Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Off the Shelf: Middle-Grade Books

I know how hard it is to find good reading material for my children. Here is a collection of thhe favorite books that I have read aloud or pre-read for my children in the past months. The first five are nonfiction and the remaining books are historical or realistic fiction. All of these are at our public library and should be easy for you to find.

An Indian Winter by Russell Freedman, illustrated by Karl Bodmer
Learn history from one who was there. Taken from the travel journals of a German prince and illustrated by a Swiss painter, this book records their historic journey into Indian country in 1833.

See the Great Blizzard of 1888 through the eyes of the ones who were there to live through one of the worse natural disasters in the US.

Imagine traveling down and un-mapped river to explore the famous canyons of the west. This book allows you to travel down the terrifying rapids with the ten men who first explored the area.

From first-hand accounts from two young men, one fighting for the north and one for the south, learn about the Battle of Gettysburg and its impact on the Civil War. I also read Murphy's excellent book on the Battle of Antietam.

Sometimes a true story is as exciting as any made-up tale. Such is the story of Manjiro. Shipwreck was only the first of his adventures which took him from his Japanese homeland to America, from whaling ships to the Gold Rush, and finally back to Japan where he helped end the isolation laws.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Manjiro and his friends were shipwrecked on an island near their homeland of Japan. Rescued by a US whaling boat, visiting New England, becoming a gold digger, and finally returning to Japan, this historical fiction tells the same amazing story of an amazing man of the previous nonfiction title.

Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
In 1914, Katya is enjoying a comfortable life as a friend of the Tsar's daughter, but times are changing. As Katya becomes aware of the plight of the common people her life too begins to change. An excellent historical fiction depicting life in a crumbling Russia.

Black Radishes by Susan Lynn Meyer
Gustave is dismayed when his parents decide to leave their home in Paris. Couldn't the French army protect them from the Nazis? Inspired by true stories of Jewish children in France in 1940.

Tua and the Elephant by R.P. Harris
When Tua finds an elephant that needs help, she embarks on a journey through her city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Travel with Tua through the night market, a Buddhist temple, the river, and finally, to the elephant refuge. While not exactly realistic, this book can give your child a fun introduction to life in Thailand.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
Paul and Maureen want a pony of their own and choose Phantom, a wild pony of Assateague Island. Join in the fun of pony penning day, pony races, and the special bond between the people of Chincoteague and the island ponies. This special book is a classic for a reason.  

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
Imagine you are thirteen and engaged to marry a boy you have never met. And then find that your new in-laws are dishonest and you are alone in a strange city. Follow Koly's story from India and be inspired by her courage. 

El Guero: A True Adventure Story by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
His comfortable life as the judge's son ended when his family was sent to exile, El Guero's adventures were just beginning. A picture of life on the Baja peninsula of Mexico in the late-1800's that is a family favorite.

When the Sirens Wailed by Noel Streatfeild
Three children are sent out of London along with thousands of other children to escape the bombing during World War 2. They face uncertainties with pluck and creativity as they try to reunite their family. Realistic details stem from the author's own memories as a volunteer worker in war-time London.

Peddler's Summer by Jane Flory
Life with eight girls and no Pa has not been easy, but they survived the winter. Now Amanda has a chance to travel through western Pennsylvania for the summer with the peddler earning money and making new friends. A sweet story of a simpler era.

The Heart of a Chief by Joseph Bruchac
Chris dreads the first day of sixth grade. He is sure that the town kids won't like a boy from the reservation. But Chris soon finds that he can make a difference, in school and at home. A realistic portrayal of the challenges of modern Native Americans.

(This post contains affiliate links which means that by clicking through the Amazon links and making a purchase, you can give me a small commission with no extra cost to yourself.)


  1. My seven year old daughter read Misty of Chincoteague, and she really enjoyed it.

  2. Thank you so much for these recommendations! I love to read so my children do too, but it's a lot of work to give them safe variety in reading material!

  3. Truly appreciate these titles! Was there any language or scenarios I should be aware of if I don't have time to read aloud or preread?

