The best middle-grade books for fantastic homes

Who am I?

When I was a little kid, I had a friend whose house was off-limits—his parents didn’t allow any of us to go inside. Fascinated by the thought of what was hidden within its walls, I imagined an interior that was crazy enough for fiction. I never forgot that feeling, and now that I’m a grown-up writing children’s books, the houses and buildings in my stories are always characters in themselves. I continue to be inspired by middle-grade books where homes are fun, fantastic, and unforgettable.


I wrote...

The Tiny Mansion

By Keir Graff,

Book cover of The Tiny Mansion

What is my book about?

In my latest middle-grade adventure, twelve-year-old Dagmar is forced to spend the summer living off-the-grid with her family in a tiny house, where she confronts: Deadly traps! A spoiled rich kid with scary dogs! An annoying little brother with a runny nose! A billionaire at war with his eccentric siblings! A hulking bodyguard! A terrifying natural disaster! And—wait—cows?

The books I picked & why

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Danny the Champion of the World

By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Book cover of Danny the Champion of the World

Why this book?

This is my favorite Roald Dahl book because it infuses his trademark craziness with actual character development and genuine warmth. (Not to mention class commentary even a kid can understand.) The bond between Danny and his loving father is grounded in their going-nowhere wooden caravan—a tiny house before tiny houses were even a thing. It’s a humble abode, but it’s also safe, cozy, and self-contained, exactly the kind of place a kid dreams of living…even if using the outhouse in the back is “like sitting in an icebox” in winter!


A Wrinkle in Time

By Madeleine L'Engle,

Book cover of A Wrinkle in Time

Why this book?

L’Engle doesn’t give us a high-definition picture of Meg Murry’s home, but she does offer lots of tantalizing details: it’s nearly two hundred years old, it sits on a hill outside of town, there’s a forest in back and an orchard nearby, and her twin brothers have a treehouse. Even cooler, Meg’s bedroom is in the attic (even though she’s sometimes afraid to be alone in it) and her scientist mother has a lab off the kitchen. But my absolute favorite thing about the “pleasant, if shabby” Murry house is the way midnight visitors are treated with perfect hospitality—and no one bats an eye when even the craziest things happen.


The House with a Clock in Its Walls

By John Bellairs, Edward Gorey (illustrator),

Book cover of The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Why this book?

Ten-year-old Lewis Barnavelt, suddenly orphaned, is sent to live with his Uncle Jonathan at 100 High Street in New Zebedee, Michigan. There he finds himself in a hilltop mansion both odd and fascinating: among his discoveries are ancient coins, a secret passage behind a bookcase, and the fact that Uncle Jonathan is a warlock. The only bad news is that the weird and wonderful house holds a potentially world-ending secret inside its walls. Simultaneously warm and scary, this is my favorite haunted-house story of all time.


The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

Why this book?

Apartment buildings are surprisingly rare in kidlit, and this “glittery, glassy apartment house” on the Lake Michigan shore is one-of-a-kind, filled with the kind of eccentric characters only Raskin can create. (The Westing House referred to in the title is pretty interesting, too, but as a kid who grew up in an ordinary house, I found the apartment building far more interesting!) This perennially popular puzzle book is like a three-dimensional game of Clue, only with a lot more surprises. The first page alone holds so many irresistible contradictions that I defy anyone to stop reading.


Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Howl's Moving Castle

Why this book?

The townsfolk of Market Chipping, in the land of Ingary, are terrified of the smoke-billowing castle that rumbles across the wasteland—but hatmaker Sophie isn’t particularly put off. After all, the Witch of the Waste has turned her into a crone, and when she’s caught out in the open at nightfall, she’s getting downright chilly. When the castle rumbles toward her, she hails it like a taxi—and it obediently stops. You’ll want to climb right into Wynne Jones’s unforgettable work of imagination, too.


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