Most middle-grade readers ages 8 to 12 or 13 enjoy books that are mysterious, fantastical and adventurous. These picks have all those qualities and more.

The Book of Pearl

By Timothée de Fombelle; Candlewick Press; 368 pages; $17.99

French author Timothée De Fombelle has penned stunning tales that are internationally successful, from the Toby Alone series to the gripping adventure tales Vango: Between Sky and Earth and A Prince Without a Kingdom.

Translated to English by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon, de Fombelle’s latest book, The Book of Pearl, introduces Joshua Pearl, a boy who comes from a world of fairy tales no one believes in anymore. He’s trapped in an unfamiliar place — a Paris marshmallow shop on the eve of World War II — and can only remember small bits of tales already told.

But Joshua’s great love will be lost if he can’t remember the past and his own story before now. The descriptions of Joshua’s breathtaking journeys in fairy tales and the war drama within this gloriously penned tale make the reading grand and fabulous.

Kids who want to fall hard into a lovely, exceptionally entertaining read will love The Book of Pearl.

Warrior Genius

By Michael Dante DiMartino; Roaring Brook Press; 368 pages; $16.99

Michael Dante DiMartino has an imagination without rival as the author of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Warrior Genius is the second in his new series, which began with Rebel Genius, the exciting, fantastical action-adventure that takes place in an imaginative and somewhat terrifying world. Among shades of ancient Rome and Greece and mythical, otherworldly lands, 12-year-old Giacomo and his friends escape to the empire of Rachana, a land long feared for its mighty warriors and their nearly extinct horse-Geniuses.

Giacomo and his fellow artists are escaping the evil Nerezza, who eradicates anyone with a special Genius or talent. The boy is also in possession of the compass, a tool Nerezza desperately needs to wreak havoc everywhere.

The descriptive, exquisite writing in Warrior Genius is spellbinding and probably best for kids in the older end of the middle grade group. This thrilling spin on the need to create and the power of pure strength and willpower is thrilling and pure absorbing magic.

The Gauntlet

By Karuna Riazi; Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 298 pages; $16.99

Salaam Reads is a new publishing imprint aimed at giving Muslim kids a chance to see themselves reflected positively in new books. Simon & Schuster and Salaam are proud to announce one of two new titles: The Gauntlet, an adventure starring a 12-year-old girl who resists genre cliches and is strong and resolute, and her two best friends.

The three become trapped in a Rubik’s Cube-like mechanical board game and use a lizard guide to battle spiders, scorpions, grease monkeys and sand cats to prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari. It’s more than just a game, however; the Gauntlet reflects society, though this game is made of wood and etched with exquisite images.

This book has been called “a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair,” and is exciting and smart, mysterious and fun for all readers.

The Royal Rabbits of London

By Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore; illustrated by Kate Hindley; Simon & Schuster; 195 pages; $16.99

Even the smallest rabbit, the runt of the litter, can be the biggest hero sometimes. The Royal Rabbits of London, the Santa and Simon Sebag Montefiore’s latest gem, introduces rabbit Shylo, the weakest and quietest of his family. But it’s he who stumbles across a band of ratzis and becomes aware of their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie.

Sound funny? It certainly is, but it is also jam-packed with whimsical adventure, as Shylo decides to visit the Royal Rabbits of London, which isn’t easy for him what with his shyness and all.

The Royal Rabbits of London is a fast-paced little adventure with surprising courage that is quirky and engaging.


By Ben Guterson; illustrated by Chloe Bristol; Henry Holt and Co.; 370 pages; $16.99

With shades of Lemony Snicket, Winterhouse author Ben Guterson pens a big and bold mysterious adventure starring an orphan girl who’s sent to an ominous hotel by her aunt and uncle. She quickly discovers a huge library and a magical book of puzzles that will unlock the mystery of the hotel owner and his sinister family.

Peppered with illustrations by Chloe Briston that look sort of Addams Family-like, Winterhouse adds in puzzles and new friends and plenty of sleuthing and excitement.

— Lee Littlewood writes the Kids’ Home Library column for Creators. The San Diego wife and mom’s pure love of children’s literature helps her stay interested in words and pictures meant for tots to teens. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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