Middle Grade Round Up: Mini Reviews

August 27, 2015 2015, 3.5 star books, 4 star books, historical, Kim, middle grade 14

I don’t get around to reading as much middle grade as I’d wish to, but I’ve really lucked out so far this year. Every middle grade I’ve read has been so charming and heartwarming. A real highlight has been Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger, but today I’m bringing you two other 2015 MG’s I’ve really enjoyed.


Echo Pan Munoz Ryan cover


Title: Echo
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan
Rating: 3.5

A lovely story and beautifully told, this book tells the tales of 3 different children in different times and place in the world all connected by one magical harmonica. Friedrich in pre-WWII Germany is first hand witness to the slow motion horror of Hitler’s rise to power and gradual degradations to his family.  Mike in a Depression era orphanage fights to keep his little brother from being adopted without him. Ivy in WWII era California comes up against the harsh racism of segregated education and the horror of the Japanese internment camps.  Tieing each story together is a mythical harmonica that comes into the possession of each child through ordinary, but no less magical for its ordinariness, means.  Each story is beautiful and wrought with desperation and heartache. And each ends on a wrenching cliffhanger.

This book actually reminded me a little bit of All the Light We Cannot See in that it is a historical novel that tells the interweaving tales of several young people, moving back and forth with them through time against a backdrop of war.. I think if you are a fan of that book this is the type of middle grade that will speak to you.  Themes of loneliness, interconnectedness, and the unifying power of music will speak to readers as well.

All three stories are tied together in the end (in a sort of flash forward), but perhaps a little too neatly given how dire the situations are that we leave each of the children in. Ultimately I just wanted a little more from this story, mostly in filling in the gaps between where we leave each of the characters as children and where it ends with them as adults. But all told, this is a moving and gorgeously written historical.




the war that saved my life



Title: The War That Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Rating: 4 stars

The War That Saved My Life is the story of nine year old Ada growing up in WWII England, and her fight for love and for acceptance. Born with a clubfoot, Ada suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her mother. Unable to go outside (ever) or attend school, Ada is friendless and bereft in her working poor London community. When Ada and her younger brother are sent to be evacuated to the British countryside it is Ada’s chance to break free from the trauma of her young life.

This book is about overcoming abuse, and about learning to love and to let people in. Ada’s path is strenuous; it’s difficult to overcome the internalization of 9 years of being told you have no worth.  And it’s not just Ada who goes through this transformation. Susan, a woman with a closed heart and who has never wanted children, is forced to take on Ada and Jamie as charges. Susan and Ada are two people overcome by grief and heartache. Ada, for the mother who never loved her and Susan for her female partner whose premature death is shadowed ever the more by an age in which such things were never acknowledged and rarely mentioned. Ada and Susan are both outcasts, both suffering from unfair, and unearned stigmas. This book is almost a meditation on the different ways we love and grieve and how we can come together again after all has seemed lost.

If you enjoy sibling stories this one is a must. If you also adore when the heroine learns to love through the aid of an animal friend (I’m talking about some real Meet Felicity level of girl/horse kinship) this is also a must. It’s a beautifully evocative and moving story about overcoming who you were to become someone better , a person you never knew you could be. It’s the very “ordinary” magic of personal transformation.




Do you get to read more middle grade than I do? Are there any you can recommend to me that I must read this year? I’d love to hear your feedback!




kim teal









14 Responses to “Middle Grade Round Up: Mini Reviews”

  1. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    I had not heard about either of this titles before, but I’m always into reading new MG, and The War That Saved My Life sounds like something that would make me cry but I would ultimately love!
    Thanks for the recommendations, Kim!

    Since I don’t really read all that much MG either, I don’t have many recommendations but a definite one is the Murder is Not Polite series if you haven’t read it, and also Lauren DeStefano’s first MG book A Curious Story of The In-Between, highly recommended both! Murder mysteries and a ghost story!
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Saturday Pages: ARC Review of Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson!!

  2. Amanda

    I don’t read a lot of MG though I do have the War That Saved My Life waiting for me – I’m looking forward to it! I just finished and loved A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStafano. A brave little girl, ghosts and good friends – fantastic.
    Amanda recently posted…Review: Lair of Dreams

  3. Carina Olsen

    Stunning reviews Kim :D I loooove reading middle grade books. But mostly just Fantasy and such :p but these two books sounds amazing too. So glad you liked them :) Thank you for sharing about them both sweet girl. <3 I read SO MUCH middle grade :D But ohhh. Must reads. Hmm. His Dark Materials is the first three. THEY ARE A MUST. I also loved The School for Good and Evil 1-3. <3 They are STUNNING :D And romantic. And a mix between MG and YA. I also looove The Thickety books. <3 So underrated. They are PRECIOUS. Gorgeous writing in all the books. And ahh. The Map to Everywhere. <3 Perfection. + sequel, City of Thirst :) And ahh. Monstrous. <3 And then Ravenous out next february :) Ugh. Precious books, lol :D You must read all of those, hiiih :D
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: City of Thirst by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

  4. Chantaal

    These two books look wonderful. I’ve always found that going to MG books tend to do more serious themes much better than most other genres. Something about distilling the themes for much younger readers makes it more potent, I think.

  5. Citra @ Fiction Book Review

    Oh, I cannot tell you how much I love middle grade. I personally don’t read YA books, but I am a sucker for middle grade literature. I don’t know if it’s just me, but most of them are beautifully written. Maybe it’s because the intention is to entice younger readers to read? So far, I haven’t find one that I don’t like.

    As for recommendation, maybe you should try :
    The One and Only Ivan (a story of a captured gorilla)
    How to Speak Dolphin (a sister’s story about his autistic younger brother, very heart touching)
    The Night Gardener (a horror tale, but very whimsical at the same time)

    Have fun reading!
    Citra @ Fiction Book Review recently posted…How to Polish Your Blog When You Have No Idea What To Write

  6. Vane J.

    Mmm no, I don’t read as much Middle Grade as I would love to, but those books surely look powerful, especially the last one! Also, I’ve yet to read All the Light We Cannot See. I’ve heard many wonderful things about it. :)
    Vane J. recently posted…The Secret Life of a Book Blogger

    • Kim

      Definitely powerful reads! And ones I wouldn’t hesitate to put in the hands of any kids looking for a good historical. ALL THE LIGHT was very enjoyable, though a bit long (and slow) in my opinion. Still, a powerful read. I think the strength of that one is more in its prose. You also definitely don’t want to read it if you’re looking for something uplifting. Pack the tissues!
      Kim recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: The Girl with the Silver Eyes

  7. Brenda

    I love MG, but have been so far behind on my reading goals this year. I did particularly enjoy The Book Scavenger and thought the campaign for its release was a pretty good tie-in with the book. I’ve been meaning to check out Echo, so will have to add these two to my list.
    Brenda recently posted…Happy Belated Book Blog-versary