2022 Standout Middle Grade Books (Australian Edition)

I enjoyed collating the Picture Books lists for 2021 and 2022, so I thought I’d do the same for Middle Grade books.

As the moderator on the @LoveOzMG twitter account, I’m also conscious of the wealth of Australian talent out there, that is often eclipsed by bestselling overseas titles.

So I’ve asked early career creators to tell me their favourite #LoveOzMG titles from 2022.

Collage of 19 chosen Australian middle grade fiction books from 2022

The Australian Children’s Literature community would really appreciate it if you shared this blogpost on social media or with teacher/parent/librarian friends.

Please use the hashtag #LoveOzMG ! That way, interested people can find #AustralianStories for children.

Annaleise Byrd

Annaleise Byrd‘s debut middle grade novel will be coming out with Walker Books in 2024. She recommends THE DANGEROUS BUSINESS OF BEING TRILBY MOFFAT by Kate Temple:

This delightful story of a brave, crossword-loving girl’s adventures in a land outside of time is full of quirky humour, inventive similes, sarcastic cats, constant cake-eating and jabs at the boring bureaucratic world of adults. I loved it and hope it gets the attention it deserves!

Gemma Patience

Gemma Patience (@mypicturebookheart and @mychapterbookheart), longlistee for the CBCA NSW Aspiring Writers’ Mentorship Award, says:

When Trilby’s mum catches a mysterious illness that makes her speak dead languages, bake ancient (stomach-turning) cakes, and then fall into a deep sleep, Trilby  is drawn into a race against time with a dangerous villain hot on her heels. This fast-paced adventure is intriguing, thought-provoking, and deliciously absurd! (Think Roald Dahl novel meets a Wes Anderson film, with a smattering of the sweet treats of an Enid Blyton novel!) 

Danielle Freeland

Danielle Freeland is the Vice President of Book Links QLD and the Book Links Story Arts Brisbane coordinator. She is a member of SCBWI, the 12×12 picture book challenge, Rate your Story, Children’s Book Insider, and is actively involved in her local writing community. She recommends WE RUN TOMORROW written by Nat Amoore with graphic art by Mike Barry (Penguin Australia):

This middle-grade adventure is sure to entertain children ages 8 to 14 and keep them turning the pages. Rather than be separated by circumstance and the adults around them, the four best friends run away to the Gold Coast to audition for a part in a new movie. Readers will love the characters and the bonds they share as they struggle against the odds to realise their dreams. This is a must-read if you love layered stories that are hard to put down with well-rounded characters. 

Bethany Loveridge

Bethany Loveridge undertook the 2021 KYD Mentors Program with legendary author Leanne Hall, then won a 2022 ASA/CA Award Mentorship (with Kristina Schulz) and was shortlisted for a 2023 Varuna Residential Fellowship. She has the middle grade manuscript in question out on submission so watch this space (and cross your fingers, please)! Connect with Bethany via ‘Bookstagram’ – she loves to chat and celebrate all things bookish. She recommends SEVEN WHEREWITHAL WAY, BOOK 2: ACROSS THE ICE AND INTO THE JUNGLE by Samantha-Ellen Bound:

The continuing adventure of somewhat cursed, Celeste and her food-focused sister, Esme, as they travel through the Realms in search of Hagstones. I love getting lost in these epic sweeping adventures, through dangerous places with tongue-twisting creatures and vividly painted scenery. The characters’ flaws and relationships are what really do it for me though, and the clever way Bound uses the apprentice, Logan to feed the reader nerdy lore info.

Julie Grasso

And Julie Grasso (see below) says:

A follow on from SEVEN WHEREWITHAL WAY, Sam Ellen takes us on the next exciting adventure in a new realm, which once again you will be hesitant to leave!

Bethany Loveridge (see above) also recommends BIG MAGIC by Sarah Armstrong:

A masterclass in writing a pacy, edge-of-your-seat middle grade adventure, BIG MAGIC is a contemporary adventure that simultaneously feels old-worldish and other-worldish. Tulsi and the women in her family are capable of ‘big magic’ – a dangerous and captivating type of magic connected to the natural world. But no one will teach her, or even talk about it. And that’s the thing about forbidden things – they’re all the more exciting!

Melissa Salisbury

Melissa Salisbury has had short stories and articles featured in Youkie (formerly Kookie) Magazine and The School Magazine, and was recently awarded a runner-up prize in the Book Links mentorship competition, which was created for her middle grade manuscript, Hiding Henrietta Honeyman. She recommends THE JAMMER by Nova Weetman:

THE JAMMER is a deeply satisfying story about love, loss, grief, growing up, connections and finding your place in the world. Weetman masterfully weaves the threads of twelve-year old Fred’s story of grief and how it affects her relationship with her dad, her changing body, and her passion for roller derby, to a pleasing, but not cloying, ending. If you’ve been a fan of Weetman’s books up until now, this book will keep you hooked. If you haven’t read her books, you will be a fan after reading THE JAMMER.

