PODCAST

Episode 349: Best Middle-Grade Books of 2023

BY MEGAN LABRISE • December 5, 2023

Zach Weinersmith swings by our Best Middle-Grade Books of 2023 episode.

On this week’s Fully Booked podcast, Zach Weinersmith joins us to discuss Bea Wolf, illustrated by Boulet (First Second, March 21). This “wonderfully weird” young readers’ adaptation of a considerable portion of the ancient epic Beowulf is one of Kirkus’ Best Middle-Grade Books of the Year.

Weinersmith is a celebrated cartoonist, author, and polymath best known as the creator of the webcomic (SMBC). He is the co-author, with wife Kelly Weinersmith, of the bestselling pop science books Soonish and A City on Mars, and the illustrator of Open Borders by economist Bryan Caplan.

Here’s a bit from our starred review of Bea Wolf, his first book for young readers:

“Long ago, in an unnamed suburb, lived Carl, ‘detector of gold,’ who, with toys and treats, cemented a lasting legacy of childhood revels. As time claimed countless kid-kings, the cardboard crown was passed on. Roger, king of our age, turns his ambitions skyward and constructs Treeheart, a stronghold against such evils as bullies. But the safehouse is besieged by detractors, the worst of them the dreaded Mr. Grindle, a cranky middle-aged man able to condemn kids to the pall of adulthood with a single withering touch. One wild night, Grindle desecrates the hall, heralding an age of silent sorrow. Hope washes in from foreign ’burbs in the form of Bea Wolf, ‘bride of battle,’ with ‘sixty kids’ strength’ in each hand. Will she reclaim Treeheart from Grindle’s fell grasp?…However tempted time-broken adults might be to scoff at the slapdash magical realism and sympathize with Grindle, doing so in the face of such an unabashedly joyful ode to the freedom of the child’s mind is an impossible task.”

Weinersmith gives great thanks to all those who’ve read, recommended, and celebrated Bea Wolf since its March publicationespecially librarians. He and I nerd out about exactly how much of Beowulf the book covers, when and where he first encountered the mighty poem, and why he loves it so much. We acknowledge that his Old English is much better than mine, and confront the special sadness of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. He speaks of the many joys of collaborating with genius illustrator Boulet. We talk a bit, alliteratively, about the language he chose to tell this tale, some of his favorite reads of 2023, and much more.

Then young readers’ editors Laura Simeon and Mahnaz Dar discuss their approach to collaborating on this year’s Best Middle Grade Books list.  

 

LAURA’S PICKS:

 

Starboard by Nicola Skinner (Harper/HarperCollins)

Saving Sunshine by Saadia Faruqi, illus. by Shazleen Khan (First Second)

Aniana Del Mar Jumps In by Jasminne Mendez (Dial Books)

 

MAHNAZ’S PICKS:

Henry, Like Always by Jenn Bailey, illus. by Mika Song (Chronicle Books)

My Head Has a Bellyache: And More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, illus. by Andrea Tsurumi (Little, Brown)

The Night Raven by Johan Rundberg, trans. by A.A. Prime (Amazon Crossing Kids)

 

THANKS TO OUR SPONSORS:

Nerd Gangs of New York by MJ Buck

You Are Not Your Mother: Releasing Generational Trauma and Shame by Karen C.L. Anderson

Understanding Superhero Comic Books: A History of Key Elements, Creators, Events, and Controversies by Alex Grand

Wager Smart by Tom Farrell

Holy Terror by John R. Dougherty

 

Fully Booked is produced by Cabel Adkins Audio and Megan Labrise.

 

Our Take On This Week's Bestsellers

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

Our Verdict

GET IT

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Featuring 345 industry-first reviews of fiction, nonfiction, children’s and YA books; also in this issue: interviews with Tommy Orange, Steve Coll, G. Neri, and Traci Chee; and more

subscribe
  • kirkus star
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • kirkus prize
  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Close Quickview