Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

Why I Love Middle Grade Books


A few years ago, I wrote about how poor reading skills eventually landed me in a special reading program in 4th and 5th grades. (Here’s the entry on SF Novelists.) I ended up skipping the official “reading” class and heading to the library, where I was allowed to read any Newbery book in their collection.

And my universe expanded in the best possible way. This was shortly after I’d seen Star Wars, and I craved adventure and faraway places. I longed for heroes and horses and happy endings. The Newbery books gave me all that, and more. I lost myself in the those books. In each and every one. But when I came back from whatever adventure I’d been on, I knew myself just a little bit more.

Some of the books I read and loved and still remember:

  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979)
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1978)
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977)
  • Abel’s Island by William Steig (1977)
  • My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier (1975)
  • Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe by Bette Greene (1975)
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1972)
  • Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1971)
  • Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1970)
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1968)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1961)
  • The Cricket In Times Square by George Selden, pseud. (George Thompson) (1961)
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959)
  • King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949)
  • The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (1948)
  • Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (1948)
  • Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1947)
  • Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946)
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (1944)
  • Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939)
  • Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937)
  • The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1931)
  • The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)

I’ve read many more Newberys since then, but I remember these from my childhood. Some of them have stayed with me, forever woven into my memory. I reread The Westing Game every other year. The Twenty-One Balloons sent me sketching my own balloon creations and designing utopian houses on my own private island. For a school project, a friend and I storyboarded Abel’s Island on a huge mural. I still draw tesseracts from A Wrinkle in Time, and I even visited Chincoteague to see the wild ponies.

Why do I love middle grade fiction? Because as a kid, it saved me. Saved me in almost every way. It gave me hope when most days, I had none. It told me that it wasn’t enough to sit back and take what life gave me. That I had to fight for what I believed in; that I had to fight for myself.

Those books taught me that anyone can be a hero. Anyone can have an adventure. And I still believe that to this day.

About the author

Jenn Reese


  • IMO, you're starting to do the same for a future "Jenn" who will, somewhen in some library, find your heroes and be saved.

  • Jenn,

    My 13 year old daughter discovered The Westing Game last year. She has always loved mysteries, but this novel kicked her passion up a notch. She's moved on to Agatha Cristie now and re-reads The Westing Game every several months.

    Island of the Blue Dolpins was one of my faves when I was in 6th/5th grade. I still have dreams about it, strangely enough. Great list, BTW.

  • Forget “From the Mixed up Files…” which was another FAVE! Loved the idea of fishing change from the fountains and living off vending machines. Which, come to think of it, I did when I was working. Well, at least the vending machine part!

By Jenn Reese
Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

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