9 Middle-Grade Books to Brighten Your Quarantined Spirit

Children and adults alike will enjoy these charming, escapist reads.

9 Middle-Grade Books to Brighten Your Quarantined Spirit

From the outside of our small brick house, it looks like our family is confined to our cramped berths. But from the inside? Children’s books are taking us across known and unknown worlds.

Most mornings, our elementary-school-aged daughter scampers down to the living room to curl up with a book on the sofa. There, sometimes, her little brother will join her, flipping through the pages of his book. Then, when “indoor school” starts, the girl-child anxiously looks forward to the reading portion (while the boy-child, who can’t yet read comfortably, will be content if someone is reading to him). At night, we read together.

Like so many households right now, we’re taking comfort in books. Books are a life raft, lifting our souls and shepherding us to exotic islands or safe harbors.

Middle-grade books can be especially comforting, given their emphasis on relatable characters and happy endings. Here are nine we have taken solace in. Most are recent releases, but there’s one classic, too:

1. On the way to Lily’s beloved grandmother’s house in rainy Washington state, a watchful tiger appears on the road in front of the car. Lily marvels at its glowing orange coat, then yells for her mother to stop — but the car goes on. That’s not the last time Lily sees that magical tiger, which turns out to have manifested from her grandmother’s tales. When You Trap a Tiger (Random House Books for Young Readers) by Tae Keller is a heartwarming exploration of friendship and stories.

2 & 3. In the new series “Jasmine Green Rescues” (Walker Books US), a young girl on a farm in England has a big heart and a love for vulnerable animals. She rescues first a runt piglet in A Piglet Called Truffle, then an orphaned duckling in A Duckling Called Button. These books have a delightful touch of modern realism — eggshells have to be washed to prevent germ transfer, baby formula has to have the right ingredients, and children search the internet for farms for sale — which prevents the stories from dipping into treacle. The charming illustrations by Ellie Snowdon add just the right touch of whimsy to these fun stories.

4. Though Baby Monkey, Private Eye (Scholastic Press) weighs in at 192 pages, this book is approximately a six-minute read. A funny, giggly, sweet, six-minute read that children will want to repeat over and over. Adults will appreciate Brian Selznick’s detailed and adorable drawings, while everyone will wonder just how Baby Monkey is able to solve these mysteries so well!

5. Bedtime in our house is buttressed by a long novel that I read out loud over the weeks (even better if the novel lets me try on different accents). We’re all utterly absorbed in Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), where the 11-year-old heroine is learning that perhaps she isn’t as cursed as her dour father led her to believe. This novel is like Harry Potter meets steampunk, and it has us all looking forward to nighttime.

6. We know reading can be transportive, but what if the book you were reading actually sucked you into its pages? Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers (Philomel Books) delivers on that delightful premise as young Bea learns that she, like her family before her, can dive into the books she loves. The resulting adventure and danger are heartwarming and, of course, page-turning.

7. While Lovis is in labor, she yells at her husband, “Drive the hell-harpies away and let me have some quiet. Otherwise I can’t hear what I’m singing!” With an opening like that, Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter (Puffin Books) promises the spunk and adventure you would expect from the author of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren. Ronia delivers, with wild horses, dry humor, and touching friendship.

8. Our daughter actually screamed when we received this quarantine delivery from Politics and Prose in Washington, DC: The Hive Queen (Scholastic Press), book 12 in the captivating “Wings of Fire” series. Tui T. Sutherland’s tales of dragon ambition, betrayal, friendship, and love are obsession-inducing, or so I hear. I can hardly sneak a glimpse at this book, since it spends most of its time snared in my daughter’s ravenous reading clutches.

9. Escaping to the past is my favorite kind of literary solace, and Gold Rush Girl (Candlewick Press) offers the grit and adventure of 1848 San Francisco, gripped in gold fever. Raised in stuffy New England, young Tory dresses herself as a boy to stow away on the ship taking her father and younger brother out west. The resulting adventures are filled with danger and suspense — just the distraction we need these days.

Carrie Callaghan is the author of the historical novels Salt the Snow (2020) and A Light of Her Own (2018), both from Amberjack/CRP. She lives in Maryland with her family.

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