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2019 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School

Need suggestions for beach reading or books to bring to summer camp? Here are our top ten books for different age ranges — including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — all published 2018–2019 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

For a handy take-along list of titles, download our printable PDF.

Picture Books | Easy Readers and Primary Grades | Intermediate | High School

Middle School

Suggested grade level for all entries: 6–8

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson; illus. by Eugene Yelchin (Candlewick)

Historian and diplomat (and spy) Brangwain Spurge has been sent from Elfland to the neighboring goblin kingdom. He befriends his host, goblin archivist Werfel. Unbeknownst to them both, however, their nations are preparing for war. Pen-and-ink illustrations resembling medieval lithographs represent Spurge’s not-always-reliable spy reports; with touches of humor, whimsy, irony, and menace, they’re well suited to both the acerbic wit and the affecting tenderness of Anderson’s prose. 530 pages.

Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala (Houghton) 

A trio of not-particularly-capable sitters appropriates the central business model of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club books. Much of the humor in this over-the-top send-up of lesson-laden kids’ pop culture comes via the hyperbolic traits of its sometimes misguided characters. Believable friendship dynamics and motivations balance out the silliness. The source material serves as a jumping-off point, so familiarity with Martin’s series isn’t necessary. 246 pages.

Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife [Scientists in the Field] by Amy Cherrix (Houghton)

Humans are encroaching on black bears’ natural habitat in and around Asheville, North Carolina. In this encouraging case study, Cherrix emphasizes how conservationists are looking for sustainable ways to allow humans and wild animals to coexist. Photographs capture the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain environment and the care scientists take in collecting data to manage the bear population. A chapter on wild animals in other communities emphasizes the problem’s global nature. Websites. Bib., glos., ind. 73 pages.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Wade Hudson (Crown)

This timely and powerful anthology was created to help young people cope with the hate currently being unleashed against, among others, people of color, people with disabilities, and those of different faiths. More than thirty essays, poems, and letters (by fifty-two contributors in all) are presented on beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully designed double-page spreads. The accessible presentation will pull kids in; the wisdom inside will keep them engaged — and, hopefully, motivated. Ind. 88 pages.

Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles (Candlewick)

Thirteen-year-old Rachel feels the pressure of several issues at once: her parents’ money troubles; her best friend Micah’s romantic feelings (though she’s told him she doesn’t think she likes boys); her job tending her dilettante “farmer” neighbors’ menagerie. The novel keeps a tight focus on time and place — all the action happens within the range of a bike ride, in the first few weeks of summer — magnifying the intensity of Rachel’s circumstances and her emotional response. 294 pages.

All Summer Long by Hope Larson (Farrar)

In this sensitive coming-of-age graphic novel, Bina’s BFF/next-door neighbor Austin is away at soccer camp (and ignoring her texts) the summer before eighth grade. Bored, impressionable, guitar-playing Bina starts hanging out with Austin’s older sister, who shares her love of music, and she’s pushed outside her comfort zone (e.g., babysitting, boys). A monochromatic palette with sunny oranges plus unobtrusive panels and lettering allow Larson’s believable dialogue to shine. 172 pages.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (Riordan/Disney-Hyperion)

Thirteen-year-old Min has a powerful secret: she’s a gumiho, a fox spirit disguised as a human, who can shape-shift and alter others’ perceptions. She enthusiastically wields these powers when she ditches her “dismal life” on the barren planet Jinju to track down her brother Jun, who’s gone AWOL. Lee’s richly detailed, cohesive, original vision is a lively mash-up of outer-space sci-fi and Korean culture and folklore. 312 pages.

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay (McElderry) 

This companion to Binny in Secret follows Clarry, her brother Peter, and their beloved cousin Rupert, who has enlisted during WWI. When Rupert is declared MIA, “presumed dead,” Clarry bravely sets off from London to find him. This exceptional novel is both broad and deep, sketching the scope of the Western Front but drawing us into Clarry’s heart and mind as she valiantly grows up. Bib. 330 pages.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Candlewick)
Newbery Winner

Cuban American girl Merci’s life in south Florida consists of spending time with her extended family (including her abuelo, Lolo, who no longer seems like himself) and attending elite Seaward Pines Academy, where she does community service to pay for her tuition. Medina brings depth, warmth, and heart to her characters, never shying away from portraying this family’s flaws. Accurate, natural use of Spanish builds authenticity. 361 pages.

The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away by Ronald L. Smith (Clarion)

Twelve-year-old Simon believes aliens have made regular contact with humans. When this belief is terrifyingly confirmed, the truth seems too much to bear. Escaping into computer games and his own fantasy writing, Simon finds some comfort but no resolution to his increasingly frequent abductions by aliens. Simon’s first-person narration sustains the story’s strong forward momentum toward a climax that will chill readers straight to the bone. 211 pages.

From the May 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

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