Award Winning Books for Kids: California’s Best Middle Grade Books

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Every year, 4th-8th graders across the state of California nominate their favorite books to be considered for the California Young Reader Medal (CYRM). That’s right! These award winning books are selected by people like YOU!

How Books are Selected for the California Young Reader Medal

To determine the winner, the nominated books must undergo a rather lengthy process. 

According to the CYRM official website, “Young people recommend the titles of their favorite book [an original work of fiction] for nomination, or teachers and librarians note repeatedly read or requested titles, and these are submitted to the California Young Reader Medal Committee. Members of the committee read the suggested books, discuss their merits and appeal to children, and then decide upon a well-balanced list of nominees.”

One of the most difficult decisions in selecting a book is deciding which one to read next, amiright? 

Award-Winning Books List: Winners and Nominees

This list has some amazing award winning books for kids that you will not want to miss! We’ve also included the nominees, or runner ups, for each year in case you want to search a little more. 

Here are the 12 California Young Reader Medal award winning books and the nominees for the middle school/junior high category for each year since 2014.

If you like what you see, be sure to check out Goodreads’ Top Middle Grade Books, 2013-2021.

Browse all books featured on Reading A La Mode, here.

Table of Contents

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CYRM Award Winning Book 2021
Donna Gephart


Be Brave. Be Bold. Be You.

Lily is a trans-gender girl. Dunkin deals with bipolar disorder. And Dunkin has a secret. When he moves away from his hometown, he is devastated but then he meets Lily and their lives change forever.

This book covers topics of trans-gender and self-expression. Throughout the book, Lily becomes more and more comfortable expressing her identity with her family and classmates.

Award Nominees 2021

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster

Hope in the Holler
CYRM Award Winning Book 2020
Alan Gratz

“This book should be mandatory reading for all ages 8-12!”

There are three different kids, all from a different time and place on earth. Josef, a young Jewish boy, is faced with the looming concentration camps. Isabella, whose beloved country, Cuba, is plagued by riots and civil unrest, must find a way to get to America with her family. Mahmoud’s country of Syria is being ripped apart by violence and flees to Europe. Each person has one thing in common: Escape!

Award Nominees 2020

When Friendship Followed me Home

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
CYRM Award Winning Book 2019
Pam Munoz Ryan

2016 Newbery Honor Book

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

“Your fate is not yet sealed.

Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,

A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.”

Award Nominees 2019

Wolf Hollow

Ms. Bixby's Last Day
CYRM Award Winning Book 2018
Jennifer A. Nielsen

A family split in two by the Berlin Wall. Literally. 12-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. Gerta, along with her mother and brother, is stuck in East Berlin where the Soviets have taken full control (with guns) while her father and oldest brother stand in West Berlin scheming a way to get them out. 

If they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?

Award Nominees 2018

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

Tesla's Attic
CYRM Award Winning Book 2017
Sharon Messenger

Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She’s skipped multiple grades and doesn’t really connect with the older kids at school, but she’s not comfortable with her family, either. The reason? Sophie’s a Telepath, someone who can read minds. No one knows her secret—at least, that’s what she thinks…

But the day Sophie meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she’s not alone. He’s a Telepath too, and it turns out the reason she has never felt at home is that, well…she isn’t. Fitz opens Sophie’s eyes to a shocking truth, and she is forced to leave behind her family for a new life in a place that is vastly different from what she has ever known.

But Sophie still has secrets, and they’re buried deep in her memory for good reason: The answers are dangerous and in high-demand. What is her true identity, and why was she hidden among humans? The truth could mean life or death—and time is running out.

Award Nominees 2017

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
CYRM Award Winning Book 2016
Elizabeth Partridge
Twelve-year-old Tracy-or Tuyet-has always felt different. The villagers in Vietnam called her con-lai, or “half-breed,” because her father was an American GI. And she doesn’t fit in with her adoptive family in California, either. But when Tracy and a friend discover a soldier’s dogtag hidden among her father’s things, it sets her past and her present on a collision course. Where should her broken heart come to rest? In a time and place she remembers only in her dreams? Or among the people she now calls family? Partridge’s sensitive portrayal of a girl and her family grappling with the complicated legacy of war is as timely today as the events were decades ago.

Award Nominees 2016

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper
CYRM Award Winning Book 2015
Jennifer A. Nielsen

This is the second book by Jennifer A. Nielsen on this list.

In a discontented kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince.

Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together

Award Nominees 2015

Chained by Lynne Kelly

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
CYRM Award Winning Book 2014
Brian Selznick

From the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick..

Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories–Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures–weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.

Award Nominees 2014

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia