Best Books for 11-Year-Olds (Sixth Grade)
Want to keep your 11-year-olds, 6th graders, reading good books? I can help. Below you’ll find the BEST of the middle-grade chapter books that are spot-on for maturity and readability.
Plus, each book review includes a genre tag so look for mystery, fantasy, realistic, historical, and sci-fi to help you search. It’s always so helpful to match a child’s interests with the books that they read. And, to give them choices.
I love to give my kids options of a few books to make it easier to pick. Or, at this age, you can just show them this page and have them read the reviews themselves to help them decide.
Read Alouds, Book Series, & Nonfiction Titles for your 11-year-olds in 6th grade:
- Compelling Book Series for 6th Graders
- Nonfiction Books for 11-Year Olds
- Read Aloud Books for 6th Grade
Book Recommendations Plus Reviews & Genres
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
REALISTIC / BODY IMAGE & SIZE / VERSE
Heartbreaking and inspiring, this poignant story in verse shows a girl who learns, after years of fat-shaming and bullying, to define herself not based on what others say but on who she really is. Ellie’s nickname is Splash because of her size but she loves swimming. And her biggest bully? Her mother–who won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for gastro-bypass surgery. Not even Ellie’s dad stands up to her mom’s cruel treatment of Ellie. Fortunately, Ellie finds an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful. “As I float, I spread out my arms and my legs. I’m a starfish, taking up all the room I want.“
Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan
Get ready for action, intrigue, plot twists, and super-cool technology! Ana’s freshman class at her specialized marine and naval academy are the only survivors when the academy is blown up. As the class races to board their field trip ship, their chaperone reveals several essential secrets…Jules Verne’s novels based on Captain Nemo are mostly true, Ana’s the only surviving relative of Captain Nemo, and they will be attacked by the land school if they don’t get to safety immediately. They don’t get to safety immediately. But, they do thwart the first of many attacks — and suddenly because the professor is deathly ill, Ana is in charge. The first thing is to find the Nautilus and the school’s secret base while trying to evade their enemies. You won’t be able to put this book down– run out to get it as soon as possible — it’s a page-turning adventure that will appeal to all boys and girls.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia and her parents have struggled ever since moving to America from China. When her parents take a new live-in job at a motel, they end up working around the clock for very little pay. Mia helps out by working at the front desk. She befriends the weekly tenants and uses her English skills to write letters advocating for other people in tough spots. This book is more than a memorable coming-of-age immigrant story, it’s also about tolerance and diversity. I loved this story— the writing, the characters, the plot, and the messages of inclusion and determination.
Allies by Alan Gratz
Written from many different voices about one day in history, readers easily can see the massive amount of cooperation, planning. and troops from different countries involved in D-Day (when the Allies invaded France at Normandy.) We hear from an American teenage soldier who was born in Germany, a French Algerian girl whose mom is a recently captured spy, a Canadian paratrooper who lands in the wrong spot, and an American black medic. It’s violent and disheartening yet despite terrible losses, racism, and injuries, the fighters persist despite everything to accomplish their goal — to take back the area for the Allies. What an incredible retelling of this day, appropriate for middle-grade readers.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
On her 12th birthday, Zoe, a girl who loves to bake, discovers a letter to her from her incarcerated biological father, Marcus. She decides to write him back, even daring to ask him about the murder he’s in jail for — did he really do it? Marcus writes to Zoe that he’s innocent and he can prove it which sets Zoe on a quest to find out the truth for herself, even if her mom and dad forbid it. She enlists the help of her Grandma and her best friend, Trevor. You won’t be able to put down this winsome story with a heroine you can’t help but adore; a story that illuminates social justice with themes of family, friendship, and love.
The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen
Yared’s Uncle Moti moves them around frequently so when Yared gives his real name during an augmented reality game, he doesn’t think the soldiers that arrive are after him. But they are. And everything he believed about his life turns out to be a lie…including his identity. Yared partners with another game player, the Ibis, to escape the troops and the giant monster and find the truth. The two clever, quick-witted kids face incredible danger, insurmountable odds, and a galaxy-spanning war but Yared has been trained for this and he is ready to fight. Set in a futuristic Ethiopian empire, this exciting adventure grabs your interest and keeps it through wild twists and turns that feature heroic main characters!
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
REALISTIC / REFUGEES
Marsh writes a stunning novel about two young boys from very different backgrounds — one is a refugee from Syria while the other is an American who has just moved to Belgium. Interwoven in this timely, poignant story are the big issues of refugees, prejudice, fear, friendship, and kindness. To avoid the overcrowded refugee centers, Ahmed hides in the basement of the house where Max lives with his family. When he’s discovered by Max, the boys develop a friendship; Max keeps Ahmed hidden from everyone. The boys come up with a plan to enroll Ahmed in Max’s school. And it works. But it can’t last forever. A local policeman suspects something and Max’s family will be moving back to the U.S. soon…
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Fantastic fantasy world-building, excellent writing, a strong female heroine of color, and a surprise plot twist ending are just a few of the reasons you’ll love this book. On top of that, you’ll find an exciting action-packed, suspenseful story about Amari whose brother vanishes mysteriously. He sends her a message that she’s a magician and should attend a special school. There, she discovers she’s a magician with outlawed dark magic but she’s determined to stay in the school and find her brother.
