The best middle grade novels featuring a character in a unique or unexpected living situation

The Books I Picked & Why

A Year Down Yonder

By Richard Peck

Book cover of A Year Down Yonder

Why this book?

Two words. Grandma Dowdel. She is one of the many reasons I love this book. Fifteen-year-old Mary Alice is forced to leave her parents and her home during a difficult time in 1937. A city girl, it’s no easy feat moving from the big city of Chicago to a small town and in with her larger-than-life grandmother who will have you laughing out loud at her very un-granny-like antics. Peck’s punchy, smart, and often hilarious prose, parallels nicely with undertones of a more serious and difficult period of time for many families.  Mary Alice is easy to root for as she finds her footing in a year filled with many new adjustments in a place very different from home.  

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Beyond the Bright Sea

By Lauren Wolk

Book cover of Beyond the Bright Sea

Why this book?

“When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea.” From the opening lines of this story there is a sense of mystery…an unknown history, unknown even to the main character, Crow, that pulled me in. On a sparsely populated island off the coast of Massachusetts, Crow lives happily with Osh, the man that rescued her from that tiny old boat. But Crow wants answers to questions that tug at her heart. Where does she come from? Why was she put in that boat? The wonderful sense of place beautifully depicted by Wolk, adds a layer of wonder and awe to this page-turner, a story about the true meaning of family. 

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Louisiana's Way Home

By Kate DiCamillo

Book cover of Louisiana's Way Home

Why this book?

I love characters that make me feel like I’m in the room with them and both Louisiana and her Granny check that box. Quirky personalities abound in this sweet but often sad story about a girl who hits the road with her eccentric caretaker grandmother in the middle of a starry night. Granny insists that the time has come to leave Florida and confront the curse that hangs over their heads. That means leaving everything familiar and dear to Louisiana far behind: Her friends, her cat, her home. The two end up in a small town in Georgia and as Louisiana’s grandmother’s world gets smaller, Louisiana is left to her own devices in a world that seems too big to handle. 

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Three Times Lucky

By Sheila Turnage

Book cover of Three Times Lucky

Why this book?

Sheila Turnage’s brilliant, snappy writing makes this gem of a mystery one of my all-time favorites. There’s a lot going on in Tupelo Landing where Mo LoBeau washed ashore as a baby after a hurricane. Now being raised by the Colonial and Lana who run the best (and only) Café in town, Mo and her BFF Dale try to solve a murder in which her loved ones may be implicated. Loads of funny and fun in this series. Sidenote: I was elated when a School Library Journal reviewer said this about my novel Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl “. . .delightful details create a similar air to recent quirky classics such as Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky.…”.  Swoon!!!!

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

By Jonathan Auxier

Book cover of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Why this book?

Orphaned Nan is living the scary and treacherous life as a young chimney sweeper. After getting stuck in a chimney and almost killed by fire, she is saved by a mysterious “monster” made out of soot and ash…a Golem. This is the beginning of a beautiful, special friendship. Living in an attic together, Nan and the Golem look out for each other weaving a contrast of love, courage, and kindness into a story set against a brutally harsh backdrop of hopelessness in Victorian London. Jonathan Auxier’s writing is so brilliant and descriptive I could feel the freezing cold of the winter when I read this book! And the contrast of who is really the “monster” in this story will not be lost on the reader. 

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