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.

5 thoughts on “Why I Love Middle Grade Books”

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

Comments are closed.