The best middle grade books about kids at odds with the sea

Who am I?

The first time I realized I'd fallen in love with the sea was when I was seven years old watching Flipper. Growing up in Canada, I longed to trade my snow shovel for a snorkel. Years later, I received my Bachelor’s in English and moved to the Florida coast with my Marine-Biologist husband, where the humidity curled my hair, iguanas blocked my parking spot, and real dolphins swam beside our boat. I wrote Sea of Kings so kids could take home the magic of the Caribbean. You can find my free writing tutorials on YouTube under HopeFullHappenings.  

I wrote...

Sea of Kings

By Melissa Hope,

Book cover of Sea of Kings

What is my book about?

Perfect for Pirates of the Caribbean fans if the pirates were dysfunctional twelve-year-olds, Sea of Kings is the action-packed middle-grade Newberry Award winner Andrea Wang described as "everything a kid could want."

Prince Noa hates the sea for causing his mother's death, but when a vengeful pirate lays siege to his island kingdom, Noa and his brother, Dagan, narrowly escape with their lives. Armed with a stolen ship, a haphazardly assembled crew, and a magical map that makes as much sense as slugs in a salt bath, the brothers sail for help. Can Noa solve the map's confusing charts and confront the one-eyed pirate, or will he lose the very people he means to protect?

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The books I picked & why

Beyond the Bright Sea

By Lauren Wolk,

Book cover of Beyond the Bright Sea

Why did I love this book?

Beyond the Bright Sea tells the story of twelve-year-old Crow, who was abandoned and set adrift in a rowboat when she was just hours old in the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Lauren Wolk does a seamless job weaving mystery into Crow's world as Crow begins to question her identity and the consequences of receiving answers, or not, about her past. Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award, this book helped me understand my own character's heart-wrenching questions of belonging and what it means to be a family, and I could not put it down! 

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…

Treasure Island

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Book cover of Treasure Island

Why did I love this book?

You cannot attempt to write a swashbuckling story without first indulging in one of the most iconic pirate stories to date. Teenage Jim Hawkins boards a ship to locate the lost treasure of an infamous pirate and outwits a gang of murderous pirates led by Long John Silver. 

I loved this book because it is the foundation of many beloved pirate stories, with the rush of sailing, the sting of mutiny, the thrill of treasure hunting, the recklessness of pirates, all set in a steamy, tropical paradise.

By Robert Louis Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Treasure Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Penguin presents the audio CD edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Following the demise of bloodthirsty buccaneer Captain Flint, young Jim Hawkins finds himself with the key to a fortune. For he has discovered a map that will lead him to the fabled Treasure Island. But a host of villains, wild beasts and deadly savages stand between him and the stash of gold. Not to mention the most infamous pirate ever to sail the high seas . . .

The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan,

Book cover of The Lightning Thief

Why did I love this book?

The Lightning Thief was the first middle-grade that had me laughing out loud. It's the story of Percy Jackson, the demi-god son of Poseidon, and his quest to capture the thief who stole Zeus' lightning bolt. 

Rick Riordan cleverly weaves humor into every action scene, and I love that he incorporates Greek Mythology throughout. This book is a must-read for anyone writing for today's generation of kids or who just wants to enjoy a good story for themselves.  

By Rick Riordan,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Lightning Thief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Lightning Thief: the First book in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

The first bestselling book in Rick Riordan's phenomenally successful Percy Jackson series.

Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That's when things started really going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends, and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky,…

Book cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Why did I love this book?

Island of the Blue Dolphins is shelved in the children's books Hall of Fame for a reason. Based on a true story, this book is about twelve-year-old Karana, who is stranded on an island and must learn to survive—for years. I loved reading about how Karana learns to find food and make shelter and how she becomes in tune with nature and the sea. What really hits home is that this is a story about forgiveness, a powerful theme that is also the focus of my own book.

By Scott O’Dell,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Island of the Blue Dolphins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Karana escapes death at the hands of treacherous hunters, only to find herself totally alone on a harsh desolate island. How she survives in the face of all sorts of dangers makes gripping and inspiring reading.

Based on a true story.

Josephine Against the Sea

By Shakirah Bourne,

Book cover of Josephine Against the Sea

Why did I love this book?

Josephine Against the Sea was a new find for me since it debuted in 2021, but I instantly connected with the trouble-maker main character. Josephine is desperate to keep her father from finding love after her mother dies, but when a vengeful sea creature tries to steal her father's heart, she must use her talent to save him before it's too late. 

I loved learning about Josephine's Caribbean culture living in Barbados. It was also intriguing to read how Shakirah Bourne tackled a mother's death and its effects on the father, as this is a struggle my own characters face in my book.

By Shakirah Bourne,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Josephine Against the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Josephine, the most loveable mischief-maker in Barbados, in a magical, heartfelt adventure inspired by Caribbean mythology.

“A heart-wrenching adventure with big laughs and well-earned surprises.” --Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That's why she makes a habit of scaring his new girlfriends away. She's desperate to make it onto her school's cricket team because she'll get to play her favorite sport AND use the cricket matches to distract Daddy from dating.

But when Coach Broomes announces that girls can't try out for the team, the frustrated Josephine cuts into…

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