The best middle-grade sci fi – with bonus aliens

Who am I?

When I was bored or stressed out at school as a kid, I used to pretend that I was an alien posing as a person and that I’d come to earth to learn about humans. It was fun and helped me to relax. (Look, we all have our own ways of relaxing, I don’t know why “pretending to be an alien” isn’t on more self-care lists these days). Given my tendency to drift toward other worlds, it’s amazing that it took me so long to write a book featuring aliens! The trouble-making Sneaks provide the action in my most recent MG book, which also deals with very real middle-school struggles with friendships and family.  

I wrote...


By Catherine Egan,

Book cover of Sneaks

What is my book about?

Men in Black meets middle school! A school project takes an alien turn when three kids uncover a secret society whose aim is to keep sneaks–mischievous interdimensional sprites–from slipping into our universe!

When Ben Harp sees his teacher’s watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming. But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak—an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object. Soon Ben and his friends are trying to decipher a book with a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them.

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The books I picked & why


By Kenneth Oppel,

Book cover of Bloom

Why did I love this book?

Bloom is the first book in the Overthrow Series. A strange rain drops seeds, and as creepy vines grow and release pollen, everybody is allergic – except a small group of teens. As the alien plants turn carnivorous, our protagonists have to figure out their role amid world-shattering events. The plot roars along, while also seeding provocative questions about technology, ethics, and what it means to be human.

Kenneth Oppel is a master plotter, and this book is an excellent introduction to his work if you aren’t already a fan. All his books are favorites in our house.

The Aliens: No spoilers here. This is a plot twist that will make you gasp out loud.

By Kenneth Oppel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"The perfect book right now for young readers searching for hope, strength, inspiration — and just a little horticultural havoc."—New York Times
The first book in a can't-put-it-down, can't-read-it-fast-enough action-thriller trilogy that's part Hatchet, part Alien!

The invasion begins--but not as you'd expect. It begins with rain. Rain that carries seeds. Seeds that sprout--overnight, everywhere. These new plants take over crop fields, twine up houses, and burrow below streets. They bloom--and release toxic pollens. They bloom--and form Venus flytrap-like pods that swallow animals and people. They bloom--everywhere, unstoppable.

Or are they? Three kids on a remote island seem immune to…

Dragon Pearl

By Yoon Ha Lee,

Book cover of Dragon Pearl

Why did I love this book?

This epic space adventure blends science fiction, fantasy, and Korean folklore. Min, a fox spirit with shape-shifting powers, raised on a poverty-stricken planet, is a clever and lively protagonist. She sneaks onto a star-cruiser, borrowing the form of a dead cadet, to go in search of her missing brother, and gets caught up in a quest for the legendary Dragon Pearl. 

There is some truly beautiful writing here, but what I loved most was the complexity of the world-building. This is an epic space opera in the best sense.

The Aliens: I’m cheating a bit – are they all aliens? This is set in other worlds, and some people have magic powers. I’m going with All Of Them Are Aliens, and also: Alien Ghosts! What more could you want?

By Yoon Ha Lee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dragon Pearl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rick Riordan Presents Yoon Ha Lee's space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits.

But you'd never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min's mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times.

Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She's counting the days until…

Jillian VS Parasite Planet

By Nicole Kornher-Stace, Scott Brown (illustrator),

Book cover of Jillian VS Parasite Planet

Why did I love this book?

On Take Your Kid To Work Day, Jillian is thrilled that she gets to go to space with her parents. The routine trip goes terribly wrong, their shuttle crashes, and Jillian has to figure out how to survive – and save her injured parents – with only her own ingenuity and the help of a sarcastic, TV-loving AI nanobot swarm called SABRINA. 

The bantering Jillian-Sabrina relationship is the highlight of the book, and Jillian is a pitch-perfect MG protagonist. It was a delight to read about a super anxious kid solving problems in the absolute worst of situations. 

The Aliens: Primarily, a very creepy parasite – but the descriptions and fictional-science behind all the various life forms on the planet are fantastic.

By Nicole Kornher-Stace, Scott Brown (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jillian VS Parasite Planet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can an anxious eleven-year-old find her chill and save her family from creepy aliens? Only if she’s the most awesome, super-brave astronaut since Spaceman Spiff! So take a deep breath, grab your sidekick, and blast off with Jillian to Parasite Planet.

Eleven-year-old Jillian hates surprises. Even fun ones make her feel all panicky inside. But, she’s always dreamed of joining her space-explorer parents on a mission. It’s Take Your Kid to Work Day, and Jillian finally has her chance to visit an alien world!

The journey to Planet 80 UMa c is supposed to be just a fun camping trip.…

Book cover of The True Meaning of Smekday

Why did I love this book?

I haven’t seen the 2015 animated movie Home, which is based on The True Meaning of Smekday, but my kids assure me that the book is better. The world is taken over by aliens in the opening chapters, and protagonist Gratuity (“Tip”) teams up with a rogue Boov who has named himself J.Lo, figuring that’s a common Earth name, to find her missing mother. The plot zig zags across the country and is full of clever twists and turns.

Tip’s voice, and the relationship between Tip and J.Lo, give the book its real charm. This is an often hilarious read, with stakes that feel real and weighty.

The Aliens: There are many, and they come in many flavors: funny, scary, brutal, BFF material…

By Adam Rex,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The True Meaning of Smekday as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The glorious leader of the Boovs, Captain Smek, has called for the invasion of Earth. But the plan goes very wrong when a cute and cuddly - and utterly hopeless - Boov makes a huge mistake. Now something much more dangerous is heading their way . . . Will human girl, Tip, be able to save her home?

The original and hilarious comic sci-fi adventure that inspired the major Dreamworks film, HOME.

Last Gate of the Emperor

By Kwame Mbalia, Prince Joel Makonnen,

Book cover of Last Gate of the Emperor

Why did I love this book?

Funny and fast-paced, this story of a boy and his bionic cat will charm avid sci-fi fans and reluctant readers alike. Did I mention the bionic cat? Besa is the star, as far as I’m concerned. Protagonist Yared skips school (with his bionic cat!) to take part in an augmented reality tournament and finds himself at the center of a massive galactic war. Intricate world-building influenced by Ethiopian legend, a tight plot, and an engaging lead trio (including: bionic cat!) make this a delightful read. 

I loved Yared’s voice! Few readers will be able to resist his charm and humor. I certainly couldn’t.

The Aliens: The Werari – terrifying golden-eyed alien invaders with a bionic monster, the Bulgu.

By Kwame Mbalia, Prince Joel Makonnen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Gate of the Emperor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen comes
an action-packed Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian
empire. Sci-fi and fantasy combine in this epic journey to the

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime
- a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules,
and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness
Besa are his only family... and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth,
those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground
augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb's Obelisk. But

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