Mar 24, 2016

In No Particular Order: My Favorite Books as a Middle Grade Reader

When I was younger pretty much all I did was read. I remember spending lots of days after school rushing to finish my homework so that I could get through another chapter. It came as no surprise that after a while I had read all of my library's interesting books. Because of the shortage I started to reread my favorites over and over again, and I can still remember most of them pretty clearly. These are the thirteen middle grade books that I remember loving the most, or at least rereading the most.

1. Billy Bones: Tales From the Secrets Closet by Christopher Lincoln

Goodreads summary: Deep within High Manners Manor, Billy and his skeleton parents live in the Secrets Closet, where they're in charge of filing all the secrets and lies of the unscrupulous Biglum family. Then Billy meets Millicent, Sir Biglum's niece who has been recently orphaned. Together, Billy and Millicent encounter ghosts and other uncanny creatures as they explore each other's worlds and uncover the biggest secret of all: Billy was once a Biglum.

Chris Lincoln has created a richly imaginative, highly original world. In this spooky adventure in the tradition of filmmaker Tim Burton, friendships bloom, betrayals linger, schemes entangle - and heroism appears in the most unexpected places.
My father brought this book back from London for me, which seemed like the coolest thing ever at the time. The world in the Billy Bones series is explored so well, and it seemed pretty realistic for an imaginary afterlife. Billy is curious and funny, and he was an easy character to like, and Millicent was his perfect counterpart.

2. Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child

Goodreads summary: It's not easy to concentrate at school when mysterious things are happening all around you. In fact, Clarice Bean is starting to feel just like her favorite heroine: Ruby Redfort, schoolgirl detective.

Clarice and her utterly best friend, Betty Moody, are planning to ace their book project about Ruby and win the class prize, until Betty disappears into thin air, and horrible teacher Mrs. Wilberton teams Clarice up with the naughtiest boy in school. Will her new partner ruin everything? Will Betty ever come back? And what on earth happened to the silver trophy everyone's hoping to win?

Lauren Child brings her trademark wacky wit and eccentric visual energy to a full-length, fastpaced Clarice Bean episode that will charm even the most capricious reader.
This was another book my father bought in London, probably even before Billy Bones. I remember having a bit of a love-hate relationship with this book, as bizarre as it sounds. Overall I never really liked it. I remember being bored every time I read it. Still, I ended up reading it over and over again, and I can still remember most of the story. I guess this wasn't quite a favorite, but I still couldn't stop reading it for whatever reason.

3. The Report Card by Andrew Clements

Goodreads summary: A fifth-grade genius turns the spotlight on grades - good and bad - in this novel from Andrew Clements, the author of Frindle.

Nora Rose Rowley is a genius, but don't tell anyone. She's managed to make it to the fifth grade without anyone figuring out that she's not just an ordinary kid, and she wants to keep it that way.

But then Nora gets fed up with the importance everyone attaches to test scores and grades, and she purposely brings home a terrible report card just to prove a point. Suddenly the attention she's successfully avoided all her life is focused on her, and her secret is out. And that's when things start to get really complicated....
I wasn't ever very fond of the schooling system, so makes sense that I loved this book. Nora, the protagonist, is a genius and she uses her intelligence to challenge her parents' and teachers' expectations of good grades. Looking back, I like how Clements captured the voice of Nora, combining her smarts with the naivety of an eleven year old. This was the first book I read by him, but he soon became my favorite author throughout middle school. (I still have a signed bookmark and a letter I received from him!)

4. Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

Goodreads summary: Many stories tell of damsels in distress, who are rescued from the clutches of fire-breathing dragons by knights in shining armor, and swept off to live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories.

True, when Creel's aunt suggests sacrificing her to the local dragon, it is with the hope that the knight will marry Creel and that everyone (aunt and family included) will benefit handsomely. Yet it's Creel who talks her way out of the dragon's clutches. And it's Creel who walks for days on end to seek her fortune in the king's city with only a bit of embroidery thread and a strange pair of slippers in her possession.

