The best middle grade books starring mobsters, schemers, and thieves

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a middle school librarian, former language arts teacher, and middle grade author. I have a passion for all things literary, especially as they relate to kids in grades 5-8. I also grew up in New Jersey, so I come by my fascination with the Mob as a result of proximity. What I enjoy most about books about criminals is the moral gray area that some criminals exist in. They’re doing bad things—robbing banks, selling stolen goods, killing peoplebut their hearts are pulling them in another direction. Middle school kids also feel that tug of moral dilemmas, figuring out what is just and unjust, and I love to help them wrestle with those ideas.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Prince of Steel Pier

What is my book about?

The Atlantic City Boardwalk in the summer of 1975 isn’t cutting 13-year-old Joey a break. His grandparents’ hotel is struggling. The city is getting more dangerous every day. And nobody in Joey’s large Jewish family will take him seriously. So when he gets a job offer from mobster Artie Bishop, known as the king of Steel Pier, Joey jumps at the chance to prove himself. Artie treats Joey like “one of the guys”—someone reliable and strong.

But running with Artie’s crew means deceiving the people he loves and crossing lines he never questioned before. When Artie asks Joey for a dangerous favor that puts Joey’s family at risk, Joey must decide what strength really means to him and what price he’s willing to pay for it.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Stacy Nockowitz Why did I love this book?

I love the whole Tales from Alcatraz series, but this one is my favorite. The series is about a boy named Moose whose family lives on Alcatraz, the island off the coast of California, home of the famous prison. Moose’s dad is a prison guard. The books are set in the 1930s, when Alcatraz still held prisoners, including notorious mobster Al Capone. The book is funny, yes, but it’s also a really loving portrait of a family with problems. Moose’s older sister has special needs, his mother is going through a depressive episode, and the prisoners are threatening to go on strike. The authentic historical detail helped me visualize the island, the prison, and all of the people. And Moose is a real character in every sense of the word! 

By Gennifer Choldenko,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Al Capone Throws Me a Curve 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?

Return to Al Capone's Alcatraz with Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko in this charming addition to the beloved series about the son of a prison guard.

Moose Flanagan lives on a famous island in California: Alcatraz, home to some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United States in the 1930s. It's the summer before he starts high school, and Moose is going to play a lot of baseball and win a spot on the high school team. But he still needs to watch his special older sister, Natalie--and then the warden asks Moose to look after his two-faced, danger-loving…

Book cover of Loot

Stacy Nockowitz Why did I love this book?

Loot is a really fun book about kids for whom thievery runs in the family. Twelve-year-old March sees his father die during a heist, and now March is on a mission to find the precious stones that will reverse the curse on his family. On the way, he meets the twin sister he never knew he had, and together, they set out to find the jewels. What I love most about this book is that March is kind of an anti-hero. He’s not the all-around good guy that readers find in so many middle grade books. He loves being a thief and wants to carry on his father’s legacy. But, of course, March is a great kid at heart, and I couldn’t help but root for him all the way through this maze of a mystery.

By Jude Watson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Loot 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?

"LOOT hits the jackpot." -- Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author

On a foggy night in Amsterdam, a man falls from a rooftop to the wet pavement below. It's Alfie McQuinn, the notorious cat burglar, and he's dying. As sirens wail in the distance, Alfie manages to get out two last words to his young son, March: "Find jewels."But March learns that his father is not talking about a stash of loot. He's talking about Jules, the twin sister March never knew he had. No sooner than the two find each other, they're picked up by the police…

Book cover of Artemis Fowl

Stacy Nockowitz Why did I love this book?

The Artemis Fowl series is so much fun, and readers must start with the first book. Artemis is a genius, a kid-criminal, a true anti-hero who does the wrong things (robbery, kidnapping) for the right reasons (family!). This book has led to an entire industry—a long series, graphic novels, a Disney movie. The book contains fantasy elements, like fairies and trolls, but it moves at the pace of a fun heist story and has some mystery thrown in for good measure. I’ve heard that the movie is trash, but I’ve never watched it. The book is always better than the movie, though, right?

By Eoin Colfer,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Artemis Fowl 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?

Now an original movie on Disney+!

Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous--and extremely high-tech--fairies. He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family's fortune. But he may have underestimated the fairies' powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?

Disney's “Artemis Fowl” is directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonzo Anozie, with Josh Gad, and Judi Dench.

Book cover of The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books

Stacy Nockowitz Why did I love this book?

