19 Middle Grade Books Tweens Will Love in Fall 2017

by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Soon after the back-to-school bell rings and students have settled into a new school year, I share books with them and ask them to fill out a “to-be-read” list. I know their English Language Arts teachers and the school librarians also do book talks and book shares, so that our young readers transition from summer to fall with lots of reading options. My students — all reluctant and struggling readers — may not have read a book during the summer, so it’s important to offer them exciting titles to get them back into a reading groove. Lucky for me and my students, publishers have lots of middle grade novels ready to release in the next few months. Below are some of the ones I’m most excited to buy and share with young readers this fall.

  • Auma’s Long Run

    by Eucabeth Odhiambo

    Auma is a track star in her small Kenyan village, who dreams of earning a scholarship to attend high school and eventually become a doctor. But, a strange new sickness called AIDS is ravaging the village, and when her father becomes ill, Auma’s family needs her at home. Should she stay to support her struggling family or leave to pursue her own future and perhaps get the information she needs about this new disease? Wow! How can you not want to read this book after that description? Tweens will likely connect with Auma, even though her story unfolds in Africa at a time before they were born. Why? Because she must make personal decisions about her own future while considering the needs of others. She is finding her place within her community while developing as an individual, which is exactly where tweens are developmentally. With three starred reviews already, this title sounds like a must-have.
    (On Sale: 9/1/17)

  • Alan Cole Is Not a Coward

    by Eric Bell

    This book is billed as perfect for fans of Tim Federle and Gary Schmidt. I love both, so my guess is I will love Eric Bell’s work, too. Alan Cole has a cruel brother, a demanding father, and a crush on the cute boy across the cafeteria. When Alan’s brother, Nathan, discovers his secret, he starts a high-stakes round of Cole vs. Cole. Each brother must complete seven nearly impossible tasks. If Alan doesn’t want to be outed, he’s got to become the most well-known kid in school, get his first kiss, and stand up to his father. With a mix of family drama, first crushes, and standing up for yourself, Alan Cole Is Not a Coward sounds like a perfect middle grade novel.
    (On Sale: 9/5/17)

  • All’s Faire in Middle School

    by Victoria Jamieson

    This is Jamieson’s first graphic middle grade novel since her Newbery Honor-winning Roller Girl, which was hard not to love. In this graphic novel, 11-year-old Imogene has grown up with two parents who work at the Renaissance Faire. She’s ready to start her own training as a squire and decides to prove her bravery by entering public school for the first time after years of being homeschooled. Middle school is a tough adjustment for all kids, let alone a girl who has never been in public schools and hasn’t spent years building a social circle, which can be both supportive and destructive. If this one is anything like Roller Girl, the issues will be handled with a mix of authentic humor and angst.
    (On Sale: 9/5/17)

  • The Dollmaker of Krakow

    by R.M. Romero

    Karolina is a live doll who finds herself in Kraków, Poland, with a Dollmaker with an unusual power and a marked past. The Dollmaker befriends a Jewish violin-playing father and his daughter, both of whom are in grave danger when Nazi soldiers descend upon Poland. While fans of historical fiction may gravitate to The War I Finally Won (included later in this list), tweens who enjoy a mix of history and fantasy will likely choose this one instead. Both books would be great to include in a World War II-themed unit that provided students with a mix of genres, adding historical fiction and historical fantasy to nonfiction.
    (On Sale: 9/12/17)

  • Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

    by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

    Although middle school students like to think they’re grown, they still like being read to, and I often use shorter works, including picture books, to introduce topics or themes. Schomburg, written and illustrated by two of children’s literature’s top African American scholars, sounds like a great, shorter work to use to discuss history, passion, and the preservation of one’s history and culture. This book is a portrait of Arturo Schomburg, an Afro-Puerto Rican law clerk, whose passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. His groundbreaking collection, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is housed at the New York Public Library. Field trip, anyone? Yes, please!
    (On Sale: 9/12/17)

  • Slider

    by Pete Hautman

    A National Book Award winner for Godless, Hautman’s new middle grade novel centers on David, a competitive eater who can down a sixteen-inch pepperoni pizza in four minutes and thirty-six seconds. He needs to better his time if he’s going to win the Super Pigorino Bowl and the $2,000 prize. While training for the competition, David also manages stress related to his brother and friends. This one sparked my interest because, while it includes the usual middle grade concerns about friends and family, the competitive eating angle is interesting and new. I’m sure middle grade readers will love watching videos of real competitions in between chapters!
    (On Sale: 9/12/17)

  • Rise of the Jumbies

    by Tracey Baptiste

    This sequel to The Jumbies promises action-packed storytelling, diverse characters, and inventive twists on Caribbean and West African mythology and fairy tales. Both books would be great additions to mythology units in social studies or language arts classes. In the sequel, Corinne LaMer finds things haven’t gone back to normal on her Caribbean island home months after she defeated the wicked jumbie Severine. When local children begin to disappear, snatched from the beach, some suspect Corinne, who is half-jumbie. Corinne goes into the deep ocean to rescue the missing children and clear her name.
    (On Sale: 9/19/17)

  • Saving Marty

    by Paul Griffin

    Eleven-year-old Lorenzo Ventura adopts Marty, a runt piglet who thinks he’s a dog and acts like one. At first, the family farm seems like the perfect home for Marty, but keeping him as a pet becomes more difficult as Marty approaches 350 pounds and causes a dangerous and expensive accident. Can Lorenzo save Marty? Tweens will surely be rooting for Lorenzo and Marty!
    (On Sale: 9/19/17)

