Should I note that middle grade and I aren't the perfect fit? It's a harder age for me to connect with; it's a less compelling collection of stories and life themes. I gravitate toward books written for people a bit older or younger, and sometimes, my lack of interest in middle grade books is just a struggle with a time I didn't particularly like being me. So, keep that in mind as you read these reviews, of course!
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo (Scholastic - Orchard)
I wanted to love this book, but it was really not for me. I got lost in the surreal story and the sense that it was just too close to Harry Potter for comfort, while being a less compelling read. If you're looking for books in the same vein, particularly for a fantasy read for a young reader who wants more like Harry, this might be a good choice.
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (Scholastic - The Chicken House)
I wanted to love this book too, but perhaps it is enough to say that I liked a lot of it, and it's one I've recommended, though it's not quite my favorite flavor. Something about the font in combination with the orphans-run-away story reminds me of The Boxcar Children, though this story is set in Venice. The story meanders a bit, but for a reader enamored with adventure and the idea of living on one's own (see also: Hatchet and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), that might not be a problem. There's a bit of magic at the end, but not so much it would spoil the story for a reader who isn't a fan of the fantastic. I've found that boys ages 9-11 particularly like this story, and it's a go-to gift idea for friends that age; there seems to be a divide where this book is a favorite of middle-grade readers (the target audience) and others by Cornelia Funke are favored by adults. And that is the power of books, for me--that there are stories enough to go around.
Trouble Don't Last by Shelley Pearsall (Random House - Yearling)
I picked this book up to have on hand in my classroom for a unit on spirituals, wanting to have some fiction to excerpt for our discussions of the music and its history, particularly the connection to hidden messages. Samuel finds himself accompanying a father figure in their flight from slavery, and while he believes trouble follows him, he's got to find a way to make it to freedom. I think this is a good choice, particularly for kids who haven't studied the time period, which often doesn't come up until late middle school or high school. The first-person narration, the harrowing escape, the muted (but still present) attitudes and language of the time all draw in readers, and could prompt further reading or thoughtful discussion.