Reviews of Middle Grade Books

Middle Grade Books

For ages around 8 years to 12 years

Click on any title in the list below to see a brief critique, publishing information and the cover, or scroll down and browse!


Page Contents For Middle Grade Books

Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Possum Summer by Jen K. Blom

Black Jack Jetty: A Boy’s Journey Through Grief by Michael A. Carestio

Wildlife by Cynthia DeFelice

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue  by Jack Gantos

Lily‘s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Riley Mack by Chris Grabenstein

And Then Mom Joined the Army   by Jeannie Hagy

Aloha Means Come Back: The Story of a World War II Girl by Thomas Hoobler

Love You, Soldier by Amy Hest

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

Piper Reed Series by Kimberly Willis Holt

Autumn Street by Lois Lowry

100 Days and 99 Nights by Alan Madison

My secret war : the World War II diary of Madeline Beck by Mary Pope Osborne

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry

Park’s Quest   by Katherine Paterson

The Struggle by Nancy Rue

The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog by Frances Sackett

Almost Forever  by Maria Testa

Trader Wooly and the Secret of the Lost Nazi Treasure  by Tom Townsend

Trader Wooly and the Terrorist  by Tom Townsend

Trader Wooly and the Ghost in the Colonel’s Jeep  by Tom Townsend

Meet Molly: An American Girl. Book One by Valerie Tripp

Molly Learns a Lesson: A School Story. Book Two by Valerie Tripp

Molly‘s Surprise: A Christmas Story. Book Three by Valerie Tripp

Happy Birthday Molly: A Springtime Story. Book Four by Valerie Tripp

Molly Saves the Day: A Summer Story. Book Five by Valerie Tripp

Georgie’s Moon by Chris Woodworth

Princess for a Week by Betty Ren Wright




Peacebound Trains

Balgassi, Haemi. (1996). Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet. Peacebound Trains. Clarion Books. New York, NY.

ISBN: 0-618-04030-7 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-395-72093-1 (Hardcover)

Sumi‘s mother has joined the Army for a steady job and a chance to get an education. While Sumi‘s mother is gone for months at training Sumi stays with her Korean grandmother, Harmuny. When the arrival of a birthday parcel makes Sumi realize that her mother will really not be home for her birthday, Harmuny comforts her with a story. Most of the book is Harmuny‘s story of her escape from Seoul during the Korean War and the deprivations of war, including the loss of her husband. Chris Soentpiet’s masterly illustrations capture details of America and Korea and express the range of deep emotions portrayed in the book. The gentleness of the illustrations and the way the book comes back to a hopeful present day prevents a harrowing story of loss and dislocation from becoming overwhelming for the young audience. I put this book in middle grade books even though it has full page illustrations on every page, as the length of the book (divided into chapters) and complexity of the ideas and the distressing events make it more suitable for an older audience.

This book is also available online, with a teacher‘s guide, through the Department of Defense Korean War Commemoration Website at / (Link checked OK 2007-02-01)

Highly Recommended


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Summer Before Boys

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. (2011). The Summer Before Boys. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

ISBN: 978-1416986737


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Possum Summer

Blom, Jen K.. (2011). Possum Summer. Simon & Holiday House, New York.


ISBN: 978 0823423316





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Black Jack Jetty

Carestio, Michael A. (2010). Black Jack Jetty: A Boys Journey Through Grief. Magination Press.

ISBN:  978-1433807848

New. Unread.









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Wild Life

DeFelice, Cynthia C. (2011). Wild Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

ISBN: 978-0374380014

New. Unread







Shooting the Moon

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. (2008). Shooting the Moon  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


ISBN: 978-1416926900

Jamie Dexter lives on Fort Hood and refers to her father as “the Colonel”. Her father says things like, “The Army way is the right way…It’s about duty, it’s about honor, it’s about sacrifice” and Jamie fully agrees with him. When her brother goes to Vietnam and sends back films for Jamie to develop, her attitude towards the war is challenged. When her family is faced with tragedy she learns unexpected things about her father and is forced to re-examine her whole life.







Saturday Boy

Fleming, David. (2013). The Saturday Boy. Viking.


ISBN: 978 0670785513





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Gantos, Jack. (2003). Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York, NY.

