We remember the books we read in middle school and high school so much more clearly than that best-seller we picked up last month. Tucked under the covers with a flashlight, or spending a whole Saturday inside turning pages, we were sponges, soaking up every last word of classic coming-of-age novels, thrilling mysteries and funny contemporary middle grade books. If you’ve got a daughter of your own now, you’re in luck: You get to relive that thrill through her eyes all over again.
Now she can laugh and cry with Little Women, enter a world of mystery with Nancy Drew or experience the hardships of others in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the way you may have once, not quite so long ago. She can also discover the new books that have been written since then, from Judy Moody to Brown Girl Dreaming — and you might decide to discover them right along with her.
The books your daughter reads will stay with her forever. She’ll make friends with literary characters, learn empathy for others and discover places she’s never been.
The 55 books featured in our list of classic and modern-day reads will introduce your Little Woman to an abundance of humor, love, drama and herstory. And, if you missed any of these growing up, now’s your chance to dive into some of the best middle-grade kid-lit ever.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2015.
‘The Sun Is Also a Star,’ by Nicola Yoon
Coincidence brings together teens Daniel, a Korean-American putting off a dreaded college interview, and Natasha, a girl enjoying her last day in her hometown New York City before she and her family are deported to Jamaica. Daniel thinks science can make them fall in love.
‘Brown Girl Dreaming,’ by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson uses flowing verse to tell her memoir of growing up in the segregated South and Brooklyn in the 1960s and ’70s. This is a beautiful example of the power of poetry to bring someone else’s experience to life.
‘Esperanza Rising,’ by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Tragedy forces Esperanza and her mother to leave their privileged home on a ranch in Mexico and live in a migrant camp in California during the Great Depression.
‘The True Meaning of Smekday,’ by Adam Rex
Eleven-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci and her alien friend J.Lo go on a comedic fantasy trip at the end of the world.
‘The Egypt Game,’ by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Melanie Ross and April Hall both love ancient Egypt and begin to play a game called the Egypt Game. It’s a great time until they realize it might not be a game at all.
The Egypt Game
‘Pippi Longstocking,’ by Astrid Lindgren
Tommy and Annika strike up an instant friendship with their new neighbor Pippi Longstocking. The wild girl has a pet monkey, no parents and many adventures to share.
‘Caddie Woodlawn,’ by Carol Ryrie Brink
Caddie Woodlawn is a young prankster who doesn’t act very ladylike. She spends her days on the Wisconsin frontier rafting on the lake, visiting Indian camps and getting into all sorts of scrapes with her brothers.
‘Charlotte’s Web,’ by E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is a tale of talking animals, a kind spider and a little girl’s unconditional love, making this a necessary read for every child.
‘The Penderwicks,’ by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks are sisters who are privileged to stay at the beautiful Arundel Estate for the summer. But they find they’re not so well-received, and trouble soon abounds.
‘Little Women,’ by Louisa May Alcott
Marmee’s Little Women are the March sisters: beautiful Meg, wild Jo, gentle Beth and artistic Amy. Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical story follows the New England family during the Civil War.
‘The Secret Garden,’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mary Lennox is a rude little girl who spends more time with her servants than with her parents. When she loses them to all to cholera, she is sent to live with her uncle. There, she discovers The Secret Garden and all of the secrets it holds.
‘The Wednesday Witch,’ by Ruth Chew
The Wednesday Witch is the wonderful story of a girl named Mary Jane, a witch named Hilda, a cat named Cinders and a special perfume called Mischief.
‘The BFG,’ by Roald Dahl
The BFG is a big, friendly giant who doesn’t seem all that friendly… at first. He kidnaps a young orphan named Sophie and takes her from London to his own land. The BFG means no harm — every kid who reads this book will wish she had a giant of her own.
‘Sarah, Plain and Tall,’ by Patricia MacLachlan
After Jacob Witting’s wife dies during childbirth, he is left with the overwhelming task of caring for his family and farm. Needing help, Jacob advertises for a bride. Sarah responds.
‘Judy Moody,’ by Megan McDonald
Judy Moody is in no mood for the third grade. But somehow, she and her friend Rocky figure out a way to make it through.
‘The Secret of the Old Clock,’ by Carolyn Keene
The Secret of the Old Clock is the first Nancy Drew mystery. Nancy is just 16 years old, but she is a supersleuth who comes to the aid of a family who desperately needs help locating a will.
‘Mary Poppins,’ by P. L. Travers
Mary Poppins is the coolest nanny ever. She flies in on the east wind and instantly changes the lives of Jane and Michael Banks.
