10 New Books for Your Classroom Library: Middle Grades and Picture Books

We continue to live in an era of gripping middle grade novels and stunning picture books. Finding just the right books for readers, however, can sometimes be tricky. Hopefully, at least one of these books will be just the right book for a reader in your classroom.

Middle Grades

Anderson, M. T. Elf Dog and Owl Head. Candlewick Press, 2023.

The Newbery committee recently awarded Elf Dog and Owl Head a Newbery Honor. This eccentric book expertly blurs the lines between reality and fantasy and would be a great book for fourth- to sixth-grade fantasy readers. A worldwide virus has put a damper on Clay’s summer. While exploring the woods, a mysterious dog appears, but this isn’t your average dog. This dog can lead Clay to other worlds, but the other worlds aren’t welcoming to a “human-head” boy. What will happen when the People Under the Mountain discover that Clay has one of their elf-hounds? Will a friendship with Amos, an “owl-head” child, help Clay understand the mysterious worlds in the woods?

This book will keep readers glued to it as they keep guessing how all these colliding worlds will resolve themselves in the end. 

DiCamillo, Kate. The Puppets of Spelhorst. Candlewick Press, 2023.

This is one of Kate DiCamillo’s more interesting books, which will work best as a read aloud to go along with a folk or fairy tale unit since this is an original fairy tale. There are five puppets: an owl, a wolf, a boy, a girl, and a king. They have been shut in a trunk by a lonely old sea captain. While the puppets never move on their own, we are able to hear their thoughts and conversations with each other. Each puppet has an individual dream and desire, and throughout the book they live out their dreams in a variety of ways. The puppets also all know their stories are linked and that they belong together. Will they discover their true purpose in the end? 

There are many things to appreciate about this book: the folktale and fairy tale elements, the shorter length (we are in need of more short middle grade books), and the exquisite word choice that Kate DiCamillo always delivers.

Potter, Ellen. The Girl in the Tree. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2023.

The Jungle Book meets Central Park in this charming chapter book for early readers. Cordelia is a girl who has been raised by a squirrel named Shakespeare in Central Park. Cordelia can do everything a squirrel can do, like leaping across treetops, hunting for acorns, and chasing other squirrels. Cordelia is starting to wonder, however, about the human world. When Cordelia wanders too far from the nest one day, she is discovered by a gymnastics teacher who invites her to a gymnastics class with other kids. Will Cordelia fit in with the kids? Will Shakespeare realize the importance of helping Cordelia learn about the human world? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

This book would be great for early readers in first or second grade with themes of friendship, family, and fitting in. 

Schmidt, Gary D. The Labors of Hercules Beal. Clarion Books, 2023.

Hercules Beal is not a mythical hero. Hercules Beal is just a shorter than average middle school boy who misses his parents and really does not want to complete a year-long project about the Twelve Labors of Hercules for his teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer in Room 117. Hercules lives with his older brother, Achilles, in Cape Cod. A little over a year ago, Hercules and Achilles’ parents were killed in a car accident, and now Hercules is sent to a new school, the Cape Cod Academy for Environmental Studies, while Achilles attempts to keep their family farm and nursery running. We witness Hercules struggling with loss and trying to heal as he works through each of Hercules’ Twelve Labors.

Gary Schmidt’s command of language, humor, and story is so evident in this book. Themes of loss, family, friends, and community come through loud and clear. This book is just right for middle schoolers because some of the life lessons and themes are spot on for middle school–aged children. This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to the print or digital edition of Christian Educators Journal.