The 26 Best Middle Grade Science Fiction Books

The last few decades have seen an explosion of really well-written science fiction aimed at middle graders/tweens. I would have loved to have had these books during those (for me) wildly awkward years.

 

26
We’re Not From Here
by Geoff Rodkey – 2019

The first time I heard about Planet Choom, we’d been on Mars for almost a year. But life on the Mars station was grim, and since Earth was no longer an option (we may have blown it up), it was time to find a new home.

That’s how we ended up on Choom with the Zhuri. They’re very smart. They also look like giant mosquitos. But that’s not why it’s so hard to live here. There’s a lot that the Zhuri don’t like: singing (just ask my sister, Ila), comedy (one joke got me sent to the principal’s office), or any kind of emotion. The biggest problem, though? The Zhuri don’t like us. And if humankind is going to survive, it’s up to my family to change their minds. No pressure.

“A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

25
The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole
by Michelle Cuevas – 2017

When eleven-year-old Stella Rodriguez shows up at NASA to request that her recording be included in Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, something unexpected happens: A black hole follows her home, and sets out to live in her house as a pet. The black hole swallows everything he touches, which is challenging to say the least—but also turns out to be a convenient way to get rid of those items that Stella doesn’t want around. Soon the ugly sweaters her aunt has made for her all disappear within the black hole, as does the smelly class hamster she’s taking care of, and most important, all the reminders of her dead father that are just too painful to have around.

It’s not until Stella, her younger brother, Cosmo, the family puppy, and even the bathroom tub all get swallowed up by the black hole that Stella comes to realize she has been letting her own grief consume her. And that’s not the only thing she realizes as she attempts to get back home.

“As much a journey of grief and healing as a literal adventure, Cuevas’s story is both touching and funny.”
—Booklist

24
Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy
by Joshua S. Levy – 2019

PSS 118 is just your typical school―except that it’s a rickety old spaceship orbiting Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter. Jack’s dad used to be the science teacher, until he got fired for tinkering with the ship. Now Jack just wants to get through the last day of school without anything else going wrong.

But when the school is mysteriously attacked, Jack discovers that his dad has built humanity’s first light-speed engine―and given Jack control of it. To save the ship, Jack catapults it hundreds of light-years away… and right into the clutches of the first aliens humans have ever seen. School hasn’t just gotten out: it’s gone clear across the galaxy.

And now it’s up to Jack and his friends to get everyone home.

“[T]his middle-grade action-adventure space opera is just plain fun.”
―Booklist

23
The City of Ember
by Jeanne Duprau – 2003

The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to dim. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. Now, she and her friend Doon must race to figure out the clues to keep the lights on. If they succeed, they will have to convince everyone to follow them into danger. But if they fail? The lights will burn out and the darkness will close in forever.

“A harrowing journey into the unknown, and cryptic messages for readers to decipher.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

22
Dragon Pearl
by Yoon Ha Lee – 2019

In this tale of science fiction mashed with fantasy, thirteen-year-old Min comes from a long line of fox spirits, but you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times.

Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

“Lee offers a perfect balance of space opera and Korean mythology with enough complexity to appeal to teens.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review

21
Cleo Porter and the Body Electric
by Jake Burt – 2020

A woman is dying. Cleo Porter has her medicine. And no way to deliver it.

Like everyone else, twelve-year-old Cleo and her parents are sealed in an apartment without windows or doors. They never leave. They never get visitors. Their food is dropped off by drones. So they’re safe. Safe from the disease that nearly wiped humans from the earth. Safe from everything. The trade-off?

They’re alone. Thus, when they receive a package clearly meant for someone else–a package containing a substance critical for a stranger’s survival–Cleo is stuck. As a surgeon-in-training, she knows the clock is ticking. But people don’t leave their units.

Not ever. Until now.

“Cleo is exactly the hero today’s readers need. She is plucky, tenacious, loyal, and funny. Readers of all backgrounds will relate to the virtual learning and isolation. …A fun and entertaining adventure, highly recommended.”
—School Library Journal, starred review

20
Found
by Margaret Peterson Haddix – 2008

One night a plane appeared out of nowhere, the only passengers aboard: thirty-six babies. As soon as they were taken off the plane, it vanished. Now, thirteen years later, two of those children are receiving sinister messages, and they begin to investigate their past. Their quest to discover where they really came from leads them to a conspiracy that reaches from the far past to the distant future—and will take them hurtling through time. In this exciting new series, bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix brings an element of suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

19
Last Day on Mars
by Kevin Emerson – 2017

It is Earth year 2213—but, of course, there is no Earth anymore. Not since it was burned to a cinder by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. The human race has fled to Mars, but this was only a temporary solution while we have prepared for a second trip: a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a distant star, our best guess at where we might find a new home.

Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The son of two scientists who have been racing against time to create technology vital to humanity’s survival, Liam, along with his friend Phoebe, will be on the last starliner to depart before Mars, like Earth before it, is destroyed.

Or so he thinks. Because before this day is over, Liam and Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.

“Enigmatic enemies, sabotage, space travel, and short, bone-wracking bits of time travel make for a banging adventure.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

18
A Problematic Paradox
by Eliot Sappingfield – 2018

Nikola Kross has given up on living in harmony with her classmates and exasperated teachers: she prefers dabbling in experimental chemistry to fitting in. But when her life is axially inverted by a gang of extraterrestrials who kidnap her dad and attempt to recruit her into their service, she discovers he’s been keeping a world of secrets from her, including the school for geniuses where she’s sent for refuge, a place where classes like Practical Quantum Mechanics are the norm and where students use wormholes to commute to class. For Nikola, the hard part isn’t school; it’s making friends, especially when the student body isn’t (entirely) human.

But the most puzzling paradox of all is Nikola herself, who has certain abilities that no one understands—abilities that put her whole school in greater danger than she could have imagined.

“Absolute outlandishness, an endless parade of jokes (both sly and knee-slapping), incredibly wacky worldbuilding and characters, and a savvy, refreshing irreverence for the genre. Readers will clamor for more. A glorious cacophony of wildly inventive gadgets, gags, and action.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

17
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holmby – 2016

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough… he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this gawky teenager really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality… and possibility.

“Warm, witty, and wise.”
—The New York Times

16
Daniel Coldstar: The Relic War
by Stel Pavlou – 2019

Below the surface on a forgotten planet, Daniel Coldstar searches for relics from a lost civilization. Daniel has no memory of his past. All he knows is to do his job and fear the masters of the mines.

Until he unearths a relic more powerful than anything he has ever seen. A relic that might help him escape…

What follows is an epic outer space adventure filled with Truth Seekers, anatoms, Leechers, and the evil Sinja who seek to control the universe.

All that stands in their way is a boy named Daniel Coldstar, whose journey will change the galaxy forever.

“Outrageously creative.”
—Kirkus Reviews

15
Grosse Adventures: Stinky & Stan Blast Off!
by Annie Auerbach – 2008

If you have a boy that just won’t read, try this half-comic, half-text chapter book. Stinky & Stan Blast Off! is funny and clever, more than you would expect, given its super-boy-friendly premise: two brothers with near-superhero farting abilities (one silent but violent, the other loud and proud) end up on another planet (Uranus, of course).

14
The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown – 2016

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is all alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is—but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a violent storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island’s unwelcoming animal inhabitants.

As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home—until, one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

“Roz may not feel emotions, but young readers certainly will as this tender, captivating tale unfolds.”
―The Washington Post

13
Last Gate of the Emperor
by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen – 2021

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime—a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

“In this fast-paced, Afrofuturist homage to Ethiopia, Mbalia and Ethiopian prince Makonnen craft an enthralling tale of resilience, family, and bravery that will entertain young sci-fi lovers.”
—Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

12
Space Case
by Stuart Gibbs – 2014

Like his fellow lunarnauts—otherwise known as Moonies—living on Moon Base Alpha, twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon.

And he’s bored out of his mind. Kids aren’t allowed on the lunar surface, meaning they’re trapped inside the tiny moon base with next to nothing to occupy their time—and the only other kid Dash’s age spends all his time hooked into virtual reality games.

Then Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. Everyone agrees Dr. Holtz went onto the lunar surface without his helmet properly affixed, simple as that. But Dr. Holtz was on the verge of an important new discovery, Dash finds out, and it’s a secret that could change everything for the Moonies—a secret someone just might kill to keep…

“The whodunit is smartly paced and intricately plotted. Best of all, the reveal is actually worth all the buildup. Thrillers too often fly off the rails in their final moments, but the author’s steady hand keeps everything here on track. Fully absorbing.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

11
Eager
by Helen Fox – 2003

It’s the end of the 21st century where technocrats rule and robots take care of humans’ every need. Your house watches you, knows your secrets, and talks to you.

Gavin Bell and his teenage sister Fleur come from a middle-class family. Their much-loved, old-fashioned robot, Grumps, is running down and can’t be repaired, so a scientist friend loans them EGR3, an experimental new robot to help Grumps. EGR3, known as Eager, learns from his experiences, as a child would. He feels emotions—wonder, excitement, and loss. When the ultra high-tech, eerily human BDC4 robots begin to behave suspiciously, Eager and the Bells are drawn into a great adventure that is sometimes dark and often humorous. As Eager’s extraordinary abilities are tested to the limit, he will try to find the answer to this question: What does it mean to be alive?

