Middle graders seeking a new fall read are in luck; this season’s haul includes a primer on bird behavior, captivating fantasies, probing friendship tales, graphic novels galore, and more. Here are some highlights.
Cat on the Run in Cat of Death! written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Paperbacks, Sept. 5): Princess Beautiful, an internet-famous feline, finds her life turned upside down when she’s framed by mysterious villains. Bad Guys creator Blabey’s latest graphic novel has everything readers love about his work: wild antics, subversive humor, and plot twists aplenty.
Mascot by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell (Charlesbridge, Sept. 5): This verse novel told in multiple voices makes a complex topic accessible to middle graders, exploring intense emotions and evolving opinions without sacrificing nuance as a small community, home of the Rye Middle School Braves, reckons with anti-Indigenous racism in sports.
The House of the Lost on the Cape by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa, illustrated by Yukiko Saito (Yonder, Sept. 12): This heartfelt novel by a popular Japanese children’s author has been made into an anime film. It centers found family, weaving folklore, and magic into a tale of healing in the wake of natural disaster—the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
Cross My Heart and Never Lie written and illustrated by Nora Dåsnes, translated by Matt Bagguley (Hippo Park/Astra Books for Young Readers, Sept. 19): Adolescence means change—and changes can be bumpy, as 12-year-old Tuva learns in this charmingly sincere and appealingly illustrated graphic novel from Norway. Her close-knit friendship trio is disrupted by budding crushes, questions of what is cool (or not), and more.
Enlighten Me (A Graphic Novel) by Minh Lê, illustrated by Chan Chau (Little, Brown Ink; Sept. 19): Binh is skeptical at the idea of attending a meditation camp, but as he listens to stories of the Buddha, his imagination takes flight and he begins to grapple with his own problems. Lush artwork and inspired storytelling combine for an immersive tale about a young Vietnamese American boy’s growing appreciation for Buddhism.
What It’s Like To Be a Bird (Adapted for Young Readers): From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing—What Birds Are Doing and Why written and illustrated by David Allen Sibley (Delacorte, Oct. 3): A master ornithologist sets young readers on the path to becoming expert birders. Children will emerge well versed in bird behavior—and eager to learn more.
Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, Oct. 10): Sage’s world is in turmoil, from the mysterious fires plaguing her neighborhood to the frequently scary changes wrought by adolescence. Woodson’s beautifully layered work is both a love letter to her native Bushwick and an insightful portrayal of a Black tween coming of age.
The Winterton Deception: Final Word by Janet Sumner Johnson (Pixel+Ink, Oct. 24): A missing Jane Austen manuscript, the shocking identity of an unknown father, a spelling bee at a grand chalet with a $500,000 prize, and a cast of wildly eccentric characters are just some of the ingredients in this well-crafted, page-turning mystery.
The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman by Mari Lowe (Levine Querido, Nov. 7): Lonely Shaindy sees an opportunity for friendship when popular Gayil asks her to help her prank the other students at their school for Orthodox Jewish girls. With this tender, at times heartbreaking tale, Lowe exhibits a profound understanding of the complexities of middle-school friendship.
Billy and the Giant Adventure by Jamie Oliver, illustrated by Mónica Armiño (Tundra Books, Nov. 14): “What the jammy doughnut is going on?!” Readers will be swept along with plucky protagonist Billy and his friends on magical adventures in the woods near their English village in this environmentally conscious, unapologetically silly adventure by the celebrity chef.
Mahnaz Dar and Laura Simeon are young readers’ editors.