Elise’s Favorite Middle Grade + YA Books This Year

Last year around this time I decided to do the “50 Book Challenge.” As I write this post, I’ve made it to 47 books, and the last three straggler books I’m working on are all about halfway done, so I think I’m going to make it! Woo hoo! In case you are interested or want to suggest this challenge to your child, I highly recommend it! Reading 50 books in a year equals out to just over one book per week. You could even do a simpler version like 15 or 25 books in a year. It’s a super rewarding and satisfying experience, and helps you develop such a feeling of accomplishment and goal-setting. Plus, it’s fun to follow along on sites like goodreads.com and see what other readers thought of the book and write your own reviews. (Also: note that if your child writes a review for Charlie’s Press and it gets accepted, they get a $10 gift card!)

I’m not going to lie, working at a bookstore gave me a HUGE advantage because I get to know all the new releases and borrow books often (or borrow and then decide to buy because I’ve dog-tagged pages/dropped my curry on it/generally destroyed the copy…)

Anyway….back to the good stuff!

Read below for my full list, and be sure to pick up copies in-store for yourself or for a nice holiday gift this year!


-Jacqueline Woodson, Harbor Me (review taken in part from my review on goodreads.com) 

I totally judged this book by its cover at first. I’m not sure why, but the orangey glow of it with the kid’s shadow outlines reminded me of boybands and growing up in the late 90’s and I just couldn’t get over it. That is, until my lovely coworker and curator of books at Charlie’s, Katharine, recommended it to me. Boy, was I wrong!

There is so much hope in this book, so much full joy and so much sadness. I want to wrap myself around it and forget all the horrible things happening in this crazy world of ours. But that is not what this book calls you to do! And it doesn’t hide at all from present-day violence and racism and families being separated from each other. The story centers around a group of “special” kids (AMAZING kids) put together in a room during last period everyday with one requirement from the teacher: to talk to one another. The narrator, a girl with a family divided by tragedy, calls the reader (and you can picture the reader so clearly) to reach out and to build relationships with their peers and to ask questions and to love.  I especially love how every gender of child in this book is so emotionally open and honest with themselves and each other:

(Amari) “That’s what I love about little kids–they just get to be little kids. But when you get to be big–like us–all that goes away. It goes far away. Like once with my dad. I was about eight years old and I went running to him ready to jump in his arms like I always did and he said, ‘Whoa, big man! You too grown for that now.’ One day yes. Next day no.

“But you know, deep…like way down inside me? I want it back sometimes. I want to hug you, Esteban, like Red hugged you…”

There are so many other quotes in here that I could also share, but that one stands out to me the most.

I feel like I will be recommending this book over and over again to the kids at our bookstore until I’ve annoyed everyone significantly. And then I’ll keep recommending it.


-Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker

This book…*sigh*. So, so good.

I’ve been sitting with this book, just looking at it because, well, it is just aesthetically pleasing in that way (Jen Wang wrote AND illustrated this beautiful graphic novel) wondering to myself what to write about it.

For starters, it is focused deeply on aesthetics: the two main characters in the book love dresses! (One character a dressmaker, the other a prince, who happens to be the dress-wearer). But this book is so much more than what meets the eye. It is about overcoming that voice in your head that says you can’t act this way or dress this way or like this person.

Oh, that’s nice and all, you say, but I’ve read this book 1,000 times. Well, to that I say: read this book to the end. It is radical. Yes, I’m going to use the word RADICAL. Why? Because…well (this is my spoiler alert) the prince’s father (the KING!) fully and unabashedly accepts his son in the end. But his acceptance isn’t just a vocal acceptance, it isn’t just a nod of the head and a hug and be done with it (which is a lot more than some kids get these days, and this book is set in the Victorian age). His father’s acceptance is an actionable acceptance, which is what I find the most radical about this book. He shows his child his love by dressing up and marching in his friend’s fashion show, completely dressed to the nines. (Sorry, I told you I’d be giving spoilers here!)

Jen Wang has written something that I think is the kind of book that moves us forward as a society, and I hope you’ll consider sharing it with all the kids in your life, whether or not they love dressing up!


-Vera Brosgol, Be Prepared

Brosgol wrote Anya’s Ghost & the picture book, Leave Me Alone!, so you may have already heard of her. Her newest graphic novel, Be Prepared, has gone a little under the radar, so I’m delighted to share my review of it here and give it the high praise it deserves:

Did you not like summer camp? Do you have a kid who hated it, too? Did the spiders and the bugs and the weird toilets freak you out? Did you never really get over it? Are you me? Are you a 12 year old in a 30 year old’s body?

Okay, okay, so you may be harboring some judgement about me as a child and to that I say: you are 100% right. I loved dresses (see above) and shiny things and I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s (see above again) and everything was shiny then and that was just how it was and camp was GROSS.*

No, but seriously, this book is ADORABLE and very, very well done. There are so many graphic novels out there about kids loving camp– let’s shine a light on those that didn’t, shall we? Or at least, let’s be emotionally honest (like the main character in Brosgol’s book is) and tell our children that they can be, too. I also have to say that the sibling dynamic in this book is so realistic and loving. 10/10 Will recommend over and over again!

*By “camp” I’m referring to a particular “badge-gathering” (hint hint) camp and not Blue Lake Fine Arts camp held in the beautiful woods in Michigan, which was a fine, fine camp indeed without many bugs or weird toilets and supports many lovely young artists to this day.


Thanks for reading my very first post, and hope this list helps shine a light on a few sweet books for yours or your child’s reading adventures! All books above would be appropriate for as young as middle grade readers (8-12 years old, typically) and as old as YA (12+).


Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!


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