    1. Every mom has their own criteria but I felt comfortable giving these books to my children. Some of these books mention serious circumstances - such as woman trafficking in Homeless Bird, gambling in Heart of a Chief, and war in Black Radishes and Angel in the Square - but in every case it was very discrete and appropriate for children, in my opinion.

  4. You may have mentioned the book Heidi by Johanna Spyri on another post, but I figured I would mention it just in case you haven't. We all really enjoyed it recently as a read aloud. I agree with a review I once read about it saying, "It feels like a breath of fresh air." The book was translated to English, so when looking for it, try to find the unabridged version.

    1. When I was a child, I loved reading Heidi. If you weren't aware of it, there is also Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children. I remember I enjoyed them as well.

    2. I wasn't aware! Oh, how exciting! Thank you!

  5. Thank you for sharing your book lists. I face a similar struggle in finding books. It also takes a long time to pre-read them! I've been sick for the past while so I can't read out loud very well (lost my voice back and forth with that). We've been doing audio books. We just recently listened to Understood Betsy for free from Librivox (the solo reader version). We loved it and we all listened from age 5-11 plus me. Its an old book, from 1916 I believe. I didn't catch anything that was a red flag. The one time someone said "Oh Gosh" but that was it that I caught. Have you ever listened to it? Also do you have any suggestions for good audio books, especially if they are from Librivox or anywhere free or otherwise? I am looking for good ones that are sensitive for family read-alouds that a 5 year old can listen in with.

    1. I love Understood Betsy but I never listened to it on audio. We've listened to numerous stories on Librovox but right now the only ones I can remember right off the top of my head is Heidi and E. Nesbit's books such as the Railway Children.

    2. thank you! The recording done by the solo narrator for Understood Betsy on Librivox is fantastic (in my opinion :)). I highly recommend it.

  6. What an interesting set of books! Most were new to me and quite a few look perfect for my boys! Think I'm going to put an Amazon order together :) A book I just read to my boys that they enjoyed was "The Man Who Moved a Mountain" A man born in the Appalachian Mountains during the early 1900's moonshine/killing era, how he became a Christian and then a missionary to his own people. With the love of God he literally changed the lives of the whole Buffalo Mountain area. So inspiring!

  7. Some middle grade books we've discovered this year that even I as a mom would read again....Boys Without Names, (a group of boys who get duped into child-slavery in India). Chester and Gus, (written from a puppy's perspective as he helps a child with autism cope with people and life). Crunch, (a group of siblings who take care of their family's bike business when their mom and dad are caught away from home in a gas shortage and can't get home for a week). Save Me a Seat, (2 boys in public school, both seen as different because one is an immigrant from India and one needs special help..they are both targeted by a bully and come up with a creative way to deal with it). The Many Reflections of Jane Deming, (written from 11 year old Jane's perspective as she travels with her stepmother and other Civil War orphans and widows by boat to the Washington Territory). Out of My Mind, (written in 11 Year old Melody's words...she has a photographic mind, but can't speak, is in a wheelchair, and longs to express herself.) FYI, all these books have been published in the last few years, so they aren't old classics, but good books to stretch your child's world. I highly recommend asking questions after your children read these books---great fodder for conversations. Mary Lynn Yoder

    1. Thanks for your recommendations. I'll check them out.

  8. Thanks for the list- will keep them for future reference for my little daughter when she gets older:) I love good books, the old time ones that are true stories- living books!

  9. We also discovered and loved Black Radishes, the book by Susan Lynn Meyer on your list. It has an interesting sequel about Gustave and his family after they immigrate to America called "Skating With The Statue of Liberty." Mary Lynn Yoder

  10. We own half of your list but I haven’t personally read them all. Nice to know for sure they are good reading. My son was recently quoting about this huge snowstorm then I remembered I had seen ‘Blizzard’ laying around :)
    Which library do you usually go to?
    I will definitely be getting more books; we love homeschooling with real books

  11. Thank you for this list! I really appreciate the recommendations and am going to look for these!

    I am a new reader (I believe I found your blog through the article you had in the Christian Light magazine?), but I appreciate all that you do. We pray for your husband every day!!



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