The best books about “smart” kids who save the day… in unexpected ways

Who am I?

I was a smart kid myself – I even have the report cards to prove it—and I always loved reading about other smart kids. As I got older, I realized that good grades and study habits are only part of the picture, because it’s emotional intelligence that helps us navigate the complicated parts of growing up. That’s why I wrote a book about a brilliant kid who learns to be part of a super-family, and that’s also why I love middle grade novels about clever kids who have to grow something other than their “book smarts” to figure out what they need to thrive. The books I’m recommending all get an A+ in that category.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Unforgettable Logan Foster #1

What is my book about?

The Unforgettable Logan Foster is a middle-grade adventure about Logan, a 12-year-old neurodivergent orphan with a one-in-a-billion memory who is fostered by a nice couple who are keeping a secret from him—they are superheroes. This discovery opens up a hidden world of powers and dangers to Logan as he inadvertently becomes the target of the planet’s most dangerous and immortal supervillain.

With the help of a super-cool new friend, Elena, can Logan save himself and the foster family he’s come to care about, or will he be the reason the world learns the secret that superheroes are real?

The books I picked & why

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Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

By Sonja Thomas,

Book cover of Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

Why this book?

I instantly became of fan of Mira, a STEM-loving pre-teen who is dealing with a lot: her best friend moving away, a very sick cat she adores, and her father’s depression after losing his job. At first, she thinks her big brain has to be the key to unlocking how to solve her troubles, but over the course of the chapters, she realizes that opening her heart to new friends and modeling true perseverance goes a lot farther. This book has so much sweetness and humor, but it's not fluff. Every page feels like a real kid dealing with real stuff and trying to use whatever she can to help her family through a really tough time. 

Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

By Sonja Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Desk of Zoe Washington meets Ways to Make Sunshine in this heartfelt middle grade novel about a determined young girl who must rely on her ingenuity and scientific know-how to save her beloved cat.

Twelve-year-old Mira's summer is looking pretty bleak. Her best friend Thomas just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida to Washington, DC. Her dad is job searching and he's been super down lately. Her phone screen cracked after a home science experiment gone wrong. And of all people who could have moved into Thomas's old house down the street, Mira gets stuck…

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

By Carlos Hernandez,

Book cover of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Why this book?

This one made me laugh again and again and then pretty much break up into tears on the next page. Sal is a smart kid and an excellent magician, but he’s starting at a new school while dealing with the loss of his mother and the discovery he can open portals to other universes where his mom still exists. Gabi is the most brilliant and driven girl in the school, but her family is coping with some heavy things too. The two don’t get along at first, but once both of them stop being defensive, their vulnerability gives them what they need most: a true friend. There is so much surreal silliness woven in between the really serious topics that readers are swept up in all the action and the emotions.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

By Carlos Hernandez,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sal and Gabi Break the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents a brilliant sci-fi romp with Cuban influence by Carlos Hernandez, winner of the 2020 Pura Belpré Award.

"I love this book in every possible universe! With a surprise on every page and two of the most cosmically awesome, vividly unique heroes I've ever read, this sweet, hilarious book made me so happy."--Tui T. Sutherland, author of the New York Times best-selling Wings of Fire series

What would you do if you had the power to reach through time and space and retrieve anything you want, including your mother, who is no longer living (in this…

Drew Leclair Gets a Clue

By Katryn Bury,

Book cover of Drew Leclair Gets a Clue

Why this book?

Who doesn’t love a good pre-teen mystery, and this one is different because the “crime” is totally current. Drew Leclair is a clever girl who adores true crime content with her dad, especially after her mother runs off with Drew’s school guidance counselor. Ouch! But when the school’s anonymous cyber-bully starts targeting her and other kids at school with cruel posts revealing their secrets, Drew leans on her deductive reasoning to expose the perpetrator. Along the way, she’s dealing with friend drama and eventually comes to see that sometimes, her brainy ways are really just a way of avoiding some tough emotions. Does Drew catch the bully? Does she make new friends, or lose the only friend she has? You gotta read to find out. 

Drew Leclair Gets a Clue

By Katryn Bury,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drew Leclair Gets a Clue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this modern take on Harriet the Spy, twelve-year-old Drew uses her true crime expertise to catch the cyberbully in her school—only to discover that family, friendship, and identity are the hardest mysteries to solve.

Drew Leclair knows what it takes to be a great detective. She’s pored over the cases solved by her hero, criminal profiler Lita Miyamoto. She tracked down the graffiti artist at school, and even solved the mystery of her neighbor’s missing rabbit. But when her mother runs off to Hawaii with the school guidance counselor, Drew is shocked. How did she miss all of the…


One Giant Leap

By Ben Gartner,

Book cover of One Giant Leap

Why this book?

Most space adventures for middle grade readers are totally sci-fi fantasies, but this one is so realistic and well-researched, it’s like a genre of its own. The main character, Fin, is 12 years old and he’s surrounded by other brilliant kids who are part of the StellarKid Project for young inventors. They all have the opportunity to go to space with NASA, but someone is trying to sabotage them. It takes a lot of brain power for the kids to save themselves when everything goes wrong in orbit, but even more than that, it takes teamwork, which requires each of them to face their fears. I felt like I was holding my breath for the entire second half of the book, so you know I was into it.

One Giant Leap

By Ben Gartner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

⭐️ Editor's Pick, BookLife by Publishers Weekly
⭐️ Gold Medal, Mom's Choice Awards

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.
Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed.…


The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1: Egypt's Fire

By Tom Phillips,

Book cover of The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1: Egypt's Fire

Why this book?

This book is so cool because it takes place in a timeless version of New York City where 12-year-old John is an orphan, hiding out and living alone in the crawlspace of a museum. With zero formal education, he still has all the smarts he needs to take care of himself until he gets mixed up in a seemingly impossible jewel heist where he is the only suspect. John’s mind isn’t enough to get him out of the mess. Instead, it’s his budding friendship and apprenticeship with the world’s greatest detective, Toadius McGee, that lets him deal with the crime, and his own emotions about feeling alone in the world. Oh, and this book has everything from root beer bars to Broadway shows to terrifying reformatory schools.  

The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1: Egypt's Fire

By Tom Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hilarious, non-stop adventure, a mysterious jewel heist, and a detective team like no other make this a must-have middle grade series starter. Perfect for fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Enola Holmes.

After twelve-year-old John Boarhog’s mom dies, the last thing he wants is to be schlepped off to the Jersey Home for Boys, where kids are forced to make skinny jeans for hipsters and are fed nothing but kale. Instead, he makes himself a snug home in the ceiling of the New York Museum of Natural History, where he reads anything he get his hands on and…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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