Middle Grade books for reading alone & reading with confidence. Annie Everall

I think this has been a bit of a mixed year for fiction for children starting to read alone and for those growing in reading confidence who are looking for more substantial stories. There’s been some very strong titles at the older end but still too few good quality titles for children starting to read alone. If you are looking for books to buy as gifts or just to share with children, here are a few of my favourites. 

Red Riding Hood 

Retold by Beatrix Potter

Ilustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Warne £12.99 ISBN: 978-0241376539

This is the first time that Beatrix Potter’s retelling of this classic tale has been published as an illustrated picture book.  It is a darker version of the story as it more faithfully reflects Charles Perrault’s original tale with its ending. Helen Oxenbury has woven her illustrative magic on the story to produce a deliciously dark version that children of 7+ and adults will love. 

North Child 

Written by Edith Patou

Usborne £7.99 ISBN: 978-1474958585

I was delighted to see this novel come back into print this year. I loved it when I first read it back in 2003 and re-reading it, it has certainly stood the test of time.  It is an adaptation of the old Norwegian folk tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” Rose is destined to travel far from home on a dangerous journey. The magic of the northern lands is brought to life as Rose’ journey to her destiny unfolds. With a cast of truly magical characters, a story that grips you from the first page and one that is timeless, inspiring and hugely exciting. A must for all fantasy fans aged 9+

Frostheart

Written by Jamie Littler

Puffin £7.99 ISBN: 978-0241355220

Ash has never fitted in at the stronghold. His Pathfinder parents left when he was a child and he doesn’t know if they are alive. When a sleigh called Frostheart arrives at his isolated land, pursued by lethal Leviathans, Ash is revealed as a Song Weaver. Thus begins his challenge to find out the true meaning of his powers and an adventure of a lifetime. Wonderfully atmospheric, the story captures the reader and hooks you until the end. A great one for fantasy fans aged 8+ and the sequel is coming in Spring 2020

Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror

Written by Natasha Farrant

Illustrated by Lydia Corry

Usborne   £12.99  

ISBN: 978-1788541152

An enchantress throws her magic mirror into our universe and it reflects the stories of eight bold, adventurous and empowered princesses who dare to be different. A fantastic collection of feminist princess tales blending the modern and traditional for ages 8+. Super storytelling, strong role models and powerful messages that it’s okay to be yourself. Loved it!  

Cloud Boy

Written by Marcia Williams

Walker Books  £6.99 978-1406381214

Harry Christmas and Angie moon live next door to each other. They’ve been friends and ‘almost twins’ since they were born two days apart. They are partners in everything – sweet eating, treehouse building and cloud spotting. When Harry starts getting very bad headaches that won’t go away and a visit to the hospital ultimately indicates a serious and life limiting illness, the bonds of friendship are tested to the limit, because it is when things are falling apart that they need their friendship the most. Interwoven with what is happening to Harry, is the second story, that of Angie’s Grandma Gertie and her late husband Grandpa Jimmy. They met as children while both were in Changi Jail during the second world war. We learn of Gertie’s experiences there, in helping to make the Changi Quilt in a series of letters she wrote to her kitten which she reads aloud to Harry and Angie as his illness progresses. The two stories interweave seamlessly and it is through understanding what Grandma Gertie went through that Harry and Angie are helped to deal with what is happening now. This element of the story is based on the memories of Olga Morris and the story of the real Changi Quilt and the book contains information on this at the back. Harry is also obsessed with cloud spotting and the fascinating wealth of information on this also enhances the story. An absolutely beautiful piece of writing, this is an honest, painful and sympathetic portrayal of children and families dealing with terminal illness, grief and loss. Written in diary format it draws the reader in from the first page and doesn’t let go. Even though it is dealing with such sadness, it never becomes mawkish and strength, love, hope and legacy are its underpinning messages. An excellent read and an enjoyable, poignant yet uplifting story. I came away from reading the book with a desire to read more about the Changi Quilt and to try to find a way to see the real thing as well as a growing curiosity about clouds. I’ve been finding myself looking at them all the time trying to see if I can recognise them and using the section on them at the back of the book to help. Books that try to weave information into a fiction story often don’t work successfully and it is a testament to Marcia Williams skills as a writer that in this book she has absolutely nailed it! I loved it.

As I said at the start of this blog post, there is still a shortage of high quality books for children just starting to read alone. I do feel that sometimes books in series aimed at helping children master the basics of reading and then grow in confidence for reading alone, can be less than stimulating. The books in the Bloomsbury Young Readers series by Bloomsbury Education however, refute that theory with every title. The series as a whole is structured as you might expect a reading scheme to be in colour bands of turquoise, purple, gold, white and green with specific page lengths, word counts and linked to phonic phases. However what sets them apart and what I really liked about all the titles that I read are they are all great stories, written by excellent children’s authors like Julia Donaldson, Jenny McLachlan, Emma Shevah Abie Longstaff, Narinder Dhami and Chitra Soundar, among others. The stories are simple, accessible and enjoyable. Each is really well illustrated with bright colourful illustrations. Each contains a Tips for Grown Ups and a Fun Time activity page designed to encourage further exploration but these books can all be enjoyed just as great stories – the best way to encourage children to read. These are just a few examples of the titles.

Cave Girl

Written by Abie Longstaff

Illustrated by Shane Crampton

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472962768

After trying hard to get just the right present for her Mum, Aggie’s plans seem as if they are going to be ruined by a wild boar but as mum shows her, the best presents come from surprises.

It’s too Scary

Written by Adam & Charlotte Guillain

Illustrated by Sharon Davey

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472962546

Jun is scared of everything and he certainly doesn’t want to go on the scary rides at the fair. Can his sister Lin help him overcome his fears and enjoy the rides

Manju’s Magic Wishes

Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Veronica Montoya

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472959713

Manju wants to get her mum a present and when she finds a magic lamp she is sure she can get something great. Unfortunately the genie has other ideas.

Hello Baby Mo

Written by Emma Shevah

Illustrated by Katie Saunders

Bloomsbury Education   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1472963468

Adam wanted a baby brother. Instead he ends up with a sister who does nothing but cry and get his parents attention. Is he ever going to learn to like her?

My next blog will focus on some of my favourite factual books. Happy reading and sharing stories.

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