Best Middle Grade Books 2019 | SLJ Best Books

Thirteen luminous novels made SLJ's list of the best middle grade books published in 2019. 


Middle Grade

The Line Tender

by Kate Allen. Dutton. ISBN 9780735231603.
Gr 5-8 –Lucy’s mother, a shark expert, died five years ago, and now Lucy has also lost her best friend Fred. She emerges from her grief with a project that fuses her artistic talent with a new interest in sharks. Allen pens a sensitive depiction of a transitional time where friends become romantic prospects, hobbies become professional aspirations, and loss can upend but also focus.


A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying

by Kelley Armstrong. Puffin Canada. ISBN 9780735265356.
Gr 4-6 –Royal twins Rowan and Rhydd are the children of the Queen and a famed Monster Hunter. It’s expected that Rhydd will follow in his father’s footsteps while Rowan takes the throne—despite her dream of being a monster hunter herself. When tragedy strikes, Rowan embarks on a dangerous quest for a gryphon and gathers a misfit troupe to help. Tweens will flock to this emotionally resonant fantasy full of action, humor, and mythical beasts.


I Can Make This Promise

by Christine Day. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062871992.
Gr 3-7 –Edie is quite happy with her life, until she realizes her mother hasn’t been telling the truth about her past. Edie knew her mother, who is Suquamish and Duwamish, was adopted into a white family, but never knew the details. Readers follow Edie on her path of discovery and heartache as she learns both her mother’s and grandmother’s stories, all while navigating changing friendships. Day illuminates a story rarely depicted in middle grade literature with insight and grace.


The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

by Dan Gemenhart. Holt. ISBN 9781250196705.
Gr 5-8 –Coyote Sunrise and her father, Rodeo, have traversed the country in a school bus for five years since the death of Coyote’s mother and sisters, collecting a quirky ensemble of companions. The imminent destruction of a park in her old neighborhood sends her on a mission to return in time to collect treasured mementos. Coyote is a unique character whose authentic voice shines.


Lalani of the Distant Sea

by Erin Entrada Kelly. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. ISBN 9780062747273.
Gr 5-8 –When her mother falls critically ill and her island is devastated by unstoppable rain after extended drought, Lalani travels to the fabled island of Isa to find help. Dozens of men have sailed toward it, but none return. Lalani’s story is woven with that of other islanders’ as they rise together and prove that success isn’t rooted in brute force. This is a lyrical, engrossing, and timely commentary on power, faith, and love.


For Black Girls Like Me

by Mariama J. Lockington. Farrar. ISBN 9780374308049.
Gr 3-7 –Makeda, 12, is a transracial adoptee who’s having trouble adjusting to life in a new town. She endures racist microaggressions from classmates, teachers, and even her own white parents. Her mom might be on the brink of another bipolar episode while dad is away on tour. In hauntingly beautiful prose and verse, Lockington offers an unflinching look at racism and the experiences of having a parent with a mental illness.


A Wolf Called Wander

by Rosanne Parry. illus. by Mónica Armiño. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. ISBN 9780062895936.
Gr 4-6 –Swift, a yearling wolf, travels alone across the Pacific Northwest in search of a home and new pack after an attack on his family’s territory. Without anthropomorphizing, Parry filters the world through Swift’s sensory perceptions. The copious black-and-white illustrations are expressive and detailed. Based on a real wolf that made a similar journey, this is ideal for readers with an interest in animals, nature, and survival stories.


How High the Moon

by Karyn Parsons. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316484008.
Gr 4-6 –Ella learns about her mother, the father she never knew, and the stark realities of race relations in 1944 America when she spends Christmas with her mother in Boston. Ella returns home to learn a boy in her small South Carolina community is charged with killing two white girls. This historical coming-of-age novel tackles racism, sexuality, and family secrets as it deftly handles Ella’s difficult life lessons.


A Good Kind of Trouble

by Lisa Moore Ramée. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062836687.
Gr 4-8 –Middle schooler Shayla finds her voice and shares in the power of peaceful political protest in her school. Ramée explores issues of racial identity, racial violence, Black Lives Matter, and shows what it’s like to navigate the harrowing experience of seventh grade. An important contemporary book about what young people can do to stand up for what they believe is right, even when it’s not easy.


Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

by Jason Reynolds. Atheneum/Caitlin Dlouhy Bks. ISBN 9781481438285.
Gr 5-8 –Raconteur Reynolds weaves together the disparate voices of 10 young people as they walk home from the same school. Through the students’ physical proximity to one another and their overlapping lives, each tale provides an imaginative and moving look at the joys and sorrows shaping their personal journeys.


The Moon Within

by Aida Salazar. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. ISBN 9781338283372.
Gr 4-8 –Celi Rivera, 11, is struggling with puberty and the onset of her period. Her mother is pushing her to celebrate with a “moon ceremony” as part of their Mexican heritage. Meanwhile, Celi’s best friend Marco is transitioning as middle school rages around them. This lightly illustrated novel in verse is an honest and empowering story, perfect for readers on the cusp of adolescence, exploring gender identity, or looking to better understand their peers.


Other Words for Home

by Jasmine Warga. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062747808.
Gr 4-8 –Jude must leave half of her family behind in Syria for relative safety in America with her pregnant mother. Though she dreams of being an actress, Jude isn’t expecting the type of attention she receives in her new school, including the label of “Middle Eastern” and the stigma it can bring. Warga’s gorgeous novel in verse explores prejudice, xenophobia, and the effects of war alongside emerging friendships and questions of belonging.


Genesis Begins Again

by Alicia D. Williams. Atheneum/Caitlin Dlouhy Bks. ISBN 9781481465809.
Gr 5-8 –When her family is evicted, again, Genesis’s father scores them a too-good-to-be-true home in a largely white neighborhood where he swears things will be different. Things aren’t different. Genesis hates many things about herself, including the darkness of her skin, a sentiment echoed by her father in his worst moments. Williams deftly explores the realities of colorism and alcoholism in this evocative narrative. Not a comfortable read, but a relevant and necessary one.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Linda Watson

I love seeing the new books that are being reviewed. However, has anyone else noticed that the majority of main characters in most reviews lately are female? I am trying to find titles for my reluctant male readers. It would be appreciated. if more reviews could include male protagonists as well. as well.

Posted : Nov 25, 2019 03:23

Lindsay Persohn

Hi, Linda,
I served as one of the reviewers for this list, and we too noticed most of the books featured female protagonists. We had trouble identifying additional titles to nominate for this list featuring male characters. We would love to review them; we just couldn't find them to review. We are seeing a few more diverse characters (socially, ethnically) but there seems to be an imbalance when it comes to gender(s) in quality children's literature.

Posted : Dec 26, 2019 05:30



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing