Book Thief, this fast-paced adventure is perfect for fans of fantasy such as The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the…


Book cover of The Golden Compass

S.M. Stevens Why did I love this book?

This classic fantasy offers a philosophical exploration of good, evil, religion, and existence. Lyra’s epic journey takes her to places resembling Oxford, London, and Norway as she seeks a friend in need and runs from the bad guys (led by her mother). Every human character has a daemon that may look like, say, a cheetah, owl, or hedgehog, but is so much more. A daemon represents part of its person’s personality, it supplements their soul. They feel each other’s emotions and sense each other’s thoughts. Other characters include witches, “ghasts” and—my favorite—Iorek Byrnison, a grouchy armored bear. This adventure is a joy to embark upon.

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

29 authors picked The Golden Compass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The first volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking
HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically
acclaimed BBC/HBO television series. First published
in 1995, and acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, this first
book in the series won the UK's top awards for children's literature.

"Without this child, we shall all
die."

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live
half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford.

The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands
of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight.

Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences
far beyond her own world...



This…


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Book cover of Touching the Surface

Kimberly Sabatini Author Of Touching the Surface

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Why am I passionate about this?

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