Welcome to my favorite time of the book blogging calendar: end of year wrap ups! As of December 2, I’ve read 127 books in 2019. Last year, I only shared my top 20 reads. This year, though, I thought I would do things a smidge differently. It’s hard to miss the fact that I now read 80% middle-grade literature, so I’ll be sharing several lists. This month, you can look out for the following (feel free to return to this post to find the others linked):
- The best middle-grade books of 2019 (this list!): All my favorite middle-grade books — the best middle-grade books released in 2019.
- My favorite contemporary YA novels released in 2019.
- My overall top 20 reads (middle-grade, picture books, chapter books, adult fiction and non-fiction whether released in 2019 or not).
- My anticipated 2020 reads.
I’ve also awarded my picks to reflect what I especially loved about them. Obviously, as with any “best of” list, this is completely subjective. Now, let’s get to it! These are the best middle-grade books of 2019.
One last thing: I use affiliate links, so if you purchase any items through my links, I may make a cent or two — at no extra cost to you.
The Best Middle-Grade Books of 2019
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
Most Memorable Protagonist
This was one of the first books I read this year and I still remember it vividly. So many things about this story squeezed my heart so tight. From Coyote’s relationship with her dad, the misfits aboard their house bus, and of course, Coyote’s southern sass and humor, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Be prepared for all the feels though — this book also tackles grief.
Genesis Begins Again
Best Coming-of-Age Story
I included this powerful debut on my list of favorites last year after I read an ARC. But this one is SO GOOD, it’s worth a second mention. In Genesis Begins Again, thirteen-year-old Genesis grapples with intense self-hate worsened by her father’s verbal abuse and her grandmother’s backward ideologies about skin color.
Genesis Begins Again is a remarkable middle-grade debut with a strong message about colorism, self-love, and the power of music. You can also read my interview with author Alicia Williams here.
Up for Air
Favorite Upper Middle-Grade Book
Annabelle is a fantastic swimmer who happens to have learning difficulties. She’s happy to finally be getting something right when she’s moved up to the high school team in the summer. However, things get a bit complicated when an older boy starts showing her attention and her estranged father seems to want to return to her life.
This book is so special to me, because it’s one of those middle-grade books that handles difficult topics, but is still such a pageturner. Plus, it’s perfect for readers who love middle-grade books about sports.
The Bridge Home
Best Middle-Grade Book About Homelessness
If you’re looking for a heartbreaking, utterly realistic middle-grade book set in India, this is for you. Four homeless kids are forced to live on the streets of Chennai. Through many highs and lows, they find family, but also face the harsh realities of life. So worth a read.
Best Middle-Grade Book About Male Friendships
I love everything Paula Chase writes — especially in the Pirates Cove universe — and this was no different. This emotion-charged middle-grade novel about two boys navigating their changing friendship while caught up with a local drug ring is insightful and authentic.
More to the Story
Best Middle-Grade Retelling
Just thinking about this book warms my heart. Very few books and characters have spoken as deeply to me as Jameelah and her sisters. I adore Hena Khan’s writing and still have heart eyes for that cover. Cherry on top? It’s a contemporary Little Women retelling.
More to the Story is a heartwarming, charming middle-grade novel about sisterhood, family, and following your passion. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a wholesome, riveting middle-grade book.
Best Middle-Grade Book Featuring a Character with ADHD
Before this book, I’d never read anything about ADHD, but Gerber’s storytelling brought this story home. Alyson Gerber’s Focused is a moving exploration of a child’s life with ADHD. It deflates stereotypes about the condition and shows just how much effort people with ADHD have to exert to function in a neurotypical world.
With an unforgettable voice and strong themes of friendship, family, and crossing over from childhood to teenage years, Focused is a memorable read. I would strongly recommend this one for anyone curious about ADHD, chess lovers, and anyone who’s ever squabbled with a best friend.
Other Words for Home
Best Middle-Grade Book in Verse + Best Middle-Grade Book About Immigration
I’m not a huge novel-in-verse fan, but when I find a fantastic middle-grade novel-in-verse, I can’t get enough. I adored Jasmine Warga’s Other Words for Home and its sensitive, thoughtful protagonist, Jude.
Other Words for Home is a deft examination of what it feels like to be regarded as “other” in a foreign land. Yet, this novel is hopeful. Jude is a shining example of the resilience of immigrants — that people can bloom wherever they’re planted.
Shouting at the Rain
Best Middle-Grade Book Set in Summer
While Fish in a Tree is still my favorite Lynda Mullaly Hunt book, Shouting at the Rain was absolutely charming and heartrending.
Shouting at the Rain is an endearing story about finding your place in the world and finding your people too. Full of vivid Cape Cod descriptions and rich, multi-layered characters, this middle-grade novel is a perfect summer read. If you enjoy books with unique female protagonists, interesting family dynamics, and a side of drama, you’ll enjoy Shouting at the Rain.
The Line Tender
Best Middle-Grade Book About Grief
This one’s another MOVING tearjerker, but also such an ode to nature, marine life, and family. I haven’t read another middle-grade novel about death and grief that is so realistic and yet hopeful.
