Stacy over at Welcome to my Tweendom has asked:
So, I have a question that I ‘ve been wondering about for the past while. I’ve been thinking deeply about tween reads and what makes them great. I’ve also been thinking about the idea of tween / middle grade as a category. My question(s) to you are as follows…What is your favourite middle grade/tween read of the past 10 years (and why). What is your favourite middle grade/tween read of ALL time (and why)?
Since I teach 4th grade I’m smack dab in the middle of that tween/middle grade group* all the time and figured it would be easy to answer Stacy’s question. But actually, it is hard. First of all, no way can I do just one. Secondly, I have very particular tastes which mean my favorites are not necessarily the most popular among the intended age group (and they are mostly novels). That said, I couldn’t resist coming up with a FEW (of many I’m having to leave out) favorite titles to help Stacy.
For her first part of her question (although I’m cheating as several of these are more than ten years old):
- Rita Williams-Gracia’s One Crazy Summer because Delphine’s voice is spot-on and all three sisters are beautifully rendered. The sentence-level writing is gorgeous and I love the way Williams-Garcia tells history, but doesn’t overdo it. Yes, it is a time and place many readers are unfamiliar with, but she keeps the story of the sisters and their mother front and center.
- Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me because it is captivating, original, and set within a place that is very familiar to middle-grade readers. Trying to untangle the mystery even as Miranda tries to is right up their alley. The writing is clear, accessible, and elegant — I think it is a book that will stand the test of time, an instant classic.
- Kate Dicamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux because it is beautifully written, moving, funny and still works well for this age group. I read it aloud last year for the first time in years and it was as fresh as ever.
- Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Cosmic is a recent favorite. I’ve read this aloud for the past four years and will probably again this year. Kids of both genders love this book and often go read it again on their own. The kids, their relationships with each other, the thoughtful-but-not-heavy-handed exploration of what it means to be a father, the fun aspects of preparing and experiencing space travel, and Liam’s emotional growth (moving into his physical growth) works beautifully for this age group.
- Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. These are both unique and absolutely riveting reads. I’m listing both because as of this writing Wonderstruck isn’t out yet and so I have not yet seen middle grade readers engage with it. However, I have seen kids over the years read with great pleasure Hugo Cabret and had a great time reading it aloud to them last year.
- More than ten years old is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which may be for the stronger readers in the age range, but nothing beats it for a fun and exciting adventure. The books may go up in age range as the series goes on, but this first one feels solidly middle grade to me.
- Also more than ten years old is Neil Gaiman’s Coraline; creepy indeed, but for those middle grade kids who like spooky this one is terrific.
- Jon Sciezcka’s Science Verse or Knucklehead, can’t decide, but he’s got an instinctual feel for a particular sense of humor that works perfectly for this age group.
- Another more-than-ten-years title is Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963, still my favorite of all his books. It is moving, hysterically funny in spots, and disturbing too.
And for the second part — my all-time favorite? There I can go with just one, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I’ve been teaching it since 1990 and I’m just more wowed by it every year. As are the kids. The writing, the themes, the characterizations, it is one of the most perfect books ever.
*I’d define it as grades 4-6 more or less.