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant
If you want a new favorite warm-hearted adventure with brave kids, dogs, and a happy ending, you don’t want to miss this captivating and beautiful story. The war has made Ben an orphan –again. All that he has left are his dog and his dad’s boat, the Sparrowhawk. When a policeman gets suspicious of Ben’s living situation and his new friend, Lotti’s abusive guardians try to kill her rescue dog, the two friends set off on the boat for France to find Ben’s missing older brother. The boat isn’t meant for a channel crossing but the two kids are determined to make it work…but it won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to find Ben’s missing brother in a country decimated by war.
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice book 1 by John A. Flanagan
Will is apprenticed to become a Ranger, a job he’s unsure about. But as he develops a relationship with his master and learns what being a Ranger is all about (spying for the kingdom), he begins to embrace his new life. When an old enemy of the kingdom sends out dangerous beasts to attack Will’s master, Will is instrumental in getting help and killing the creatures. Action, fantasy, adventure, friendship, excellent writing — this book has it all! It’s a must-read, especially for boys. BOX SET
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
An absolutely wonderful, heartwarming historical fiction story with close-knit siblings who stick together and eventually find their forever home. Evacuated from London during WWII these siblings need to find a new home. Unfortunately, their placements are horrid. It’s only the library and the kind librarian who help them survive the bullying and hunger. Unfortunately, the librarian is deemed “unsuitable” to be their foster mother since her missing husband is German. When things go from bad to worse in their latest home, can the children fight for a home with the librarian no matter what the town thinks?
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
Get ready for a wild ride of suspense, action, adventure, science fiction, and coolness!! Bloom tells the story of three kids who are not affected by the strange-looking plants that appear out of nowhere and take over land all over the world, covering houses and streets, swallowing animals and people but doing nothing to these kids. Scientists figure out that the plants are an alien invasion…and think these kids may be the only chance they have to stop them. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just tell you that it’s an AWESOME story…with two more in the series.
Ali Cross by James Patterson
If you want an enthralling adventure & mystery that you can’t put down, read this one next. It’s Christmas Eve and Ali’s friend Gabe is missing, his FBI agent dad is falsely accused of murdering an old man, and someone broke into their house while they were at church and stole his dad’s service weapon. Ali knows he has to try to fix things, starting by finding his friend Gabe. Don’t miss book two, Like Father, Like Son.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
We loved this so much we read it twice for a bedtime story! You’ll love the strong female main character, a princess named Cimorene who doesn’t want to live the typical princess life. She leaves her home to apprentice herself to a dragon. Just for fun. No prince rescuing involved, thank you very much. Then she must help save her dragon from a group of evil wizards. We LOVE and highly recommend this dragon series. BOX SET
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Wonderfully crafted and imagined, this 2017 Newbery winner is a fairy tale of sorts about a good witch who rescues one of the town’s many abandoned (sacrificed) babies instead of giving her to another town to adopt and love. She’s a special baby named Luna who accidentally becomes infused with moon magic. It’s also the story of the baby’s magical, bereaved mother, a wicked witch who feeds off sorrow, a woodcarver who wants justice, and most of all, an amazing girl named Luna.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A Newbery Honor winner!!! Ada and her brother escape their mother’s abuse when the London children are evacuated during WWII and go to live with a grieving woman in a small country town. It’s difficult for both the woman and children to trust each other but slowly the trust grows. As it does, all three regain something lost — hope and love. I can’t recommend this book enough, it will touch your heart at such a deep level. Don’t miss the equally amazing sequel: The War I Finally Won.
Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery by James Ponti
Captivating from the first page, 12- year old Florian Bates uses his brilliant, observing brain to implement T.O.A.S.T. (the Theory of All Small Things) to notice things that others have missed. Including the FBI when there’s an art heist at the museum his mother works at. The FBI hires him to help unravel a mysterious art heist which he does with the help of his best friend, Margaret. Fast-paced and interesting.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Because this is written in verse, this is a fast read but packs a big punch. Basketball player and twin Josh narrates his life in quarters, just like the game he plays. He writes about missing his twin when his twin, Jordan, gets a girlfriend; about getting in trouble when he hits Jordan in the face with a basketball; and about watching his father as his heart fails. This is a coming-of-age, gripping story about a boy who is just trying to figure out life like most boys at age 12.
Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
ENVIRONMENT / OCEAN / ANIMALS
I absolutely love this beautifully written story about two orca siblings separated from their families, trying to find food and their seasonal home. After her mother loses a calf, Vega leaves her pod to bury her little sister, her brother chasing after her. Then, a Tsunami hits and they both are lost from their pod. Vega, a stranger, and her little brother travel together towards recognizable landscapes and hopefully, food. As they journey, they meet other orca pods with different customs and who eat different foods, as well as other sea creatures. The story, an adventure with danger and suspense, shows the importance of keeping nature in balance.
Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
REALISTIC / DRUG ADDICTION
Across the Desert is a stunning story about a brave girl who has been secretly dealing with her mother’s opioid addiction who makes a daring (and possibly foolheartedly) trek to the desert to rescue her only friend. Jolene is the only person who knows that her friend Addie crashed her ultralight plane alone in the middle of the desert. Jolene steals her mom’s phone and credit card and takes the bus as close as she can to Addie’s location, planning to walk to find Addie. On the bus, she meets a kind and helpful teenager named Marty who, despite Jolene’s reluctance and mistrust, helps Jolene with advice and ultimately, finding Addie. The story is about trust, relationships, boundaries, addiction, survival, and family; it’s also an emotional journey of inner and outer strength that leads to hope and healing.
Swag is in the Socks by Kelly J. Baptist
12-year-old Xavier hates speaking because of his stutter, he’d much prefer to play video games and hang out in his room at home. But, he wants to join Septer League just like his (incarcerated) father, great uncle, and grandfather. He thinks he has a shot but gets denied entry — and is told that he needs to be more of a leader to get in. Xavier’s Great Uncle Frankie Bell unexpectedly sends him a pair of crazy socks and soon more pairs. When Xavier wears them, people notice and it gives him the “swag” that Frankie Bell tells him will help. The socks give Xavier an opportunity to be a leader in a way he never expected. That plus speech therapy and we watch as he blossoms with confidence. A beautiful coming-of-age story that will make you want your own swaggy socks!
Children of the Fox by Kevin Sands
Callan’s a gaffer, skilled at the art of the con taught by the best, the Old Man. Even though the Old Man is gone, Callan hears him in his head, dialogues with him, which is good because his mentor gives good advice. Callan joins a group of kids who are hired by a Weaver to steal something magical called the Eye. It’s a tricky job with not enough time to plan and all the kids know it’s dangerous but the monetary reward is too tempting. The misfits use their individual skills including climbing, mapping, acrobatics, and knife throwing to plan a heist in less than a week. It’s an exciting, complex, and unexpected plot involving magic and mythological gods from the stories with themes of problem-solving, friendship, and trust that ends with both an amazing resolution and a cliff-hanger. I can not wait until the sequel!
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
REALISTIC / KOREAN CULTURE
Exceptional! Korean-American Pippa is a great basketball player but her guardian older sister won’t let her play unless her grades improve. Math tutoring by a cute, rich boy leads to a scholarship at a prestigious private school and Pippa uses the new school to reinvent herself, hiding her background from the popular kids (not wealthy, from a rival middle school.) Ultimately, Pippa decides to not be ashamed of her working-class family, her culture, or her friends. Girl readers, in particular, will be able to relate to the social hierarchy of middle school and the temptation to change yourself to suit others.
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
“Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.” Isn’t this a great first sentence? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies were stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother not to mention Stewart is nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
#OWNVOICES / REALISTIC / BODY DYSMORPHIA & EATING DISORDERS
Sarah’s mom’s dysfunctional relationship with food is affecting Sarah– who now thinks that her slowness in basketball is related to eating too much or too many “unhealthy” foods, instead of being from the normal growing pains of puberty. She’s confused, starving herself, and stressed out. Finally, a friend pushes Sarah to get help…and, help is just what Sarah needs to understand the truth about her body, what health truly is, and how her mom’s disordered eating has affected her. EXCELLENT!
The Brave by James Bird
Run out to get this absolutely jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful book with a main character you’ll fall in love with (and whose character arc is HUGE.) It’s filled with metaphorical, meaningful, and symbolic writing and you will feel ALL the feelings. When Collin, a boy who counts every letter spoken to him and says the number out loud, gets kicked out of yet another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon…
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Like The Penderwicks, you’ll fall in love with this quirky, wonderful family from the first page. The Vanderbeekers’ landlord wants them out by the end of December but the Vanderbeeker kids are determined to change his mind, even though he hates noise, kids, and their family. But it’s almost Christmas and their efforts are only making things worse. What will they do? Charming and heart-warming.
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
#OWNVOICES / VERSE / IDENTITY / INDIAN-AMERICAN
Reha is struggling to figure out her place in her two worlds–India and America. She wants Amma to understand how she feels but when her Amma gets cancer, Reba focuses on being virtuous enough so her mom will get better. But, her Amma dies. And Reha feels so much grief. Then, she gets a letter mailed by a nurse from her Amma that helps Reha move into her future and belonging to two cultures. (It’s a heartfelt, beautiful ending and if you’re like me, you’ll probably cry!)
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitch Smith
These exceptionally written, interconnected stories are about kids and their experiences with the powwow, cultural aspects of the Native communities, growing up, and belonging. They’re wonderfully written and wholly engaging. At first, each story seems distinct, but the stories intersect with graceful wonder. It’s a beautiful collection of stories that amplifies Native voices and gives non-Native folks a view of the modern-day lives of Indigenous kids and their families.