ISBN: 0-374-39987-5

Jack’s father rejoins the Navy after going bankrupt from being cheated in a business deal. Jack, his parents, brother and sister go to live at Cape Hatteras in a camouflage-painted trailer parked in a swamp. Jack’s father expresses some dissatisfaction with the Navy, “’The last time I was in the Navy I was a kid and it was a lot easier to take orders from the upper ranks. But I’m older now and my so-called superior officers are not looking so superior. They may outrank me but they can’t outthink me’” (page 55-56). Like Gantos’s other books about Jack this book is laugh aloud funny at times. This book is unusual and useful because it depicts the family of an enlisted military member rather than an officer. (Note: the other books in Gantos‘s series about Jack depict the family after Jack‘s father has left the Navy so are not included here.)


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Lily‘s Crossing
Giff, Patricia Reilly. (1997) Lily‘s Crossing. Delacorte Press.

ISBN: 0-385-32142-2 (First Edition Hardcover)
ISBN: 0-7587-0287-6 (2002 Hardcover Reprint)
ISBN: 0-7862-2771-0 (Large Print Hardcover)

Lily‘s mother is dead and she and her father live with her Grandmother. When her father goes off to fight in World War II she and her Gram must spend the summer at Rockaway on the Atlantic coast by themselves, an idea Lily does not like. Rockaway is even worse than she thought when her friend Margaret moves to Michigan for her father to work in war industries and no one Lily‘s age is left. Someone her age arrives in the form of Albert, an orphaned Hungarian refugee, staying with some neighbors but Lily doesn‘t like him and thinks it quite likely that he is a spy. They rescue an abandoned kitten together and start to become friends. Lily likes to exaggerate and even tell lies but she is shocked when she realizes that her lies have put Albert in danger. Through the events of the summer Lily grows up and develops stronger relationships with her Grandmother and father. This book is the winner of numerous awards including a Newbery Honor award in 1998.


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Mom Joined Cover
Hagy, Jeannie. (1976). And Then Mom Joined the Army. New York, NY: Abingdon Press.

ISBN: 0-687-01379-8 (Hardcover)

This book is approaching thirty years old and it shows. It seems more dated than historical books about World War II or the Vietnam War. Scott’s mother joins the WAC (Women’s Army Corps), which does not exist anymore. (“Congress passed a law in September 1978 that disestablished the WAC as a separate Corps of the Army effective 20 October 1978.”
(Accessed OK on 2007-02-01:

The message that Scott’s mother is a better parent, despite being strict, compared to Julian’s hippy parents is heavy handed. Despite these failings military children might be able to identify with some aspects of Scott’s world. For example, Scott goes to a civilian school and is constantly worried that kids at school might see his mother in her uniform, which reflects the fear children have of appearing different. Also it talks about getting in trouble living in base housing for leaving a tricycle on the sidewalk. This may sound unlikely to civilian children but is expected by military children.

Recommended with reservations

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Love You, Soldier Cover
Hest, Amy. (1991). Love You, Soldier. Four Winds.

Also published as Love You, Daddy in a Troll Special Edition, 1991.

Also published by Candlewick Press and Illustrated by Sonja Lamut in 2000.

ISBN: 0027436357 (First Edition)
ISBN: 0-614-09598-0 (Hardcover)

ISBN: 0763609439 (Candlewick Press illustrated version)
ISBN: 0-14-036174-X (Paperback. Puffin 1993)
ISBN: 0-606-02730-0 (Turtleback Library Binding)
Katie is only seven when her father goes away to fight in World War II. Modern military children will know from the second sentence the Katie‘s father is not going to a present-day war because his uniform is “olive green” and not camouflage. Despite its historic setting, this poignant short book (47 pages in the Troll edition) captures the sadness and fear of having a parent go away to war. This is one of the few books at this level where the military parent does not come back. The book is tragic but ultimately hopeful.

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Operation Yes

Holmes, Sara Lewis. (2009) Operation Yes Arthur A. Levine Books.





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Piper Reed

Holt, Kimberly Willis. (2007 – 2011). Piper Reed: Navy Brat. Series H. Holt.

ISBN: 978-0312625481


Meet Piper Reed, the Ramona Quimby of military children! Piper’s father is in the Navy and life has ups and downs as she and her two sisters face moves, new schools, her father leaving on his ship and other events in military family life.

