The best middle grade books for feeding your senses

Who am I?

There’s something truly magical about our ability to perceive the world through our senses. Our abilities to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are like superpowers that we take for granted. Because of many amazing sensory experiences—like viewing the world from the top of a tower, feeling the pull of ocean waves at my feet, comparing flavors within chocolate, hearing wood thrushes in the forest—I find myself drawn to the beauty that our senses add to life. So, I’ve written two middle-grade novels (The Splintered Light and The Other Side of Luck) with an eye (and an ear) on sensory perception. I hope you enjoy these books!


I wrote...

The Splintered Light

By Ginger Johnson,

Book cover of The Splintered Light

What is my book about?

The day Ishmael sees color for the first time, his life changes forever. This unique ability leads him to the Hall of Hue, one of seven creative workshops at a mysterious, magical place called the Commons. As a novice Color Keeper, Ishmael begins his training: helping to create landscapes that become glorious new worlds he and his friends shape and build, filling them with color, scent, sound, and taste. But when the rules of creation are threatened and the bonds of brotherhood are tested, Ishmael must learn when to let go of the past, when to trust the path ahead, and when to believe in himself. Original and gorgeously crafted, this middle-grade fantasy will enliven readers’ every sense. 

The books I picked & why

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Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca,

Book cover of Red, White, and Whole

Why this book?

I loved how Rajani Larocca masterfully infuses a story about a girl who lives in two cultures—modern American and traditional Indian—with a visual description from both those worlds. I really began to understand Reha’s (the protagonist) predicament through visual descriptions of the separate parts of her life. Her descriptions guided me in seeing settings, imagining characters, and understanding patterns of meaning.

Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Red, White, and Whole as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Newbery Honor Book! A heartbreakingly hopeful novel in verse about an Indian American girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia.

* Walter Award Winner * New England Book Award Winner * An NCTE Notable Verse Novel * Golden Kite Award Winner * Goodreads Choice Nominee * A Washington Post Best Children's Book of the Year * An SLJ Best Book of the Year * A BookPage Best Book of the Year * An NYPL Best Book of the Year * A Mighty Girl's Best Book of the Year * An ILA Notable Book…


One Jar of Magic

By Corey Ann Haydu,

Book cover of One Jar of Magic

Why this book?

I began reading this book, thinking it was about magic, but by the time I finished, I realized it was about so much more. I loved how Corey Ann Haydu uses sense descriptions brilliantly in One Jar of Magic to deal with some challenging and emotional topics including identity, family dynamics, and abusive relationships. Her use of sensory descriptions makes these topics subtle and emotionally manageable within the story itself.

One Jar of Magic

By Corey Ann Haydu,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Jar of Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the critically acclaimed author of Eventown comes a hopeful and empowering tale set in an enchanting world of magic and mysterious family secrets-perfect for fans of Anne Ursu, Rebecca Stead, and Wendy Mass.

Magic is like a dream. Delightful. Terrifying. Unreal.

Rose Alice Anders is Little Luck. Lucky to be born into the Anders family. Lucky to be just as special and magical as the most revered man in town-her father. The whole town has been waiting for Rose to turn twelve, when she can join them in their annual capturing of magic on New Year's Day and become…


The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

By Nizrana Farook,

Book cover of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

Why this book?

Stolen jewels. A girl Robin Hood figure. Friendship. And an escape into the jungle with an elephant. Full of adventure and heart, The Girl Who Stole an Elephant provides a window into the lush setting of ancient Sri Lanka, and carried me along with its fast pace. Nizrana Farook’s descriptions are teeming with sensory details, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

The Girl Who Stole an Elephant

By Nizrana Farook,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Girl Who Stole an Elephant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by the lush terrain of Sri Lanka, this fun tale of friendship, risk, and reward is just right for middle grade fans of fantasy and page-turning adventure.

Chaya, a nobleman's rebellious, outspoken, no-nonsense daughter, just can't resist the shiny temptations the king's palace has to offer.

But playing Robin Hood for an impoverished community doesn't come without risks, and when Chaya steals the queen's jewels from a bedside table—a messy getaway jeopardizes the life of a close friend. After an equally haphazard prison break, Chaya barely escapes...on the king's prized elephant!

With leeches and revolution lurking in the jungle,…

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

By Alda P. Dobbs,

Book cover of Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Why this book?

Anyone can describe the taste of chocolate or the sound of a woodpecker. I was completely taken when Alma P. Dobbs describes the taste of a wedge of sotol after the protagonist Petra, her younger sister, baby brother, and grandmother flee into the desert when soldiers invade their town. The words of this simple description convey the bitterness of sorrow and loss with the sweetness of family still being together. This happens at the beginning of the book, and the sensory description just continues from there. 

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

By Alda P. Dobbs,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2022 Pura Belpré Honor Book NYPL Best Book of 2021 Texas Bluebonnet Master List Selection NPR Best Book of 2021

Based on a true story, the tale of one girl's perilous journey to cross the U.S. border and lead her family to safety during the Mexican Revolution.

"Wrenching debut about family, loss, and finding the strength to carry on."—Booklist, starred review

"Blazes bright, gripping readers until the novel's last page."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Vital and perilous and hopeful."—Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna's mama has died while the Revolution rages…


Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos

By K.C. Cole,

Book cover of Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos

Why this book?

When I was a young mother, I read this collection of essays about physics, cosmology, astronomy, etc., by the science writer K.C. Cole. As I was reading, I kept writing down quotes from it in a notebook, something that I don’t normally do. In my daily neighborhood walks with my infant son, my thoughts about this book and the cosmos collided with what was I was experiencing, and I was completely taken with the elegance of our world. This sparked the original idea for my own book. Though this collection was written for an adult audience, there are concepts, ideas, and thinking that are packaged up in glorious words: beautiful descriptions of the world we live in that are pretty mind-blowing. 

Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos

By K.C. Cole,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mind Over Matter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The universe comes down to earth in K. C. Cole's Mind Over Matter, a fresh and witty exploration of physics, cosmology, mathematics, astronomy, and more. Like no other science writer, Cole demystifies scientific concepts and humanizes the people who study them. Beginning with a discussion of how "the mind creates reality as well as muddles it," she then peeks into the stories behind science's great minds and into their playful side, and concludes by illuminating the relationship between science and society. Cole's remarkable work brings science to the reader's doorstep, revealing the universe to be elegant, intriguing, and relevant to…

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