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Updated by Jen Blair on Feb 17, 2021
Headline for Top 20 of 2020 - Middle Grade
Jen Blair Jen Blair
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Top 20 of 2020 - Middle Grade

These are the best books that I read this last year. It was hard to narrow it down to only twenty! You will see that I split Young Adult with Middle Grade. Because there are so many great ones this year!

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling

The Canyon’s Edge - Dusti Bowling

A fantastic combination of a survival adventure combined with a tale of grief and resilience. A novel in verse.

From the publisher:
One year after a random shooting changed their family forever, Nora and her father are exploring a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert, hoping it will help them find peace. But when they reach the bottom of the canyon, the unthinkable happens: A flash flood rips across their path, sweeping away Nora's father and all of their supplies. Suddenly, Nora finds herself lost and alone in the desert, facing dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and, worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town - Brandy Colbert

Alberta, Edie, and Laramie are navigating middle school, mean girl behavior, and racism. AND they solve a mystery. What’s not to love?

From the publisher:
Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living. When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie's attic, they team up to figure out exactly who's behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.

Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick

Tornado Brain - Cat Patrick

Told from the perspective of Frankie, who is neurodiverse, allows you to understand what it’s like to process the world differently. Frankie doesn’t like to be touched and always needs to tell the truth. Even when it hurts. But I loved her and her family. And, I’m warning you, at one point you are going to need MANY Kleenex.

From the publisher:
Frankie has trouble making friends. She did have one--Colette--but they're not friends anymore.Then, just weeks before the end of seventh grade, Colette unexpectedly shows up at Frankie's door. The next morning, Colette vanishes. Now, after losing Colette yet again, Frankie's convinced that her former best friend left clues behind that only she can decipher, so she persuades her reluctant sister to help her unravel the mystery of Colette's disappearance before it's too late.

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson

Ways to Make Sunshine - Renee Watson

A girl who loves her family and her cooking. It’s like it was written for me!

From the publisher:
Ryan Hart has a lot on her mind--school, self-image, and especially family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. Ryan is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend. But even if her life isn't everything she would wish for, when her big brother is infuriating, her parents don't quite understand, and the unexpected happens, she always finds a way forward, with grace and wit. And plenty of sunshine.

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

We Dream of Space - Erin Entrada Kelly

I’m just going to tell you. I don’t like the parents in this book. They do not deserve these kids. All three of these kids are amazing humans who end up getting lost in the unhappiness of their home. I wish I could tell Cash, Fitch, and Bird that they DO have worth, and the world is a better place for having them in it. I want this one to win the Newbery.

From the publisher:
Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in 7th grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties. The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common. When the day of the Challenger launch finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson

When Stars Are Scattered - Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

This book is a gift. A true story based on the experiences of Omar Mohamed who spent most of his life in a refugee camp. It’s all about the importance of story. Both to share and to listen. You need to listen to this one.

From the publisher:
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Before the Ever After - Jacqueline Woodson

Who are your friends? Who will stick by your side when things get tough? What do you do when the person you love the most in the world disappears in front of your eyes? A beautiful tale in verse of love and family and football.

From the publisher:
For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. But now his dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ's mom explains it's because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days. And can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Echo Mountain - Lauren Wolk

A beautiful story of a determined family trying to survive their new life in the mountains after both parents lost their jobs in the Great Depression. Ellie is a survivor and a fighter that you will remember long after you finish this book.

From the publisher:
When the Great Depression takes almost everything they own, Ellie's family is forced to leave their home in town and start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as her family struggles with the aftermath of an accident that has left her father in a coma. Determined to help her father, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as "the hag." But the hag, and the mountain, still have many untold stories left to reveal and, with them, a fresh chance at happiness.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Efrén Divided - Ernesto Cisneros

Efrén and his family are devastated when his mom is deported. Their love for each other and their struggle to overcome this loss will have you on the edge of your seat.

From the publisher:
Both Ama and Apa work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efren and his younger siblings Max and Mia feel safe and loved. But Efren worries about his parents; although he's American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Ama doesn't return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, Mexico.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Fighting Words - Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Flipping. Best. Book. I avoided this one for a long time because I knew it was a story of abuse. But clear-eyed, intelligent, smart (and FUNNY) Della will make you stand up and cheer as she finds her way. And really appreciate finding your words (even when they’re impolite) and your voice.

