Thursday, February 16, 2023

Mini Reviews: Middle Grade Edition

I love a good young adult and middle grade fiction novel; in fact, that's what first brought me to blogging. As a middle school English teacher, I mostly read young adult and middle grade fiction. Obviously that has evolved over the years, but I still find myself coming back to this genre. This has been happening a lot lately since my oldest son turned ten. There's so many great novels to share with him! Today I'm reviewing two books that we have read recently and enjoyed.


The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: Middle Grade 
Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Library
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 


Goodreads says, "The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It's practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home."






The Vanderbeekers live in Harlem, NY, a diverse and bustling neighborhood. The Vanderbeekers are a big, biracial family filled with adventurous children. They find out around Christmas that their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, doesn't want to renew their lease and they have to find somewhere else to live by the end of the month. This is heartbreaking for the Vanderbeekers, so the children decide it's their mission to change Mr. Beiderman's mind.  The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is a moving middle grade novel that I instantly loved. It reminded me of the books of my childhood.

There are five Vanderbeeker siblings and tweens can relate to at least one of them. There's twins Jessie and Isa, who are twelve and have a lot of responsibilities. Then there's Oliver, Hyacinth and the youngest, Laney. Surely one of these characters tweens will identify and connect with as they all deal with age appropriate struggles. At the heart of the novel is a heartwarming story about community, family, and friendship. I adored it! 



Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy
Pub. Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Aladdin
Source: Library
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Goodreads says, "Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain. Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known. Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for. In this page-turning debut, Shannon Messenger creates a riveting story where one girl must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world, before the wrong person finds the answer first."



Sophie Foster always knew she was different than everyone else. After an accident at five, she was able to read people's thoughts and had a photographic memory. She obviously stood out at school and was never really able to form meaningful relationships with people her own age. One day she meets Fitz, a mysterious (and good looking) teen who convinces her that she isn't human. She is an elf and she needs to leave the human world and go with him to the magical realm where she will learn how to harness her powers. Once this sinks in and she realizes that her family is in danger if she stays, she goes with Fitz to the magical realm and restarts her life. She attends a magical school, has an elf family that takes her in, and learns about their vastly different world filled with magic, unusual creatures, and worlds, like Atlantis, that she thought were only myths. Sophie makes friends at her new school, some enemies, and finds out that she has memories suppressed within her that might explain who she really is and why she was hiding in the human world. Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities is an entertaining series for fans of high fantasy and Harry Potter

I really enjoyed Sophie from the start of Keeper of the Lost Cities. She has so much going on, you can't help but feel for her. Plus, there's the mystery of who she really is and what she was doing in the human world always hovering in her mind. Then there's the problem of dangerous wildfires in the human realm that point to elf magic and Sophie can't help but wonder who is putting secret messages in her locker? Even though this is "elf" school, tweens can relate to the many challenges that Sophie faces socially and the struggles of navigating a new school. While this novel lacked the magic of the Harry Potter series, it was still a fun read and the fantasy elements as well as a magical school filled a void left by Harry. We will definitely be continuing with this series! 


Have you read these two middle grade novels? Are they on your radar? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. I really love the sound of The Vanderbeekers, and that cover is so cute!

    1. Vanderbeekers was so cute! It's part of a series--hoping to read more! I think you'd like it. Thanks for visiting!


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