The best funny middle-grade books with a boy who discovers his inner hero

David Fulk Author Of Raising Rufus
By David Fulk

The Books I Picked & Why

My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!)

By Alison DeCamp

Book cover of My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!)

Why this book?

The conventional wisdom is that middle-grade girls read books a lot more than boys do. Maybe so... but if there’s any book that could encourage more boys to read, you couldn’t do much better than this goofball adventure story. In 1895, Stan, a clueless but earnest eleven-year-old, is sent to a mining camp in northern Michigan with his “sweet Mama,” his snarky cousin Geri, and his no-nonsense grandma. Between the unfamiliar milieu and his wildly overactive imagination, Stan undergoes an endless string of indignities that convince him he’s the victim of every evil under the sun, even as he searches for his long-lost father and struggles to become the man he aspires to be. Hilarious, engaging, and full of heart, this is one for everybody (including girls!). And don’t miss the sequel, I Almost Died. Again.

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Better Nate Than Ever

By Tim Federle

Book cover of Better Nate Than Ever

Why this book?

You can’t help but root for thirteen-year-old social underdog and theater nerd Nate Foster as he sneaks away from his “boring” hometown of Jankburg, PA, and takes a bus to New York City to audition for the lead role in a Broadway production of E.T., the Musical. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, but Nate’s spunk, humor, and fearlessness somehow get him through his longshot adventure in the big city. Federle’s warm and vivid characterizations and witty writing style make this one a winner for the whole family. (One caveat: Parents bothered by gay themes in middle-grade books—even understated ones, as here—might want to skip this one. Your loss.) Followed by two more: Fix, Six, Seven, Nate! and Nate Expectations

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By Kate Saunders

Book cover of Magicalamity

Why this book?

For those who prefer their humor British, this fantasy adventure will more than fill the bill. Eleven-year-old Tom Harding thought he was just a normal kid, but he wakes up one day to discover that his parents are in hiding from evildoers in an alternate world called the Realm—and to top it off, he learns his dad is a magical fairy and he himself is a demisprite, or half fairy, of which he had no clue. Aided by his klutzy cousin Pindar, a trio of bickering fairy godmothers, and an assortment of goofy, otherworldly creatures and characters, Tom sets out on the magical adventure of his life to rescue Mum and Dad. The action is fast and fun and the humor is nonstop, with lots of understated Britishisms like “When you’ve just been told you might be about to disintegrate, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.” And, of course, at the center is a boy who goes above and beyond to find his inner hero.

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By Carl Hiaasen

Book cover of Hoot

Why this book?

The renowned detective novelist brings his trademark snide sense of humor and gallery of hilariously twisted characters to Hoot, his first middle-grade effort and a Newbery Honor winner. Roy Eberhardt is a straight-arrow Montana transplant who finds himself face-to-face with real-world challenges and moral dilemmas after moving to Florida, where he teams up with a pair of quirky outsiders and a bumbling but well-meaning policeman to try to face down a greedy business owner who is about to destroy a burrowing owl habitat. Without resorting to facile moralizing, Hiaasen keeps the action light and fun while depicting Roy’s journey as he gradually learns how he might make a positive difference in the world.

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The Wednesday Wars

By Gary D. Schmidt

Book cover of The Wednesday Wars

Why this book?

Shakespeare, cream puffs, escaped rats, cross-country track, soggy camping trips, family strife, and the historic events of the late 1960s are expertly woven into a boy-finds-his-inner-hero tale as Holling Hoodhood (yes, that’s his name) navigates the tribulations of seventh grade at his Long Island school. Another Newbery honoree, this clever story is filled with sly wit and tons of heart; it draws you in and won’t let go. For my money, Gary Schmidt is the Bard of adolescent boyhood. Once you’re a fan (and you will be after reading this), check out his other superb chronicles of impending adulthood: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Okay for Now, Orbiting Jupiter.

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