8 Middle-Grade Books Every Adult Should Consider Reading in Secret
You don’t have to be embarrassed about reading books aimed at kids, but if you are, here are some with adult-level appeal
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Few adults will proudly or openly admit to reading YA fiction or middle-grade books. Even being seen to be looking through the shelves of the MG section of a bookstore is slightly embarrassing if you don’t have a kid with you.
But you only have to count Harry Potter–themed weddings or Alice in Wonderland tattoos to realize that middle-grade fiction (usually aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds,) is just as engaging and enjoyable for adults as it is for its target audience.
In this post, we’re going to introduce you to eight more middle-grade books that you can secretly read this summer while loudly telling the cashier or checkout person “it’s for my niece!” (Even better: consider reading them openly and proudly and not caring what other people think.)
The Warriors series, Erin Hunter
Incredibly popular amongst children and teens, the Warriors series has been described as a Game of Thrones-style narrative, following the adventures of four clans of cats. As strange as that sounds, the series has been so successful to warrant multiple spin-off productions like audiobooks, manga editions, box sets, and “super” editions.
You’ll find all the aspects of stories you love — gripping action, well-drawn characters, intricate world-building — as well a critical acclaim and appearances on the New York Times bestsellers list!
Mercifully available on Kindle, so you can easily read all six books and no one in your local Starbucks will be any the wiser.
The Dead Fathers Club, Matt Haig
Clever and beautifully unsettling, this novel from British author Matt Haig is intended for readers of all ages. And just like another family classic, The Lion King, this book is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, giving you an opportunity to use your English Lit degree for the first time in like, a decade.
The protagonist, Philip, is tasked with avenging his father’s murder at the suspected hands of his uncle. Sound familiar? Only this time, something’s rotten in the family pub instead of the state of Denmark.
Critically acclaimed and intellectually discussed to the point where you’ll soon forget its middle-grade roots, The Dead Fathers Club is an intelligent, thoughtful rendering of a well-known plot that is told through a child’s eyes, to the effect that you still don’t know where the story is going to turn. And on the upside, people who see you reading it in public might think it’s a pamphlet for an actual organization, and will leave you well alone.
Wonder, R. J. Palacio
Inspired by real life events, R.J. Palacio’s debut novel has given birth to both the “Choose Kind” anti-bullying movement and a film adaptation starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson.
Auggie Pullman is a kind-hearted 10-year-old boy with a facial abnormality. Having been homeschooled for most of his early life, his biggest challenge now lies before him: 5th grade.
Wonder is available hardcover if you feel the need to swap the dust jacket out for that of an age-appropriate Tom Clancy novel. But be warned: its moving story might leave your fellow commuters wondering why someone on the train is weeping over a copy of The Hunt for Red October.
The Clique series, Lisi Harrison
If you love Gossip Girl, then you might unknowingly be The Clique’s next big superfan. Four popular girls known as The Pretty Committee rule the roost at Octavian Country Day — until young Claire Lyons arrives from Florida to upset the status quo at their snooty prep school in Upstate New York.
Getting sucked into the complex inner workings of the Pretty Committee will be almost inevitable — the long summers between school terms bring up plenty of intricate relationships, twists, and turns. If anyone asks what you’re reading, just truthfully say, “some New York Times Bestseller” and quickly move the conversation on.
I Funny, James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
This is the story of Jamie Grimm, a middle-schooler who wants to become the world’s greatest standup comedian despite the fact that he uses a wheelchair. Both humorous and touching, this series of books features familiar middle-grade tropes like an orphan hero who lives with an aunt, uncle, and evil cousin (hello, Harry Potter?)
The I Funny series also happens to be co-written by the best selling author of mainstream crime novels and thrillers. So, if anyone wants to know what you’re reading, you can seamlessly mention, “a James Patterson novel, it’s really good!”
After Eli, Rebecca Rupp
Young Danny creates a Book of the Dead, hoping it will make sense of his brother Eli’s death during the Iraq War. Taking down and researching details like how, when, and why people throughout history died, it prompts reflections on his own friendships and relationships.
Told through a series of flashbacks which add depth and emotion to the story, After Eli is a short, thoughtful, and poignant reflection on grief and growing up.
Be careful reading this book in public: not because of the front cover — which doesn’t look that much like kid lit — but because you will be reduced to a puddle of tears by the end. Maybe read this on the beach, from behind a massive pair of shades.
Glory Be, Augusta Scattergood
Set in 1964 Mississippi, the height of the action in Glory Be revolves around an incident at the segregated public pool. Gloriana (or Glory, as she’s known) is just about to turn twelve and recalls the story of a Southern summer she will never forget.
Based on “real-life events,” this is a story of adolescence and everything that comes with it. Glory Be is a vivid snapshot of the fight against segregation that is both personal and universal — and should be enjoyed by both children and adults. No need to hide this one!
A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park
A book’s description on its Amazon page will often lead with its most impressive accolade, and the one for A Long Walk to Water certainly doesn’t hold back: ”A gripping tale of conflict and survival that has inspired millions of young readers and adults alike, with two million copies sold worldwide.”
Based on a true story, it follows two separate Sudanese children whose stories, despite taking place twenty-three years apart, end up linking together.
A fast-paced narrative that will rivet readers aged 9 to 99, this is a moving story that all can enjoy — though if you’re still self-conscious at this point, an excellent audiobook is also available!
These books are evidence that all quality books, regardless of their readers’ ages, have much in common: bold storytelling, vividly painted characters, and an ability to draw on our emotions. However you go about it — white lies, dust jack swapping, general discretion, or simply by reading them loud and proud — don’t let the target audience of these books keep you from enjoying them!
About the Author
Emmanuel Nataf is the CEO of Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers and marketers. Over 5,000 books have been produced via Reedsy since 2015.