Sarah Armstrong

While Sarah Armstrong is a seasoned pro in adult fiction (SALT RAIN, PROMISE and HIS OTHER HOUSE), she is an early career middle grade author whose book, BIG MAGIC, came out in 2022. She also recommends THE JAMMER by Nova Weetman:

A strong and engaging voice and a story that doesn’t dodge the pain of grief but offers plenty of kindness and hope. Plus found family and the inclusive, passionate world of roller derby. Loved it!

Cassy Polimeni

Cassy Polimeni (@cassy_polimeni) is a former travel writer and magazine editor, 2022 winner of the ASA/Copyright Australia mentorship, and author of THE GARDEN AT THE END OF THE WORLD (illustrated by Briony Stewart, published by UQP, April 2023). She says:

THE JAMMER is a heartwarming tale of roller derby, road trips, rescue animals and finding your way through grief by master of Australian middle grade, Nova Weetman. It tackles heavy topics with a light touch so is ideal for readers 10 and up. I got cinema vibes reading this and would love to see these characters on the big screen – especially feisty Fred and her new friend and fellow skater Sam, with his pocket pet mouse. You don’t have to be a skater to fall head over heels for this one.

Charlotte Barkla

Charlotte Barkla is the author of the early middle-grade series, EDIE’S EXPERIMENTS and two picture books: ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES and FROM MY HEAD TO MY TOES, I SAY WHAT GOES. She recommends HOW TO BE PRIME MINISTER AND SURVIVE GRADE FIVE by Carla Fitzgerald:

Once again, there were so many wonderful Australian middle grade books released in 2022. A standout for me this year was HOW TO BE PRIME MINISTER AND SURVIVE GRADE FIVE by Carla Fitzgerald. This entertaining read follows 11-year-old Harper on her quest to decide on a new government policy, in the absence of her dad, the Prime Minister. It has lots of laughs throughout, while also featuring themes of environmental activism and sibling strength. A fun, engaging read, it could also be used to introduce units on government and democracy in the middle-upper primary classroom.

Helen Edwards

Helen Edwards’ (@drhelenedwardswrites) debut middle-grade novel – an Australian historical fiction time-slip adventure, set at Mt Buffalo, inspired by and featuring Guide Alice Manfield, will be published in July 2023 (Riveted Press | Yellow Brick Books). She recommends ELSEWHERE GIRLS by Emily Gale and Nova Weetman:

I have a lot of favourites and read loads of Australian middle-grade books, but I will pick ELSEWHERE GIRLS, by two of my favourite authors, Emily Gale and Nova Weetman. It’s a story about two girls who live in Sydney, 100 years apart. In classic time-slip style, they magically swap places, while swimming in the ocean at Wylie’s Baths, finding themselves in each other’s lives. The two girls develop a deep connection with each other, through their individual experiences, where they face the often very funny, awkward and unexpected challenges, of living in another time, another family and another life. As Cat and Fanny learn more about the very different times they find themselves living in, they become close to the other girl’s family and friends, begin to miss home, and rise to the challenges they must face in order to find their way back to their own lives.

Carla Fitzgerald

Carla Fitzgerald (@carlafitzgeraldauthor), author of 2022 titles, KEEPING UP WITH THE DACHSHUNDS and HOW TO BE PRIME MINISTER AND SURVIVE GRADE FIVE recommends RITA’S REVENGE (A&U) by Lian Tanner:

An original and hilarious mystery featuring Rita, a vengeful duck with the soul of a poet. What’s not to love about that? Fast-paced with plenty of humour and white space, this book is perfect for readers at the lower end of Middle Grade.

Liane McDermott

Liane McDermott (@lianemcdermott), shortlisted for the 2022 Book Links Mentorship and 2021 CYA Chapter Book – Younger Readers category, recommends THE RAVEN’S SONG by Zana Fraillon and Bren MacDibble (Allen and Unwin):

These two highly acclaimed and awarded writers deliver this thought-provoking, middle-grade novel, encompassing elements of fantasy and science fiction. With the evocative storytelling of both authors and captivating chapter hooks, this intriguing story is an absolute page-turner.

Julie Grasso

Julie Grasso (@juliegrasso_middlegrademavens) from ‘Middle Grade Mavens the Podcast’ chimes in with the books they loved in 2022.

A GIRL CALLED CORPSE by Reece Carter: A deliciously dark mystery ghost story with loads of humour and an awful lot of heart!

THE DETECTIVE’S GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY by Nicki Greenberg: The follow on from the Detectives Guide to Ocean travel, Nicki Greenberg’s ability to weave a baffling mystery with historic details is magnificent!

