Dear Apples,

Remember when we used to read out loud to each other?  Wasn’t that just the best?  Now I still miss it so much that I’m always trying to replicate it, and I read out loud to Isla all the time, whether it’s Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? or a re-read of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.  I read to C too, regardless of whether he’s paying attention or not.

I’ve started so many posts about all of the books that I loved growing up–and that I still remember and sometimes reread–and I’ve left them half-done because the volume is just too overwhelming.  There are children’s books that I loved when I was a kid and now there are a whole army of new ones that have grabbed my attention.  The same goes for every category and subcategory of literature.  But since I could talk about books forever and never get bored of it, I’ll try to start slow and see how far I get with listing at least some of the books that have shaped me and been my most constant solace through every stage of life.

Today I’ll start with some of my favorite Middle Grade fiction.  Some were written for that age group, and some I just happened to read when I was in 6th, 7th and 8th grade.  This is by far one of the best categories in literature, and I think it’s because it’s just such an awesome age.  I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but adolescents have all that incredible curiosity and enthusiasm and awkwardness and budding maturity that hasn’t yet turned cynical.  Although I love a lot of Young Adult fiction as well, I usually don’t find the same depth and variety and scope there that I can usually count on in Middle Grade fiction.   This is certainly not a comprehensive list, and some of them feel younger than middle grade while others feel slightly older, but I’m trying to pull out the heavy hitters of the adolescence-ish age that I can recall at the moment.

Harry Potter Series- J. K. Rowling 

I started reading these in high school, and they finished coming out when I was in college, but I would have loved starting them a little younger too.  It was great to have the experience of waiting desperately for her to complete the next one and the next one, and checking for your turn to come to borrow it at the library or waiting for a friend’s copy.  I’m so glad I had the chance to love those books as she was writing them.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh-Robert C. O’Brien

My 6th grade teacher read this book out loud to my class, and we weren’t supposed to skip ahead, but I couldn’t wait and definitely checked this one out at the library and read the whole thing while the class was in the first few chapters.  It didn’t stop me from loving it while the teacher read it.

The Wednesday Wars-Gary D. Schmidt

This one is a Newberry honor, and totally deserves it.  Holling Hoodhood is a hilarious boy who is forced to spend Wednesdays with a teacher he hates while everyone else is in religion class.  The story takes place during the Vietnam war, and the backstory of his family is woven in so well.  I really need to go back and re-read this one.

Up a Road Slowly-Irene Hunt

I’ve read this book many times.  The characters are fascinating and funny and compelling, and it’s a coming of age story in a reality very different from mine, but so relatable at the same time.  I learned a lot from this book.  I just looked at the Amazon page, and it has a pretty unappealing cover that shows a dreamy girl peering wistfully out into space, and that image does not do a great job at conveying the content of this book.

To Kill A Mockingbird-Harper Lee

I started this after I was riding home from school on the bus one day and saw a girl in high school finish it and say “What a book!”  I’ve re-read it many times since then, and it always makes me cry.

The Great Brain series

Ohmygosh these are the best.  Told through the voice of a young boy recounting the adventures of growing up with his older brother, they are perfectly hilarious and honest.

Dear Mr. Henshaw-Beverly Cleary

This is another Newberry Medal winner, but surprisingly, I doubt it’s Cleary’s best known book.  I absolutely loved all the Ramona books and the Henry Huggins books, and this one was quite different from her younger books but such a pleasant surprise.  It’s a poignant conversation in letters between a growing boy and his favorite author as the boy navigates everything happening around him through adolescence and his teenage years.

The Narnia Series- C.S. Lewis 

I didn’t read all of these, (probably because we owned those really weird but good movies that BBC did, and so I knew most of the stories very well) but I loved The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle.

His Dark Materials series-Philip Pullman

I read these in grad school and finished all three in a few days.  Pullman is such an incredible storyteller, and I think I would have loved reading them when I was younger.

I don’t have time to give descriptions of all the books that are on this very incomplete list, but I absolutely loved all the following books as well and I promise that they deserve emphatic recommendations:

Homer Price books-Robert McCloskey

Lily’s Crossing- Patricia Reilly Giff

A Wrinkle in Time-Madeleine L’Engle

Emily of New Moon series

Peter Pan- J.M. Barrie

The Giver-Lois Lowry (Just found out now that this is a series!! I only ever knew about the first one)

What are some of your favorites?