I first wrote that post as a guest post for @thebookmoo as part of Blogmas 2017.
I am a qualified primary school teacher and this has given me the opportunity to continue reading children’s books into my adulthood. I have always loved reading and even as an adult, I can still see the value in a well-written and topical children’s story. I predominantly teach Year 2 (age 6-7) but the fiction I enjoy reading the most is often middle-grade, meaning it is aimed at children aged 10-14.
So here are my Top 10 middle grade children’s books in reverse order.
10. The Bed and Breakfast Star – Jacqueline Wilson
I first read this book when I was around 9 years old. The main character is Elsa who dreams of being rich & famous. Her family includes Mum, Step-Dad & her half-brother & half-sister. It exposes children to the reality of living without a fixed home as Elsa and her family alternate from staying with various friends/family to being housed in a dingy B&B. It is really well-written & reading it again as an adult has only reinforced my love in promoting this book.
Where do baby apes sleep? In apricots!I’m Elsa, and that’s one of my jokes (I tell LOTS of jokes and I’m going to be a big star one day). I do my best to cheer my family up – but no one seems to laugh much any more. Not since we lost our lovely house and had to move into a bed and breakfast hotel?
9. An Elephant in the Garden – Michael Morpurgo
This book is narrated by the character Lizzie who is living in an elderly care home. She is telling the story of her childhood in WW2 in Dresden, Germany. It is about a normal German family & the father has to go off to war and the Mum starts work in a zoo. When Dresden is under threat of bombs, Lizzie’s Mum convinces the director of the zoo to let the elephant stay in their garden instead of being destroyed (all animals in the zoo were to be destroyed in case the zoo was bombed so they couldn’t escape into the city). I love this story as it shows that civilian Germans in WW2 were in the same situation as civilians in England.
It’s 1945. Elizabeth’s father is fighting with the German army on the eastern front. Her mother works at Dresden zoo, where her favourite animal is a young elephant named Marlene. When the zoo director tells her the dangerous animals must be shot to prevent them running amok if the town is bombed, Elizabeth’s mother moves Marlene into the back garden to save her… and then the bombs start to fall.
Their home destroyed, Elizabeth and her family must flee the bombed-out city and through the wintery landscape, all the while avoiding the Russian troops who are drawing ever closer. It would be hard enough, without an elephant in tow…
8. My Sister Jodie – Jacqueline Wilson
This has some many ups and downs it is astounding. It is the story of sisters Pearl & Jodie who are complete opposites but adore each other. Pearl is quiet, follows the rules & is bright. Jodie is a wild child, attempted bad girl with self-esteem issues but when they move schools when their parents get new jobs, their world is changed forever.
When their parents get new jobs at Melchester College, a Victorian Gothic mansion, the girls spend a bizarre summer holiday in the boarding school with just a few leftover children for company. Things start to change now they are in their new home. Jodie has always been the leader but now it’s Pearl who’s making new friends. When term begins, their strange summer is over. But things keep on changing. Jodie really doesn’t fit in with the posh teenagers in her class. Pearl is blossoming. Maybe she doesn’t need Jodie as much as she used to. But Jodie needs her. And when the school celebration of Firework Night comes around and a tragic event occurs, Pearl realises quite how much she does need her big sister.
7. Us Minus Mum – Heather Butler
This book is incredibly complex emotionally for children but also not too much. It is written from a 10 year old boy’s perspective and he discovers that his mum has cancer by accident and doesn’t know how to process it because all of the adults are keeping it a secret.
George & Theo’s mum is brilliant.
She tells great stories, can wave the fastest of anyone on the planet and, most importantly, she was the one who suggested they adopt a scruffy dog called Goffo.
The boys think she’s invincible. But they’re wrong.
Because Mum is ill.
It’s up to George and Theo to keep Mum smiling. Which will almost probably definitely involve wellies, shepherd’s pie and Goffo’s victory at the pet talent show.
6. Friend or Foe – Michael Morpurgo
This is also set during WW2 and tells the story of 2 evacuee boys who see an enemy plane go down. When the adults go to look they can’t find it so don’t believe the ‘city boys’. When the boys find the German pilots, they have to decide whether to help them or hand them in to their adults. They have to deal with the moral dilemma of knowing that something bad might happen to the Germans if they hand them in or letting them go when they could potentially go on to bomb their town again.
There was nothing threatening or frightening about them, they were just two exhausted, pale-looking men with sad eyes and kind faces. These were the men who had bombed London and Plymouth and killed thousands. Yet one of them had saved his life.’
