The best middle grade books with three best friends

The Books I Picked & Why

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Why this book?

I discovered Scout, Jem, and Dill in middle school and have loved them ever since. Their friendship was in a different setting and place than where I grew up, yet I felt connected to these kids as they roamed the neighborhood and stirred up mischief. I loved Atticus and his quest to do the right thing and stand alone, and Scout’s bravery when standing up to a mob by using their first names. Years later, when my first book came out, Kirkus Reviews said, “If Scout Finch had had a sister, she would be future ‘world-famous lawyer’ Guinevere St. Clair…100 percent unforgettable.” I can’t imagine a blurb that means more.

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The Phantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer

Book cover of The Phantom Tollbooth

Why this book?

Middle-grade fantasy is not in my usual reading rotation, but this book is so funny and clever! Milo is bored, and thinks learning is a waste of time until he drives through the Phantom Tollbooth and meets Tock and The Humbug. Tock is wiser, stronger, and saves their lives multiple times, whereas The Humbug is at first pompous and pesty, but teaches Milo about love, loyalty, and questioning first impressions. This book is about believing that life will be full of unexpected surprises, that there is always something to learn, and that childhood is wonderful because children are!  

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The Season of Styx Malone

By Kekla Magoon

Book cover of The Season of Styx Malone

Why this book?

Have you ever dreamed of being someone and somewhere else? I remember being a kid in the summertime when the hot summer in Omaha, Nebraska felt sooooo long and there was nothing to do. Styx Malone (foster child & the cool kid) and brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene are feeling that angst too. To make life more exciting, they concoct a plan to exchange one small thing for something better until they achieve their “wildest dreams” (motorbike). Sometimes it’s the baby sister that’s exchanged for fireworks (I mean, that’s pretty funny, but don’t worry, the baby sister is given back and they get to keep the fireworks). Of course, everything goes awry and gets dangerous and…well, read this book and you’ll be turning the pages at a mad pace, too!

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Raymie Nightingale

By Kate DiCamillo

Book cover of Raymie Nightingale

Why this book?

I’ll read anything Kate DeCamillo writes. She is just so good. No matter the heartbreak that Raymie Nightingale faces (her dad’s just recently run off with the dental hygienist), Raymie has a plan. She’s going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire Competition, her dad will see her picture in the paper, and then surely (maybe?) he’ll come home. Raymie gets through with friends who weren’t always her friends: the “frequently fainting” Louisiana Elefante, and feisty Beverly Tapinski. Together, “the three rancheros” challenge, but ultimately save, one another. Some friendships are not “like at first sight”!

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

By Dusti Bowling

Book cover of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Why this book?

This book really made me think about disabilities. We all have them, but can you imagine going through middle school without having arms? Aven was born without arms (sometimes she tells people she lost them wrestling an alligator), and Connor barks at Aven because he has Tourette's syndrome. Together with new friend Zion, the three work at a rundown western theme park, while also getting entangled in solving a mystery. Poignant, funny, and a testament to what a kid needs most during the middle school years is often found in a good friendship.

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