Top 16 of ’16 Middle Grade Novels

When I am entirely free to choose whatever I would like to read this is usually the type of book that I end up with, so it was hard to narrow my choices down to just 16, but as I start typing this I have made the effort. However, I may change my mind by the time I am finished. As with the picture book list that I posted the other day, my criteria is not really complex. I picked the books that I think will stick with me for years to come for any reason. Also, many of these books were not published in 2016 but were read by me in 2016.

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin 1. Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin is the type of book I find easy to place in the hands of students. I know that they will be emotional invested in the story and characters, as was I. Also, I have never been to New York but when I read books by Rebecca Stead, I feel like I have been. This book gave me the same feeling. I hope we see another by Melanie Conkin in 2017.

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White 2. This is, I believe, another debut novel, as is Counting Thyme. I really loved The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, a quest novel with unique voice and humour. There is a great blend of fantasy, action and humour that I think a lot of my students will enjoy as I move this into my classroom library. My grade fives are likely the perfect age for this title.

Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands 3. Full disclosure, I really loved the first Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. It was one of my favourite books of 2015. I included it in my school district’s Battle of the Books, and the students in our district voted it our favourite book of the six that I included in Battle of the Books. For me, and my grade seven library students this was one of the two most anticipated books of the year. The bar was very high, but we were not disappointed. I really love the friendship between the two main characters in this series. I was surprised that some of the secondary characters were back, but not in the soap opera back from the dead sense. The humour in these books is enjoyable and I like spending time in Kevin Sands’ 17th century London. I hope we all get to go back in 2017.

A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz 4. I am admittedly late to the party on this book, but I finally managed secure a copy to read. I got it for my library in 2015, but it seemed to always be out. I hope I read the rest of the series this year. The first is faithful to the original Grimm tales and links several through the characters on Hansel and Gretel in such a creative way. It is certainly a middle grade read for most as there are some descriptions that might bother some primary students, but these are mixed the right amount of humour. My copy literally went from hand to hand after I bought it last year. It rarely made it to the shelf. I have the original cover in my picture which really fits the mood of the story, but if you have not seen the Nerdy Book Club post where author Adam Gidwitz and Dan Santat discuss the new versions illustrated by Santat check it out here. The new versions look amazing in a different way.

Jackaby by William   Ritter 5. My oldest daughter developed a love for ghosts in books this year, and I already had an inkling to check out this paranormal mystery series by William Ritter. I wanted to read this one ahead of her. Also, after reading the first Blackthorn Key Adventure I really wanted something set in the past. I was not disappointed in this book that seems to have a Sherlockian feel. It was smart, witty and inventive. Every once in a while I find a book that I can’t seem to manage the first of in my classroom library. This is that book right now. It is always missing, and that is haunting me. We are getting another copy, it is that good.

The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen 6. This is another title that I feel like I should disclose that I was clamouring for well before it came out. I have long been a big fan of Jennifer Nielsen’s work and fans of her’s will not be disappointed with this latest title. It has characters that walk the line between the right thing and the impulsive thing. There is a really great friendship that reminded me of one from her series The False Prince. There are also great scenes in which characters are in grave peril. The book also had a really great message about stereotypes and the relations between groups of people that do not seem similar on the surface. I started my school year off reading this to my grade 5/6 class and they loved it. I think it also had more humour than any of her other books that I have read.

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner 7. This book was being passed from hand to hand for the first four months of the school year. I had one student and myself who had read it and once we sold it to a boy in my class it started to go through the rest of the boys right after. It has great action, a creepy plot and some adults that can’t be trusted. I have many students who are attracted to that sort of book. I also really liked the Everglade setting, the fact that concussions were part of the plot and students could learn about them while reading this, and some of the great relationships that develop in the book.

The Honest Truth by Dan GemeinhartSome Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart 8. I had to cheat and put in both of these books by Dan Gemeinhart. Both feature young boys on the adventure of their lives, and I think readers will be totally immersed in their stories. Both have a winning blend of humour, and heart. While the location of the stories is similar, there is nothing to connect the plots or time periods. Gemeinhart’s next book Scar Island comes out on Jan. 3 and I know that his books are going to be among the most read by my students in 2017.

