On Reading: My Month of Middle Grade Fiction

It all started back before the holidays, when my mother-in-law asked for book recommendations for my children as she shopped. I began browsing Amazon for middle grade books for my eleven year old son, who is an avid reader and especially enjoys reading his favorite books again and again. When I saw the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series in paperback for just about $20, I added that to his list immediately. When he read those books, he borrowed them from the library, and I knew he’d enjoy having his own copies.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a teeny personal agenda, too. I was curious about this series, and if they were here in the house, then I might get a chance to read at least the first one myself.

I spent the first eleven days of the year consuming the series every chance I got. I snuck the books into the bathroom at work, even! I wanted to drop everything in life and just live in Percy’s world. Soon enough, I had made my way through all the books, and I decided to pull down another book that I had put on his list, Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. My son had torn through that one the day after he received it, and he had enthusiastically recommended I read it. “You’re going to LOVE it, Mom, I just know it.”

He was right, of course. I was wowed by Selznick’s detailed sketches and their ability to tell a nuanced story in images. The story was touching and emotional, and I lost myself in it one evening. As with Rick Riordan’s series, I found myself marveling at the power of middle grade fiction, the books written primarily for an audience in the nine to twelve age range. This literature needs to speak to kids at a time in their lives when everything is just so intense— emotions, worries, excitements, friendships, life in general. At this age, children are more able to think logically, and they’re just beginning to develop some abstract reasoning, which brings about a greater understanding of others and situations in life beyond their own personal experiences. What a perfect opportunity for literature!

I don’t have the greatest memory for much of my earliest years, but late elementary school is the time that is most alive in my mind of childhood. For me, this was the time when my adoration of reading really blossomed. I can vividly remember the feeling of Scholastic paperbacks in my hand as a kid, anywhere and everywhere. I fell in love with every character I encountered. There wasn’t a book I read that I didn’t love. I wasn’t picky, I just wanted to immerse myself in a world on the page. I wore my Bookworm nickname with pride, and I saw nothing wrong with always having my “nose buried in a book,” as my mother often declared.

As I finished the first book of Riordan’s next series, The Heroes of Olympus, I brought my total of middle grade fiction to seven for the month. (It would have been eight if the second of that series had come in earlier from the library!) Yes, I loved the stories, the action and adventure, the spunky characters, the peek into the world of tweens and teens. I enjoyed bonding with my son over books he has pored over time and again, even though I learned that it is very, very challenging for him to not drop spoiler comments into our conversations!

And, I couldn’t help but revel in the experience of reliving my own childhood reading days. I could almost pretend I was eleven years old again, sprawled out across my double bed, reading the day away. Ahhhh.

Dawn indulges in her love for picture books every day as a preschool teacher and mom to two young children, and she is embracing the world of middle grade fiction alongside her oldest. She lives online at my thoughts exactly.


  1. Geoff says

    Dawn, Afraid I did nearly the same thing with the Percy Jackson series, ending up reading them all. For me it was the Dune series, Lord of the Rings, Terry Brooks books and Donaldson’s series in the vein of Percy Jackson.

    Thanks for Wonderstruck rec. Will share with ours.

    • says

      You will not be disappointed in Wonderstruck, I know!

      I feel like Percy Jackson is my guilty pleasure right now. I’m back to waiting on an author to release the next in a series! :)

      • says

        Did you go on to the other ones? Doesn’t the LOST HERO deal with some of the characters? I think they do. Amanda likes them just as much.

        I have read (listened to) both books in the Kane Chronicles. I know that the same 10 year olds are reading them, but I think that they are a little more mature, which is great (my 13 year old is perfectly happy reading ALL of them)

        • says

          Yup, I read THE LOST HERO and now I’m on THE SON OF NEPTUNE. It’s tough, though, because those are the only two out so far, so I’m going to have to wait again. :) (It’s like HP or HUNGER GAMES all over again!)

          I haven’t read the KANE books, but my son has the first two, so maybe someday. :)

  2. says

    What synchronicity! I just read another review this morning of someone who read 4 Percy Jacksons last week. I’m definitely going to have to give those a try.

    Thanks for a recommendation from another nose-always-stuck-in-a-book kid. :)

    • says

      They are such a load of fun, Jessica. I just got in the second book of the The Heroes of Olympus series, so I’m back into the world of Percy Jackson. :)

  3. says

    I’ll see you a month of reading, and raise you 3 months of Cybils MG reading — ha.

    But seriously, that’s what I realized — getting lost, magical realism — it’s all wonderful. And I too have had the pleasure of my daughter saying “You HAVE to read this.” The first time was Wendy Mass’ 11 Birthdays. Have you and JAM read any of her books? He’s about the right age now, and you’ll love them too. Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is a good one, as is 11 Birthdays.

    • says

      I’m pretty sure JAM read Jeremy Fink, but nothing by Wendy Mass. I had the impression that her books were more gender-specific, and he’s getting to that point where he won’t even touch anything that looks remotely “girly.” :)

      • says

        Jeremy Fink IS Wendy Mass, but one of the least girly ones, which is why I recommended it. Definitely worth reading together if he hasn’t. She makes me LOVE middle grade fiction.

        11 Birthdays is a girl/boy best friend duo, and slightly girly. Finally! is pretty girly and features some of the same characters, but then 13 Gifts comes back to the 2 in 11 Birthdays and is not so girly (and really goes with 11 B-days more than Finally does).

          • says

            Well, I was wrong- he says he didn’t read that. So, we’ll know what to look for on the next library trip.

            And, we’ve got Sonnenblick’s next book in hand now- very exciting!

  4. says

    I’ve probably mentioned this already on this site, but I’ll tell the story again…

    One day my daughter, then 10, asked me to read the first few chapters of Percy Jackson out loud to her. (This was our strategy for helping her get “into” a book, which she would then read most of the rest to herself.) We sat in the living room, and I read aloud. About 20 minutes later, my son who was about 13 at the time arrived home, grabbed some food, and joined us in the living room.

    Almost 3 hours later, my voice was hoarse and my throat hurt. I suddenly realized that it was the kids’ bedtime, but we hadn’t done any homework or practicing. We were all so engrossed in the story, none of us realized the time.

    It was a moment I will never forget. My kids are somewhat reluctant readers, and I rarely get to share that feeling of I *loved* that book with them. Precious.

    I was also a nose-in-the-book kid. My mother used to joke that I should put down the book and watch some television like a normal child. :-)

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