Most of us are stuck in our homes right now. While I hope all of you are able to get outside a little bit (we are preparing our garden for spring planting), this is a great time to read and possibly encourage your kids to pick up a new book series. In the BookTube community on YouTube, this is "Middle Grade March"--a time when BookTubers read lots of books intended for children between 8 and 12 years old. A truly well-written middle grade book is enjoyed by both young and old. We've all heard the C.S. Lewis quote, "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." While I agree completely with that quote, I am at times concerned that some middle grade books are written more for adults that enjoy the genre than for the kids of that age group.
In light of that concern, most of the books I will include on this list are books my children adore. Over the next week or so, I will be writing a more in depth review of some the books included here. I am also hoping my 11-year-old daughter, Meg, will offer her review of some of these books. Once those reviews are completed, I will add a link in this post.
I will be providing Amazon links below, but as I mentioned at the end of my post yesterday, many libraries allow their customers to check out ebooks and audiobooks online via services such as Overdrive (again, this post is not sponsored by Overdrive--I just love their service and can't imagine a more useful time for its existence).
Here are some of my family's middle grade book recommendations for your family.
The Framed! Series by James Ponti
This fantastically written series follows a junior high sleuth with the skills of Sherlock Holmes. The series is set in Washington, D.C. and includes very real tourist locations around the city. The first book, Framed!, centers around the National Gallery of Art. The second book, Vanished!, takes places at the Kennedy Center and the White House. The final book in the series, Trapped!, features the Library of Congress as well as the Folger Shakespeare Library. Meg loved these books as much as I did and read them even faster than I read them (and I read them fast). Because the series is complete, you can buy the entire series in one pack.
These books about an orphaned boy who finds himself in The Lord Chamberlain's Men with William Shakespeare are wonderful. They offer a very entertaining way to learn more about the Elizabethan time period as well as about Shakespeare and his plays. The first book, The Shakespeare Stealer, pulled me out of a nasty reading slump a few years ago. I will note that the second book, Shakespeare's Scribe, does deal with the plague. During our current epidemic, some children might find discussions of the plague interesting, while others might find it disturbing. You, of course, are the best one to make that call for your particular child. There is a third book in the series, Shakespeare's Spy, which I didn't even know existed until I was preparing this post, but I will likely include it on my "to be read" list.
The Penderwicks Series by Jeanne Birdsall
This series about four sisters (with some additional children showing up later in the series) is a modern day classic of children's literature. The first book, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and it deserved to win. My six-year-old daughter, Anne, obsessively listens to this first book on Audible and has huge portions of the book memorized. You can see her humorous review of that book here. Everyone in our family loves the first three books in the series. The fourth book, The Penderwicks in Spring, is a tear jerker. I love it, but I have never cried while reading a book as much as I did with this book. My girls wisely reserve the fourth book for when they are feeling they can emotionally handle it. The fifth book, The Penderwicks at Last, was a little bit of a disappointment. I did not object to how Jeanne Birdsall wrapped up her characters' story lines (though a lot of fans did); I just didn't think the story was as strong and emotionally connecting as the other books.
I have not read this series, but it comes highly recommended by Meg and Clare. Meg read the entire first book--all 464 pages--in one day on a long drive. One of the later books, which was equally long, she read in one night. These books were so compelling that once she began one, she would read until she was done. They must be fantastic.
This excellent book takes place in New York City as the United States is entering World War II. But don't think this is another World War II historical fiction book. This book probably best fits into the magical realism genre. Four children are tasked with saving New York City while becoming characters from the tales of King Arthur. They do this while exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My kids and I love this book. I also highly recommend the audiobook of The Metropolitans.
Several friends recommended this series to us and I finally read the first book, The Blackthorn Key. It is so good! The story follows an apothecary apprentice during the reign of Charles II (just after the English Civil War and the death of Oliver Cromwell). I don't know if I have previously read a book set in this time period. While I haven't read it, the second book in this series, Mark of the Plague, does deal with the plague, so the same cautions discussed above do apply. I am looking forward to reading this entire series (the second book arrives from Amazon tomorrow) and I have passed along the first book to Meg.
As more and more activities were cancelled due to the coronavirus, I noticed my children were becoming more and more anxious. On Friday morning, I decided we needed joy and what could be better than this collection which is subtitled "Warm and Joyful Tales from the Author of All Creatures Great and Small." The stories are beautifully illustrated with scenes from the Yorkshire countryside where Herriot served as a veterinarian. Because our family recently lost our family dog, I am avoiding stories that focus on dogs. The other stories, however, are wonderfully healing for us. My husband will be so surprised when we decide to adopt a lamp or piglet for our next pet. That is what this book makes you want to do.