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dees
Middle schooler Mila is feeling trapped— a group of basketball-playing boys is getting too close, grabbing her, touching her, and then telling her that she’s imagining it. Ignoring doesn’t stop the behaviors, neither does telling an adult, telling her friends, or wearing baggier clothing. Now her toxic friend Zara is acting mad and jealous that Mila’s getting the boys’ attention. Unexpectedly, Mila finds her strength when she starts karate classes. That helps her find what works to put a stop to the harassment. I highly recommend this essential book; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls. Because it’s not funny, flirting, or being too sensitive. It’s hurtful & harassment & not okay.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
REALISTIC / AUTISM
A heart-wrenching, powerful story about autism, intolerance, kindness, and righting wrongs. An autistic girl in Scottland named Addie is treated cruelly by people in her town and especially by her mean teacher at school. That’s why it resonates with Addie when learns the history of how the witches were treated (killed) in the Scottish witch trials. She can relate and she campaigns for the city to make amends to the women accused of witchcraft with a memorial. The city council says no immediately. Then, her older vlogger sister Nina puts her on a makeover video, exposing Addie to even more cruelty with unkind comments and publicity. And, her other beloved mentor autistic big sister, Keedie, has a breakdown after too much masking (acting neurotypical) at her university. Life is complicated and as Addie experiences all of this, she feels determined to show people that intolerance is wrong and needs to be both acknowledged and apologized for.
Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf
REALISTIC / SOCIAL JUSTICE / REFUGEES
When a new refugee boy from Syria arrives at Alexa’s London school, she can’t wait to be friends with him. However, Ahmed doesn’t talk or make eye contact. Alexa and her friends learn that Ahmed was in a real war and has been separated from his family. When Alexa and her friends hear that England is going to shut the borders, they decide they must go to the Queen to help Ahmed be reunited with his family. They go to the palace in person, tangling with the guards, and getting in big trouble but it eventually leads to media attention and a happy solution. Showing the power of individuals to make a difference, this moving gem of a novel ultimately is about human kindness and friendship.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
BIOGRAPHY / HISTORY
Sudan’s reality, past and present, collide in this beautifully written true story. In 1985, we follow the harrowing journey of a young boy who, after his village was attacked, walks miles and miles to a refugee camp. In 2008, we learn about a girl who must walk two hours morning and night to get fresh water. Their stories are compelling; you won’t be able to put this down, nor take peace and clean water for granted again. A must read!
New Kid by Jerry Craft
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Jordan’s parents make him go to a private school across town where he’s one of the only kids of color. Besides having the tricky business of navigating friendships, he now must deal with the two separate worlds of his neighborhood and his school along with racism and balancing academics with artwork. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
Elizabeth, an orphan, is unexpectedly sent to a large, stately hotel with a kind, grandfatherly proprietor for Christmas vacation. There, she discovers a magical book, a sinister couple, a family mystery, and a new friend who loves puzzles as much as she does. The writing is mesmerizing, the mystery fascinating, and the characters, enchanting. This is a wonderful, atmospheric read.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. She recalls how the two of them ran away from an abusive father and sick mother to the big city where they meet two friendly brothers and live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how much more capable her sister is than she previously thought. Unfortunately, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever and what happens next will almost destroy Viji. She wonders how prayers and faith can coexist with misery and pain. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new family that helps her see more in the future than misery. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.
Patina by Jason Reynolds
Patina’s anger sometimes gets the best of her but running helps. She’s mad about her dad dying, her mom’s legs being amputated, and her new school. When her track coach makes Patty work with her teammates in a relay, she’s forced to rely on them. And that changes things. Patina is a beautiful coming-of-age story that will tug at your emotions.
Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner
POVERTY / SPD / FOSTER CARE
While her mom works as a waitress, Lou hangs out or sings for money, living her mom’s dream even though Lou dreads performing, which makes her extremely anxious. One evening, underage Lou drives the truck in which they live to pick up her mom from work and gets into an accident. As a result, Lou gets out in foster care with an aunt she’s never met. In her new home, Lou goes to a fancy private school where, after a fire drill meltdown, she’s assessed with Sensory Processing Disorder. She starts to get help with an occupational therapist and a sensory diet, understanding herself better, and learning to trust her kind aunt and uncle.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
This mesmerizing historical fiction story takes place in the Martha’s Vineyard community of Chilmark where a high percentage of deaf individuals live. Mary’s a smart girl who speaks in sign language. She’s easily able to communicate with other islanders because everyone signs. She feels concerns with her friend Nancy’s prejudice against the “Indians” and notices the injustice of how the Native Americans are treated. Then, a researcher arrives with preconceived notations of the “infirmity” of deaf people and he kidnaps Mary as a live specimen. For months she’s imprisoned and forced to work, then locked in a room to be studied. She can’t communicate with anyone because no one else speaks sign and Mary doesn’t have access to a pencil and paper. Eventually, she gets a chance to write a message and makes it back home with help. This is an eye-opening, must-read story!
Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson
A story about finding your strength even if it looks like a weakness…McKenna enters a long dog sled race in order to bring awareness to her sister’s degenerative eye disease. Which McKenna can tell she has, too. Her eyesight is worse and worse. She just doesn’t want to tell her parents and be treated differently. During the race, she relies on her lead dog to guide the sled. Another racer, a boy with a blind dog, shows her that his dog is a powerful leader. He quickly notices that’s McKenna can’t see either. The challenges of the race and her new friendship help McKenna realize that just like Zesty the blind dog, she is not disabled and that her differences make her better.
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
Charlie Hernández’s house burns down, his parents go missing, and he is sent to a foster home. But it’s when he grows HORNS, the WINGS, and meets the MYTHS in real life — like calacas, mukis, and El Justo Juez — that he’s really freaked out. Fortunately, a persistent classmate Violet Rey (also his crush) helps Charlie follow the clues to find out what happened to his parents and if he’s the prophesied Morphling who is meant to save the world. I highly recommend Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo — it’s immediately engaging with the perfect balance of action, dialogue, & description interspersed with Spanish words and phrases. FANTASY / ADVENTURE
The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling
Written in verse, this is a heart-wrenching, heart-stopping, suspenseful adventure with lyrical, figurative language about an intense journey of physical hardship and emotional healing. Shifting perspectives between before and after her mom was shot, Nora and her dad climb into a Sonoran Desert canyon for the first time in the year since her mom died. Just as Nora tells her father she hates him, a flash flood careens through the canyon, carrying her father and their supplies away. Alone and terrified, Nora forces herself to find shelter and keep searching for her father, even with the venom from a scorpion bite slowing her down. As she faces her fears and continues on, she overcomes a metaphorical war with the “beast” who has been giving her nightmares for the past year.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Follow three distinct, alternating stories about being displaced from your country, on the run, and in danger. First is a young Jewish boy who escapes from Nazi Germany on a ship to Cuba, only to be turned away from the Cuban port and sent back to Europe. Next is a Cuban girl in the 1990s who, with her family and neighbors, flees in a homemade raft to the United States at great peril. Finally is a Syrian boy whose home is bombed in a country at war. He and his family travel a great distance to find a country that will allow them shelter. Gatz skillfully connects all three stories with a satisfying, realistic conclusion.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Kyle and a few classmates win a sleepover at the new town newly created library by game-creator Mr. Lemoncello. The silly Mr. Lemoncello devises a fun way to get OUT of the library — you can only get out if you solve the puzzles around the entire library. Will the kids work together or will it be every child for himself? BOX SET
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Hands-down one of the best life-changing books you’ll ever read. Narrated by Melody, we learn what it’s like for her, trapped in a body with cerebral palsy that doesn’t allow her to speak or take care of herself. No one, except her parents, think that she’s smart. Then one day, she gets a chance to prove it. Heartbreaking. Real. Inspiring. Beautifully written.
Santiago’s Road Home by Alexandra Diaz
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico only to unexpectedly meet a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. The heat and lack of water almost kill them but he and his adopted little sister are rescued half dead and taken to an internment camp where they’re separated. He learns that his sister is reunited with her mom but without papers or any way to prove he’s related to them, he’s confined for endless, hopeless days with guards who treat him like a criminal. This book is amazing — unflinchingly honest about the situation of illegal immigrants with heroic main characters who you’ll love.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
REALISTIC / OWNVOICES / BASEBALL
What a page-turner! Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily? It’s no surprise that this is an #OwnVoices book because the story feels so real. It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.
Legacy and the Queen by Annie Matthew, created by Kobe Bryant
Not only is this book beautifully executed with a fuzzy cover, full-color illustrations, and lovely border details, but the uniquely imagined story is also beautifully written and 100% enchanting. Legacy lives at an orphanage with her father and the other orphans but she longs to compete in tennis. When she gets the chance, she leaves to try out for the country’s elite tennis academy. Once she’s there, Legacy’s country background makes her an outcast but that also helps her discover two true friends, her inner magical power, and the dangerous truth of what’s actually going on at the Academy. I loved this unexpected but delightful combination of tennis and fantasy and can’t wait until the next book!
Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
SCI FI (series)
review written by 11-year old JJ
This series was AMAZING! It was a murder mystery on the moon. I can never turn down a good, realistic sci-fi PLUS murder mystery. It has it all! It was placed in 2040 and their second-in-command had died. He had walked out the airlock (to the moon’s surface) with his space suit on wrong– he died in seconds. Everyone thought he had gone crazy, but Dashiel Givson suspected differently. Murder. The first book is almost mirrored in the second –the base commander this time disappears. With just enough breaking the rules, they can figure out where she is and who did it.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
FANTASY / MYTHOLOGY
The compelling, well-written story jumps into the action immediately when Nizhoni, from the Diné (Navajo) people, sees a monster (disguised as a human) at her basketball game. Making matters worse, it’s her dad’s new boss who kidnaps her dad and wants her little brother, too. She escapes with her brother and best friend to ask the Spider Woman for help, learning that she and her brothers are the descendants of the Hero Twins. Her journey challenges her with heroic trials in order to meet the Sun who will give her weapons to fight the monsters and culminating in a fierce battle between the good guys and the monsters. I LOVED this story — it’s a fast-paced hero’s journey with a rich, diverse mythology.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Alexander skillfully writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parents’ separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer. That is until he gets injured and can’t play. Written in free verse, this is a lyrical, fast-paced story that feels honest and relatable.
Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibb
The story begins with Einstein’s death and a huge secret he accidentally says in German… Then it moves to the present day when the CIA asks a super genius 12-year-old girl named Charlie to help find the missing and dangerous “Pandora” theory of Einstein’s. You will fall in love with Charlie—she’s a creative thinker and a survivor who despite all her knowledge still can act like a child yet also outwit bad guys in amazing ways. Terrorists, Moussed, cross-world travel, and mathematical clues combine with excellent writing to make the perfect action-adventure spy story starring a female protagonist you’ll love!
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta
INDIAN MYTHOLOGY (series)
This story pulls you in from the first page. Kiranmala discovers on her 12th birthday that she’s a princess from another realm and her parents are trapped in a black hole-type place. But there’s a lot more she’ll learn — like who her real parents are (yikes!) and that demons can be your friends. The prince’s demon grandma, Ai-Ma, is my FAVORITE character. She says things like “Be good, sweet beetle-dung toadstools.” Okay, Kiranmala’s parents are super awesome, too. You’ll love every second of this entertaining, Indian mythology adventure.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book is brilliantly written for so many reasons. One, because it addresses the very real issue of police violence against black children but it does not vilify or stereotype. The author shows us the complexity of issues and the humanity of a police officer from the perspective of his daughter. After Jerome is shot by her father, he becomes a ghost. Sarah is the only one who can see and talk to him. Except for the other ghost boys who he’ll find out were also killed in racially motivated violence. It’s a well-written, fast-paced read but one that is going to stay with you as you ponder the important topics it addresses. “Bear witness. My tale is told. Wake. Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better. Don’t let me (Or anyone else) Tell this tale again.” I think this book should be used in the classroom or for book clubs — it’s something that begs discussion.
Traitors Among Us by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
It’s a little-known history that after WWII, Russians kidnapped Ukrainian refugees for slave labor or death. In this true story, sisters Maria and Krystia are kidnapped by the Russians when another girl falsely accuses them of being Hitler Girls, girls who collaborated with the Nazis. The girls, including their accusor, are taken to a house in the Russian zone for Interrogation where they fight to survive and with the help of others, to escape. This well-written history shows the power of human kindness.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
The author skillfully weaves an important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters from the woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother, it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her Native heritage. The truth opens her eyes (and ours) to the unjust but common practices that happened throughout U.S. history of taking Native kids away from their birth parents; parents whose only crime was being Native.
A Tale of Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
This book is bloody and macabre and an excellent, imaginative story that weaves Hansel and Gretel with eight more Grimm fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel abandon their terrible parents in order to find better ones –ones that won’t try to kill them. The narrator, a strong, quirky voice, warns us of the bloody things to come. While he’s sometimes distracting, for the most part, I liked how his snarky voice kept me from getting too freaked out by the gruesome parts. Once in the wild forest, Hansel transforms into a ravenous, hunter-beast and Gretel continues on her own. This book will make you want to reread your Complete Brother’s Grimm. (Just don’t read it right before bed.)
El Deafo by Cece Bell and David Lasky
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
In this multiple award-winning graphic novel, Cece Bell shares the story of growing up with a hearing impairment, using a very bulky hearing aid, and finding her place in the world. Funny and moving, this is a beautiful coming-of-age story of courage and determination.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. Young Nan’s Sweep father-figure is gone; she still dreams of his kindness and their life before he left. To survive, she works for a cruel chimney sweep who uses children to make himself richer. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem, formerly a piece of charcoal left to her by Sweep, emerges to save her. She and her growing protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. It’s an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.
The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE / #OWNVOICES / PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES
Musical theater kids, get ready for your next favorite book filled with singing, theater puns, and inclusivity. Nat, a thirteen-year-old girl in a chair, moves to a new town where she auditions for her favorite musical, Wicked telling her parents. She thinks that Nessa is her perfect role since Nessa is also in a chair. The group of kids also involved in the musical are welcoming and accepting. But she needs to show the director just how much she can do — that she can dance in her own way– and it works. Then, when a fire burns the theater down, the show is canceled. Nat rallies the cast to find a solution. (Grit is Nat’s middle name.) (And singing.) Add in a bit of romance, friendship troubles, and a surprising new role for Nat to make this is one gem you won’t want to miss.
Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti, illustrated by Dana SanMar
Life and Lady Death, Catrina play their yearly Lotería game; this time, for a little girl’s life and debate about free will, love, hope, and fate while a story unfolds about a girl named Clara who lives in Oaxaca City with her family. After Clara draws a cool dragon for her little cousin Esteban, he notices the exact dragon drawing on the gigantic El Arbol de Tule. Before she can figure out why it’s there, Esteban’s mother dies and he is lured into a mythical world called Aztlan by El Diablo. Clara embarks on a perilous journey to find and save Esteban. On her journey, she learns about the power of her drawings — and makes the ultimate sacrifice for love. Oaxaca City brings back so many wonderful memories for me so I immediately loved this story and that it was filled with Mexican and Aztec mythology and culture.
