Middle Grade Books Set in Florida

Can’t get to Florida? Let a book take you there. Kate DiCamillo, Jennifer Holm and Carl Hiaasen have cornered the market on Florida, the setting of most of their books. But don’t miss Chris Grabenstein’s Welcome to Wonderland series about a family’s beach motel or Ginny Rorby’s How to Speak Dolphin about dolphinariums.

Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo (Central Florida)

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Rob and his dad live in a Florida motel. Still grieving over his mom’s death, Rob has become emotionally closed. He’s bullied at school, but finds a best friend in the feisty, new girl. Wandering in the woods behind the motel, he finds a tiger pacing back in forth in a cage. He and his friend struggle over whether to free the tiger.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (Key West)

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When Turtle’s mom takes a housekeeping job with an employer who doesn’t like kids, she sends Turtle to live with her aunt and cousins in Key West. It’s 1935. Times are tough. At first Turtle doesn’t get along with her gang of scrappy boy cousins, but after quite a few adventures, they finally accept her as one of them.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (Everglades)

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Wild animals. Florida Everglades. Survivalist TV show. All the elements for a great kids’ mystery story. Wahoo’s dad is a wrangler. He’s great with snakes and alligators. When a producer of a TV show wants Mickey’s help on an upcoming episode in the Everglades, he agrees because he needs the money. Unfortunately, for everybody, but the reader, chaos ensures.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Central Florida)

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This is a story of three very different girls becoming friends and figuring out life in the 70s. Raymie hopes to win the Little Miss Florida Tire contest with baton twirling as her talent. To win she’ll also have to do a good deed. Along with naïve Louisana and cynical Beverly, they help at a nursing home, rescue a cat, and survive a near-drowning.

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon (Panhandle and Space Coast)

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Ivy’s mother goes way out of character when she drops everything to follow Hallelujah Dave to the Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. No one seems concerned about getting her back, so Ivy and her friend Paul set out on a road trip from Texas to Florida to retrieve her mom and maybe even see the space shuttle before it’s retired.

Home Sweet Motel by Chris Grabenstein (St. Petersburg)

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Humorous story about a boy who takes it upon himself to save his family’s Florida motel business from a bank repossession. He uses his marketing skills to drum up business with exciting pool parties. When he learns about an old crime involving the motel, he’s determined to solve it and use the reward money to save the motel.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm (West Palm Beach)

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When Sunny is sent to stay with her grandfather for the summer, she thinks it’s going to be fun-filled. Then the reality of her grandfather’s retirement community sets in. Old people everywhere. Then she meets the comic-obsessed, entrepreneur-minded son of the groundskeeper and things start looking up. Graphic novel.

How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby (Miami)

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Lily’s mother died, leaving Lily and her stepfather to care for her severely autistic 4-year-old brother. Her stepdad is having a hard time accepting Adam’s disability and refuses to put him in a special school. Finally he agrees to try the dolphin therapy program, but Lily’s blind friend questions the morality of keeping dolphins in captivity.

The Spirit of Cattail County by Victoria Piontek (Everglades)

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Sparrow Dalton’s best friend is a ghost that doesn’t talk. Her beloved mother has just died leaving her in the care of her mean Aunt Geraldine who plans to sell Dalton House. Sparrow visits a child fortune teller at the flea market to try to get her mom to come back to her as a ghost.


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