  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet

    by David Barclay Moore

    Like I Am Alfonso Jones (included later in this list), this novel allows older middle grade readers to approach tough subjects. On Christmas Eve in Harlem, 12-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom are still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting a few months earlier. Lolly then receives two big bags of LEGOs with no instructions. He must find his own way while trying to avoid the pressure to join a crew as his brother did. I love the use of LEGOs here, with the main character literally building something while metaphorically building his future after his brother’s death. I can already imagine some hands-on, in-class activities to help students consider the novel’s themes.
    (On Sale: 9/19/17)

  • The Way to Bea

    by Kat Yeh

    This is from the author of The Truth About Twinkie Pie, which many of my students loved. In this novel, everything in Bea’s world has changed; she is starting seventh grade without friends and is about to go from only child to big sister at home. Bea takes solace in writing haikus in invisible ink and hiding them in a secret spot. Things start to change for the better when someone writes back and Bea begins to make new friends. Shifting away from old friends and changing dynamics at home are two key issues for many middle school students, and the early reviews of this novel indicate that Yeh handles these growing pains with heart and humor.
    (On Sale: 9/19/17)

  • Wishtree

    by Katherine Applegate

    From the Newbery Award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree has already earned four starred reviews and will surely be a highly-anticipated fall release. In this novel, Red is an oak tree — the neighborhood wishtree. People write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. When a new family moves in, and not everyone is welcoming, Red and her animal friends, including Bongo the crow, must intervene.
    (On Sale: 9/26/17)

  • Pashmina

    by Nidhi Chanani

    Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions about her Indian heritage. Why did her mother leave her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And, who is her father? Why did Mom leave him behind? But, Pri’s mom won’t answer her questions. Pri might find some answers, though, when she finds a mysterious pashmina in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported, but is this the real India? Pashmina, a graphic novel, is sure to appeal to my students, many of whom are recent immigrants or first-generation Americans who straddle two cultures and have questions about their family and heritage.
    (On Sale: 10/3/17)

  • The War I Finally Won

    by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

    This sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning The War That Saved My Life is sure to be of interest to fans of the first book. In this novel, World War II continues, and Ada — post surgery — and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed, crowded cottage. Life in the cottage grows tenser when Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in, and the impacts of the war get closer and more frightening. With two starred reviews already, the sequel promises to be as engaging and thoughtful as Bradley’s last novel.
    (On Sale: 10/3/17)

  • I Am Alfonso Jones

    by Tony Medina, illustrated by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson

    This title sounds like a must-have addition to the recent, powerful books about police violence against African Americans, including All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Medina’s book is accessible to older tweens, with its graphic novel format, page count (176), and target age range being 11-12 years old. In it, Alfonso Jones is shot by a police officer as he buys a new suit for his role in his school’s hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings. I’m excited to add this to my collection, making this important topic accessible to my younger, struggling, reluctant readers who may not be ready for the content, length, and complexity of young adult novels.
    (On Sale: 10/15/17)

  • Death and Douglas

    by J.W. Ocker

    This novel seems just right for middle schoolers who like stories that are creepy — but not too creepy — all wrapped in a mystery, which is one of tweens’ favorite genres. Douglas’s family has run the Mortimer Family Funeral Home for generations. The morticians and grave diggers are his friends, and display room caskets are used in games of hide-and-seek. The death business is normal for Douglas, but things change when out of the ordinary murder victims arrive at the funeral home. Unsatisfied with the small-town investigation, Douglas and his friends try to solve the mystery.
    (On Sale: 10/24/17)

  • My Brigadista Year

    by Katherine Paterson

    With U.S.-Cuba relations changing, more stories about young Cubans — historical and contemporary — will or should be of interest to young readers and teachers. In this novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author tells the story of 13-year-old Lora, who joins Castro’s army of young literacy teachers. She leaves her sheltered life in Havana to teach fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write amid the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries. This title could be part of a literature circle, with picture books and middle grade novels from Cuban authors, including Martí’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy, Under the Royal Palms and Island Treasures by Alma Flor Ada, and anything by Margarita Engle.
    (On Sale: 10/24/17)

  • Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

    by Jessica Townsend

    This is the first novel in a planned series that is billed as perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman, so how can I not stock it in my classroom library? Morrigan Crow, a cursed child doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday, is saved by a man named Jupiter North who takes her to a secret, magical city called Nevermoor. There, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous tasks against hundreds of other children with special talents to earn a place in the Wundrous Society.
    (On Sale: 10/31/17)

  • Whichwood

    by Tahereh Mafi

    First. Take a moment to soak in that beautiful cover art! Tweens (and YA readers) will likewise be drawn to it, especially if they are fans of fantasy or author Tahereh Mafi, or have read the companion novel, the acclaimed bestseller, Furthermore. In this novel, Laylee is the sole remaining mordeshoor in the village of Whichwood, destined to spend her days scrubbing the skins and souls of the dead in preparation for the afterlife. When a pair of familiar strangers appear, Laylee’s world is turned upside down as she rediscovers color, magic, and the healing power of friendship.
    (On Sale: 11/14/17)

  • Lily’s Mountain

    by Hannah Moderow

    My students read and loved The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, so I immediately perked up when reading the description of Lily’s Mountain. This sounds like a great companion to The Honest Truth, sure to spark comparisons of the characters, their journeys, and their motivations. In Moderow’s novel, Lily refuses to believe that her dad, an expert mountain climber, has died while climbing Denali, the highest mountain in North America. Instead of grieving, Lily decides to rescue him.
    (On Sale: 11/14/17)