But even Creel could not have guessed the outcome of this tale. For in a country on the verge of war, Creel unknowingly possesses not just any pair of shoes, but a tool that could be used to save her kingdom…or destroy it.
I loved to read fantasy when I was younger. This series was one of my favorites, and I don't even know how many times I read this book. It's not the worst series I could have chosen. Creel makes a life for herself, leaving her home and becoming a seamstress and embroiderer. And, due to her friendship with a dragon, she even ends up getting the chance to help save her kingdom. Pretty cheesy, I know, but that was my favorite kind of novel. I definitely had a thing for independent female protagonists, and I was a sucker for a good romance and happily ever afters.

5. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Goodreads summary: "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" ad attracts dozens for mind-bending tests readers may try. Only two boys and two girls succeed for a secret mission, undercover and underground into hidden tunnels. At the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, the only rule is - there are no rules.
I can easily say that this was one of the best books I read during middle school, as well as one of my favorites. It was complex, with lots of twists and surprises, and Stewart was very skilled at capturing the emotions of each of the children, especially with their different backgrounds and age levels. And, with each child having their own special strong suit, it was nice to read about how they had to work together to make their way through their problems and how each person was necessary. Each character had a personality outside of their skillset, too, and they were all so likable that I honestly can't pick a favorite.

6. Shadow by Jenny Moss

Goodreads summary: In a time of kings, queens, and conspiracy, it's impossible to know whom one can trust. . . . In a kingdom far away and long ago, it was prophesied at her birth that the queen would die before her sixteenth birthday. So Shadow, an orphan girl the same age as the young queen, was given the duty to watch her every move. And as prophesies do tend to come true, the queen is poisoned days before her birthday. When the castle is thrown into chaos, Shadow escapes with a young knight, whom she believes was betrothed to the queen.

Unsure of why she is following Sir Kenway, but determined to escape as far as possible from the castle, her long-time prison, Shadow sets off on an adventure with the handsome knight who has been charged with protecting her. As mystery builds, and romantic tension does, too, Shadow begins to wonder what her role in the kingdom truly is. Soon, she learns, it is up to her to save her land.

Jenny Moss's novel is a lyrical, fast-paced adventure filled with mystery, magic, honor, and romance that will lead readers on an incredible journey.
This was my favorite book for a long time, and my copy of is it is terribly beaten up from being shoved in and out my backpack. I haven't read it in years, though, and I'm afraid to go back and read it again now because I think I'll end up realizing just how sappy and cliche it is. I liked how wild and free Shadow was, but I think that a lot of the book was centered around her relationship with her romantic interest. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but what I remember to be my favorite parts of the book were when Shadow was playing with children or when she regained another piece of her freedom, and not when she fell in love with her knight.

7. The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

Goodreads summary: You just can't keep a good girl down . . . unless you use the proper methods.

Piper McCloud can fly. Just like that. Easy as pie.

Sure, she hasn't mastered reverse propulsion and her turns are kind of sloppy, but she's real good at loop-the-loops.

Problem is, the good folk of Lowland County are afraid of Piper. And her ma's at her wit's end. So it seems only fitting that she leave her parents' farm to attend a top-secret, maximum-security school for kids with exceptional abilities.

School is great at first with a bunch of new friends whose skills range from super-strength to super-genius. (Plus all the homemade apple pie she can eat!) But Piper is special, even among the special. And there are consequences.

Consequences too dire to talk about. Too crazy to consider. And too dangerous to ignore.

At turns exhilarating and terrifying, Victoria Forester's debut novel has been praised by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight saga, as "the oddest/sweetest mix of Little House on the Prairie and X-Men...Prepare to have your heart warmed." The Girl Who Could Fly is an unforgettable story of defiance and courage about an irrepressible heroine who can, who will, who must . . . fly.
I've probably read this book the least amount of times out of all of the books on this list, but I remember it being pretty amazing. I wish I could give more detail about it, but all I remember is that I really liked Piper. I definitely want to read this book again soon, and hopefully it'll be just as good.

8. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Goodreads summary: In the kingdom of Ayortha, who is the fairest of them all? Certainly not Aza. She is thoroughly convinced that she is ugly. What she may lack in looks, though, she makes up for with a kind heart, and with something no one else has-a magical voice. Her vocal talents captivate all who hear them, and in Ontio Castle they attract the attention of a handsome prince - and a dangerous new queen. In this masterful novel filled with humour, adventure, romance, and song, Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine invites you to join Aza as she discovers how exquisite she truly is.
Fairest, a retelling of Snow White, was a book I loved for a really long time. Fairy tale retellings were most definitely my thing throughout middle school. I reread part of Fairest just a few days ago and I still love the idea of songwriting and singing being such a powerful part of the culture of Aza's kingdom. However, the fact that Aza was fifteen and sixteen throughout the story and even ended up getting married made it a bit less realistic to me. (As realistic as a book about a girl with a magic voice can be, I mean.)

