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Take 5: 5 of the Best Books I’ve Read in 2020, Middle Grade Edition

Today I’m continuing my countdown of the Top 20 books I’ve read in 2020 with a look at middle grade fiction. We started with YA. Last week I dove into nonfiction. And today is all about Middle Grade.

Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega

Publisher’s Book Description:

Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business. Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late. With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.

Karen’s Thoughts: This book was long on my radar because, believe it or not, I loved the cover. Let’s be honest, sometimes we are drawn to a book by it’s cover. I picked up a copy of the book at BEA, back when there was still a BEA, and loved everything about this. I love a good story about family and friendship, which you will find in this book. Plus, there are ghosts and cats! It’s a heartwarming story that is chuck full of sense of both place and culture and you can’t go wrong sharing this with the youth in your life.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Publisher’s Book Description:

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend when they were in a bus accident together. All he has left of Eddie is the journal his friend wrote stories in. Tristan is dreading the month he’s going to spend on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where he’s being sent to heal from the tragedy. But on his first night there, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan chases after it — is that a doll? — and a tug-of-war ensues between them underneath a Bottle Tree. In a last attempt to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan punches the tree, accidentally ripping open a chasm into the MidPass, a volatile place with a burning sea, haunted bone ships, and iron monsters that are hunting the inhabitants of this world. Tristan finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American gods John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi, the Weaver, to come out of hiding and seal the hole in the sky. But bartering with the trickster Anansi always comes at a price. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?

Karen’s Thoughts: This book technically came out at the end of 2019, but its sequel, Tristan Strong Destroys the World, came out in 2020 so I’m including them both on this list. These are great books for those middle grade readers who love the ancient mythology of the Rick Riordan books and ask you what to read next. The characters are well written, complex and endearing – you will root for Tristan Strong. And it introduces a lot of readers to mythologies that we don’t often hear a lot about in mainstream culture. It’s a really great story that entertains, enlightens, and uplifts.

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

Publisher’s Book Description:

April didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t even the one who broke the vase. 

She had absolutely no intention of becoming the only person who knows that Gabriel Winterborne, the missing-and-presumed-dead billionaire, is neither missing nor dead and is actually living in the basement of Winterborne House, sharpening his swords and looking for vengeance. 

Now that April knows Gabriel Winterborne is alive, it’s up to her to keep him that way. But there’s only so much a twelve-year-old girl can do, so April must turn to the other orphans for help. Together, they’ll have to unravel the riddle of a missing heir and a creepy legend, and find a secret key, before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

Karen’s Thoughts: I love a good mystery/adventure and find that you can’t go wrong with Ally Carter in this particular category. In a year when I needed some escapist fun, this fit the bill nicely.

Twins by Varian Johnson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Coretta Scott King Honor author Varian Johnson teams up with rising cartoonist Shannon Wright for a delightful middle-grade graphic novel!

Maureen and Francine Carter are twins and best friends. They participate in the same clubs, enjoy the same foods, and are partners on all their school projects. But just before the girls start sixth grade, Francine becomes Fran — a girl who wants to join the chorus, run for class president, and dress in fashionable outfits that set her apart from Maureen. A girl who seems happy to share only two classes with her sister!

Maureen and Francine are growing apart and there’s nothing Maureen can do to stop it. Are sisters really forever? Or will middle school change things for good?

Karen’s Thoughts: I asked Thing 2 what book she would include on this list, and Twins was her enthusiastic recommendation. This graphic novel is fun and has heart.

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Ryan Hart loves to spend time with her friends, loves to invent recipes, and has a lot on her mind—school, self-image, and family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. That means changes like selling their second car and moving into a new (old) house. But Ryan is a girl who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. Because Ryan is all about trying to see the best. Even when things aren’t all she would wish for—her brother is infuriating, her parents don’t understand, when her recipes don’t turn out right, and when the unexpected occurs—she can find a way forward, with wit and plenty of sunshine.

Karen’s Thoughts: I love a feel good middle grade book, and definitely needed this more than anything in 2020. This is a great family read aloud that will remind us all that life can be challenging, but sometimes you can find ways to make sunshine. You will not be disappointed.

Join me next Monday as we wrap up the list how we began, with another Top 5 YA books. What were your favorite middle grade reads of 2020? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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