The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
For fans of classics like Little Women or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the National Book Award-winning Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall tackles contemporary family issues with an old-soul touch. We follow the four Penderwicks sisters and their dear friend Jeffrey as they navigate difficulties like the loss of a parent, blended family challenges, and complicated sibling dynamics. Through it all, the books maintain their charm and nostalgia. Bonus for the grown-ups: the most animated debate in my book club’s history centered around the conclusion to this series. This is a series that young and old alike will enjoy.
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
Siblings Heather and Picket Longtreader are unexpectedly plunged into wartime as their family is torn apart and chaos reigns. The brave bunnies battle lords of prey, villainous wolves, treacherous rabbits, and their own darker sides in their quest to defend good and preserve their kingdom. Best of all, the conclusion to this series just released Tuesday, so your family can enjoy the entirety of this page-turning tale.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
I am not sure there could be a better novel for middle schoolers than Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now. Not one to shy away from hard topics, Schmidt takes on big challenges with a grace that results in a stunning novel. It’s the late ‘60s, and young Doug Swieteck arrives in a new town with a chip on his shoulder, a host of family problems, and not a friend in the world. Through Doug’s unforgettable voice, we experience Audubon’s birds, his introduction to Jane Eyre, and a host of townspeople who in their own ways become family. The power of art and connection are illustrated as Doug grows and finds a place in his community.
Special Mentions: Excellent Audiobooks
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Echo traces the path of a harmonica as it crosses oceans and continents and threads three separate stories together. Each child who receives the harmonica struggles in his or her own way to survive and hold family together through trying circumstances. And just as the harmonica weaves the storylines together in an unexpected way, the audiobook knits music deftly into the narrative, creating an especially memorable listening experience.
The Mysterious Howling (Book 1 of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) by Maryrose Wood
Miss Penelope Lumley, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, finds herself a bit out of her depth when she arrives at Ashton Place, hired to care for the Incorrigible children. The Incorrigibles have recently been found wandering the forests near the manor, and it’s quite apparent they have literally been raised by wolves! Can these children possibly be tamed? Reader Katherine Kellgren brings just the right deadpan approach to this novel, and adults who like Jane Eyre and Jane Austen will appreciate the underlying humor as they listen along with their kids.