The Line Tender is an achingly beautiful middle-grade novel (more suited to adults). This book portrays death and grieving realistically, spotlights awe-inspiring marine life, and features an unforgettable female protagonist. If you enjoy reading about sharks, are on the hunt for a book about grief, or love books set in the summer, you’ll enjoy The Line Tender.
Not If I Can Help It
Best Middle-Grade Book About Blended Families
This is one of those books I think flew under the radar this year, but I’m so glad I got to experience it.
Not If I Can Help It is a shining example of the way books can foster empathy. This middle-grade novel about a girl with sensory processing disorder is captivating and very realistic. It also features a soccer-loving Indian-American girl, childhood anxiety, and the mechanics of blending a family. I’d highly recommend this one to anyone curious about SPD and looking for a compelling middle-grade book. The audiobook is also excellent!
Beverly Right Here
Best in a Classic Middle-Grade Series
Beverly, Right Here is the perfect finale to Kate DiCamillo’s wonderful series. This book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. But above all else, it highlights the importance of seeing the good in others, the need to trust and rely on other people, and the power of letting people in.
If you’re looking for a book with complex, utterly lovable characters, and insightful dialogue, pick up Beverly, Right Here!
The Memory Keeper
Best Middle-Grade STEM Book
I loved this sweet middle-grade book with a fierce protagonist and strong STEM connections. It was also fun to chat with author Jennifer Camiccia about the behind the scenes of creating this story.
The Memory Keeper is an engaging middle-grade debut from Jennifer Camiccia. This novel features a character with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, a grandparent dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s, and a parent recovering from depression. Yet, it manages not to be a downer. With an impressively woven mystery and trio of adventurous, smart kids, this book is a thrilling read.
I Can Make This Promise
Best Middle-Grade Novel About Family History
I’m almost done with this one and I love it! It’s sad that I’d never read a middle-grade book by a Native American, but I’m glad this was my first. I Can Make This Promise tackles multiple issues, from adoption to difficult female friendships, to Native American culture and appropriation. It’s so poignant and well written. 10/10 would recommend.
Roll with It
Best Middle-Grade Book About a Physical Disability
Another untouched territory I’m satisfied to have begun exploring this year was middle-grade books about physical disabilities. Jamie Sumner’s debut is an excellent place to begin. Her interview is one of my all-time favorites.
Jamie Sumner’s Roll with It is a heartwarming, inspiring debut about a girl with an inextinguishable spirit. As a mother of a CP kid herself, Jamie’s first-hand experience shines through in this novel. She skillfully highlights the challenges of disability, without making the entire book about disability. Most importantly, however, she reminds readers that children with disabilities are more than their disability. Like everyone else, they have heart, talents, and a whole lot of character.
Some Places More Than Others
Best Middle-Grade Book Set in New York
As a Renee Watson fan, this book made me so happy. But another major plus was that I read this just before my trip to New York. It’s a perfect addition to these middle-grade books set in New York.
Renée Watson’s Some Places More Than Others is a quiet, immersive, and resonant novel that encourages us to listen to more stories about our families. This novel inspires forgiveness, a yearning for our history, and the need to maintain family (and chosen family) bonds. Most importantly, Watson’s recent release is a love letter to the city of New York!
The Fresh New Face of Griselda
Best Sibling Relationship
I adored this book, perhaps even a little more than I did Stef Soto, Taco Queen. Jennifer Torres writes honest stories about Latino families — especially those dealing with money issues.
The Fresh New Face of Griselda is a thoughtful, sensitive book about a child coping with economic upheaval. This book will be helpful for kids dealing with economic changes or whose friends are experiencing them. More importantly, if you enjoy books with entrepreneurial girls or the bond of sisterhood, you’ll love this one!
Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers
Best Middle-Grade Book About Female Friendships
I loved meeting the fierce young ladies in this book and going on their adventures. Books about female friendships are always my jam. Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers is an engaging middle-grade novel with memorable, endearing, and passionate protagonists.
This book sheds much needed light on bird hunting and its effect on the avian species. It also highlights the importance of standing up for what you believe in. If you like bold, determined heroines, birds, and a good dose of summer mischief and adventure, you’ll enjoy this book!
The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue
Best Middle-Grade Fictional Family
I just love this family; I can’t get enough. The plot in this novel is engaging, funny, and includes a surprising element of mystery that I enjoyed. If you’re on the fence whether or not to try this, you should! I’m eager to see the next two books in the series, follow this family, and see what they get up to next.
The World Ends in April
Most Unique Middle-Grade Novel
This is my most recent read and it really has a unique premise. The World Ends in April is a unique, insightful, and sensitive look at the way some children handle change. Among other things, it shows the value of credible information sources and explores how kids can better deal with difficult life situations. With a strong cast lovable — albeit stubborn — characters, this is a book worth reading.
There they are: my best middle-grade novels of 2019. Kudos to all the amazing writers who put in the work this year. Whether or not your book is on this list, you wrote a book! And I’m sure many people read and loved yours even if I either didn’t get the chance to read it or love it as much.
I’m so stoked for the exciting releases in 2020. If I read any more spellbinding books released this year, I’ll be certain to add them to the list. But please keep an eye out for my forthcoming book lists throughout this month.
Have you read any of the books on this list of best middle-grade books of 2019? What’s your favorite middle-grade book released in 2019? I’d love to know. I love me some backlist books too 🙂