The best middle grade books where the past intertwines with the present

G.Z. Schmidt Author Of No Ordinary Thing
By G.Z. Schmidt

The Books I Picked & Why


By Louis Sachar

Book cover of Holes

Why this book?

This Newbery classic is one of my favorite childhood books. I love stories where the past unravels mysteries about the future. Holes does this through a frame story format, and several mysteries are unveiled this way, including an age-old family curse and a thriving lake that dries up into a ghost town. The book covers a multitude of deep themes, including redemption, love, and family, and is one of the few children’s books I often reflect on as an adult.

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The Night Gardener

By Jonathan Auxier

Book cover of The Night Gardener

Why this book?

This spooky novel revolves around an old manor with a tree rooted right inside its walls. The book wastes no time getting into the heart of the mystery, which mixes folklore and the fantastical. The tree, it turns out, is a dark variation of Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree. It grants the wisher what they want…at a cost. This clever, creepy tale shows us that what we want is not always what we need.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning

By Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist

Book cover of A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning

Why this book?

Laced with literary allusions to famous poems and works, this series follows three intrepid orphans through misadventure after misadventure. Behind it all is a constant reference to a schism that happened in the past, which is the cause behind their parents’ demise. As someone who grew up in a household that spoke Mandarin, this series helped me learn a lot of English literary colloquialisms and idioms, such as “to follow suit” or “takes the cake.” The author does not shy away from dark topics, balancing them with the right amount of irony and humor. 

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11 Birthdays

By Wendy Mass

Book cover of 11 Birthdays

Why this book?

Two best friends, Amanda and Leo, have spent every one of their birthdays together until a falling out between the two. Then, on their eleventh birthday, they realize they’re stuck reliving the same day… over and over again! The two ex-friends must work together to trace the root behind this bizarre magic that’s only affecting them. A Groundhog Day pitched at kids, 11 Birthdays perfectly captures the trials and anxiety of friendships at that age. Growing up, I moved schools a lot; the longest I’ve lived in a place was five years. Unfortunately, this meant a lot of my friendships often faded due to distance. Because of this, I always enjoy reading about friends who have known each other since they were toddlers. 

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When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

Book cover of When You Reach Me

Why this book?

Another Newbery favorite of mine, When You Reach Me uses time travel as a side plot. The main character, a sixth-grader named Miranda, begins noticing strange things, including several mysterious notes left in her backpack. What really makes this book stand out is how it captures the main character’s insecurities of growing up in a tiny apartment with her single mother. I could relate to Miranda’s struggles because my family was also poor when I was growing up, and I was always in awe when I visited my friends’ enormous houses for sleepovers. The book deftly explores class, race, and prejudice in an accessible way.

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