‘Out of the Dust,’ by Karen Hesse
It’s 1934, and 14-year-old Billie Jo wants out of Oklahoma and “out of the dust.” When tragedy strikes her loving family, she must pick up the pieces of her life.
‘Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,’ by Grace Lin
Inspired by the wonderful tales her father tells, Where the Mountains Meet the Moon is the story of young Minli, who sets off from the valley of the Fruitless Mountain to find the Old Man on the Moon.
‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of awkward high schooler Meg Murry’s adventure through space and time with her brother Charles and friend Calvin. The trio must overcome major challenges and face evil forces to rescue their scientist father, who’s being held prisoner on another planet.
‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,’ by E.L. Konigsburg
When Claudia Kincaid and her brother Jamie run away from home, they find themselves living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, they meet the woman who sold a priceless statue to the museum. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is the mystery of the story surrounding the statue (and its seller).
‘Anne of Green Gables,’ by L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is Anne Shirley, an orphan who is sent to work on the farm of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. The Cuthberts wanted a boy, but find Anne is smart, strong and energetic. The story follows Anne through her hardships to her ultimate success.
‘Because of Winn-Dixie,’ by Kate DiCamillo
Because of Winn-Dixie follows India Opal Buloni’s life in a Florida trailer park where she lives with her father, a preacher. While exploring the Winn-Dixie supermarket, India meets a scruffy dog, claims it as her own and names it Winn-Dixie.
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ by Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland includes a white rabbit, a great hallway filled with doors, funny talking creatures and the terrifying Queen of Hearts.
‘Island of the Blue Dolphins,’ by Scott O’Dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on a true story from the 1800s. When young Karana’s village is attacked by the Aleuts, her father and many others are killed. Her tribe sets out for a new land, but Karana stays behind and survives — completely on her own — for 18 years.
‘The Golden Compass,’ by Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. In a parallel universe, Lyra sets off with her daemon — the external form of her soul — to find her missing father.
‘Number the Stars,’ by Lois Lowry
Number the Stars takes place when WWII’s German troops begin relocating Denmark’s Jews. The Johansen family takes in their 10-year-old daughter’s best friend and conceals her by pretending she is part of their family.
‘Harriet the Spy,’ by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet is an expert little eavesdropper. She walks her daily spy route and writes down everything she sees and hears about people in a notebook. It’s all good until her classmates discover the notebook — along with every nasty thing she’s ever written about them.
‘Coraline,’ by Neil Gaiman
Coraline isn’t very excited when her family moves into a new apartment until she discovers a locked door in the drawing room. When she’s finally able to get into the forbidden room, she finds herself in a parallel universe — except for her terrifying “Other Mother.” To return to the real world with her real parents, Coraline will need the help of a mysterious cat.
‘Julie of the Wolves,’ by Jean Craighead
Julie of the Wolves is the story of Miyax, a 13-year-old Alaskan native girl. Bound to marry a man she detests, Miyax runs away to find her father, who went missing on a hunting trip. When she becomes lost in the wilderness, Miyax’s survival is dependent on a pack of wolves.
‘Matilda,’ by Roald Dahl
Matilda is sweet and bright — her family is not. As she struggles to deal with grumpy parents, a bratty brother and an unfair principal, Matilda will seek help from a kind teacher and learn to use some interesting special powers.
‘Little House on the Prairie,’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder shares the story of the little house on the prairie she shared with Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie and Jack.
‘Inkheart,’ by Cornelia Funke
Inkheart introduces the reader to Meggie and her father, a bookbinder who can read characters right out of a book. When he unwittingly releases an evil ruler, Capricorn, out of the bounds of fiction, the tyrant lands right in Meggie’s own living room!
‘The Witch of Blackbird Pond,’ by Elizabeth George Speare
Orphan Kit Tyler hates her colony in Connecticut and desperately misses her sunny home in the Caribbean. She feels suffocated by her strict relatives but finds a sense of freedom in the meadows, where she befriends the witch of Blackbird Pond. But terrible things happen when their friendship is discovered.
‘The Westing Game,’ by Ellen Raskin
Sixteen people assemble for the reading of millionaire Sam W. Westing’s will and learn they must compete to find out who murdered their benefactor. The winner of the contest, The Westing Game, will inherit $200 million and the Westing Paper Products company.
‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.’ by Judy Blume
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a classic coming-of-age story. Tweens will relate to Margaret’s curiosity and her confusing sense of self.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (ages 11 and up), $3 at Amazon
‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,’ by Mildred D. Taylor
Cassie and her large family live in Mississippi. Victims of the Great Depression, the family struggles to keep their farm. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was inspired by author Mildred D. Taylor’s own father and grandfather.
‘When You Reach Me,’ by Rebecca Stead
When You Reach Me follows the relationship of Miranda and Sal. The best friends love living in and exploring New York City. When their friendship starts to go downhill, Miranda receives a mysterious letter with a very strange request.
‘The Book Thief,’ by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is about Liesel Meminger, a foster child living Germany during World War II. Surrounded by hate, she finds comfort in books.
‘Heidi,’ by Johanna Spyri
An orphan named Heidi is sent to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, where she transforms the lives of Peter, his grandmother and the sickly Klara.
‘Ramona the Pest,’ by Beverly Cleary
Ramona can hardly wait to start kindergarten, but it turns out to be quite different than what she had expected.
‘Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great,’ by Judy Blume
Sheila Tubman, otherwise known as Sheila the Great, is actually a coward who suffers a lot of phobias. When her family decides to spend the summer in Tarrytown, New York, Sheila finds herself faced with fears she didn’t even know she had.
‘Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus,’ by Barbara Park
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus is the first in a series of 31 hilarious books for first- and second-grade readers. In the first book, the “almost” 6-year-old starts kindergarten and narrates the experience as only spunky Junie B. can.
‘Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion,’ by Julie Campbell
Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion is the first in the Trixie Belden series of mysteries. When 13-year-old Trixie’s friend moves into Manor House, they discover another friend, Jim, living inside. Together, they work to locate the fortune hidden in the mansion before Jim’s evil stepfather finds it.
‘Smile,’ by Raina Telgemeier
When Raina trips and falls after a Girl Scouts meeting, she suffers major damage to her two front teeth. The sixth grader must undergo a long journey of embarrassing treatments, including braces, headgear and a retainer with fake teeth. And these are the least of her worries! The last thing Raina wants to do these days is Smile.
‘The Doll People,’ by Ann M. Martin
In The Doll People, 8-year-old Annabelle Doll becomes fitful. She has been the same age and living in the same dollhouse for over 100 years. Ah, but how things change when the Funcrafts move in!
‘Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life,’ by Rachel Renée Russell
In Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life, our narrator shares all the deets about her new school, a new mean girl and a new crush. The diary entries feature fun sketches and doodles too. The first book will set you up for the 11 books that follow.
‘Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist,’ by Jim Benton
Franny K. Stein is an outcast. Her classmates don’t know what to make of this girl who’s always acting strangely and conducting experiments. Readers will laugh every time Franny finds herself in yet another impossible situation.
‘Nancy Clancy: Super Sleuth,’ by Jane O’Connor
Charming little Fancy Nancy has grown up a bit. Now known as Nancy Clancy, she’s a supersleuth who takes her love of fashion into the world of mysteries.
‘Whatever After: Fairest of All,’ by Sarah Mlynowski
When kids get sucked into a magic “mirror on the wall,” they find themselves inside Snow White’s fairy tale. The travelers meant well when they stopped Snow White from eating that poisoned apple, but now how will she ever meet her prince and live happily ever after?
‘Magic Tree House: Dinosaurs Before Dark,’ by Mary Pope Osborne
Dinosaurs Before Dark is a great way to introduce young readers to the exciting series that explores real events in history.
‘Tuck Everlasting,’ by Natalie Babbitt
Ten-year-old Winnie Foster is kidnapped, helps a murderer out of jail and is offered the ultimate gift: the fountain of youth. Will she accept this gift and all the complications that accompany it?
‘Culloo,’ by Murielle Cyr
In Culloo, Tala’s father is missing again, and the welfare officer is knocking at the door. The 13-year-old girl has just hours to find her father before she and her brother are placed in a foster home. Her search takes her to secluded woods where she has to get to her father before angry bear poachers beat her to him. Can the froglike people and giant blackbird help?
‘Ella Enchanted,’ by Gail Carson Levine
Ella just wants to be herself. Unfortunately, when she was born, a foolish fairy gave her the “gift” of obedience, and she must obey even the most ridiculous commands. The strong-willed girl sets off on a mission to break the silly curse — once and for all.
‘Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic,’ by Betty MacDonald
The loveable Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle knows kids. When parents send their kids to her upside-down house, she uses magic and humor to rid the children of all their bad habits. She’s the ultimate babysitter.
Pin this for your next library visit and challenge your little gal to read every one.
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