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6 Amazing Stand-Alone Middle Grade Novels: Come on an Epic Journey

6 Amazing Stand-Alone Middle Grade Novels: Come on an Epic Journey

When kids outgrow picture books, it's time to introduce them to the best classic children's books. Short chapter books and novels for middle school readers will take over their reading preferences. This is the Mims House list of the best children's books for the reader who loves to dig deeper. Great picks here!

These are the must-read books -- stand alone novels-- from Mims House. For our series books, see this. These novels aren't fairy tales, but stories set in rich, varied and wonderful worlds. Come - take a journey with your imagination.

PENELOPE AND SANTIAGO: Follow your dream!

Penelope and Santiago cover
This cover illustration is by Dmitri Morozov, a Ukrainian artist.
During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he's been safe and continues to work.

NOTE: This is one of my favorite books! As I wrote this, I read it aloud to a fifth grade class and listened to their feedback. They understood the urge to leave home and find the wider world. 

When the piglets Penelope and Santiago first meet on the McDonald farm, they vow to run away together. In this world, crossing the Mississippi River means crossing over to Liberty, a place where anyone--animal or human--can get ahead in the world. They make new friends and experience the great city of Boston for the first time. Penelope and Santiago have to learn new things: maps, earning a living, and especially sailing. Santiago vows he will sail the Seven Seas. This epic journey takes the pigs far from home to tropical lands where ice blocks can be sold for a fortune. When they befriend an orphaned sea creature, they come face-to-face with the most evil captain sailing the seas, the Ice King.

From the fascinating world of tall ships comes this unlikely tale of humble pigs who follow their dream. Come and join the Talberts on their journey. One of the best books in the animal fantasy genre, this is for readers who love Wingfeather Saga, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Charlotte's Web, or Redwall. A great read especially for younger kids. 


"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." –Michelangelo


So far, it’s taken 48 years to build the medieval Cathedral of St. Stephens, and there’s only the west tower to finish.

Laurel, a courageous young girl, has grown up with the cathedral as her playground because her father is the architect overseeing the building project. She loves the massive stones and the stone masons and sculptors, especially the odd men who carve gargoyles.

But the new priest decides there’s no money to finish that last tower. 

With her father’s job threatened and her beloved cathedral unfinished, Laurel is willing to risk everything to find a treasure large enough to build.

Impossible. She needs a miracle.

This is a rich, surprising, and sometimes disturbing historical fiction of gargoyles, and those who carve the creatures from solid stone. There's darkness in this cautionary tale, that nevertheless pulls off not one, but two miracles, and brings Laurel home to stay.

Follow Laurel's harrowing journey toward miracles. It's one of the classic books for young people. An amazing middle grade fantasy for ages 10-14.

LONGING FOR NORMAL - From One Heart to Another Comes an Uplifting Story

Longing For Normal cover

Eliot Winston, a grieving son, must convince his new step-mother – now Griff Winston’s widow – to adopt him. But when she married Griff Winston, Marj hadn’t bargained on being the single mother of a twelve-year-old boy.

Alli Flynn, a foster child new to the school, convinces Eliot that he must fight to keep his family intact. The new best friends decide that the best way to do that is to help Mrs. Winston with the Bread Project, a fund raising project for the school. With his whole future at stake, Eliot tries hard to please Marj; but as the deadlines near for the Bread Project and for Marj to sign his adoption papers, Eliot finds it harder and harder to hang on to hope.

In the tradition of Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, this poignant middle grade novel follows two kids who search for a family and a home. The story is told in alternating voices, which Booklist describes as “. . .voices old before their time, due to years in the system. . . .” The Bread Project gives them a way to reach into a wide variety of homes and create community. It’s a tender story of two lonely hearts looking for a place to belong. 

Come and cheer for Eliot and Alli as they fight for a community, a family, a home. Will they find the unconditional love they deserve? It's a great book for young readers. 

VAGABONDS: An American Fantasy about Armadillos

Vagabonds cover

Galen, the nine-banded armadillo, just wanted a home.

A safe home.

A place to raise his Four Sisters.

Instead, destiny thrusts him into a dangerous quest.

Can the armadillos find the fabled Faralone Falls? Will it hold the answers they need? 

This American fantasy – in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web or The Underneath or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – is a gripping saga.

Because here’s the rule on the frontier: Survival is the only thing that matters.

Not pride.

Not being right.

The first rule, the only rule, is to survive.

Like this hardy band of armadillos, we’re a nation of immigrants.

We’ve sacrificed everything.

To find a hope.

To find a future.

For our families.

Read this story of hope and survival. This is a great novel for 10-14 years old, especially older children looking for an engrossing read. Compare this to Watership Down.


These companion books features timeless classics that are worth reading because they take the reader on an emotional journey. You'll come back changed.

THE WAYFINDER: Discover What One Person Can Do

The Wayfinder cover

“…deftly crafted and original fantasy novel that is very highly recommended…” Midwest Book Review

NOTE: This book has a special place in my heart because it was my first book, my first published novel. It taught me what one person can do, but also what I can do.

This riveting middle-grade fantasy combines the intriguing abilities to Find what’s missing with pulse-pounding suspense.

A great loss has frozen Win’s heart. He cares for nothing.

But a plague is spreading like wildfire across the Heartland.

Win must use his Wayfinding skills to descend into the great Rift, for beyond it lies the Well of Life. Only its waters will heal the plague.

No one has ever returned from a journey into the Rift.

But the Heartland depends on him. Can he put his loss behind him and fight for the Heartland? Discover what one person can accomplish. 

THE FALCONER: Return to the Heartland for Another Adventure!

She strode out of the north and into legend.

The Falconer cover

Britt and her falcon, Tatty Mog, are partners in life, hunting, and growing up together. Together, they will face the challenge of leaving behind all they know and searching for a way to stop the fierce Zendi who have invaded the Heartland.

Her grandfather, Winchal Eldras (the main character of the companion book, THE WAYFINDER) is a Wayfinder, someone who can Find anything: a missing ring, the best melon in the market, or a lost child. He gives Britt a Finding for a missing Bell. The Zendi know that the Finder’s Bell holds the key to their victory in the Heartland. Britt mustn’t let them know that she can Find it.

But to Find the Bell, she must travel across the Heartland with just Tatty Mog at her side.

In the tradition of Tamora Pierce, this fantasy presents a heroine of wit, strength, and savvy. This is the story of a falconer, a courageous girl who strides out of the north country and into legend. 


In the world of children's literature, these six excellent books are some of the best books of all time. Classic chapter books with important themes for young teens. They will stand the test of time and touch the hearts of kids of all ages. Are your kids reluctant readers? These are great reads! 

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About Darcy Pattison

Children’s book author and indie publisher DARCY PATTISON writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction books for children. Five books have received starred PW, Kirkus, or BCCB reviews. Awards include the Irma Black Honor award, five NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books, two Eureka! Nonfiction Honor book, two Junior Library Guild selections, two NCTE Notable Children’s Book in Language Arts, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, an Arkansiana Award, and the Susannah DeBlack Arkansas Children’s History Book
award. She’s the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature. Her books have been translated into ten languages.

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