The Top 11 Middle Grade Books We Read in 2022By: Sally White
The Best Middle Grade We Read in 2022*
*In addition to all of our official OwlCrate Jr picks
As bonafide professional bookworms, our team reads A LOT of books every year, in addition to the twelve new titles we get to build boxes around. As 2022 comes to an end, we wanted to highlight a few of our very favorite middle grade reads from the last year —newly published and backlist— that we believe deserve a spot on everyone's TBR list.
Get your wish lists and library cards ready!
This semi-autobiographical novel in verse is told through the voice of Anna, an 11-year-old Taiwanese girl who immigrates with her family to a town outside Los Angeles in 1980. The book's title comes from the Chinese name for America — beautiful country. But rather than the American Dream and the beautiful golden California beaches she was expecting, Anna and her family are met with a seemingly endless series of challenges: language barriers, financial strain, isolation, racial prejudice and more.
Novels in verse are newer for me, and I'm quickly understanding how powerful they can be. With the journal-like story, Kuo immerses the reader in Anna's inner life and the many complicated problems that she is trying to untangle in her new world. A quick and compelling read!
My favorite Middle Grade book of 2022 was Rise of the World Eater by Jamie Littler, the final instalment in the Frostheart series, which follows Ash (a budding Song Weaver) and his very grumpy (but very lovable) yeti guardian Tobu on their journey to help Ash find his place in the vast Snow Sea. I really can’t put into words how much I adore this trilogy! If you like beautifully illustrated, well-crafted, action-packed, heartwarming, polar fantasies, you need to do yourself a favor and read this series. It’s an absolute treasure!
This fantastically done middle grade is a wee bit spooky, and a wee bit magical, but with a whole lot of heart. Ophie, who has the ability to see ghosts, moves to Pitsburgh with her mama in 1922 to work at a grande manor, which unfortunately is full of ghosts! At first reluctant to interact with the ghosts she eventually forms a friendship with one and seeks to uncover the truth as to what happened to her. The manor holds a lot of secrets and Ophie quickly learns that not all ghosts have good intentions.
This fresh take on Peter Pan reinvigorates the classic story by bringing in important new voices with sharp new perspectives. In shifting the focus away from the boy who never grows up to stepsisters and best friends Lily and Wendy, we're given the chance to re-explore the fairy tale of Neverland all over again, but this time, with our eyes and minds wide open. I truly consider this the gold standard of modern retellings of classic literature.
Another novel in verse! This one is about eleven-year-old Ellie who has been compiling and abiding by a strict series of "Fat Girl Rules" even since her 5th birthday party where a memorable cannonball led to the nickname Splash —a name that has refused to wash away. At school, at home, and just about everywhere in between, Ellie makes a point to take up as little space as possible. Anything to avoid harsh words and looks from her peers, and worst of all, her mom.
The one place Ellie feels truly safe and at peace is her backyard pool, floating weightless and alone. In the water, she can take up the space she deserves. With the support of her dad, her sweet new neighbor, and a really excellent therapist, Ellie learns to break her own rules and be her wonderful self.
Three incredible stories bound together by a thread (or harmonica) of destiny. Though the harmonica may seem small and unassuming, it's at the very centre of an impossible quest and tied to the fates of three mysterious sisters, and later, three separate children — each who need saving of their own. This is truly a masterly crafted story that deserves the read. An absolute treat of an audiobook, too.
Middle school is hard. Hard in ways that often stick with you in the pit of your stomach well into adulthood. What Happened To Rachel Riley by Claire Swinarski is a brilliantly constructed examination of that. It is the story of Anna Hunt, the new kid starting eighth grade in the suburbs. A self proclaimed booknerd and diehard podcast fan, she decides to investigate why Rachel Riley, a classmate who seems perfectly nice and “normal” and used to be in with the the in-crowd, is now a social pariah. Using first person POV interspersed with interviews, transcripts and other documentation, this story sheds much needed light on the issue of sexual harassment and bullying and the ways they become socially engrained at a young age. While it handles really tough subject matter, Swinarski’s new novel is age appropriate and incredibly readable.
An absolutely brilliant collection of fairy tales that take you to places both new and familiar. From Cinderella to Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Beanstalk to Peter Pan, each tale is unraveled and re-spun into something delicious, dark, sometimes heartbreaking, but always wonderfully inventive. I really did think I had read every possible fairy tale retelling imaginable, but this happily proved me wrong.
This middle grade novel is a balm for the weary minded. A little bit Anne of Green Gables with a touch of Narnia, A Place to Hang the Moon follows three orphaned siblings as they are billeted out to homes in the english countryside during operation Pied Piper during WWII. Hoping their billeted home could become their forever home, the children encounter cruelties, great hardship and awful pranks. But they find great solace and compassion in the kindly librarian and the plethora of stories she shares with them.
In the summer of 1968, three sisters are flown across the country to spend time with the mother they barely know. There, they're enrolled in a nearby Black Panther summer camp where they begin to see how different a life their mother leads, and what it is she and the Black Panthers are fighting for. Educational, but not heavy-handed. Realistic, but not saccharine. A really impressive, well-told story with a great heart, depth, and importance.
I love a good middle grade mystery and this contemporary story from Michael Beil is one of the best I’ve read! Lark and her blended family spend the summer on Swallowtail Island on Lake Eerie where she and her sister have inherited her mother’s summer home. Lark learns of a long unsolved mysterious death following a tragic boat “accident” and spends the summer reading historical documents and hunting down clues, hoping to solve this mystery once and for all … but there are many on the island who don’t want the truth to come out!
What were some of your favorite middle grade reads this past year? Tell us in the comments!