Best Middle Grade Books 2023 | SLJ Best Books

This year's best in middle grade includes fierce folklore-inspired adventures, powerful explorations of identity, and tender ruminations on loss and grief. Tweens of all reading levels and interests will find a novel that speaks to them in this curated collection.


Ahn, Flora. A Spoonful of Time. Quirk. ISBN 9781683693185.
Gr 4-7–Maya discovers her Halmunee, who has dementia, can use food to travel through memories. Maya uses this gift to learn more about her past and her Korean heritage but uncovers many secrets and realizes nothing is what she knew. A charming story filled with recipes.

Alkaf, Hanna. Hamra and the Jungle of Memories. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063207950.
Gr 4-8–Hamra has a lot of anger, from the way the pandemic has affected her family to her sadness over her grandmother’s illness. When she foolishly takes from the jungle, a weretiger begins haunting her dreams. This beautiful, poignant fantasy novel hits all the right notes.

Bird, James. No Place Like Home. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250877628.
Gr 4 Up–Ojibwe tween Opin lives out of his car with his mother and older brother, passing through towns in hopes of escaping Child Protective Services. When Opin finds a stray dog, he believes stability is within reach, even as things get harder. A moving exploration of keeping hope and culture alive amid incredible challenges.

Bow, Erin. Simon Sort of Says. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 9781368082853.
Gr 5 Up–Simon and his family move to a small town after a horrific tragedy, but things like PTSD and the press refuse to be made part of the past. This realistic fiction title is equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, with strong, supportive characters and themes of friendship and trauma.

Braden, Ann. Opinions and Opossums. Penguin/ Nancy Paulsen. ISBN 9781984816092.
Gr 3-7–Agnes is required to go through confirmation with her church, but what if she doesn’t know what she believes? This short but powerful novel compares Agnes’s growing knowledge of opossums with her ability to think for herself. A quick but deep dive into critical thinking and helping others do the same.

Brown, Waka T. The Very Unfortunate Wish of Melony Yoshimura. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063230767.
Gr 4-7–Melony Yoshimura feels stifled by her overprotective parents. When an evil Amanjaku promises to make Melony’s wishes come true, she’s thrilled, until the Amanjaku wants more and more. A fresh take on a Japanese folktale that’s just the right amount of creepy.

Currie, Lindsay. It Found Us. Sourcebooks. ISBN 9781728259499.
Gr 4-8–When a teen goes missing in the cemetery, Hazel uncovers the cemetery’s connection to a horrific accident. Can she put its ghosts to rest and save the missing boy? Based on real-life events, this intriguing horror story has enough scares to satisfy without being terrifying.

Dairman, Tara. The Girl from Earth’s End. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536224801.
Gr 4-7–Henna lives with her papas on Earth’s End, where she spends her days gardening and learning. When Papa Niall gets sick, Henna must do the unthinkable: leave Earth’s End to find the only cure, an extinct plant. A moving story about love, grief, and hope.

Day, Christine. We Still Belong. HarperCollins/Heartdrum. ISBN 978006 3064560.
Gr 4-8–It is Indigenous People’s Day, and Wesley has written a poem to mark the occasion. This important story sheds light on contemporary Native American life and discusses discrimination and Wesley’s struggles with family, social, and identity issues as an Indigenous student in Washington state.

Eliopulos, Andrew. Will on the Inside. Harper-Collins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063228702.
Gr 5 Up–Will excels at soccer, until he is diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and must take a break. He learns he loves video games, but what will his friends think of him connecting with Griffin? Friendships, shifting beliefs, sexual identity, and chronic illness are deftly explored in this coming-of-age novel.

Everett, Sarah. The Probability of Everything. HarperCollins/Clarion. ISBN 9780063256552.
Gr 3-7–Kemi loves probability, but when she learns an asteroid has an 84.7 percent chance of crashing into Earth in four days, she is determined to create a family time capsule. With a heartrending surprise twist, Everett masterfully, and realistically, explores grief.

Gow, Robin. Dear Mothman. Abrams/Amulet. ISBN 9781419764400.
Gr 5 Up–After losing his best friend, Noah tries to find and befriend the local cryptid, Mothman. In the process, he finds himself a group of supportive new friends. This beautiful look at gender identity, neurodiversity, strength, and friendship will resonate with readers young and old.

Marsh, Katherine. The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250313607.
Gr 5 Up–Because of COVID-19, Matthew is isolated with his mother and great-grandmother. He uncovers a riveting story of his great-grandmother’s past, a family secret hidden since the great Ukrainian famine in the 1930s. This historical fiction mystery introduces readers to a forgotten piece of history while showing multigenerational relationships at their finest.