10
Cleopatra in Space
by Mike Maihack – 2014

When Cleo finds a mysterious tablet that zaps her to the far, really far future, she learns of an ancient prophecy that says she is destined to save the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the evil Xaius Octavian. She enrolls in Yasiro Academy, a high-tech school with classes like algebra, biology, and alien languages (which Cleo could do without), and combat training (which is more Cleo’s style). With help from her teacher Khensu, Cleo learns what it takes to be a great leader, while trying to figure out how she’s going to get her homework done, make friends, and avoid detention!

“Maihack’s debut graphic novel sets the stage for what looks to be a series of Star Trek-style space adventures punctuated with far-future high school drama. Cleopatra smoothly slips into the role of confident, wisecracking, baddie-dispatching hero.”
—Publishers Weekly

9
Zita the Spacegirl
by Ben Hatke – 2011
Normal Earthling Zita is transported to a mysterious alien planet, which appears to be the Star Wars cantina dialed up to eleven. Zita must rescue her friend who’s been kidnapped by an alien cult while dealing with con men, bloodthirsty robots, humanoid chickens, a friendly giant mouse, and the impending destruction of the planet she’s standing on.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun and captivating graphic novel: when my kid was eight, he read it many, many, many times. Strongly recommended.

“Adults will enjoy the subtle humor and inside jokes, and children will love intrepid Zita and her adventures. The art is simply delightful: a realistic heroine surrounded by a world of bizarre creatures.”
—School Library Journal

8
Panda Ray
by Michael Kandel – 1996

Panda Ray is a rare beast: a fun and weird adventure for kids where there is no Chosen One (I’m a little tired of the Hero’s Journey).

Chris Zimmerman is an alien, or possibly a mutant. Either way, he’s in trouble because he keeps telling his fifth-grade class about his travels through time. His mother finds out and is furious, because those trips are family secrets. His punishment is going to be getting scooped out, wiping out any personality he might have.

So, of course, he and Gramps escape in a spaceship. Then things get interesting.

7
Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card – 1985

Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, playing combat games and training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.

It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though the New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”

6
The House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer – 2002

Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.

His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster—except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

Awards include the National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature, Newbery Honor Book, and Printz Honor Book.

“Strong, rough, exciting reading.”
—Chicago Tribune

5
When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead – 2009

Shortly after a fall-out with her best friend, sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes, and she doesn’t know what to do. The notes tell her that she must write a letter—a true story, and that she can’t share her mission with anyone.

It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die, and she might be too late to stop it.

“Like A Wrinkle in Time (Miranda’s favorite book), When You Reach Me far surpasses the usual whodunit or sci-fi adventure to become an incandescent exploration of ‘life, death, and the beauty of it all.'”
—The Washington Post

4
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
by Carlos Hernandez – 2019

When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.

Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess… except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.

“A nonstop sense of wonder accompanies a genuinely heartwarming and humorous tone, and Sal and Gabi are clearly a fictional team destined for greatness.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

3
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
by Roald Dahl – 1972

I loved this book as a kid. A sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the book begins right after Wonka and Charlie burst through the roof of the chocolate factory in the Elevator. They pick up Grandma and Grandpa and, through an accident, head into orbit to rendezvous with the Space Hotel.

There, they meet up with one of the most memorable aliens of my childhood, the Vermicious Knids, who are waiting in the hotel to consume the guests and staff.

2
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L’Engle – 1962

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different,” and “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was really difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adult’s book, anyhow?”

The book has been in print continuously since its publication in 1962, so apparently it wasn’t too difficult for children. However, it has been too challenging for the more religious adults: it was on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number 23, due to the book’s references to witches and crystal balls, the claim that it “challenges religious beliefs,” and the listing of Jesus “with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders.”

1
The Giver
by Lois Lowry – 1993

The Giver, winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, is set in a society which is at first presented as utopian, but gradually appears more and more dystopian. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Twelve-year-old Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.

The Giver is a part of many middle school reading lists, but it is also on many challenged book lists and appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books of the 1990s.

“Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel.”
—Kirkus, starred review

5 thoughts on “The 26 Best Middle Grade Science Fiction Books

  1. This is glorious – thank you – just what I need for my nephew – and potentially, feels like a gold mine of good reading for the holidays. Very many thanks.

  2. Many thanks for this feature! In my late fifties, I still enjoy reading SFF written for younger readers, from Heinlein’s “juveniles” to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I also like Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator–arguably an improvement on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The eerie description of Minusland may be one of the finest passages in fantastic literature.

  3. Though it’s technically in the “fantastical” genre, may I suggest China Miéville’s “Un Lun Dun?” It’s a thoroughly clever, unexpected tale that dips a toe into sci-fi concepts.

  4. I have read “Ender’s Game”, “A Wrinkle In Time”, and “The Giver” out of the 26.

    I would add Heinlein’s juveniles to this list. Specifically, “Citizen Of The Galaxy” and “The Star Beast”.

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