The best middle-grade books about the power of words

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up on books, every page filling my mind with words. I have since written many novels, but WORDS ON FIRE is my love letter to books and the power of words. From the moment I first discovered the story of the Lithuanian Book Smugglers, I wanted to better understand why these brave people risked their lives to save their books. I came to understand that books were their way to preserve their language, their culture, even the very existence of their country. If it was so important to them, would it not be just as important for us to ensure that children – all children – have access to books.


I wrote...

Book cover of Words on Fire

What is my book about?

Danger is never far from Audra's family farm in Lithuania. She always avoids the occupying Russian Cossack soldiers, who insist that everyone must become Russian -- they have banned Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language. But Audra knows her parents are involved in something secret and perilous.

In June 1893, when Cossacks arrive abruptly at their door, Audra's parents insist that she flee, taking with her an important package and instructions for where to deliver it. But escape means abandoning her parents to a terrible fate. As Audra embarks on a journey to deliver the mysterious package, she faces unimaginable risks, and soon she becomes caught up in a growing resistance movement. Can joining the underground network of book smugglers give Audra a chance to rescue her parents?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Poet X

Jennifer A. Nielsen Why did I love this book?

Xiomara Batista uses slam poetry to understand herself, her place in Harlem, and her family’s religion and culture. Of course, she would never share them. But when she is invited to perform her poetry her public, she will discover the power of her voice. Through each compelling line, readers will discover the power of their own voices as well.

By Elizabeth Acevedo,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Poet X 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?

WINNER OF THE THE CILIP CARNEGIE MEDAL 2019
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WATERSTONES CHILDREN'S BOOK PRIZE 2019
THE WINNER OF THE 2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
THE WINNER OF THE MICHAEL L.PRINTZ AWARD
THE WINNER OF THE PURA BELPRE AWARD
THE WINNER OF THE BOSTON GLOBE-HORNBOOK AWARD

'I fell in love at slam poetry. This one will stay with you a long time.' - Angie Thomas, bestselling author of The Hate U Give

'This was the type of book where "I'll just do 50 pages" turned into finishing it in 2 reads. I felt very emotional, not just because the story and…


Book cover of Fish in a Tree

Jennifer A. Nielsen Why did I love this book?

Ally is clever, and smarter than she believes herself to be. She also embraces her reputation as a troublemaker. But there is a reason she avoids reading – especially reading in public, and why she does not like to write. Her new teacher, Mr. Daniels, seems to understand, and perhaps even knows a way to help. This timeless book gives an enchanting insight into the mind of a dyslexic reader.

By Lynda Mullaly Hunt,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Fish in a Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

"Fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts." -Kirkus Reviews

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be…


Book cover of A Thousand Questions

Jennifer A. Nielsen Why did I love this book?

Mimi doesn’t want to spend her summer in Pakistan with grandparents she has never met. Instead, she wishes to fill her journal with her letters to her long-absent father. Things brighten when she meets Sakina, who hopes to improve her English so she can get into school. As summer continues, they become united by their many questions. This wonderful novel provides a bridge into how people from different cultures might understand each other.

By Sadiaa Faruqi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Questions 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?

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi's tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she's never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook's daughter, Sakina, still hasn't told her parents that she'll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score-but then,…


Book cover of Book Scavenger

Jennifer A. Nielsen Why did I love this book?

Emily and James must solve puzzles to discover the whereabouts of hidden books. But the stakes only become more dangerous as the game continues. This book will challenge and delight young readers as they find themselves looking for the book around the next corner.

By Jennifer Chambliss Bertman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Book Scavenger 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?

For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it's the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon arriving, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself.…


Book cover of The Anti-Book

Jennifer A. Nielsen Why did I love this book?

Mickey is angry about nearly everything in his life, which makes the ad for the Anti-Book even more tempting. When it comes, it has only one line of instruction: To erase it, write it. He fills the book with everything he dislikes, and soon it begins to change. But is that really what he wants? This is a darkly funny book about life, struggle, and learning to accept change.

By Raphael Simon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Anti-Book 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?

Mickey is angry all the time: at his divorced parents, at his sister, and at his two new step-mums, both named Charlie. And so he can't resist the ad inside his pack of gum: "Do you ever wish everyone would go away? Buy The Anti-Book! Satisfaction guaranteed." He orders the book, but when it arrives, it's blank - except for one line of instruction: To erase it, write it. He fills the pages with all the things and people he dislikes...

Next thing he knows, he's wandering an anti-world, one in which everything and everyone familiar is gone. Or are…


You might also like...

Brigitta of the White Forest

By Danika Dinsmore,

Book cover of Brigitta of the White Forest

Danika Dinsmore Author Of Brigitta of the White Forest

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Teacher Poet Tree whisperer Bird lover World builder

Danika's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

For those who enjoy fantasy adventure, the Faerie Tales from the White Forest series offers a new twist on the traditional faerie tales so loved by young readers.

From devastating curses to death-defying quests, Brigitta and her growing collective of misfit friends face greater and greater challenges when destiny calls upon them to “make the balance right again” after the Great World Cry has left their world in elemental chaos.

Brigitta of the White Forest

By Danika Dinsmore,

What is this book about?

Briggy, what happens when the Hourglass runs out?

Brigitta wished she had paid more attention to her Auntie Ferna's lessons. Being able to string a thunder-bug symphony wasn't going to help them now. She didn't know exactly what would happen when the Hourglass ran out, since no living faerie knew a time when the Hourglass didn't protect the forest . . . But even though she couldn't remember the details, she did know that without the Hourglass there would be no White Forest . . . A charming middle-grade fantasy series, "Faerie Tales from the White Forest" watches the journey…


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