9. The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

Goodreads summary: Calen, a lonely young mage-to-be, never dreamed that Princess Meglynne would become his friend. And impulsive Meg never imagined that secretly tending a baby dragon would cause her to be "linked" to the winged beast — for life. Being attuned to a dragon’s thoughts and feelings is exciting but scary, especially when their destinies are tied (for better or worse). And now Meg’s sister is about to marry a prince to end a war between kingdoms, a celebration that only Meg and Calen know is endangered by a murderous plot. How can a girl, a boy, and a dragon merge their magic and strength to bring down a powerful traitor before it’s too late? From the author of Library Lion comes a classic middle-grade fantasy soaring with sorcery and suspense, spunk and adventure, friendship and first romance, and a cast of truly enchanting characters.
I first read this book because it was nominated for a contest in my state. It didn't win, but I still think that it should have. The dragons and other creatures in this book were really interesting, and it was a really unique take on them. I've never read the other books in the series, and I don't know if I will. I like where this book left off, even if it was a bit of a cliffhanger, and I think that I'm happy to leave the story there.

10. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Goodreads summary: When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary's only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?
This book means a lot to me. I read it at a time where I related to Colin's (Mary's cousin's) "hysterics," and it helped me to feel understood and less alone. I loved the fact that no matter how much suffering he had caused other people and himself he was shown in the end to be just a kid, and a pretty good one at that. I also loved seeing how Mary went from stuck up and selfish to caring for her garden and her cousin. This book showcases multi-faceted characters really well.

11. Beauty by Robin McKinley

Goodreads summary: A strange imprisonment...

Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, "Cannot a Beast be tamed?"

Robin McKinley's beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.
I don't know if it's 100% fair to include this one on the list. Technically it's a young adult novel, but I read it in the sixth grade so I'm going to say that it counts. I was going through a phase where I loved everything Beauty and the Beast and I was reading just about every retelling of the story that I could find. This one was definitely my favorite. Honestly, I probably like this book because of nostalgia more than anything else. I remember that it has a slow start, and isn't very engaging until the second half of the book. I haven't reread it in a few years, but I remember liking Beauty as a character and how much her life away from the Beast was explored, and I also enjoyed McKinley's writing style, even though I remember it being a bit dry.

12. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Goodreads summary: Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt's guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani's journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her.

Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny. Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can become queen of the people she has made her own.
I read a lot of Shannon Hale's books during the sixth grade. Truthfully, I like Princess Academy much more than Goose Girl, but Goose Girl is definitely the one that I've read the most. It fit what was apparently my criteria for books to read in middle school: it had an interesting female protagonist, it was set in a fantasy world, and it had some sort of romance that I could squeal over. There's a reason we grow as people, and my fascination with rushed romances between princes and princesses is probably it.

13. Being of Two Minds by Pamela F. Service

Goodreads summary: Connie Hendricks was a typical American teen except for her dizzy spells, when she would pass out. When this happened, she entered the mind and soul of Prince Rudolph, the fourteen-year-old heir apparent of Thulgaria, a small European country. Prince Rudolph had spells too, when he entered Connie's mind and life. Everything was just fine, and their "trick" was their special secret -- until Rudolph was kidnapped while Connie was inside his mind . . .
I recently looked up this book and was pretty disappointed to find that it's hard to find a print copy of it nowadays (especially since the one I own is a skeevy old copy I got from the giveaway pile at a school library). This book was incredibly cheesy, but I found something about it really special. I liked the fact that Connie had a secret friend, and that she and Rudolph were as close as brother and sister. I liked that their connection was what they had to use to save each other. I think was I liked most, though, was how intertwined in each others' lives Connie and Rudolph were, even though they hadn't ever met in person.

Maybe making this list was a mistake. I want to reread all of these even though I'll never be able to find the time. If I end up reading instead of doing responsible teenager things (™), I'll blame this post.

What were your favorite books when you were younger?

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