THE DEADLY DAYLIGHT by Ash Harrier: A brilliant middle grade mystery in a deliciously dark setting with loads of quirk.

THE CALLERS by Kiah Thomas: A favourite for Girl Wonder, Callers can conjure objects but Quin can make them disappear too. A delightful spin on twisted magic…  

WYLAH THE KOORIE WARRIOR by Jordan Gould and Richard Pritchard: Wylah must battle the dragon army to take back her stolen kin and learn what it takes to become a warrior!

Karen Comer

Karen Comer (@karen_comer) is a freelance editor and presents writing workshops to children and adults. Earlier in her career, she worked in educational publishing and was the editor for the children’s art magazine BIG. She lives in Melbourne. GRACE NOTES, a YA verse novel, will be published in February 2023 with Hachette. Her MG verse novel, SUNSHINE ON VINEGAR STREET, will be published in June 2023 with Allen & Unwin. She recommends AUGUST AND JONES by Pip Harry:

Jones and August meet when Jones starts grade five at August’s school. Jones misses her farm, loves anything to do with climbing and is scared the cancer is coming back in her remaining eye. August would rather knit or read than play footy, something his dad doesn’t quite understand. To keep life positive, August and Jones create their Must-See Bucket List. This is a beautiful story of friendship and resilience, full of tender and brave moments.

Samantha-Ellen Bound

Samantha-Ellen Bound is the author of the SEVEN WHEREWITHAL WAY and SILVER SHOES series, as well as WHAT THE RAVEN SAW. She is also the host of the ‘Kidlit Classics’ podcast, where guests talk about the children’s books that made them. She recommends MARS AWAKENS by HM Waugh:

It’s really rare to see a pure Middle Grade sci-fi, and Waugh really hits all the marks – genuine thrills, realistic environmental-based science, likeable characters … it was so refreshing to see this one pop up and offer Aussie MG readers something a little different.

Pamela Ueckerman

Pamela Ueckerman is a published children’s poet, reviewer for the Children’s Book Council of Australia and co-host of the podcast ‘Middle Grade Mavens’. Her debut picture book will be released in October 2023 with the National Library of Australia. She recommends THE BOOKSELLER’S APPRENTICE by Amelia Mellor:

This prequel to bestseller THE GRANDEST BOOKSHOP IN THE WORLD goes back to Edward Cole’s early life, selling books at Paddy’s Market in 1870s Melbourne. Young Billy Pyke is tired of being the eldest Pyke child, always having to be responsible for his siblings. He decides to quit school and get a job. His dreams come true when he lands a job at Cole’s Books and the opportunity to further his education outside of school. But then Billy meets the Obscurosmith, who has a strange hold over some of the market stallholders. When the Obscurosmith burns down the Haymarket theatre, Billy challenges him to a duel which turns into a battle of riddles, magic and will.

Zewlan Moor

Zewlan Moor‘s (@byronbiblio) debut picture books, NOTHING ALIKE (Bright Light | Hardie Grant) and THE BILL DUP (Windy Hollow) are coming out in 2023. She recommends WHAT ABOUT THAO? by Oliver Phommavanh (Penguin):

As a Eurasian kid who grew up in a country town, this story really spoke to me. So did the food and poetry slam! Phommavanh’s experience as a story teller and comedian shines through, with a straightforward story, believable dialogue and a realistic setting. This is a layered exploration of the complexities of cultural identity in contemporary rural Australia, where being Asian doesn’t necessarily translate to the same outsider status it once did. I love how the book plays with these themes in a fresh way.

She also recommends THE SUGARCANE KIDS AND THE RED-BOTTOMED BOAT by Charlie Archbold (Text):

This fast-paced adventure tale for Years 3 and 4 would be ideal for a classroom read-aloud. It cleverly subverts the tropes of children’s fiction and heist novels, with an unfortunately realistic premise involving a jewellery theft and the most dastardly crocodile villain since PETER PAN. The parents are picked off in innovative ways, for example, the kind step-mum rolls her ankle on a mango. These atmospheric details made me smile – it’s not often you see such a fun middle grade book set in the tropical Top End of Australia. Hurrah!

I hope you enjoyed this 2022 wrap-up of #LoveOzMG titles, picked by emerging and early career creatives.

If you’d like to support the Australian book industry, look out for these books and new releases as you buy gifts throughout the year. Try to support independent bookstores if you can.

Keep an eye out for the published and forthcoming titles from our curators as well. Many of them are rising stars! 

And remember, if you don’t see their book at your local public or school library, request a library purchase. Librarians are keen to buy books patrons want. And authors and illustrators are paid a stipend for books held in libraries as well. Win-win!

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