The best middle grade books of breathtaking imagination

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author of five books for children. I am also an avid reader of middle grade fiction, especially speculative fiction. I love exploring other people’s imaginations. It’s not only entertaining, but incredibly inspiring. Like most people, when I discover a book that I love, I can’t wait to share it with my friends. I hope you love these selections as much as I do! It was really hard to limit myself to just five. 


I wrote...

The Boy with 17 Senses

By Sheila Grau,

Book cover of The Boy with 17 Senses

What is my book about?

It’s a Jack and the Beanstalk retelling that takes place on a planet where everyone has synesthesia. On this planet, people don’t just hear sounds; they see and taste them, too. On this unusual planet, poor Jaq Rollop must save his family’s farm. To do so, he is forced to sell his beloved pet and only friend. Unfortunately, he gets swindled into trading it for a seemingly worthless key. But then something very strange happens. The key leads Jaq through a wormhole to a terrifying and magical land full of riches, overwhelming sensations, and giants. The name of this frightening land? Earth. 

School Library Journal described it as, “Cleverly told, this original take on a classic tale uses an unconventional setting to explore universal emotions.”  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Island of the Aunts

Sheila Grau Why did I love this book?

Imagination + humor. The opening line of this books is one of my favorites – “Kidnapping children is not a good idea. All the same, sometimes it has to be done.” – Ibbotson was a genius at combining fantastical settings with humor. This book in particular spoke to my childhood fantasies of taking care of strange animals and visiting exotic locales. It’s a whole lot of fun, like all her books.

By Eva Ibbotson, Kevin Hawkes (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Island of the Aunts 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?

When the kindly old aunts decide that they need help caring for creatures who live on their hidden island, they know that adults can't be trusted. What they need are a few special children who can keep a secret-a secret as big as a magical island. And what better way to get children who can keep really big secrets, than to kidnap them! (After all, some children just plain need to be kidnapped.) Don't miss this wildly inventive and funny read from master storyteller Eva Ibbotson.


Book cover of Fly By Night

Sheila Grau Why did I love this book?

Imagination + beautiful writing. I love books that surprise me. Whether it’s with imaginative settings, intricate plots, beautiful writing, or humor. Surprise me, and I’m hooked. For me, no writer does this better than Frances Hardinge. Her books are incredibly unique. There is nobody who writes like her, who thinks up plots like her. Any one of her books is a trip on a totally new adventure. I started with Fly By Night and have read everything by her since.

By Frances Hardinge,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fly By Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Everybody knew that books were dangerous. Read the wrong book, it was said, and the words crawled around your brain on black legs and drove you mad, wicked mad. Mosca Mye was born at a time sacred to Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butterchurns, which is why her father insisted on naming her after the housefly. He also insisted on teaching her to read-even in a world where books are dangerous, regulated things. Eight years later, Quillam Mye died, leaving behind an orphaned daughter with an inauspicious name and an all-consuming hunger for words. Trapped…


Book cover of The Screaming Staircase

Sheila Grau Why did I love this book?

Imagination + adventure! This series is for older readers, as it can be quite scary, but I just love it. You might think you’ve read every possible twist on the ghost story, but then he comes up with a totally fresh concept. Stroud develops wonderfully unique characters in his books, too. I also loved the Bartimaeus series, and I just finished (and loved) his latest, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne.

By Jonathan Stroud,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Screaming Staircase 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?

SOON TO BE A NETFLIX SERIES

A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren't exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.

In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment…


Book cover of Rump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin

Sheila Grau Why did I love this book?

Imagination + fairy tales. Back to younger readers for this recommendation. I love this creative spin on a familiar fairy tale, beautifully written and filled with humor. “Read fairy tales and more fairy tales,” Einstein is famously quoted as saying when asked for book recommendations for children. He understood the importance of creative imagination to intellectual curiosity. Me? I just love a good story, with an edge of humor, that takes me on a new journey.   

By Liesl Shurtliff,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Rump 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?

This funny fractured fairy tale goes behind the scenes of Rumpelstiltskin. New York Times Bestselling author Liesl Shurtliff "spins words into gold [Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor winner]."

In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell,…


Book cover of Pet

Sheila Grau Why did I love this book?

Imagination + everything. I’ve been telling everyone to read this book. It’s a bit older than the other recommendations, but it is a wholly original fantasy, covering topics and themes that are so pertinent to today. Jam, a trans teen, has unintentionally summoned a grotesque creature from one of her mother’s paintings. Pet is a monster sent to hunt another hidden monster that nobody believes exists. It’s a thought-provoking masterpiece about hidden evil and what we must face to eradicate it.

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Pet 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?

How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

She stumbled backwards, her eyes wide, as the figure started coming out of the canvas
...
She tried to be brave. Well, she said, her hands only a little shaky, at least tell me what I should call you.
...
Well, little girl, it replied, I suppose you can call me Pet.

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson…


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Not in the Plan

By Dana Hawkins,

Book cover of Not in the Plan

Dana Hawkins Author Of Not in the Plan

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a contemporary romance writer, mom, queer, dog-lover, and coffee enthusiast. I have a deep love of the genre, particularly sparkly and swoony, sapphic romcoms, with a borderline obsession with happily-ever-afters. Knowing I will always have a happy ending while smiling through pages gives me the comforting hug I sometimes need. My goal is to spread queer joy in my writing and provide a safe, celebratory, and affirming space for my readers to escape reality.

Dana's book list on swoony, sapphic RomComs

What is my book about?

Crushed under writer’s block and a looming deadline, Mack escapes from New York to Seattle. She meets Charlie, a beautiful, generous, nearly bankrupt coffee shop owner recovering from heartbreak. For the first time, Mack has a muse. And then Mack starts using Charlie’s private stories in her novel…

When a storm traps Mack and Charlie in the coffee shop, they share a mind-bending, knee-shaking kiss. But Charlie is an eternal optimist who sleeps with fairy-lights on, while Mack is an ironing-at-5am worrier who sleeps with… everyone. They could never turn this chemistry into something real, right? And if Charlie finds out what Mack has been doing, turning Charlie’s most intimate secrets into a juicy page-turner, will they even have a chance to try?

Not in the Plan

By Dana Hawkins,

What is this book about?

Free-spirited coffee shop owner meets uptight coffee addict. Is an opposites-attract match brewing… or burning?

Crushed under the weight of writer’s block and a looming deadline, Mack escapes from New York to Seattle. She meets Charlie, a beautiful, generous, nearly bankrupt coffee shop owner recovering from heartbreak. For the first time, Mack has a muse. And then Mack starts using Charlie’s private stories in her novel…

When a storm traps Mack and Charlie in the coffee shop, they share a mind-bending, knee-shaking kiss. But Charlie is an eternal optimist who sleeps with fairy-lights on, while Mack is an ironing-at-5am worrier…


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