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Top 5 Wednesday: Best Middle Grade Books I’ve Read in 2017 (Thus Far)

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Hello and welcome to my Top 5 Wednesday post!

T5W is a weekly meme is hosted by Sam @ThoughtsOnTomes.  You can visit the Goodreads T5W group for more info.

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This week’s theme is…

July 12th: Children’s Books
–This can include Middle Grade (but try to recommend more than just Harry Potter and Percy Jackson!) Feel free to talk about your childhood faves or more recent reads.

I decided to spin this week’s topic to the best middle grade books I’ve read so far this year…

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» When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

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Pinmei’s gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller.

Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide. Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s grandmother–before it’s too late.

A fast-paced adventure that is extraordinarily written and beautifully illustrated, When the Sea Turned to Silver is a masterpiece companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky.

What a beautiful middle grade book filled with Chinese mythology and folklore!  I was fully immersed in this ode to storytelling.  This book made me feel like I was sitting in front of a fire being told a story by a beloved elderly relative.  It truly was an enchanting read.

You can read my review here → Kids’ Corner: Diverse Middle Grade Books in Review (Feb 2017) #DiverseKidLit


» The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

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In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good. She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself.

I absolutely adored this middle grade book, though I think this book would appeal more to a older middle grade – YA audience.  It baffles me that this book hasn’t received more attention… I’m sure it has to do with the fact that it is a debut novel, thus an unknown author.  If you are a fan of Thanhha Lai and/or Grace Lin, then I would highly encourage you to pick this one up.


» Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir (told in verse) about growing up as an African American during the time of the Civil Rights Movement.  I found it absolutely fascinating seeing this period of history through the eyes of a child.  It really amazes me how Woodson is able to write something so powerful & poignant in so few words.


» Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting By 7

In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life…until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

This was such a unique and heartwarming read.  Counting by 7s is more of a slower paced & more character driven story, and has wonderful themes like grief, being different, & nontraditional families.  Quirky characters who march to the beat of their own drum are my absolute favorite, so Willow Chance is definitely a favorite character of 2017.  I think this book definitely appeals to all ages, so if you liked books like A Man Called Ove, The One-in-a-Million Boy,or even Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, I think you’d enjoy this one.


» Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. 

I really enjoyed reading a refugee experience, especially since Thanhha Lai went through this herself and states that she shared many of the same experiences that our main character Hà experienced as an immigrant to the U.S. during the Vietnam War.  I think this is an important book for not just children to read, but adults too.


» The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

TheGirlWhoDrankTheMoon

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic. 

This was one of those books that completely captivated me, but I can’t exactly put my finger on why.  Filled with magic, secrets, political corruption, lovable side kicks (a swamp monster, tiny dragon & crow), a mother’s determination, and much more, The Girl Who Drank the Moon can be enjoyed at any age.  I would love to see this book adapted to film.

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LetsChat

Have you read any good middle grade books this year?

Comment below and let me know 🙂

*Feel free to link to your own T5W
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20 thoughts on “Top 5 Wednesday: Best Middle Grade Books I’ve Read in 2017 (Thus Far)”

    1. I absolutely love reading MG books! I usually read them in between some of the “heavier” books I tend to read. These are all wonderful books, and Brown Girl Dreaming and Inside Out & Back Again are both told in verse, so they are super short and can be read in one day. Enjoy!

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  1. Awesome T5W Amanda! some of these I have already added to my TBR based on your reviews & look forward to reading myself. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Brown Girl Dreaming, and The Crystal Ribbon are at the very top of my list. These are books I’d love to read with my 6 year old 🙂

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    1. Thank you Lilly! I think you would enjoy those books in particular. I would say The Girl Who Drank the Moon would be the perfect book to read along with your daughter (your daughter is the older one right? Your son is the younger one? If I remember correctly…) She *may* enjoy Brown Girl dreaming but some of the concepts may be a little over her head… and I would recommend holding off on The Crystal Ribbon until she is a little older because I feel it is better suited for a older MG audience to a younger YA audience. With all that being said, I have no doubt that YOU will love these books 🙂

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  2. Oh man! I have either read all these books or they are on my TBR. This makes me so happy considering how much I trust your tastes in books. I feel like I’m in the right path. I also read One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams this year which is quite good. It’s about three girls reconnecting with their mother during the height of the Black Panthers in Oakland. It was really insightful historical fiction.

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    1. I think you’d love all of these books Jackie! Brown Girl Dreaming and Inside Out & Back Again are both told in verse, so they are super quick reads that you can finish in a few hours. I would also love to see what you would think of The Crystal Ribbon….
      Thank you for the recommendation!! I added it to my TBR. I want to say I’ve seen the cover before, but never really knew what it was about… Sounds right up my alley 🙂

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  3. Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrande was my favorite middle grade read this year (so far). The Elsewhere books are fantastic, also. I highly recommend them. (Even though I technically read them last year.)

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    1. I’ve never heard of Some Kind of Happiness but that cover is absolutely stunning and after reading the description, it sounds right up my alley! I have added it to my TBR and requested it from my local library! Thank you so much for the rec 🙂

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    1. I think MG & YA book covers hand down outshine the adult book covers. Maybe if the covers were prettier, more adults would read?! I’m sure the answer is not that simple, but it’s a nice thought lol I rekindled my love for MG this past year, and have really been enjoying the MG books I’ve been picking up, especially the diverse MG reads.

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  4. Did you read these books with your kids? I’m never sure what “middle grade” means (I just translate it to “middle school,” meaning 12-14 years old. I’m always trying to figure this out because I like buying my nieces, who are 7 and 8, books for presents. I keep thinking they will be on something a little bit above picture books, but I guess now they read chapter books?? I can’t remember what I read in school, but I do know I did NOT have homework like they do! They’ve had homework every night since Kindergarten. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I do know they get off the school bus around 5:00, and by the time they are done eating dinner, they have to have baths and go to bed. Their parents want them to do homework, but fitting it into a little kid’s schedule seems impossible.

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    1. I did not read any of these with my children. I think middle grade books span a wide age group… some MG books are geared for ages 8+, while others I would say are for an older audience of 11-12+. I think it just depends on the book. I would say that all the books on this list would be better suited for an older MG audience of 10+. Not because they are difficult reads, but I think some of the concepts would probably go over their heads. The Crystal Ribbon I would recommend to 12+ year olds because there is some content that is not appropriate for younger children.

      I definitely don’t have much time to read to my son (10). He gets off the bus around 4pm, then it’s homework, dinner, then off to sports in the evening. I wish we had more time to read together 😦

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      1. My brother was saying his girls get off the bus at 5 and have to be in bed by 7:30 (the girls were 6 & 7 this school year). Their teachers said they’re supposed to read thirty minutes a night, but there’s no time with dinner, baths, and other homework!

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  5. Love this list! Inside Out and Back Again sounds super interesting, I think I’ll have to add that to my list to keep an eye out for! The Girl Who Drank the Moon keeps popping up for me too – it definitely piques my interest.

    I feel like children’s fiction is a genre I don’t dip into enough sometimes. Which is a real shame because I often do enjoy those books when I pick them up – like Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms which I read last year (I mean, who wouldn’t with a title like that?!)

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    1. I highly recommend Inside Out & Back Again! Since it is told in verse, it is a super quick read that you can get through in a few hours. I also think you’d really enjoy The Girl Who Drank the Moon! There is a tiny dragon in it 🙂

      I rekindled my love for MG this past year and am loving reading within this genre again. I like to pick up a MG book between some of my heavier books to change things up a bit.

      So happy to have you back Kirstie!!! You have been missed around here 🙂

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