Recently, we have read several books which I would consider novel- or novella-length fairy tales. One was Happily Ever After, which I gave to my daughter for her birthday. Two others were Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, both of which fall into this category doubly, as not only are they fairy tales themselves (the protagonists go on a (physical) journey only to find that what they are seeking is really back where they started) but within each book are modern retellings of traditional Chinese folktales.
And then I read The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech. Of course I had heard of the author, had read her award-winning Walk Two Moons (which underwhelmed me) and her picture book A Fine, Fine School, but I had never heard of this book. Is it just because it was published in between when I was the target audience and when I started reading children's books again (2007)? Have you heard of it? Read it?
If not, you should. Written by Ms. Creech and "illuminated" by David Diaz, this novel takes us into a kingdom with spoiled royals and good, honest peasants, who are all seeking something. The illustrations, the typeface, the illuminated letters that begin each chapter help transport us to this magical, timeless place, an alternate-universe Italy (all the characters have Italian names) without cellphones or chamber pots, with a castle that creaks and groans and is trying to tell its inhabitants something (reminiscent of the castle in Tuesdays at the Castle and Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George). During the course of the novel, both we and the characters learn about the power of words and stories (just as we do in Grace Lin's works) and that material possessions cannot bring happiness (although without a full belly it is hard to be completely happy). In a somewhat comedic, modern touch, the king's (and later, queen's) personal "hermits" act as the royals' therapists.
I loved traveling to the kingdom of Corona and I think your middle-grader (and you!) will love it too.