Maunakea, Malia. Lei and the Fire Goddess. Penguin Workshop. ISBN 9780593522035.
Gr 4-7–Anna Leilani spends summers in Hawaii with her tūtū learning her family’s moʻolelo—stories. She really wants to act touristy to impress her Colorado friends, but accidentally enrages the Fire Goddess and now must save her best friend while learning to be true to herself.

Mendez, Jasminne. Aniana del Mar Jumps In. Dial. ISBN 9780593531815.
Gr 4-8–Swimming is everything to Dominican American Aniana, but she must hide it from Mami, whose trauma around the ocean runs deep. When a juvenile arthritis diagnosis reveals her secret and hinders swimming, Ani rebuilds herself. This novel in verse thoughtfully tackles family dynamics, chronic disability, and coming of age.

Mitchell, Jane. Run for Your Life. Little Island. ISBN 9781912417858.
Gr 4 Up–Azari is an asylum seeker in Ireland who tries to find a balance among the instability of her new home, making friends, xenophobic schoolmates, and freedom in her ability to run for pleasure. This is a compassionate and unique look at the Direct Provision system in Ireland.

Pennypacker, Sara. Leeva at Last. illus. by Matthew Cordell. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063114425.
Gr 4-7–Leeva’s mother says people are for fame; her father says they’re for money. But surely there’s more, thinks Leeva, who braves leaving her yard to discover the wonders of the world past the hedge. This Roald Dahl–esque novel is laugh-out-loud funny and deeply heartfelt.

Polonsky, Ami. World Made of Glass. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316462044.
Gr 5 Up–Iris wants change when her father dies of AIDS, so she joins his partner at one of the ACT UP protests demanding help for AIDS victims. This heartrending novel showcases the fear, ignorance, prejudice, and anger surrounding the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

Johnson, Leah. Ellie Engle Saves Herself. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 9781368085557.
Gr 4-8–Ellie has always been fine getting by as an unremarkable girl. Then a magical earthquake imbues her with powers, and she finds herself thrust into the strangest of spotlights. This sweet novel uses a superpower plot to explore eminently relatable coming-of-age topics with humor and heart.

Kuyatt, Meg Eden. Good Different. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338816105.
Gr 5 Up–Selah’s rules for being normal have always protected her, but when things become too much and she lashes out, she has to confront her differences. This novel in verse opens a door into the experience of living with autism, both the challenges and the joys.

Nayeri, Daniel. The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams. illus. by Daniel Miyares. Levine Querido. ISBN 9781646143030.
Gr 4 Up–Monkey escapes being murdered by monks only to find himself indebted to Samir, the Seller of Dreams, and traveling down the 11th-century Silk Road trying to find freedom. This masterly tale is packed with legends, high jinks, and humor alongside deep ponderings on life and love.

Swinarski, Claire. What Happened to Rachel Riley? HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063213098.
Gr 5 Up–New girl Anna knows something has happened to Rachel, the formerly popular girl who is now an outcast. This burning question leads Anna down a road of deep research and opens up dark secrets about sexual harassment at her school. A compelling, age-appropriate #MeToo narrative for tweens.

Thomas, Angie. Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780063225138.
Gr 4 Up–Nic’s father has always been reluctant to teach her how to use her Gift. But when some shocking truths come to light, Nic must hunt down a mysterious, powerful magical object to clear her father’s name. This fresh fantasy is impossible to put down.

Thomson, Pari. Greenwild: The World Behind the Door. Farrar. ISBN 9780374391379.
Gr 5 Up–When world-traveling Daisy’s mother goes missing, it is up to Daisy to save her. Daisy discovers a magical world filled with “botanists” (plant magicians), and realizes there is so much more to herself than she ever imagined. A fast-paced, worldbuilding fantasy with lush settings and strong conservation messages.

Yang, Kelly. Finally Seen. S. & S. ISBN 9781 534488335.
Gr 4-8–When Lina’s family immigrated to the United States from China, Lina stayed behind with her grandmother. Now it’s Lina’s turn to join her family, but she’s shocked to discover how hard her new life is. This novel deftly deals with big, timely topics.

Young, Suzanne. What Stays Buried. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063257122.
Gr 5-8–Calista can speak to ghosts, but a family curse means she loses the ability on her 13th birthday. When a vengeful spirit begins abducting children, Calista must defeat it to save her sister and break the curse. An eerie and emotional story with vivid scares and heartfelt depictions of grief.

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