Eight Amazing Middle Grade Fantasies…And a Side of Chocolate

My heading started at four fantastic, grew to six stellar, and when I got to twelve tremendous, decided this post would go on too long. I reined myself in. I’m topping the book recommendations off for here at eight. Unfortunately, eight doesn’t lend itself to alliteration. I’ve got some weak assonance going with my title instead. 

I’ve also got a weakness for chocolate. Chocolate and reading? A perfect combination. Chocolate and dogs? Not so much.   (To read why, click on the link.)

If you like being read to (Louie does!) listen here!Louie and his toy

  • chocolate and books
  • Books and magic

I love middle grade fiction. I wanted to share a few of my recent favorites. In this post, I’ll focus on fantasy and science fiction.

Books are listed in no particular order. 

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer Holm skews slightly younger in the middle grade 8-12 range. It is science fiction, but treats science with respect.  If you like science the way I do, you’ll like this. It’s funny and has a great subtext so I suggest reading it even if you’re older than twelve. It’s multi-generational, so a solid book to share w/ a grandchild!

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Publisher Description:

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this gawky teenager really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox is historical fantasy. It’s also creepy and scary, but in a good way. So if you like scary, go for it.

 

Louie disagrees. He wanted to get in bed with me after I read a few chapters to him! (Publisher’s description beside cover, below Louie….)

He’s afraid of fireworks, too. (For more on fireworks, click that link!)

Scared Louie
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

“Keep calm and carry on.”  That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do:  when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.
 
But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse.  What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night?  Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own?  And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?
 
Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

I’ll stick with scary for a moment.

Next up is Seraphina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty. It’s scary, but not quite as frightening as Charmed Children of Rooksill Castle, imo. Maybe because the antagonist isn’t taken from history. (Even though the estate where the story takes place is an actual estate.) Or maybe it’s because the protagonist, Seraphina is as tough as a tiger. I admire a tough protagonist! And this is a series! Hooking into series is great for everyone.

Look at the popularity of Jack Reacher! (not Tom Cruise) 

Seraphina and the Black Cloak

Publisher’s description:

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, but she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. She has learned to sneak and hide.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the man in the black cloak’s true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic – one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

Splendors and Glooms

Publisher’s Description:

The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants.
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall.
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

I am a big fan of Laura Amy Schlitz. If you like Spendors and Glooms, check out her other titles. This book has a lot of humor with amusing characters. It’s not historical, but Victorian gothic. 

And who doesn’t find puppets creepy?

 

frightened Sue
I’d raise my hand on that puppet question but I need to cover my eyes.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is not frightening. It’s more like Peter Pan, a classic fantasy in the making. With a kindly good witch and funny side-kicks. It also won a Newbery, a prestigious award for middle grade books.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Publisher’s description:

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. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers 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 girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Lockwood and Company by Jonathon Stroud

This is another series, five books worth. The setting is an alternate reality of London. This is definitely fantasy but it has a more matter-of-fact, science feel. First title is called ‘The Screaming Staircase’ but if you cut and paste the above into a search, they will come up.

I recommend this for everyone, but an older middle grade reader will appreciate the depth. The character interactions are more layered. My favorite character is the skull. He’s got a dry humor that I love. Jonathan Stroud has many more titles, too. 

Lockwood and Company Book 1

Publisher’s description:

A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see-and eradicate-these supernatural foes. Many different Psychic Detection Agencies have cropped up to handle the dangerous work, and they are in fierce competition for business.

In The Screaming Staircase, the plucky and talented Lucy Carlyle teams up with Anthony Lockwood, the charismatic leader of Lockwood & Co, a small agency that runs independent of any adult supervision. After an assignment leads to both a grisly discovery and a disastrous end, Lucy, Anthony, and their sarcastic colleague, George, are forced to take part in the perilous investigation of Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England. Will Lockwood & Co. survive the Hall’s legendary Screaming Staircase and Red Room to see another day?

Theo the cat with sunglasses
Reading more books will keep you from getting into trouble with your cat for doing this to him … because you won’t be bored. You’ll be reading.

 Story Thieves by James Riley, is a comedic romp through books, literally. Silly and lighthearted, with character’s making dumb choices and getting themselves into trouble, it’s also a series. Kids slightly under the middle grade age range will love it!

Story Thieves

Publisher’s description:

Life is boring when you live in the real world instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores.

But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen – his classmate Bethany climbs out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.

Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father….

…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

A Time Traveler’s Theory by Nicole Valentine attempts to incorporate some quantum theory into the fantasy, which I appreciate! It’s clever and fun with a predictable twist, but that’s okay. It’s fun to solve the puzzle. And I’m a sucker for time travel.

A Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity

Publisher’s description:

Twelve-year-old Finn is used to people in his family disappearing. His twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. A few months ago, his mom abandoned him and his dad with no explanation. Finn clings to the concrete facts in his physics books―and to his best friend, Gabi―to ward off his sadness. But then his grandmother tells him a secret: the women in their family are Travelers, able to move back and forth in time. Finn’s mom is trapped somewhere in the timeline, and she’s left Finn a portal to find her. But to succeed, he’ll have to put his trust in something bigger than logic.

Eastern Screech Owl

Read books and you’ll be wise as this owl!

How about you? Have you read any good books lately? Let me know in comments! Feel free to contact me and we can talk books!

Last question: What’s your favorite chocolate treat? ….Yes, I added the strawberry shake for non chocolate peeps!

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8 thoughts on “Eight Amazing Middle Grade Fantasies…And a Side of Chocolate”

  1. Sounds like a great list. I’ll check a few out. Another suggestion: Arthur Slade’s Dragon Assassin series. Who doesn’t love a one-eyed female protagonist? (She lost her eye in blade practice. She’s not a cyclops, haha.)

    Reply
  2. I really enjoyed The Fourteenth Goldfish! A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity sounds like one my sons would love. They love anything about time travel. Since you like somewhat spooky things, have your read anything by Johnathan Auxier? Sweep and The Night Gardener are my favorites. His books have a lot of depth as well.

    Reply
    • I tried not to swing too far into spooky but for my next list, I’ll incorporate lighter books! Meanwhile, I did like The Night Gardener, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll look into Sweep! Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

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Susan Berk Koch
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