The best novels middle-grade readers will love

Rob Vlock Author Of Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect
By Rob Vlock

Who am I?

I remember the night it happened. I was lying next to my son in bed, reading to him. It was already well past his bedtime, but when we came to the end of the chapter, he begged me: “Just one more chapter, Dad! Pleeeease!” That was the moment I knew I wanted to write novels for kids. And ever since then, I’ve been passionate about helping young people learn to love reading by introducing them to books they’ll truly love—even if they’re what some might call, “reluctant readers.” That’s what’s behind the books I recommend and will always be behind the books I write. 

I wrote...

Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect

By Rob Vlock,

Book cover of Sven Carter & the Trashmouth Effect

What is my book about?

Ever since Sven Carter was caught eating a moldy blueberry muffin under the gym bleachers, earning himself the nickname “Trashmouth,” he’s been his school’s biggest outcast. But he soon discovers that having a lame nickname is the least of his worries. After a horrible wipeout involving a bike, a ramp, and a chocolate-anchovy-garlic-mint wedding cake (don’t ask), his left arm just…falls off.

That’s when Sven learns he’s not a kid at all, but a “Tick”—a high-tech synthetic humanoid created as part of an elaborate plot to destroy the human race. Now Sven, his best friend Will, and his tough-as-nails classmate Alicia must face down a host of horrors—killer clown-snakes, a giant Chihuahua, the stomach-churning Barf Bus, murderous roast chickens, and even Sven’s own brain—to save humanity from permanent extinction.

The books I picked & why

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By Ronald L. Smith,

Book cover of Hoodoo

Why this book?

This is one of those books that kept me up way past my bedtime. It’s a delicious combination of folk magic, intrigue, and African-American culture in Depression-Era Alabama that grabbed me from page one. The narrator and hero, Hoodoo Hatcher, is one of my all-time favorite middle-grade protagonists, and Smith’s amazingly descriptive writing definitely transported me through time and space to a place I never wanted to leave.

The Screaming Staircase

By Jonathan Stroud,

Book cover of The Screaming Staircase

Why this book?

The first book in the Lockwood & Co. series ties together everything I love—action, supernatural peril, humor, and characters that you’ll wish you knew in real life. The world-building in Stroud’s novels is breathtaking—sumptuous, imaginative, and truly immersive. The Lockwood & Co. series has been every bit as influential to me as an author as its more well-known cousins, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. If I had to pick one favorite middle-grade series, Lockwood & Co. would be it. 

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1)

By Sayantani Dasgupta,

Book cover of The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1)

Why this book?

Combining rich, imaginative Bengali folklore, pulse-elevating action, laugh-out-loud humor, and an amazing narrative voice, this book had me hooked, literally, from the first line. (“The day my parents got swallowed by a rakkhosh and whisked away to another galactic dimension was a pretty craptastic day.”) The twists and turns in this lovely novel were utterly unpredictable and kept me guessing page after page. 

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

By Jonathan Auxier,

Book cover of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Why this book?

This was my first experience with Jonathan Auxier and it made me into an instant and always fan of his books. Its fairytale-like feel and enthralling story of Peter Nimble, a blind orphan and master thief, was so wonderful to read, I experienced some serious book withdrawal when I reached the end. (Luckily, we get to spend more time in Peter’s world in Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard!) This book’s story and characters are so beautifully crafted, you’ll probably want to read this one more than once—like I did!

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

By Sally J. Pla, Steve Wolfhard (illustrator),

Book cover of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

Why this book?

This is the only realistic fiction I’m recommending on this list—and there’s a very good reason why. It’s wonderful! Pla writes a thoroughly engaging, charming book that manages both to suck readers in and, at the same time, destigmatize children who present non-neurotypically. Stanley is a loveable boy who, despite more than his fair share of challenges, manages to become the hero of his story in his own unique, delightful way. 

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