ya and middle grade book reviews

Middle Grade Books by Chris Baron

middle grade author chris baron

Dive into an inspiring conversation between Dr. Paige and award-winning middle-grade novelist Chris Baron – a creative dialogue full of excitement and insights.

Up until very recently, sensitive topics were left out of middle grade novels. Chris Baron is one of the few contemporary middle grade authors who did not steer away from important delicate issues that kids need to be able to read about and identify with. It’s also important that kids learn about the issues their friends, families and other people in their communities are coping with. Chris writes beautifully in verse, prose, and
multimedia making each book extremely unique. He includes books with characters from a wide diversity of backgrounds.

In his debut novel, All of Me, 7th grader Ari is dealing with the bullying and low self esteem that comes with being overweight and resulting body issues. In this book, beautifully written in verse, Ari also confronts familial discontent as his parents work through their own issues. He is primarily raised by his mother and a good portion of the book takes place at the beach where his mother creates art. His mother decides that he needs to be on a diet and although following the diet book she gives him has positive effects on his weight, it has some unintended effects on his psychological issues. At the beach, Ari meets another strong character, Lisa, a more worldly slightly older kid who becomes an important friend and handles his crush tenderly for the most part. He also hangs out with Pick, a fellow gamer and artsy George. This important read is one of the few books for middle graders on weight issues and body image for boys.

Chris’s second book, The Magical Imperfect, is also written in verse. Here, Chris addresses mental health as one of the main characters, middle grader Etan’s mother is sent away for a depressive episode. When she leaves, Etan stops speaking and his family, including his grandfather and father, important people in his life don’t know what to do for him. Etan meets Malia who suffers from acute eczema that has spread to her face and left marks so bad that the other kids call her “the creature” resulting in home schooling. The two slowly build trust and become close friends and Malia is one of the only people Etan speaks to and Etan is one of the only people that Malia is willing to show her face to. They are both bullied and Etan comes up with a magical solution that he wants to try for Malia and needs to convince his grandfather and Malia that it’ll work.

The next two books came out in 2023, The Gray, and The Secret of the Dragon Gems. The Gray is written in prose even though Chris started it in verse because he is a natural poet. Chris wanted to have more space to develop the characters. In The Gray, young teen Sasha is trying to cope with a difficult anxiety disorder. When he has panic attacks, the world around him goes gray. When bullying in school and advice from his dad to “toughen up” leads to an unfortunate semi-violent confrontation, Sasha’s parents and therapist decide that a change of scenery in the country with his aunt away from screens and video games should help him get his anxiety under control. His gray and bullying follow him there, but he learns with support from his “kick butt (my term)” aunt, new friendships with another kid coping with his own demons, Ivy, another kid in town, and a horse named, Gray, how to live with his anxiety.

Chris Baron middle grade novel--The Secret of the dragon gems

I highly recommend listening to the full cast and musical interludes in the audiobook of The Secret of the Dragon Gems. In this book, written with Rajani LaRocca (I look forward to interviewing her in February 2024), Sam, a young Jewish teen and Tripti, a young Indian teen become friends in the very end of a sleep away camp and find rocks that turn out to be a lot more. Tripti writes a letter to Sam as part of a school assignment and they become fast friends. They have in common an almost obsession with their favorite book series, The Dragon Gems,  fun excerpts of which are sprinkled throughout the book. The director of the camp, an outcast scientist strives to get hold of their rocks and Sam and Tripti protect the rocks at all cost. The book highlights the importance of family and friendship.

Chris talks how important his teaching is to and about his future plans, including an edited version of stories about Passover coming out in March, 2024 and his hope to eventually with his wife have a retreat center for writers (I’ll be the first to sign up!).

I hope you decide to enjoy his books.

You can find the podcast conversation between Chris Baron and Dr. Elisabeth Paige https://www.buzzsprout.com/1012396 

You can find the YouTube video at:


Please send any additional authors you think my listeners/viewers would enjoy to epaigeconsulting@gmail.com.

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