Middle grade is the sweet spot for books, and as the school year ends, it’s time to stock up on books for summer reading. The following books are for readers ages 8 and up. They are listed in order of publication. These are books that have not been reviewed by Cracking the Cover, but are recommended by a number of respected sources (ie., Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, etc.). All synopses are provided by respective publishers.
ONE TRUE WISH, by Lauren Kate, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, April 25, 2023, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 10 and up)
A dash of fairy magic brightens this middle grade novel about three friends confronting their deepest wishes.
Phoebe is a wish-granting fairy who doesn’t believe in children. Birdie, Gem, and Van are sixth graders who don’t believe in fairies. But deep down, each of them has a wish.
Birdie and Gem have been best friends forever, but now things are changing, and Birdie doesn’t know why. Birdie feels left behind, while Gem feels she’s growing up too fast and no one understands what it’s like. Van is lonely, far from their friends in Ireland who never thought that being nonbinary was such a big deal.
When Phoebe crash-lands in the woods nearby, the three kids must race against the clock to restore the fairy’s powers and get her back home. They’ll have to summon a new kind of magic to save Phoebe and their friendships—the magic of their deepest, truest wishes.
ELF DOG AND OWL HEAD, by M.T. Anderson and Junyi Wu, Candlewick, April 11, 2023, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 8-12)
Clay has had his fill of home life. A global plague has brought the world to a screeching halt, and with little to look forward to but a summer of video-calling friends, vying with annoying sisters for the family computer, and tuning out his parents’ financial worries, he’s only too happy to retreat to the woods. From the moment the elegant little dog with the ornate collar appears like an apparition among the trees, Clay sees something uncanny in her.
With this mysterious Elphinore as guide, he’ll glimpse ancient secrets folded all but invisibly into the forest. Each day the dog leads Clay down paths he never knew existed, deeper into the unknown. But they aren’t alone in their surreal adventures. There are traps and terrors in the woods, too, and if Clay isn’t careful, he might stray off the path and lose his way forever. Graced with evocative black-and-white illustrations by Junyi Wu, Elf Dog and Owl Head is heartfelt and exhilarating, wry and poignant, seamlessly merging the fantastic and the familiar in a tale both timely and timeless.
ONCE THERE WAS, by Kiyash Monsef, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, April 4, 2023, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 10 and up)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them meets Neil Gaiman in this novel about an Iranian American girl who discovers that her father was secretly a veterinarian to mythical creatures—and that she must take up his mantle, despite the many dangers.
Once was, once wasn’t.
So began the stories Marjan’s father told her as a little girl—fables like the story of the girl who sprung a unicorn from a hunter’s snare, or the nomad boy who rescued a baby shirdal. Tales of extraordinary beasts that filled her with curiosity and wonder.
But Marjan’s not a little girl anymore. In the wake of her father’s sudden death, she is trying to hold it all together: her schoolwork, friendships, and keeping her dad’s shoestring veterinary practice from going under. Then, one day, she receives a visitor who reveals something stunning: Marjan’s father was no ordinary veterinarian. The creatures out of the stories he told her were real—and he traveled the world to care for them. And now that he’s gone, she must take his place.
Marjan steps into a secret world hidden in plain sight, where mythical creatures are bought and sold, treasured and trapped. She finds friends she never knew she needed—a charming British boy who grew up with a griffon, a runaway witch seeking magic and home—while trying to hide her double life from her old friends and classmates.
The deeper Marjan gets into treating these animals, the closer she comes to finding who killed her father—and to a shocking truth that will reawaken her sense of wonder and put humans and beasts in the gravest of danger.
THE GIRL FROM EARTH’S END, by Tara Dairman, Candlewick, March 14, 2023, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 8-12)
Gifted gardener Henna embarks from her island home to search for the plant that might save her papa’s life in this story of love, grief, and growth.
Twelve-year-old Henna loves living with her two papas and cultivating her beloved plants on the tiny island of Earth’s End—until Papa Niall grows seriously ill. Now Henna is determined to find a legendary, long-extinct plant with miraculous healing powers, even though the search means journeying all the way to St. Basil’s Conservatory, a botanical boarding school rumored to house seeds of every plant ever grown. At St. Basil’s, Henna is surrounded not only by incredible plants, but also, for the first time, other kids—including her new roommates: wisecracking, genderfluid P, who gleefully bends every rule they come up against, and wealthy, distant Lora, who is tired of servants doing everything for her, from folding her clothes to pushing her wheelchair. But Henna’s search for the fabled healing seed means she doesn’t have time for friends—or so she thinks. This tender tale, blossoming with moments of joy, is a story of hope, grief, and learning to flourish with a little help from those around you.
THE ENCHANTED LIFE OF VALENTINA MEJÍA, by Alexandra Alessandri, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Feb. 21, 2023, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 8-12)
Encanto meets The Chronicles of Narnia by way of Colombian folklore in this middle grade fantasy adventure. Twelve-year-old Valentina wants to focus on drawing the real world around her and hopefully get into art school in Bogotá one day, but Papi has spent his life studying Colombia’s legendary creatures and searching for proof of their existence. So when Papi hears that a patasola—a vampire woman with one leg—has been sighted in the Andes, Valentina and her younger brother Julián get dragged along on another magical creature hunt.
While they’re in the Andes, a powerful earthquake hits. Valentina and Julián fall through the earth…and find an alternate Colombia where, to Valentina’s shock, all the legends are real.
To get home, Valentina and Julián must make a treacherous journey to reach this land’s ruler: the madremonte, mother and protector of the earth. She controls the only portal back to the human world—but she absolutely hates humans, and she’ll do anything to defend her land.
Copyright © 2023 Cracking the Cover. Unless otherwise noted, all books — digital and physical — have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest and unbiased reviews. All thoughts and opinions are those of the reviewer.