Top 10 Middle Grade Books of All Time – My Contribution

At the beginning of the year, Betsy Bird, in her column for School Library Journal, announced the contest for Top 100 Children’s Fictional Chapter Books.
Those who would like to participate should figure out their top 10 choices and submit them as part of this round-up (here is the information). My top 10 are listed below.

This was extremely difficult. How are you to make this determination? What criteria should you consider, and what points have more weight? Are they best sellers in the store? Are they best sellers nation- & world-wide? Are they my own childhood favorites? Did I read them in school or on my own? How many times I have reread them? How have children now reacted to books from my childhood? What books have I loved more recently? Which books am I forgetting because of pressure? What amazing books out there deserve to be on this list but which I have not read (yet)? Almost all my books have female protagonists – how would this list change if I was male or gearing it toward male readers?

After weeks of contemplation (alright, I did it this morning), here are my top 10 – in a particular order (10 is the top, 1 is the bottom).

10. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
Desert island top pick (I actually have 2 top picks, but the other one is an adult novel). Rose has been recently orphaned, and after 13 years of being an only child, has been sent to live on Aunt Hill where she finds six aunts and seven boy cousins. They rough her up, she calms them down. One of Alcott’s best, I think.

9. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
A classic for a new generation of readers. Winner of the National Book Award, this story takes place in Arundel, Maine, where the Penderwicks go on their summer vacation. Their normal vacation spot is booked, so they end up renting a small cottage on the property of a large house. Before you know it, the four sisters are up to their noses in adventures, involving, at times, yes, two rabbits, the boy next door (friend or foe?), their dog, Hound, a bull, the gardener, the cook, and much much more. It’s an unforgettable summer for the entire family.

8. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
This is a perfect collection for the entire family. Quietly funny, heartwarming adventures, and silly old bears. Timeless. Classic.

7. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
As delightful as the Julie Andrews movie adaptation is, there are four Mary Poppins novels that just scream to be read! One of the original “everyday magic” sort of books. Delightful!

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
One of the newest “everyday magic” sort of books, this book is this generation’s Chronicles of Narnia.

5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I can’t imagine anything more tantalizing than a big old house with secret passages, a hidden garden, a mysterious boy, and exploring the courage to make friends and your own happiness.

4. Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
A brilliant combination of text and illustrations, Christ Riddell has introduced an energetic new heroine. I call this series “tame mysteries” because they’re filled with excitement but are not scary. Half the text of the story can be found in the detailed illustrations. The color palette of black, white, and one other color make the illustrations charming and easy to examine for the little tidbits Riddell hides in them.

3. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Rambunctious and precocious, Clementine is also incredibly generous. What I love best about this series is that though she gets into scrapes, a) they come from a place of good intentions, and b) her parents understand her – they love her and care about her and so when she gets into trouble, they are there to help her figure it out.

2. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Not only great historical reads, but this series is a fabulous jumping-off point for discussing all sorts of topics – from the Pioneers to Native Americans to crafts to animal care to sibling and family relationships – this series has it all!

1. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
Little known outside of the Mid-West, Gene Stratton Porter was a great writer of strong-willed, intelligent (often female) characters, and a tremendous naturalist. I learned more about being outdoors, and about trials and tribulations of human nature, from her books than anywhere else.

Because this was so difficult to do, and because I want to share the other great books that popped into my head, I thought I’d add two other lists here, titles only:

Favorites from Childhood:

Her Father’s Daughter by Gene Stratton Porter
Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
Little Men/Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Eight Cousins/A Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Favorites from the last 15 (or so) years:

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
Ottoline & the Yellow Cat/Ottoline Goes to School
by Chris Riddell
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird
Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse
King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

I’m quite sure that as soon as I get home, or as soon as I get to work, I’ll see thousands of titles that need to be added to these lists, so stay tuned, but in the meantime –

What are some of your favorites?

10 thoughts on “Top 10 Middle Grade Books of All Time – My Contribution

  1. Hi Rebecca–Great list. I share a few common titles–Love Clementine. Love Little House on the Prairie, although I think On the Banks of Plum Creek was my favorite. Harry Potter, of course… I'd add Ballet Shoes, the Anne of Green Gables books as well as the Emily of New Moon books. So much good reading!

  2. I too enjoy Little House On The prairie. There is something about the old west that intrigues me. My book "The Ghost Of Neilson Manor" also involves old family customs. There are many old traditions which we should never forget.My book can be founs luck and great success to you.

  3. Lovely list of old fashioned but timeless books! My favorite series as a child was the Little House books. Read them again as an adult and found them boring. But the others, especially the books with English settings, have held their charm to me.

  4. I agree with you, Catherine, about the Little House books. Not that I necessarily found them boring, but there were some problematic aspects. As a Native American rights activist, I've found the portrayal of Native peoples and in particular, Ma's prejudice of them, harder to swallow as an adult. On the other hand, great conversation starter with kids reading the books! So I guess everything has a place and a time. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Wow! I found your blog via the comment challenge and have just read through about 5 posts from you and all of them had something I wanted to comment on 🙂 For example – I love this list of yours – a mixture of books I know and love, and then some new ones that I now want to track down (including the Gene Stratton Porter – although that may be a bit tough as our library system has only one book (Freckles) for loan – the rest are reference only). I also want to get hold of the 1 yard fabric book 🙂 Great to find – no doubt I'll be back again soon!

  6. Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words!About Freckles – it's actually a sort of prequel to A Girl of the Limberlost. Though you're able to read both books independently of each other, they both deal with the same community, and Freckles (and others – I can't say more without giving something away!) is mentioned in AGotL toward the end of the book.I tend to collect Gene Stratton Porter's books from used bookstores – Freckles and AGotL show up most often, so if you have a used bookstore in your area, you might have better luck there than the library. I hope you enjoy!

  7. Really good list — I've been contemplating what I'm going to put on my list and you've given me several to think about. In some ways I think this is a harder list to do than the picture book list.

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