If you love a smart, self-referential book in the mode of A Series of Unfortunate Events, you will love Adam Perry’s book. Right from the beginning, the book speaks directly to the reader with warnings about what’s ahead: monsters and villains and horrible deaths. But instead of being a Stephen King horror novel for the middle grade set, the book has a fairy tale-meets-Thursday Next vibe. The protagonist, Oliver, steals books from the library, but since no one reads anymore, he’s not overly concerned about his thievery. That is, until he steals a book that is also being sought by the Pribbles, two inventors that have devised a set of goggles to steal the book directly from Oliver’s mind. Mayhem and shenanigans ensue, and it’s all just delightful. 

By Adam Perry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children's Books 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?

"A genre-bending, heart-pounding middle-grade romp into a potential future. . . . Perry's layered approach makes for a masterpiece that feels both familiar yet wholly new." --Shelf Awareness, STARRED REVIEW

"This takes getting lost in a book to a whole new level. I loved it!" --James Riley, New York Times-bestselling author of the Story Thieves series

"Once you start this book, you truly can't stop. An adventure full of cheeky charm and delightful whimsy." --Marie Lu, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of Skyhunter

"A fast, fun, furiously inventive, and frequently frightful read." --Geoff Rodkey, New York Times-bestselling author of the…

Book cover of The Great Greene Heist

Stacy Nockowitz Why did I love this book?

Who doesn’t love a middle school con artist with a heart of gold? Jackson Greene thinks he’s out of the scam business forever, until he believes that the fix is in on the next student council election. The only way he can take down the school bully and student council president candidate, Keith Sinclair, is to pull off the biggest con the school has ever seen. The diverse cast of characters makes this book feel like Ocean’s 11 for tweens. Each kid has his or her own “specialty” and Jackson is the guy who brings them all together. The book also reminded me of the Kiki Strike series, but in a more realistic setting. Could anything like The Great Greene Heist really happen in a middle school? Well, no, but the book is just a great time from beginning to end.

By Varian Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Greene Heist 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?

Saving the school -- one con at a time. (And in paperback!)

"A political heist page-turner set in middle school? Is that even possible? Varian Johnson shows us how it's done." - Gordon Korman, author of SWINDLE "Do yourself a favor and start reading immediately." - Rebecca Stead, author of WHEN YOU REACH ME Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which…

You might also like...

Book cover of The Twins of Auschwitz: The inspiring true story of a young girl surviving Mengele's hell

Lisa Rojany Author Of The Twins of Auschwitz: The inspiring true story of a young girl surviving Mengele's hell

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have published over 50 books, including award-winning and bestselling titles. I am also a publishing executive and editor with 20+ years of professional experience. My latest The Twins of Auschwitz: The Inspiring True Story of  Young Girl Surviving Mengele’s Hell, with Eva Kor, got a stellar review by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and is an international bestseller. As well as spearheading four publishing startups, I have run my own business, Editorial Services of L.A. I was Editorial/Publishing Director for Golden Books, Price Stern Sloan, Intervisual Books, Hooked on Phonics, and more. I am also the Publisher & Editor in Chief of NY Journal Of Books, the premier online-only book review site.

Lisa's book list on picture books for all ages

What is my book about?

This is the Inspiring true story of a young girl surviving Mengele’s hell. This is an incisive, harrowing, and touching memoir of Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam, who are sent to Auschwitz only to be torn from their parents and given to Josef Mengele, "The Angel of Death," for his evil and damaging experiments on human subjects.

In the voice of the ten-year-old Eva, we learn about what life was like in the death camps and how a child survives when food, water, comfort, and care are absent. At times heartbreaking and at other times a triumph of the will of a child to survive, this is a memoir that is not easily forgotten.

By Lisa Rojany, Eva Mozes Kor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Twins of Auschwitz 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?


The Nazis spared their lives because they were twins.

In the summer of 1944, Eva Mozes Kor and her family arrived at Auschwitz.

Within thirty minutes, they were separated. Her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, while Eva and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man who became known as the Angel of Death: Dr. Josef Mengele. They were 10 years old.

While twins at Auschwitz were granted the 'privileges' of keeping their own clothes and hair, they were also subjected to Mengele's sadistic medical experiments. They…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in best friends, twins, and memory?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about best friends, twins, and memory.

Best Friends Explore 85 books about best friends
Twins Explore 64 books about twins
Memory Explore 91 books about memory