The best contemporary middle grade novels for girls who love the outdoors

Who am I?

I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and when I’m not reading my way through a tall stack of library books, I love to exercise and explore the outdoors, particularly in the Northwoods and in the Driftless Area (Google it—it’s the coolest!). My debut novel, Crossing the Pressure Line, is about identifying the lifeboats that have the power to save us during turbulent times. One of my own personal lifeboats is nature. I spend time outdoors every single day, even when the temperature is below zero, because I find deep peace in breathing fresh air, using my muscles, and watching for signs of wildlife. 

I wrote...

Crossing the Pressure Line

By Laura Anne Bird,

Book cover of Crossing the Pressure Line

What is my book about?

My middle grade novel is about Clare Burch, a deeply reflective twelve-year-old who grieves the untimely loss of her grandfather, puts her self-confidence to the test, and learns how to listen to the courageous voice inside. It’s the perfect book for tween girls who love swimming, animals, fishing, art, and setting fierce goals for themselves. 

Crossing the Pressure Line celebrates a sense of wonder and reverence for the natural world, which I believe is essential in these times of cell phones, social media, and virtual everything. Go outside! Get dirty! Move your body! Sweat! You’ll experience a rush of endorphins while seriously recharging your battery.

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The books I picked & why


By Katherine Applegate,

Book cover of Wishtree

Why did I love this book?

Red, a monoecious oak tree, narrates this luminous and beautifully illustrated novel. Red is two hundred and sixteen rings old and happily provides shelter for seven opossums, four raccoons, five owls, six skunks, and a witty crow named Bongo. Together, Red and the animals concoct a plan to support Samar, a girl whose family has just moved into the neighborhood. Samar hasn’t made any friends yet, and she’s feeling sad and lonely. Wishtree is about inclusion and community, but at its heart, it’s a love song to the trees and creatures that call urban areas home. Have tissues ready: Samar’s comforting middle-of-the-night visits to Red and Bongo will have readers wiping away a tear or two. 

By Katherine Applegate,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wishtree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Amazon Top 20 Children's Books of 2017

The New York Times-bestselling story of kindness, friendship, and hope.

Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood "wishtree"―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all.
Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's…

You Go First

By Erin Entrada Kelly,

Book cover of You Go First

Why did I love this book?

I love books about smart and curious girls, and Charlotte, the main character of You Go First, fits the bill. She struggles with tricky middle-school friendships and her father’s declining health, but she keeps herself afloat emotionally by studying all sorts of interesting things, like sea creatures, wild animals, earthquakes, and geology. She maintains a collection of rock specimens on her dresser, and the sparkling hunks of Egyptian quartz, hematite, and feldspar remind her of her dream of studying minerals and gemstones at the base of a pyramid or volcano when she grows up. Charlotte is unapologetically herself, and her unwavering connection with the earth and its treasures is her saving grace during a very rough stretch.  

By Erin Entrada Kelly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You Go First as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Funny and poignant, Newbery Medalist and New York Times bestseller Erin Entrada Kelly's national bestseller You Go First is an exploration of family, bullying, word games, art, and the ever-complicated world of middle school friendships.

In a starred review, School Library Journal wrote that Erin Entrada Kelly can "capture moments of tween anguish with searing honesty."

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different-Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana.

Charlotte wants to be a geologist and…

Book cover of Lena, the Sea, and Me

Why did I love this book?

Maria Parr’s timeless novel takes place in Norway’s fictional Mathildewick Cove. The story centers on Lena and her best friend Trille, who are dealing with typical 12-year-old matters, including family arguments, rapidly growing bodies, and drama-filled school days. The setting of Lena, the Sea, and Me is especially charming, featuring mountains, hills, farm animals, and of course the water, which plays a significant role in the book. I appreciate that Lena and Trille spend all their time outside. Lena in particular—with her strong limbs and ruddy cheeks—is formidable as she builds rafts and plays goalkeeper for her soccer team. Irascible and lively, she will delight and inspire readers everywhere.

By Maria Parr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lena, the Sea, and Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heartwarming and action-packed story of friendship from Norway's answer to Astrid Lindgren.
This classic in the making from award-winning author Maria Parr is packed full of laugh-out-loud adventures and paints an honest picture of the highs and lows of friendship and growing up.

Dark clouds are looming in Mathildewick Cove. The arrival of a new football coach is putting twelve-year-old Lena's goalkeeping career in doubt. And in the house next door, Trille is wondering how to impress the girl who has just joined his class.

The stage is set for a dramatic year ahead. What are Trille and Lena…

Book cover of Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers

Why did I love this book?

This relevant and feisty story introduces four rising seventh graders in the Miami area. While Ofelia, Lane, Aster, and Cat reflect a variety of backgrounds, they share a similar love of the outdoors. They hang out in Lane’s treehouse with a peafowl named Eunice as their mascot, and they unite around a common goal of protecting endangered birds. Notably, Cat is a budding ornithologist who discovers that going for a walk with her binoculars is “magic for untangling mind knots.” During the girls’ long, hot summer together, they learn how to use their creativity and brainpower to stand up for their convictions and the environment. 

By Celia C. Pérez,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Strange Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up. Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn't love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn't know they needed:…

Beyond the Bright Sea

By Lauren Wolk,

Book cover of Beyond the Bright Sea

Why did I love this book?

Twelve-year-old Crow lives on one of the tiny windswept Elizabeth Islands just off the coast of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. She loves fishing for lobsters, collecting mussels, and caring for her neighbor Miss Maggie’s barnyard animals. Crow climbs trees as skillfully as a squirrel, and her best friend is a cat named Mouse. Beyond the Bright Sea unpacks concepts of loss and selfhood—what it means to be abandoned, what it means to be found—but above all, it shines a dazzling spotlight on the ocean: shimmering, foaming, ominous, home. Crow is an indelible main character who will tug at readers’ heartstrings from the first page to the last. 

By Lauren Wolk,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Beyond the Bright Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Harper Lee has a worthy successor. Wolk is a big new talent' - The Times

Crow has lived her whole life on a tiny, starkly beautiful island. Her only companions are Osh, the man who rescued her from a washed-up skiff as a baby and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their neighbour across the sandbar. But it is only when a mysterious fire appears across the water that an unspoken question of her own history forms in Crow's heart, and an unstoppable chain of events is triggered. Crow sets out to find her lost identity - and, ultimately, to learn…

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