Oh My Gods! by Stephanie Cooke and Insha Fitzpatrick, illustrated by Juliana Moon
GREEK MYTHS (series)
I’m not a fan of the title but the story is enjoyable and engaging, not snarky or cliquey like the title implies. Karen moves in with her dad, Zed, on Mount Olympus. The kids at her new school are very different — she wonders if they’re into LARP but they’re not, she learns that they’re actually gods and goddesses! When her friend Apollo gets turned to stone, Karen and her new friends have to clear Karen’s name and save Apollo. They meet a lonely girl named Medusa who is responsible for the stone statues. Will they be able to fix things for both Apollo and Medusa?
All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
Tender, eye-opening, and heartfelt — this is the story of a foster kid named Red and her journey of abandonment, growing up, empowerment, and finding a family. Red’s in the foster care system with kind-hearted people who run a petting zoo. Understandably, Red is mistrustful and prickly at first with everyone but the Grooves’ gigantic tortoise. This bond is the first step in unthawing Red’s broken heart. Soon, she becomes friends with a neighbor boy and starts developing a relationship with her foster parents. Unexpectedly, her mother announces that now that’s she’s out of jail, she wants visitation. Red wants her mom to love her that she’s willing to overlook her mom’s self-centered behaviors and the signs that her mother is using drugs again.
Black Brother Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
PREJUDICE / COMING OF AGE / FENCING
Twins with very different skin colors, one whiter and one darker, are treated differently, most noticeable at their school. Donte is unfairly accused of something and when he tries to defend himself, the police are called and he’s suspended from school. Not to mention, a popular guy at his school calls Donte “black brother” because he’s darker than his twin, Trey. Donte starts fencing to get revenge but as he trains, he finds that he’s smart, good at fencing, and courageous. If you think the world still isn’t racist and colorist, read this compelling story and you’ll see that we still have a long way to go.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older
HISTORICAL FICTION (+ FANTASY) (series)
Take a thrilling ride through Civil War history — with DINOSAURS! In this exciting adventure with diversity, slavers kidnap most of the orphans in NYC’s Colored Orphan Asylum but the small group of kids that escapes to join with the Vigilance Committee to fight back and rescue their kidnapped friends. What I LOVE about this book:
* action-packed plot
* both reimagined & actual history
* the diversity of the main characters
* that dinosaurs and dactyls still exist!! And are used as air, land, and sea transportation
* couldn’t put it down!
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS – OCD
My daughter and I love this book! The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is a thoughtful coming-of-age story about a girl genius with OCD whose grandma wants her to go to public middle school to make one friend, read one non-math book, and join one school activity. Surprisingly, Lucy does find friends and more than that, too. A well-written, heart-warming story!
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Don’t miss this important story about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates that her skin is so dark; she knows her grandma and father hate that about her, too. In her self-loathing, she believes that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have all the things that go along with being pretty. In this coming-of-age story, Genesis finds her voice both literally and metaphorically. It will start the conversation about who defines beauty and how we can do better individually and as a society.
Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee
HISTORICAL FICTION #OWNVOICES
Based on her grandmother’s escape from North Korea, this historical fiction story is a powerful read that captures the fearful culture of North Korea, the marginalization of females, and the bond between siblings. As war erupts between North and South Korea, Sora and her family decide to flee from North Korea while they still have a chance. But she and her little brother are separated from their family. As they continue south, they experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, winter’s brutal cold with the Red Army marching right behind them. Even worse, her brother, Youngsoo, is getting sicker and sicker. The siblings’ journey is interspersed with memories of her childhood including her mother’s disdain and criticism and how she was forced to leave school to care for her little brothers. Amazingly, the two make it to the south where they’re reunited with their family but it’s a bittersweet ending.
