Best Middle Grade Books 2022 | SLJ Best Books

Rollicking adventures, coming-of-age woes, and long-lasting friendships are part and parcel of middle grade books, and these outstanding 25 picks fit the bill.



Balcárcel, Rebecca. Shine On, Luz Véliz! Chronicle. ISBN 9781797209678.
Gr 3-6–When a serious injury sidelines soccer star Luz, the sixth grader feels like she’s floundering. Then, aided by her brilliant, elderly neighbor, she discovers coding. A touching story about family and self-discovery, this well-crafted tale will appeal to a broad range of readers.

Bird, James. The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250811561.
Gr 5 Up–Benjamin Waterfalls is used to being in trouble, until his most recent shoplifting lands him a sentence in “boot camp” with his Ojibwe family. Set in modern-day Grand Portage, MN, this tale of redemption and healing leans heavily on Ojibwe traditions and wisdom. A heartfelt story of second chances.

Booth, Coe. Caprice. Scholastic. ISBN 9780545933346.
Gr 5 Up–While Caprice wrestles with the idea of choosing between an elite boarding school and her neighborhood school in Newark for eighth grade, she is also haunted by painful memories that keep resurfacing. Booth’s accessible novel uses a mix of verse poetry, flashbacks, and time-stamped present-day narrative to address abuse with unflinching honesty.

Bury, Katryn. Drew Leclair Gets a Clue. Clarion. ISBN 9780358639602.
Gr 5 Up–Drew is a seventh-grade wannabe criminal profiler who takes notes from her hero, profiler Lita Miyamoto, to solve cases at her middle school. Her toughest case yet is uncovering the identity of a cyberbully who’s exposing classmates’ most sensitive secrets, including hers. This modern take on Harriet the Spy tackles friendship, acceptance, and sexuality.

Callender, Kacen. Moonflower. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338636598.
Gr 4 Up–So many hate Moonflower without knowing them. It is only when Moonflower journeys outside their body to the spirit world that they find peace. This is a nuanced blend of otherworldly fantasy with the realistic inner struggles of mental illness. Moonflower’s sorrows and triumphs will have readers weeping and cheering along.



Clayton, Dhonielle. The Marvellers. illus. by Khadijah Khatib. Holt. ISBN 9781250174949.
Gr 3-7–Ella is the first Conjurer to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, and she can’t wait to hone her magical skills. But she’s stuck spending most of her energy dealing with the other students’ (and teachers’) prejudices against Conjurers. This is a stellar example of a fresh take on the magic school subgenre.

Dalton, Ryan. This Last Adventure. Carolrhoda. ISBN 9781541599284.
Gr 5-8–Archie and his grandfather have always had a close relationship, but when Grandpa is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Archie seeks to help through invented fantasy stories based on the older man’s past. The harsh realities of this devastating disease are dealt with gently and honestly in this mix of realistic fiction and fantasy.

Dao, Julie C. Team Chu and the Battle of Blackwood Arena. Farrar. ISBN 9780374388751.
Gr 4-8–When siblings Clip and Sadie Chu start seeing a strange boy in the epic virtual reality laser tag arena they frequent, they realize he’s not a character; he’s trapped in the game, and it’s up to them to get him out. This rollicking sci-fi/adventure story combines heart-stopping action, virtual reality gaming, and sibling relationships in a way that feels effortless.

Dee, Barbara. Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet. S. & S./Aladdin. ISBN 9781534489837.
Gr 3-8–Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs’s anxiety about climate change turns into an opportunity for action when a science project shows the local impact of pollution. Dee gets at the heart of anxiety, friendships, and taking an active role in one’s life in this resonant contemporary novel.

Ellis, Deborah. Step. Groundwood. ISBN 9781773068152.
Gr 3-7–Ten unconnected protagonists have an 11th birthday. Each child faces an opportunity to see through the eyes of another and to take a step toward making the world a better place. These realistic short stories will take readers deeper into their own hearts and dreams.



Farid, Diana. Wave. illus. by Kris Goto. Cameron Kids. ISBN 9781951836580.
Gr 5 Up–Thirteen-year-old Ava is used to riding the waves, whether it’s on her board or in her home facing her Persian mother’s high expectations. When tragedy strikes, Ava must navigate her most heartbreaking wave yet. This historical novel-in-verse will engulf readers in its poignant tale of young loss while painting a breathtaking portrait of life in 1980s California.

Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 9781368068192.
Gr 3-7–At a market, Shinji is thrust into the adventure of his life when he finds a figurine of a Coatl, a feathered serpent creature from Mesoamerican Lore, and strives to return the figurine to Mexico before its curse takes effect. This Indiana Jones meets Percy Jackson adventure touches on respecting and preserving cultures instead of taking from them.

