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2020 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 2019–2020 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


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


Middle School

Suggested grade level for all entries: 6–8


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Houghton)

Alexander’s 2015 Newbery Medal–winning verse novel, about African American twins and middle-school b-ballers Josh and JB Bell, is an ideal choice for this graphic-novel adaptation, with its on-court action, swaggering narrative voice, and poignant emotional pitches. Anyabwile’s angular, dynamic comics-style illustrations are done in shades of black and white and — appropriately for a basketball story — orange. 218 pages.

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)

This companion to Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home focuses on fourteen-year-old Beverly Tapinski. After running away from home, she finds a job busing tables — and a place to stay in return for driving (yes, driving) elderly Iola Jenkins to bingo. Drawn with unusual depth, the members of Beverly’s community emerge as complex individuals but also, collectively, as a force for change and goodwill. 243 pages.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Make Me a World/Random)

Jam (a transgender hearing person who communicates selectively, using both sign language and vocal speech) was born after a revolution in which “angels” have — supposedly — rid her town of “monsters.” Then Jam accidentally awakens a creature calling itself a “monster hunter,” shaking our protagonist’s beliefs to the core. This engrossing, poetic work of speculative fiction includes cultural markers from the African diaspora. 204 pages.

Maximilian & the Curse of the Fallen Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller [Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures] by Xavier Garza (Cinco Puntos)

Max’s uncle Rodolfo, having led a long and illustrious career as a luchador, is ready to retire. Max sets his sights on taking over as the new Guardian Angel, but so do a host of others. Juicy telenovela-esque subplots are related with Tex-Mex linguistic flare in this action-packed lucha libre–themed tale, featuring amusing black-and-white illustrations in each chapter. Expert Spanish translation appears on facing pages. 213 pages.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley; color by Whitney Cogar (RH Graphic/Random)

In this amusing, tender, and relatable graphic novel (based loosely on Knisley’s childhood), Jen and her mom have recently moved to a small country farm. In addition to new chores (feeding chickens!), Jen must adjust to living with her mom’s annoying boyfriend — and his daughters, who visit on the weekends. A constant throughout is Jen’s notebook, in which she scribbles and muses. 223 pages.

The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds by Sy Montgomery; photos by Roger Wood and Logan Wood (Houghton)

Montgomery takes readers on safari to follow wildebeest migrations through Tanzania and Kenya. She explains the science of migration, the complex relationships between life and land, and the impacts of humans on the fragile Serengeti ecosystem. The Woods’ photographs skillfully capture the sweeping landscapes, the diverse species, and the people living nearby and studying the animals. 162 pages.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park (Clarion)

In 1880, self-reliant fourteen-year-old Hanna and her father settle in the (fictional) town of LaForge, in Dakota Territory. Papa is white; Hanna’s late mother immigrated from China. LaForge is modeled on De Smet, South Dakota, where four of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books took place; although Park’s novel is clearly in conversation with that series, this entertaining and thoughtful book stands on its own. 260 pages.

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez (Kokila/Penguin)

In alternating chapters, readers meet lonely, artistic Lane DiSanti; bird-lover Cat Garcia; cooking whiz Aster Douglas; and aspiring journalist Ofelia Castillo — members of a newly formed secret club, “the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders.” With realistic awkwardness, the four girls gradually forge a friendship, united by a common cause: stopping the town’s traditional girls’ club from bestowing its ceremonial feathered hat at the annual Miss Floras contest. 367 pages.

Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin; illus. by Bijou Karman (Roaring Brook)

With his characteristic lively and engaging tone, ace historian Sheinkin discusses the subject of American women pilots in the early days of aviation, using as his organizing principle the first women’s cross-country air race in 1929. Early chapters introduce the individual contenders; the book then chronicles, in detail and in dramatic fashion, each of the eight days of the derby. 264 pages.

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas (Tu/Lee & Low)

After the government announces a conscription to raise troops against an enemy invasion, Mulan must answer the call — dressed as her deceased twin brother. So disguised, she joins a team of fighters on a covert intelligence mission. The portrayal of fifth-century China — and Mulan’s growth in martial arts combat skills and valor — are captivating in this suspenseful revisioning of the ancient Chinese legend. 348 pages.

From the May 2020 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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