For a longer review I wrote for the Williamsburg Regional Library, see Blogging for a Good Book.

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Hoobler, Thomas and Hoobler, Dorothy. (1991). Aloha Means Come Back: The Story of a World War II Girl. Silver Burdett Press.

ISBN: 0382241568
ISBN: 0382241487

“Laura and her mother join her Navy father in Hawaii in 1941, where suspicion against the Japanese American residents runs high in an atmosphere of expectation that the United States and Japan will go to war.” (Information from Link checked OK 2007-02-01).

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Hostetter, Joyce Moyer. (2009). Comfort Calkins Creek.

ISBN: 978-0312625481



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Autumn Street Cover
Lowry, Lois. (1980). Autumn Street.  Houghton Mifflin.
ISBN: 0-440-40344-8 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-395-27812-0 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0-606-02576-6 (Turtleback Books Library Binding)
While her father is away fighting in World War II Elizabeth and her family move in with her grandmother where there are conflicts and tensions she doesn‘t understand.  The absence of her father at the war is only in the background, but this book indicates the tensions that can arise from having a family member away at a war.

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100 Days and 99 Nights

Madison, Alan. (2008). 100 Days and 99 Nights. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

ISBN: 0316113549

New. Unread







Soldier Mom Hardcover Cover Soldier Mom Cover
Mead, Alice. (1999). Soldier Mom. Dell Yearling. Random House Children’s Books. New York. NY. IN PRINT
ISBN: 0-440-22900-6 (Paperback)
ISBN: 0-374-37124-5 (Hardcover)
Jasmyn’s mother is called up from the army reserves to go to the Middle East. This book is set in 1991-1992 and the first Persian Gulf War but many children with parents in the reserves who are currently being called to active duty to a U.S. base or being sent overseas will be able to identify with Jasmyn’s shock and disbelief. Jasmyn is forced to curtail her beloved basketball to help look after her baby brother.  It is never adequately explained why Jasmyn does not want to go to live with her air force father in Japan. Some details in this book are incorrect such as on page 35, “I know a little about that stuff from having an air force parent. Mom said that Dad’s jet, the Tomcat, can fly eight miles high.” The Tomcat is a Navy plane so Jasmyn’s Air Force parent wouldn’t be flying it. (My husband pointed out this discrepancy. I verified that the Grumman Tomcat has a U.S. Navy designation of F14 in Jane’s World Combat Aircraft. (1988). Edited by Michael J.H. Taylor. Jane‘s Information Group. Alexandria, Virginia. This book has the emotional authenticity of a child forced to grow up too soon and take on adult responsibilities but it is possible a military child would notice the incorrect details and be distracted from the book’s otherwise good qualities.

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My Secret War
Osborne, Mary Pope. (2000). My Secret War: the World War II Diary of Madeline Beck.  Houghton Mifflin.








Heart of a Shepherd

Parry, Rosanne (2009) Heart of a Shepherd Random House Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0375848025 (Hardcover)

ISBN: 978-0375848032 (Paperback 2010)


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Second Fiddle

Parry, Rosanne (2011) Second Fiddle Random House Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0375861963 (Hardcover)

ISBN: 978-0375861666 (Paperback 2012)

For my full review, see Blogging For a Good Book, the book review blog from the Williamsburg Regional Library.


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Park‘s Quest Cover Park‘s Quest Cover
Paterson, Katherine. (1988). Park’s Quest. Lodestar Books. E.P. Dutton. New York, NY.
ISBN: 0-525-67258-3 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0-606-02743-2  (Turtleback Library Binding)
ISBN: 0-14-034262-1 (Paperback)
Parkington Waddell Broughton the Fifth’s (Park‘s) father died in the Vietnam War. His mother will say nothing at all about his father‘s side of the family and Park is determined to find out more about his father. What he learns about his father and his half sister does not fit in with his fantasies of his father and his chivalric deeds but Park learns about himself, his family and in the process grows up. This is a compelling and moving book.

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Rue, Nancy. (2002). The Struggle. Bethany House.
ISBN-10: 156179895



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The Misadventures of the Magician's Dog
Sackett, Frances. (2013). The Misadventures of the Magician’s Dog. Holiday House. New York, NY.
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2869-4 (Hardcover).

