The best middle grade books with three best friends

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a grown mother now. Also an author. But once upon a time, I was in middle school. I remember the braces, bad hair, being scared to return my lunch tray because boys might look at me while I passed their lunch table. Such angst, and yet I adore middle schoolers - they’re my jam. Fun, funny, exasperating, creative, boisterous, and annoying are all words I’d use to describe the middle school kids I teach and coach. I write down their quotes, shake my head at their antics, and adore their intense friendships. I hope you’ll enjoy these true-to-life middle-grade reads as much as I have!

I wrote...

Book cover of Ten Thousand Tries

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Golden Maroni is determined to channel his hero, soccer superstar Lionel Messi, and become captain of his soccer team and master of his eighth grade universe…especially since his home universe is spiraling out of orbit. Off the field, Golden’s dad, once a pro soccer player himself, is now battling ALS, a disease that attacks his muscles, leaving him less and less physically able to control his body every day. And while Mom says there’s no cure, Golden is convinced that his dad can beat this, just like any opponent, they just have to try.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Amy Makechnie Why did I love 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.

By Harper Lee,

Why should I read it?

36 authors picked To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped…

Book cover of The Phantom Tollbooth

Amy Makechnie Why did I love 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!  

By Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Phantom Tollbooth 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?

With almost 5 million copies sold 60 years after its original publication, generations of readers have now journeyed with Milo to the Lands Beyond in this beloved classic. Enriched by Jules Feiffer’s splendid illustrations, the wit, wisdom, and wordplay of Norton Juster’s offbeat fantasy are as beguiling as ever. 

“Comes up bright and new every time I read it . . . it will continue to charm and delight for a very long time yet. And teach us some wisdom, too.” --Phillip Pullman

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only…

Book cover of The Season of Styx Malone

Amy Makechnie Why did I love 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!

By Kekla Magoon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Season of Styx Malone 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?


"Extraordinary friendships . . . extraordinary storytelling." --Rita Williams-Garcia, Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-Winning author of One Crazy Summer

Meet Caleb and Bobby Gene, two brothers embarking on a madcap, heartwarming, one-thing-leads-to-another adventure in which friendships are forged, loyalties are tested . . . and miracles just might happen.

Caleb Franklin and his big brother Bobby Gene are excited to have adventures in the woods behind their house. But Caleb dreams of venturing beyond their ordinary small town.

Then Caleb…

Book cover of Raymie Nightingale

Amy Makechnie Why did I love 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”!

By Kate DiCamillo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Raymie Nightingale 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?

New York Times bestselling author Kate DiCamillo returns to her roots with a moving yet witty story of an unforgettable summer friendship. For fans of Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond and Katherine Rundell.

In her seventh novel, international bestselling author and twice winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal Kate DiCamillo tells a masterful story that blends pathos and humour. Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father - who has run away with a dental hygienist -…

Book cover of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Amy Makechnie Why did I love 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.

By Dusti Bowling,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus 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?

The paperback edition of the bestselling middle grade novel about a spunky girl born without arms and a boy with Tourette syndrome navigating the challenges of middle school, disability, and friendship - all while solving a mystery in a western theme park. Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she'll have…

You might also like...

The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

Book cover of The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

Bill Hiatt Author Of Different Lee

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Insatiable reader English teacher Life-long learner Hiker Webmaster

Bill's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Guaritori awakens from a coma to find that he's lost twenty years--and his entire world.

Fiancée, family, and friends are all missing, perhaps dead. Technology has failed, and magic has risen, leaving society in ruins. Most survivors are at the mercy of anyone who has strong enough magic. Guaritori has none. He finds a protector, but his troubles are far from over.

The new society in which he finds himself is superficially friendly but surrounded by enemies and full of secrets. Guaritori doesn't know it yet, but the biggest secret is his. If his protector knew who he truly was,…

The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

What is this book about?

Coming out of a coma after twenty years, Guaritori--Garth to his friends--discovers that the world he knew no longer exists.

Advanced technology has failed. Magic, which he didn't know even existed, has become much more powerful. Supernatural groups battle for supremacy, forcing human beings to seek shelter wherever they can find it.
Garth's only hope for survival lies with a varied group including a shape-shifter, an alchemist, a tarot card reader, a blacksmith with a flaming sword, and others. But a prophecy foretells that he will bring about the downfall of their leader, the mysterious Ms. M.

Even worse, Garth…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Indiana, beauty pageants, and Amish?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Indiana, beauty pageants, and Amish.

Indiana Explore 36 books about Indiana
Beauty Pageants Explore 11 books about beauty pageants
Amish Explore 29 books about Amish