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Those Kids from Fawn Creek. Greenwillow. ISBN 9780062970350.
Gr 4-7–Fawn Creek, LA, isn’t the kind of place where much changes, so the local students are instantly intrigued when Orchid arrives. This story shakes up small-town story tropes by showing the realities of life in a small, poor town, and the limitations the characters face; Fawn Creek itself also feels alive, the setting as much a character as the children.

Levithan, David. Answers in the Pages. Knopf. ISBN 9780593484685.
Gr 5 Up–When the parent of a fifth grader picks up his assigned reading and objects to one sentence, the students find themselves in a philosophical quagmire as the book challenge makes its way to the school board. A timely book that should not only be in every library but also is a true joy to read.

Lockington, Mariama J. In the Key of Us. Farrar. ISBN 97803 74314101.
Gr 5-8–Andi and Zora, two of the only Black kids at music camp in Northern Michigan, are frequently thrown together by students and staff who ignorantly assume that they will connect. They begin to develop a real friendship, and maybe more. This coming-of-age story navigates sensitive topics like body image, mental health, racism, and grief with a gentle hand.



Magoon, Kekla. Chester Keene Cracks the Code. Random/Wendy Lamb. ISBN 9781524715991.
Gr 3-7–When a classmate approaches Chester Keene to work on a super secret mission, he is convinced it will bring him closer to his absent dad and help him fight back against a bully. In this fast-paced heist story, Magoon also expertly explores the complex relationships of a single-parent family and changing family dynamics.

Malinenko, Ally. This Appearing House. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063136571.
Gr 5-9–Jac has been in remission from cancer for almost five years, but as the anniversary approaches so do symptoms—and a mysterious house Jac has never seen before but feels inexplicably drawn to. This horror with fantasy elements explores the trauma caused by disease and grief, and its impact on those we love, as well as healing through facing one’s experiences.

Melleby, Nicole. The Science of Being Angry. Algonquin. ISBN 9781643750378.
Gr 4-8–Joey knows that her anger is a problem. A school genetics unit inspires her to track down the sperm donor her parents used in an attempt to understand who she is. This novel features an endearing protagonist navigating her complex identity and defining “family” for herself.

Okogwu, Tolá. Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun. S. & S./McElderry. ISBN 9781665912617.
Gr 3-7–Onyeka has always felt insecure about her hair, which she can never get under control. After her friend almost drowns, she discovers she is a Solari with psychokinetic powers connected to her hair. Onyeka travels to the Academy of the Sun where she learns to harness her powers in this adventure that’s Black Panther meets X-Men.

Paulsen, Gary. Northwind. Farrar. ISBN 9780374314200.
Gr 4-8–An orphan named Leif finds himself alone in a canoe fleeing northward along a rugged and untamed shoreline to escape a deadly plague, discovering a deep connection with the wilderness along the way. Readers will be swept away by the beauty of Paulsen’s final gift, which is so much more than a survival story.



Roe, Monica. Air. Farrar. ISBN 978037 4388652.
Gr 4-7–Seventh grader Emmie doesn’t need help, as most people assume when they see her wheelchair. She needs them to realize she is capable of so much when systems aren’t actively in her way. Set in contemporary South Carolina, this realistic novel deftly balances the sport of wheelchair motocross, disability rights, friendship, grief, poverty, and independence.

Sass, A.J. Ellen Outside the Lines. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780759556270.
Gr 3-7–Ellen Katz is an autistic, queer, Jewish 13-year-old who loves routine, but spending two weeks on a class trip in Barcelona helps her realize that it is okay to try new things and make new friends. A heartwarming story of identity, friendship, and first crushes.

Stamper, Phil. Small Town Pride. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780063118782.
Gr 5 Up–Jake is the only openly gay kid in his tiny Ohio town. This doesn’t bother him, until the Pride flag his father hung up outside his house stirs up controversy, inspiring Jake to plan Barton Springs’s first Pride festival. Stamper’s excellent novel about coming of age in a turbulent environment will engender important conversations around queerness and community.

Tureaud, Maria. The Last Hope in Hopetown. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316368452.
Gr 3-7–Sophie Dawes loves her adopted mothers, both of whom are vampires, which brings an added level of scrutiny now that some vampires have gone rogue and are attacking humans. Equal parts horror and mystery, this contemporary tale is sure to delight readers who enjoy a spooky vibe with their whodunits.

Yee, Lisa. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance. Random. ISBN 9781984830258.
Gr 4 Up–When 11-year-old Maizy’s grandfather falls ill, she and her mother visit her grandparents for the first time. While helping to run their Chinese restaurant, Maizy learns about her family history with enduring roots in the town since the 1880s. This fast-paced, humorous, heartwarming tale will appeal to readers of all ages.

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