This post took a little longer to put together than I had planned! While I was working on it, the Cybils nominations opened up. As you might recall, the nominated books are crowd-sourced, with each person able to nominate just one book in each category. That means we need you to nominate some books! Head on over to the Cybils blog for links, instructions, and lists of suggestions! Do it now – nominations close October 15.
Thank you to Afoma at Reading Middle Grade, who put out a stellar list of short middle grade fiction a few months ago. While she prefers realistic fiction, I thought that a list of fantasy books would be a good complement, whether you’re dealing with kids who are reluctant readers or have learning disabilities, or who need to pick a book they can finish in a reasonable time for a school assignment. Even though the page count is low on all of these books, they range from light to heavy themes. Links are to my full reviews, where available.
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle (141 p) In this historical story of the Trail of Tears, a young Choctaw boy describes how he fails to survive the grueling journey, but stays close to help the rest of his people. Even though this is the shortest book on the list, it’s definitely one of the heaviest. You can read my review of the sequel, When a Ghost Talks, Listen.
A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep (152 p) Miss Drake is a dragon who takes humans as pets. But when the 10-year-old grand-niece of her previous pet won’t leave her alone, and insists on things like field trips to magical shops, Miss Drake is in for more than she bargained for.
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott (154 p) Jax is supposed to stay out of trouble while his mother leaves him with a neighborhood lady, but box of baby dragons gets loose, Jax and his friends have to find them and bring them to safety.
A Properly Unhaunted Place by Willliam Alexander (192 p) Rosa Díaz is the daughter of the world’s best ghost appeasement specialist, since ghosts are everywhere. She and Jasper, the son of the Rennaisance Faire’s Queen and Black Knight, work together to figure out why the town of Ingot doesn’t have any.
Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva (208 p) Jolina has only recently moved from Manila to a tiny island in the Philippines, where the richest girl in town is determined to make her life miserable. Could using a love potion on her make things better? Warning: pet death in an otherwise light story. Also, this book is eligible and not yet nominated for the Cybils award!
Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson (224 p) Three kids – a boy inventor from an early 20th century adventure series, a girl from a 1980s horror series, and ordinary, modern-day Lily – work together to stop a mad scientist’s plan to take over the world with, yes, whales on stilts. You can read my review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, the second book in the series.
Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (229 p) A large and varied family moves into an old home, where reality shifts around the different kids. This is a quieter story of individual experiences and the messiness of relationships.
Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor (240 p) Nnamdi’s life in Nigeria is turned upside-down twice, once when his father is murdered, and then again when his father’s spirit gives him a small statue – an Ikenga – that turns Nnedi into a superhero who is stronger than Nnamdi can control.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (240 p) In this favorite from my own childhood, Princess Cimorene is so disgusted when her parents want to marry her off that she runs away to live with a dragon instead. The first of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (242 p) Princess Harriet, a hamster, is thrilled when she’s told that she’s cursed to prick her paw on an enchanted hamster wheel when she turns 12. That has to mean that she’s invincible, and can go off fighting monsters without fear! Though the page count is higher, the text is large and there are full-page illustrations as well as short comic panels. This is the first of a series of hilarious fairy tale spinoffs.
Bonus titles – a little longer, but still fast-moving and on the short side.
The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas (256 p) 6th grade Nestor is busy adjusting to life at a new school in Texas while his father is deployed. He’s not expecting to have animals start talking him – or to need to stop a witch from Costa Rican legend.
Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi (275) 12-year-old Kingston is convinced that his stage magician father hasn’t died or run away, but is instead trapped inside the mirror in the Brooklyn theater where he gave his last performance.