It’s the Second World War, and the Germans are bombing London. Everyone hates them, especially David: they killed his father. Now, because of the Blitz, David and his friend Tucky have been evacuated to the countryside, where they must live with strangers. Then one night they see a German plane crash on the moors. They feel they should hate the airmen insides, but can they just leave them to die?
5. The Suitcase Kid – Jacqueline Wilson
Another Jacqueline Wilson book that I believe will stand the test of time. Andy’s parents split up and now she has to decide whether to live with Mum & her boyfriend with his kids or Dad & his girlfriend with their twins and while she decides, she has to live out of her suitcase between both of her parent’s new homes.
When my parents split up they didn’t know what to do with me . . .
My family always lived at Mulberry Cottage. Mum, Dad, me – and Radish, my Sylvanian rabbit. But now Mum lives with Bill the Baboon and his three kids. Dad lives with Carrie and her twins. And where do I live? I live out of a suitcase. One week with Mum’s new family, one week with Dad’s.
It’s as easy as A B C. That’s what everyone says. But all I want is to go home – back to Mulberry Cottage.
4. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave – John Boyne
This book is set during WW1. The father is sent to war & is sent back to stay in a psychiatric facility due to ‘shell-shock’. As it is written from the child’s perspective, the language is simplified and can explain PTSD in a child-friendly way.
The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield’s father promised he wouldn’t go away to fight – but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn’t know where his father might be, other than that he’s away on a special, secret mission.
Then, while shining shoes at King’s Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father’s name – on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realises his father is in a hospital close by – a hospital treating soldiers with an unusual condition. Alfie is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place.
3. Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian
Set during WW2 it follows an evacuee boy who has to move from London to the countryside with Mr. Tom, the local grumpy old man. I first read this in Year 6 in school and I remember finding it very emotional, especially a scene where he goes back to his neglectful Mum and is locked in a closet with his baby sister.
London is poised on the brink of World War II. Timid, scrawny Willie Beech — the abused child of a single mother — is evacuated to the English countryside. At first, he is terrified of everything, of the country sounds and sights, even of Mr. Tom, the gruff, kindly old man who has taken him in. But gradually Willie forgets the hate and despair of his past. He learns to love a world he never knew existed, a world of friendship and affection in which harsh words and daily beatings have no place. Then a telegram comes. Willie must return to his mother in London. When weeks pass by with no word from Willie, Mr. Tom sets out for London to look for the young boy he has come to love as a son.
2. Her Benny – Silas K Hocking
This is one of my all-time favourite books. I have read and re-read this many times since I was about 9/10 years old. Every time I read it, I find I love it more & more as my perspective develops.
It tells the story of a brother and sister, Benny & Nell in Victorian Liverpool. They live in an abusive home until one day Benny makes the courageous decision for them both to leave. They meet people from different walks of life, some good, many bad.
It is a tale of survival of the poorest of childern in a harsh Victorian unforgiving world. However the two main child characters find christian help in unlikely circumstances. The messages of poverty and the absence of welfare are there, but it is more about two children finding God’s presence and love. A heart-warming yet sad story.
1. Running Wild – Michael Morpurgo
Another Michael Morpurgo book as he makes my number 1 middle grade children’s fiction list. This story is set in Indonesia and within the first chapter of two in the book, we discover that it is set during the 2004 tsunami. Will Ends up on an epic adventure as Oona, the elephant he was riding at the time, senses the tsunami before it happens and runs to safety with him on his back. I cried during this story both of sad & happy tears. I also discovered recently that this is based on a true story.
An epic and heart-rending jungle adventure. For Will and his mother, going to Indonesia isn’t just a holiday. It’s an escape, a new start, a chance to put things behind them – things like the death of Will’s father. And to begin with, it seems to be just what they both needed. But then Oona, the elephant Will is riding on the beach, begins acting strangely, shying away from the sea. And that’s when the tsunami comes crashing in, and Oona begins to run. Except that when the tsunami is gone, Oona just keeps on running. With nothing on his back but a shirt and nothing to sustain him but a bottle of water, Will must learn to survive deep in the jungle. Luckily, though, he’s not completely alone! He’s got Oona.
I think that there is a lot of judgement when adults read books aimed at children for pleasure but I completely disagree. For me, it is important to know what topics children are being exposed to and often by reading it as an adult you gain an additional perspective that you would never have had as a child. This is why I am a great believer of re-reading books at different stages in your life but that is for a different post! Thank you for reading.
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