From the publisher:
Ten-year-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki. Suki is Della's own wolf--her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della's world turns so far upside down, it feels like it's shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she's been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it's time to be loud.

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

The List of Things That Will Not Change - Rebecca Stead

Bea is another tough kid dealing with things out of her control, but with her loving, supportive parents she finds a way to persevere. I really related to Bea and how she saw the world. I would have been happy to be her sister.

From the publisher:
After her parents' divorce, Bea's life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other. When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. When Jesse and Dad get married, she'll finally have what she's always wanted--a sister. Even though she's never met Jesse's daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they'll be "just like sisters anywhere."

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Mañanaland - Pam Munoz Ryan

A young boy in search of his mother finds that the stories told by his grandfather have a deeper meaning and reveal a proud family secret. Reads like a fairy tale, but one that could really happen.

From the publisher:
Twelve-year-old Max, who loves the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow, sets out on a dangerous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds, armed with a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo's legend as his only guides.

Once Upon an Eid by S.K. Ali

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices - edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

I love that these are truly American stories. Funny and tragic. Big kids and little kids. But all about family and faith and holidays and food and being together.

From the publisher:
Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it's waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it's the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it's the gift giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy.

One Time by Sharon Creech

One Time - Sharon Creech

A story about the power of words and imagination and good teachers. The characters snap and crackle - jumping off the page using only a few words. The power of Creech. Another classic.

From the publisher:
Imaginative, eleven-year-old Gina, her mysterious new neighbor, Antonio, and their classmates are inspired by an unusual young teacher to see who they are and envision who they are meant to become.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus - Linda Sue Park

I loved this book so much. Brought back all my best memories from reading the Little House books when I was little. Hanna is a heroine for the ages: brave, smart, thoughtful, and real. I want to read this over and over again.

From the publisher:
A young half-Asian girl, Hanna, makes a new start in a small town in America's heartland, in 1880. Hanna must negotiate the townspeople's almost unanimous prejudice against Asians as a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father's shop, and making at least one friend.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon - Kat Leyh

I was hooked from the first line: “Our town has a witch.” Snapdragon is everything you want in a protagonist: brave, true, smart, no-nonsense. This graphic novel is one of the best books I’ve ever read, combining elements of magic, family, acceptance, and perseverance. Five stars for Snapdragon.

From the publisher:
Snap's town had a witch. At least, that's how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocs-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online. It's creepy,sure, but Snap thinks it's kind of cool, too. They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic--and a connection with Snap's family's past.

The Weirn Books, Vol. 1: Be Wary of the Silent Woods by Svetlana Chmakova

Weirn: Be Wary of the Silent Woods - Svetlana Chmakova

Because when have you NOT loved a book by Chmakova? A spooky tale about young magicians who fight evil through the power of their magic and friendship. I can’t wait for the rest of the books in the series. Svetlana wins.

From the publisher:
In the Night Realm, vampires, shifters, weirns, and other night things passing for human prowl the streets... but they still have to go to school! Ailis and Na'ya are pretty average students (NOT losers), but when a shadow starts looming and a classmate gets all weird, they are the first to notice. It gets personal, though, when Na'ya's little brother D'esh disappears-It's time to confront the secrets of the forbidden mansion in the Silent Woods!

What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado

What Lane? - Torrey Maldonado

“You have to think twice before you act once.” This is the lesson for Stephen, no longer a cute kid but a tall Black adolescent, who is finding, for the first time, that he is considered a threat, while his best friend, who is white, is not. A marvel of a book about two boys navigating the racist world that we live in.

From the publisher:
Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn't think it's his lane, but he goes. Here's the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he's not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he's living in two worlds with different rules--and he's been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends.

White Bird by R.J. Palacio

White Bird: A Wonder Story - R.J. Palacio

I missed the part of Wonder where the grandmother talked about her experiences of living through WWII. But I’m so glad that Palacio turned it into its own story. I loved every second of this story.

From the publisher:
Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère's heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.

Wink by Rob Harrell

Wink - Rob Harrell

Who knew a book about cancer and middle school bullies could be so charming, uplifting, real and FUNNY? A complete delight.

From the publisher:
Ross Maloy just wants to be a normal seventh grader. He doesn't want to lose his hair, or wear a weird hat, or deal with the disappearing friends who don't know what to say to "the cancer kid." But with his recent diagnosis of a rare eye cancer, blending in is off the table.