Middle Grade, Part 3
Summer is in full swing, and that means it’s time for summer reading! The middle grade age range (8-12) is one of the most important times in a young reader’s development—when they learn deeper comprehension, strategic reading, to increase their vocabulary and reading speed, and help develop their writing and communication skills along the way. These middle grade books are set in Ireland, to help our Irish dancers not only get interested in reading, but even more interested in the country their favorite hobby comes from along the way!
1. Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landry
The first book (of 15!) in the Skulduggery Pleasant series follows 12-year-old Stephanie as she inherits her horror-writer uncle’s estate upon his death. One night, alone in the house, Stephanie is rescued from a mysterious man by a walking, talking skeleton mage named Skulduggery Pleasant, and discovers that her uncle’s books may not have been fiction after all. Stephanie and her new friend team up to defeat the evil wizard Serpine, who’s looking for a magic specter that will give him tyrannical powers. Full of gallows humor (what else would you call a wisecracking skeleton?), this is a series of action, adventure, and magic, with a dash of finding yourself thrown in. The series has won numerous awards (including Publishers Weekly Best Books, ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the IRA/CBC Young Adults’ Choice, among others) and a screenplay is in the works! Perfect for the pre-teen who loves all things creepy and good, long series to tuck into.
2. So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl, Barry Deneberg
This is a personal recommendation from our Office Manager, Devon, who was obsessed with this series of “diaries” written by young woman throughout American history called “Dear America” when she was a middle grade reader (there’s one for every era you can think of, and a related series about young royals, as well!) This particular book focuses on the Irish immigrant experience, following a fictional girl named Mary Driscoll who escapes the Great Famine by coming to America—landing in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1847. The narrative is chock-full of Irish idioms and speech patterns of the time, as well as astoundingly accurate historical detail that will really bring the time period to life for young readers. Due to the historical nature of the books, they often deal with serious subjects (in this one: multiple deaths—particularly of parents—dangerous mill conditions, disease, and poverty), but hold both historical (there’s even an appendix with historical details—like popular songs and fashions) and life lessons within the hard truths.
3. Benny and Babe, Eoin Colfer
Technically the second book in Colfer’s (of Artemis Fowl fame) Benny duology, but readers can enjoy the books in any order! When 13-year-old Benny Shaw returns to Ireland for the summer from his new home in Tunisia (see the first book, Benny and Omar, for that story,) there’s not much to do at his lighthouse-keeper grandad’s on the coast. That’s until Benny meets Babe—the town tomboy and entrepreneur—who involves him in her “business”: reselling fishing lures to the same fishermen who lost them. A competition arises between the pair and bad boy ex-con Furty Howlin, but when danger arises community proves more important than their fight. Described as full of strong character development and a vibrant narrative voice, as well as plenty of Irish colloquialisms and humor, this coming-of-age novel deals with everything from bad home lives and first loves with a sensitivity and candor young readers will appreciate.
4. Across the Divide, Brian Gallagher
Amazingly, we’ve managed to find TWO Irish middle grade books with male protagonists—something unfortunately hard to find in the children’s book sphere. This historical novel follows best friends Liam and Nora during the 1913 Dublin Lockout, where they find themselves as purported enemies. With Nora’s father being a successful wine merchant and Liam’s father being a mechanic and trade union member, their families find themselves on opposite sides during this major industrial dispute that included strikes and riots—one of the most significant disputes of its kind in Irish history. Liam and Nora’s perspective as young people caught in a conflict they don’t fully understand is an excellent window into this complicated and turbulent part of history for a young reader. Rife with danger and hardship, but always keeping humor at the forefront, this adventure will make—or break—Nora and Liam’s friendship. Learn more about the book from the author himself here.
5. The Singing Stone, O.R. Melling
One of the older books on the list (published in 1987—so not that old,) Melling’s coming-of-age fantasy novel combines a modern protagonist with the deep mythology and legend of Old Ireland. The story follows a young, orphaned artist named Kay as she returns to her homeland of Ireland from Canada after she begins experiencing dream-visions. In something like a middle grade, Irish version of Outlander (which is definitely adult-only,) Kay is transported back to the Bronze Age where she becomes responsible for recovering the lost treasures of the mythical race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann while a foreign invasion happens around her. With moral lessons that mirror modern ones worked into the complex tapestry of Celtic themes Melling weaves, we’re given historical context along with something to bring into our lives in real time. With excellent ratings across platforms, “it’s a time-slip adventure story with a lot of heart.”
This post is part of a series. Read our last modern Ireland post, with picture book recs for our littlest dancers, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Find all of our latest news on our Scoil Rince Luimni Facebook page!