The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers 9. This is such a great cover and it really pulled me in immediately. The picture brings a different perspective than what one is used to and that is kind of how the story is told too. The few people that I know that have read this book either really love it or really don’t, and I am obviously in the first group. There are some very relevant middle school themes that are dealt with in a unique way as the character struggles to handle her friendships and events in her family. I think the way that we were allowed inside Kammie’s brain to see all her thoughts, fears, and insecurities was really well done, even when Kammie’s thoughts were not the most sane.

The Wild Robot by Peter  Brown 10. It’s hard to say much about this book that has not already been said. Many have likened it to Hatchet, but with a robot as the lead character and while I liked that comparison as I was reading, I was really struck by the ability of Roz to adapt, and help form a community. This would be a great book to read aloud early in the year. I wonder how it would play with the grade sevens at my school. Mostly, it has been younger students (grade 4) who are attracted.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 11. This was another book in which I was really invested in the emotions of the main character. I was really rooting for her life to improve, for her to figure things out. There were so many emotional twists and turns here. I never really wanted to stop reading this book until it was over, and I don’t say that about all books I really like (The Knife of Never Letting Go, and The Girl in the Well is Me had me so angry at times I did stop). I made some connections between this and another book I really liked this year, Orbiting Jupiter, in that one of the many things this book is about is love.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell 12. This is a book that I want to read again every time there is a cold snap. I really enjoyed the setting of rural Russia, and the desperation that the character shows. I thought Katherine Rundell showed divergent ways of looking at people, situations and the world and I really enjoyed her use of language. There is lots of danger and action in this book, a terrible villain and many scenes that have stayed with me months later. I really wanted the background to this story to be true, but I read that it is not. Even more credit to the writer.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson 13. This is the only graphic novel on this list. I am not an early adopter of graphic novels generally but something about this one made me give it a try and I really liked the plot. There are many really good middle grade novels with friends that grow apart and that show how difficult it can be, but I found this one really uplifting. Astrid struggles to find her very own path making good choices and bad. There are a few girls who have given this repeating readings this year, and it is worth the praise and Newbery Honor it received.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead 14. This is another author whose books I want to read immediately. I really like the way she carefully unwraps the plot in her books. Little details are slowly revealed and not always in the order that one expects. This book takes a very mature topic and writes in a way that can be a conversation starter for middle grade students, and does it in way that is not in the least bit preachy.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park 15. This was one of the first books of the year and yet I still felt that I really wanted to include it on this list. It really stayed with me. There are two stories told in alternating chapters. Each of the characters have some real hardships to endure and there are some shocking developments that really pulled me and some of my older readers into the story. It is a short, and tough story, really well told.

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko 16. I raced through this book and was in a hurry to pass it to others. It had a strong female lead character that I really liked. It is an historical fiction based on a part of history that kind of surprised me. There were issues around gender, and racial stereotypes that were really well handled too. On top of all that, the plot was really interesting and suspenseful. I look forward to reading this one again.


Too many good books did not make this list, either because I made the error of leaving them off, or the error of not reading them this year. Feel free to let me know which books I missed in the comments below.

I really wanted to keep this a Middle Grade list or I may have added some YA and Adult books such as these:

The Peripheral by William GibsonAll American Boys by Jason ReynoldsSeveneves by Neal StephensonWinger by Andrew  SmithI Crawl Through It by A.S. KingZeroes by Scott Westerfeld

I am pleased to not have to trim any of the 16 I included. One of the best parts of 2017 is that I will likely be able to include an extra book. Happy New Year to all!

2 thoughts on “Top 16 of ’16 Middle Grade Novels

  1. How I love reading the favourites people place on their lists! Thanks to you I found the final book I need to add to my #Mustreadin2017 list But I won’t tell you which one – see if you can find it when I publish my list! Thanks for all of your thoughts on these titles.


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