This is an unusual book because it combines a story with a child of a military parent with the supernatural. Peter meets a talking dog who learned this unusual skill as an assistant to a magician. The dog knows magic and he is willing to teach it to Peter.





Almost Forever
Testa, M. (2003). Almost Forever. Candlewick Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
ISBN: 0-7636-1996-5 (Hardcover).
This seemingly simple novel in blank verse captures the feelings of a six-year-old girl when father goes to be a doctor in the Vietnam War for a year. We learn about the fear the family feel of their father never returning. Important things to a child like changing where they live and changes in her mother’s behavior are highlighted. It also captures well the idea that children do not necessarily understand what is happening to them and their families, and cannot change many things in their lives even if they do understand, they can only observe.
Highly recommended.

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Townsend, Tom. (1987). Trader Wooly and the Secret of the Lost Nazi Treasure. Austin Tx: Eakin Press.
ISBN: 0-89015-602-6 (Hardcover)
Trader (John) Wooly lives on a U.S. Army base near Munich in Germany in the 1980s. This exciting story is told from the perspective of another military child, Wes, although Trader Wooly is the main character. It is an old fashioned adventure story with treasure, arch villains and a kidnapping.  The book briefly delves into the deeper issue of forgiveness and redemption when the boys meet an old German man and find the tank that he fought in during World War II and the remains of the soldiers that were killed by Americans. Trader Wooly is sad about a German friend who was killed by a unexploded World War II mine in the dangerous Panzerwold. Unfortunately that does not stop him going constantly into the Panzerwold with Wes and the old German man.  Trader Wooly and Wes come out of the Panzerwold unscathed and with the treasure. It seems unfortunate to send children the message that entering in dangerous and forbidden places is acceptable.
Recommended with reservations.

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Trader Wooly Terrorist Cover
Townsend, Tom. (1988). Trader Wooly and The Terrorist. Austin Tx: Eakin Press.
ISBN: 0-89015-670-0 (Permabound)
A sequel to Trader Wooly and the Secret of the Lost Nazi Treasure.

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Trader Wooly Colonels Jeep Cover
Townsend, Tom. (1991). Trader Wooly and the Ghost in the Colonel’s Jeep. Austin Tx: Eakin Press.
ISBN: 0-89015-807-X (Hardcover)
The third book in the series about Trader Wooly.

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Meet Molly Cover
Tripp, Valerie. (1986). Illustrator: C.F. Payne. Meet Molly: An American Girl. Book One. The American Girls Collection. Pleasant Company.
ISBN: 0-937295-06-X (Hardcover)
Molly’s father is a doctor in the U.S. Army stationed in England during World War II.  Molly is concerned with the sort of issues that loom large in the life of a child in a stable home – having to eat turnips and what to wear for Halloween. She and her brother play tricks on each other in an escalating way until their mother gives them a pointed lecture about needing to get on with each other. This is the first in a series of five books about Molly. The series is suitable for a young reader who likes the familiarity and safety of a series.

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The other four books in this series are listed below:

Molly Learns Lesson
Tripp, Valerie. (1986). Illustrator: C.F. Payne. Molly Learns a Lesson: A School Story. Book Two. The American Girls Collection. Pleasant Company.
ISBN: 0-937295-84-1 (Hardcover)

Molly‘s Surprise
Tripp, Valerie. (1986). Molly‘s Surprise: A Christmas Story. Book Three.  The American Girls Collection. Pleasant Company.
ISBN: 0-937295-84-1 (Hardcover)





Happy Birthday Molly
Tripp, Valerie. (1987). Illustrator: by Nick Backes. Happy Birthday Molly: A Springtime Story. Book Four. The American Girls Collection. Pleasant Company.
ISBN: 0-937295-90-6 (Hardcover)

Molly Saves the Day Cover
Tripp, Valerie. (1988). Illustrator: Nick Backes. Molly Saves the Day: A Summer Story. Book Five. The American Girls Collection. Pleasant Company.
ISBN: 0-937295-93-0 (Hardcover)




Georgies Moon

Woodworth, Chris. (2006) Georgie’s Moon. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
ISBN-10: 0374333068








Princess for a Week

Wright, Betty Ren. (2006) Princess for a Week. Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. Holiday House
ISBN-10: 0823419452







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