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March 2023

There’s something about the magic of roaming through a small town that makes you want to be a child again. Recently I’ve read through a pile of middle grade chapter books, all set in small towns, and all featuring spunky main characters who have any number of independent adventures. If you’re longing for simpler times, or want to share with your child the joy of a summer without cell phones, texting, video games or TV, then these are the books for you.

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

Spend time with J.D. and his older brother Tom, “The Great Brain.” The Great Brain concocts all sorts of schemes to get rich and make his life easier, while J.D. just tries to keep up.

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney

Eben longs to see the world and can’t imagine ever finding anything wonderful in his hometown of Sassafras Springs. When his father promises Eben a trip to Colorado if Eben can find seven wonders at home, Eben is certain that it can’t be done. Nevertheless, he begins his search the very next day…

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Ronia will inherit her father’s band of robbers someday, if only they can defend themselves from the king’s soldiers and the competing band of robbers who have moved in next door. But Ronia doesn’t want to be a robber, she doesn’t want to fight soldiers, and her best friend is Birk, son of the rival robber chieftain. Magic, family, friendship and woodland adventures make this a tale that’s hard to put down.

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

Garnet finds a thimble which brings its own magic to her Wisconsin farm. Could a summer be anything but magical when it brings a new brother, a new barn, some new stories to tell, and of course, a blue ribbon at the fair?


Ludelphia lives in Gee’s Bend, an isolated community of share croppers in rural Alabama. Although her family struggles to make ends meet, Ludelphia finds joy in her stitching and in creating quilts that tell a story. When her mother becomes desperately ill, Ludelphia knows it’s up to her to bring a doctor to Gee’s Bend. Leaving her hometown for the first time in her life, Ludelphia ventures out with only her stitching in her pocket. Determined at first to save her mother, Ludelphia soon realizes that her entire community is in peril, and it’s up to her to save them all.

Hattie’s mom has died, leaving Hattie alone with her gruff, grieving father. After Hattie chops off her braids in a fit of rage, Hattie’s Pa buys her some boy clothes, introduces her as Harley, and trains her to help him as a river man. While she misses her Ma, Hattie begins to find some joy in her strange new life as a river rafting”boy.” When she and her Pa take a dangerous journey down river, Hattie begins to realize that there’s more behind her Pa’s silence than she first thought. Hattie is a strong heroine who will appeal to middle grade girls who love Laura Ingalls and are ready for a more challenging character.

So Big by Edna Ferber

20th February 2012

Orphaned at age 19 in the late 1800’s, Selina accepts a job as a school teacher in the community of New Holland. Even though New Holland is only a few hours drive by wagon to her former life in Chicago, Selina is not prepared for the shock of living in the tiny, conservative truck-farming community. The grinding work and poverty take a toll on even the hardiest of souls. Determined to continue finding beauty in life and learning, Selina throws herself into her teaching, and later into her family farm. When her son, Dirk, “SoBig” DeJong is born, Selina promises herself that he will not be bound to the farm, and that he will have every opportunity that she herself lost. This is a rich novel, with much to discuss and analyze. I was most struck by how Selina lost every privilege, and yet didn’t lose hope, either for herself or her child. Dirk’s response at being given every opportunity would also be worthy of discussing.

Because the family is running out of money, Rachel, her siblings and her Pop must move from their New York apartment to an abandoned farm upstate. When they get there, Rachel’s Pop discovers that a promised job is no longer his, and so he must leave the siblings on their own for several months to go find work. Rachel and her younger brother and sister are on their own, determined to prove to their Pop that they can care for the family’s new farm. If you love historical, survive against the odds, fiction as I do, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a perfect choice for upper elementary and middle school girls.

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