World Book Night: Top Ten Middle Grade Novels

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

Catherynne Valente

It’s World Book Night once again! Since this event is all about getting people reading, today’s post is a Top Ten of books for middle grade readers. Happy reading, everyone.

  1. The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien. OK, this is just on the borderline between MG and YA, but I think it deserves to be included in the List because a) Tolkien, b) it’s practically a gateway drug for The Lord of the Rings, and c) it’s a great fairytale in its own right. Spiders and goblins and bears, oh my!
  2. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingCatherynne Valente. Another book that makes it onto practically every list I’ve written ever, but there’s a reason for that. This is a really lovely little story, full of guts and adventure and darkness as well as the light. It manages to be accessible without being patronising, vocabulary-expanding without being difficult. And adults can enjoy it too.
  3. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer. Another borderline novel, but also very awesome. Artemis is dastardly but also fascinating, plus the world-building is excellent and the character arcs rather lovely.
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s StoneJ.K. Rowling. I know it’s an obvious choice, but there’s a reason why it’s more popular than God, and that’s because it’s good. The classic quest narrative retold as a magical boarding-school story with really well fleshed-out world-building and a swift-moving plot can only be a recipe for success.
  5. Howl’s Moving CastleDiana Wynne Jones. There seem to be a lot of fairytales in this list. I love how subversive Howl’s Moving Castle is, though: its endearingly spirited narrator Sophie finds herself empowered instead of cursed by being turned into an old woman. And Howl himself is pretty awesome.
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl. It’s set in a chocolate factory. A factory where they make chocolate. Think about that for a moment. It’s funny and inventive and clever and slightly disturbing all at once. And the monsters here are real children, not bugbears or goblins, which makes it true to life without being pessimistic.
  7. Redwall – Brian Jacques. There are about a gajillion books in the series, and while they may be faintly problematic in some respects (although, I would argue, not more so than anything Tolkien wrote), they’re also pretty entertaining. Another series that’s strong on world-building, especially on the food side of things: Redwall banquets may be the best fictional banquets ever. (Food seems to be another theme of this post.)
  8. The Famous Five – Enid Blyton. Another series that seems to have gone on for ever and ever. I love the carefree way in which Our Heroes wander around the countryside of Cornwall pluckily solving mysteries that, of course, no adult has any interest in solving, all in the company of Timmy the Wonder Dog and lashings of ginger beer.
  9. The Lion, The Witch and the WardrobeC.S. Lewis. Not, in my opinion, the best of the Narnia books, but it’s the one that everyone starts with. (Personally, I prefer The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) But Narnia as a whole is a lovely and magical creation, and I really don’t think that young readers pick up on the Christian undertones as much as we think they do.
  10. Mister Monday – Garth Nix. Another gateway drug-type book, this time for Nix’s YA Old Kingdom series. But the Keys to the Kingdom septet is good on its own merits: more clever world-building, and a hook that drags you further into the series.

What have you been reading for World Book Night?

Update: In-post linking has inexplicably begun working again. Far be it from me to look an Internet gift horse in the mouth. So I’ll be removing the Post Links menu on the right, which was only a temporary measure in any case. Hurrah!

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