Monday, March 18, 2013

MEANWHILE ... MIDDLE GRADE: Our Childhood Faves II

The books we read as middle-graders stay with us forever. Last October, our middle-grade writers shared some of our beloved childhood favorites. Today, we bring you more of those books we remember with such fondness.

There are several books that stand out from my childhood, but none as much as THE BOXCAR CHILDREN by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I loved how many inventive solutions the four siblings came up with to make living in a non-house possible. The kids were clever, incredibly loyal, and fun-loving, and they made me feel that even as a kid, I could come up with a solution to nearly every problem I'd ever run into.  --Peggy Eddleman, Sky Jumpers (Random House Books for Young Readers, September 24, 2013)

I wanted to live on a farm and save a pig just like Fern in CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White. And to this day, no matter how creepy a spider is as it scurries through my house, I say "hello" and let it go.  --Jennifer Ann Mann, Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry (Bloomsbury, October 2013)

Some of my favorite middle-grade books as a child were books about some of my heroes. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE by Elspeth Huxley and CLARA BARTON: FOUNDER OF THE AMERICAN RED CROSS by Helen Dore Boylston were two of my favorites. I loved reading about them so much that I actually wanted to grow up to be one of them.  --Nancy J. Cavanaugh, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, April 1, 2013)

MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien is not a scary book, but when farmer Fitzgibbon fired up his tractor to plow the field--the very field that Mrs. Frisby lived in with her four small children--I got spooked and threw the book across the room. I'd never read a story before where the stakes were so life-and-death! This epic novel was the first book I ever truly lost myself in.  --Joe Lawlor, (Eerdmans Books for Young People, April 1, 2013)

THE ORDINARY PRINCESS by M.M. Kaye is without a doubt my childhood favorite. I read it too many times to count, becoming lost in the story and the whimsical drawings scattered throughout the pages. As I was a decidedly ordinary little girl who dreamed of being a princess (I even tried singing to a bird or two), this book made me believe that anything was possible if you remained true to yourself, and that ordinary was nothing short of extraordinary.  --Laura Golden, Every Day After (Delacorte, June 11, 2013)

My favorite childhood book is PRAIRIE SCHOOL by Lois Lenski. Set in South Dakota during the harsh winter of 1948-1949, it tells the story of a school on the prairie that gets snowed in by a blizzard. The teacher and students have to fend for themselves with little food and dwindling fuel while they wait for help to arrive. I was spellbound by the adventure of it all, especially since I lived in Virginia, where the schools pretty much closed the instant the first snowflake hit the ground. Also, Prairie School taught me this important lesson: You don't have to travel to South Dakota to experience a blizzard; you only have to read a book. --Barbara Brauner, Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap (with James Iver Mattson; Hyperion Books, May 14, 2013)

Impossible to choose, but one of my favorite books as a child was THE SILVER CROWN by Robert C. O'Brien.  It was wonderfully weird, and the plot seemed so dangerous and cool and different from anything else I had read.  Some of the bits stayed with me for years--the mysterious gift that the heroine receives for her tenth birthday; the bad guy who turns out to be something of a victim himself.  I suspect the independent, smart heroine who unravels a mystery was lurking in the back of my mind as I wrote The Path of Names. --Ari B. Goelman, The Path of Names (Arthur A. Levine Books, May 1, 2013)

THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS by William Pene du Bois. I had a lot of favorite books as a kid, but this probably tops my list. It’s got both epic adventure (Krakatoa!) and slapstick humor (everybody on Krakatoa runs a restaurant funded by the island’s diamond mine). I remember bringing a copy home from school in third or fourth grade and reading it out loud to my father, who soon got caught up in the story along with me. I love that memory, and I love this book. --James Iver Mattson, Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap (with Barbara Brauner; Hyperion Books, May 14, 2013)

It's nearly impossible for me to name only one of my favorite middle-grade books, but the one I've reread the most (both as a child and as an adult) has got to be THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin. I loved the zany characters, the incredibly complex mystery, and the fact that it's just as much fun to read the second or third or five hundredth time around. It even made me a fan of the Green Bay Packers! What more could you ask from a fantastic book?  --Caroline Carlson, Magic Marks the Spot (HarperCollins Children's Books, September 2013)

My favorite middle-grade book--and my favorite book book--is and always will be THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin. This masterfully written mystery melds so many irresistible elements: the whodunnit-ness of Agatha Christie, the dark-but-kid-friendly humor of Lemony Snicket, the satiric patriotism of Stephen Colbert, and at least three jarring plot twists that M. Night Shyamalan needs to steal pronto. On a more writerly note, I also love examining and dissecting Raskin's writing process to this day. Oh, and I forgot to mention the best part: My literary agent also happens to represent Ellen Raskin's estate! Free Westing Game copies for life!  --Teddy Steinkellner, Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga (Disney/Hyperion, August 20, 2013)


Claire M. Caterer writes for readers of all ages, but her favorite audience are those who love middle-grade novels. Her debut novel is The Key & the Flame, coming in April 2, 2013 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. You can connect with Claire on her website, Facebook, or Twitter pages.


  1. Oh man, talk about a blast from the past! I remember so many of those books from when I was young, and innocent, and...never mind ;)

    1. No kidding, Jessie! Just looking at the covers takes me back. That's why I kind of don't like it when covers are updated. The old images are part of my past.

  2. The Boxcar Children! I loved those books!! :)

  3. Aaa! The Rats of NIMH! Another one of my very favorites! This list is fabulous!

    1. I've discovered a few I never knew. Another reason to love the library!

  4. I so agree about updated covers, Claire! I love covers. I almost can't think of a book independent of its cover.

  5. I recognize some of these books and can't help but feel nostalgic. These are old books that taught us great lessons back then. It's truly nice that the children of today get to read these too and see how simple yet truly educational these books are. Thank you for sharing! Shelley @ Y\'all Twins?