Six Middle Grade Books To Look Out For in 2018

I’m officially a fan of middle grade books. It’s legit.

Middle Grade Books and Me: A Brief History

Well, maybe I’ve always been but I just never had the opportunity to read a lot of them? Growing up, I read very few middle grade books. My childhood was heavy on The Ladybird books, encyclopedias and that sort of thing. But then I jumped so quickly from picture books to adult literature. My only breaks in between were to read compulsory secondary school literature like Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood and Agbo Areo’s Mother’s Choice. Then, of course, I discovered Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and read it to death because how often did you find a middle-class, teenage, female protagonist your age in African Lit?

It was almost near the end of secondary school that I started reading The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High books. The fact that those books still appealed to me proved that there was a middle grade books shaped hole in my heart. Therefore, I am pleased, now, in my twenties, to be able to access and afford more middle grade books. This year, I’ve been tearing through them, from The BSC titles to Esperanza Rising. Still, even in my middle grade book choices, I’m firmly on the side of realistic fiction and not much else.

The great thing about middle grade books is that they’re easy to read so I recommend them not just for kids but honestly for everyone. Especially if you’re a new reader or looking for a break from heavy reading. If you have kids in your life around ages eight to twelve, these books are perfect!

Why everyone should read middle grade books! (And six great recs if you're not sure where to start!) Click To Tweet

Here are six Middle Grade Books I’m excited to read this year:

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Middle Grade Books on Afoma Umesi

HOW CUTE IS THIS COVER?! You know how I feel about book covers. So, I mentally added this book to my TBR before I even read the blurb. Thankfully, the blurb and reviews so far are fantastic!

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

The only Asian character in a middle grade book that I remember is Claudia Kishi from The BSC. So, I was very excited to see the cover of this book! I’m trying to read more Asian-American fiction this year and it’s been wonderful so far.

Front Desk is out May 29, 2018.


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The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela

Middle Grade Books The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee Afoma UmesiLearning to spell is so important, and even more so is understanding what words mean. This book immediately got my attention at “Spelling”.

“India Wimple can spell. Brilliantly. Every Friday night, she and her family watch the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee on TV. When the Wimples suggest she enter the next Bee, India feels nothing but trepidation. She’s sure she’s not good enough – but with the support of her family, India finds the courage to sign up.

There are plenty of obstacles to reaching the finals, like Summer Millicent Ernestine Beauregard-Champion, a spoiled rich girl who isn’t afraid to step on anyone who gets in her way of winning.

The whole thing seems rather calamitous to India. But with hope, hard work, and a little bit of heart, something splendiferous might be on the horizon…”

I think this would be a great book to teach kids new words and also that spelling and words are cool. 😉

‘The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee’ is out now!


Love Double Dutch! by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly

Middle Grade books Afoma UmesiIf you watched the Disney movie, ‘Jump In’, then you’ll love this book by the movie’s creator.

“Brooklyn middle-schooler MaKayla can only think about one thing–taking her double Dutch team all the way to the National Jump-off at Madison Square Garden. That is, until her mother breaks the news. Kayla has to spend the summer at her aunt’s house in North Carolina while her parents work out their problems . . . or decide to call it quits.

Kayla does not feel at home in the South, and she certainly doesn’t get along with her snooty cousin Sally. It looks like her Jump-off dreams are over.

Hold the phone! Turns out, double Dutch is huge in the South. She and Sally just need to find two more kids for a team. And a routine. And the confidence to stand up to the double Dutch divas who used to be Sally’s BFFs. Time to show those Southern belles some Brooklyn attitude!”

It can be quite difficult to find middle grade books with black girls as protagonists, so if you’ve got any recs, I’m open! This is definitely on my list of books to read.

‘Love Double Dutch’ is out now!


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The Science of Unbreakable Things by Tae Keller

Middle Grade Books- Afoma Umesi The blurb of this book reminds me of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish. The themes are quite different, but they’re both science based.

How do you grow a miracle? 
For the record, this is not the question Mr. Neely is looking for when he says everyone in class must answer an important question using the scientific process. But Natalie’s botanist mother is suffering from depression, so this is The Question that’s important to Natalie. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie has hope. 

Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.
Natalie has a secret plan for the prize money. She’s going to fly her mother to see the Cobalt Blue Orchids–flowers that survive against impossible odds. The magical flowers are sure to inspire her mother to love life again. As Natalie prepares for the competition, she will discover that talking about problems is like taking a plant out of a dark cupboard and giving it light.

I love that this is a middle grade book with a focus on mental illness, it’s a win-win for me!

The Science of Breakable Things is out now!


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Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans by Russell Ginns, illustrated by Barbara Fisinger.

Middle Grade Books- Afoma UmesiThis is more of a semi-illustrated mystery that I definitely have to read as a hardcopy.

“Samantha Spinner’s uncle Paul disappeared, and here’s what he left:
  *  Samantha’s sister got a check for $2,400,000,000.
  *  Samantha’s brother got the New York Yankees.
  *  And Samantha got a rusty red umbrella with a tag hanging off its worn handle. The tag says “Watch out for the RAIN.”

How could he just leave without saying goodbye? And what is the meaning of that mysterious message?

The answer is simple. Sam knows in her heart that Uncle Paul is in danger. And if he taught her anything, it’s that not everything is exactly what it seems. Which is why we should pay close attention to that rusty red umbrella, and never trust a monkey at a hula-hoop contest. 

The RAIN is coming and Samantha Spinner is about to find herself mixed up in some super-important, super-dangerous, super-secret plans.”

Who doesn’t love a good mystery?!

Out now!


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The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio.

Middle Grade Books - Afoma UmesiAnother cover I’m utterly in love with! 😍

“Lou Bulosan-Nelson has the ultimate summer DIY project. She’s going to build her own “tiny house,” 100 square feet all her own. She shares a room with her mom in her grandmother’s house, and longs for a place where she can escape her crazy but lovable extended Filipino family. Lou enjoys her woodshop class and creating projects, and she plans to build the house on land she inherited from her dad, who died before she was born. But then she finds out that the land may not be hers for much longer. 

Lou discovers it’s not easy to save her land, or to build a house. But she won’t give up; with the help of friends and relatives, her dream begins to take shape, and she learns the deeper meaning of home and family.”

I’m really excited to read this one, because coming of age stories really are my jam, in case you can’t tell.

The House That Lou Built is out on June 12, 2018.


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I’d like to buy every single middle grade title (and in hard copy too!) I like, but that’s neither practical nor possible. So, I guess I’ll start with this list and see where it takes me.

Six great, diverse middle grade books to have on your reading list this year! Click To Tweet

So, adult readers, do you like middle grade books? If you do, do you have kids or are you a middle grade teacher? I think more people should read middle grade books, really. Just try one! If you have any recommendations of middle grade books, whether old or new, please let me know!

Afoma x

PS: In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a ‘KID LIT’ section on the blog now, so expect more reviews and wish-listing!

PPS: If you’re into book lists like this, check out my list of fave family sagas and this list of 16 NEW books I’m reading this year.