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
A story infused with mythology about the power of stories, belief in the stories, and the courage to change your future. Lalani, a poor girl in a fishing village, savors stories like sustenance. They help her survive her cruel stepfather and stepbrother and give her a roadmap life, especially in difficult times. Thinking she’s helping her village, Lalani wishes for rain from a magic-wielding Mindoren hiding on the mountain. However, she forgets to ask for the rain to stop. When it never stops, the village blames Lalani. Believing in the stories and reflecting on something she heard (“Things will never change if everyone’s asleep“), Lalani bravely faces the biggest danger of her life — traveling in a boat across the sea from which no one has ever returned– to find a flower that might fix things. Richly layered and full of depth, this beautiful story is a must-read.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Set in a dystopian society, this Newbery medal winner grabs your attention and keeps it until the end. What is going on in this strictly controlled community? When Jonas is assigned his job as “Receiver of Memory” he learns just how much the government has suppressed from the people’s knowledge not to mention that they’re giving pills meant to control people’s behavior and that they murder so-called defective babies and older people. When his foster baby brother is up to be killed, Jonas must decide how he will save them both. BOX SET
Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
FANTASY / HISTORICAL (series)
Set in medieval Scotland, this is an action-packed adventure of a strong female protagonist with close family bonds, medieval and mythical elements, and an exciting plot. When Drest’s war-band family is kidnapped by knights she sets off in pursuit, taking a wounded soldier hostage with her. Throughout their travels, the two develop a complicated friendship and Drest learns uncomfortable truths about her family. I love when a girl rescues boys from death! What an excellent story — I highly recommend it.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life living with she and her siblings, mom, and her mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She cares for her siblings while her mom works, trying not to make a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school encourages Zoey to join the debate club. This activity eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friendship worries. I hope this book encourages readers to ponder what makes a healthy relationship and how to stand up for yourself when you’re not in one. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)
Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
FANTASY / ADVENTURE (series)
Brandon Mull has outdone himself with an inventive, totally unique world and characters! Cole, a regular kid, is trick-or-treating with his friends when they all get kidnapped. Cole manages to hide but follows the kidnappers — to another world – a world of five kingdoms, slavery, and magic. Cole is found and sold to slavers on the Outskirts. There he’ll battle mysterious beings living on cloud castles, discover an exiled princess, escape from slavery, and have unimaginable adventures.
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
ADVENTURE / DYSTOPIAN (series)
Action from the first page! This is an awesome story about a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Now Sky and her fellow humans live below ground in safety with Noah as their supreme ruler. Sky discovers that her missing (maybe traitor?) father left her a secret note with cryptic instructions on how to be found. She decides to leave the underground city in order to find her dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. When his enclave is attacked by Noah’s soldiers looking for her, Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong and is even more determined to find her father. LOVED it!
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
A heartbreaking coming of age story that is also filled with hope. Perry is well-loved by his mother and her friends; they all live in prison. In fact, that’s where Perry has lived since he was born eleven years ago. But in an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events, his best friend’s stepfather, the new District Attorney, forces Perry to leave the prison. Not only that, the DA tries to stall Perry’s mother’s parole hearing. Perry discovers the stories behind the inmates’ lives, hoping that they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother. This story will stay with you long after you read the last page.
Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick
MYSTERY / NEURODIVERSITY
(series)When 7th grade Frankie’s former best friend, Colette, vanishes, Frankie begins to look for clues on her own. As she does, we see how complicated it is to be in her brain. Loud noises, changes, touch, and so many things affect her intensely. Frankie realizes that Colette was trying to finish the list of dares that they made up when they were younger. The mystery of Colette’s whereabouts keeps every moment of the story suspenseful. Frankie and her twin sister piece together Colette’s last known locations. As they do, it helps Frankie accept herself and forgive Colette and her sister. It’s a brilliant, touching first-person story that gives us insights into a neurodivergent character’s brain in a suspenseful mystery story.
Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King
REALISTIC / MENTAL ILLNESS
Sara wants to be cured of her mental illnesses and be “normal” like other kids so she makes rules for herself. Among other diagnoses, Sara is bipolar for which she blames herself. She hates her out of control brain and feels like nobody can help. Meanwhile, she begins group therapy where she makes a friend; a friend who is covered in hidden bruises. Sara and Erin think of themselves as Star Children, kids alien DNA. It’s profoundly sad to witness Sara’s self-loathing yet her still hoping for a better tomorrow. Sara begins to realize she wants to change her inner dialogue and accept herself. For readers, it’s a valuable opportunity to see inside Sara’s mind and how painful it is to have an invisible disease. It won’t make you think like her but will give you compassion.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
One of the BEST books ever, it’s so well-crafted with deep emotional resonance. Doug is a boy who is struggling to read with no support from his home life. Not only are his dad and older brother abusive but they all live in abject poverty. What saves Doug is his connection to a librarian who shows Doug Audubon’s bird paintings and how to draw. This eventually leads to reading and hope.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green is used to making up creative stories for why she doesn’t have any arms. Especially now in Arizona where her parents are the new managers a rundown theme park. She befriends a boy at school who, like her, feels different and isolated from the other kids. His name is Connor and he has Tourette Syndrome. Together, he, another new friend named Zion, and Aven investigate a mysterious storage shed at the theme park which leads them to a mystery involving Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential. I loved the physical and mental diversity shown with so much strength and compassion. This would be a GREAT read-aloud for classrooms and for at home. There’s much to love and discuss!! (Added to my Physical Disabilities Book List.)
Wink by Rob Harrell
A funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s life for readers who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. School becomes pretty challenging because his eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– among other things made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results — like a new, unexpected friend.
Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
HUMOR / MAGICAL REALISM (series)
A funny but poignant story of middle-school angst and discovery! Unpopular Dwight can make origami Star Wars characters. When his puppet of Yoda comes to life, just like Yoda, the origami Yoda is wise and helpful during the many trials of middle school.
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
The world is covered by a deadly “fog” that kills humans so the humans live only on the highest mountain peaks. Our heroes, a band of scavenging orphans, are trying to find something in the world below that they can sell in order to travel to another city where they can treat the cloud sickness of their beloved mother-figure. I loved the suspense, the fascinating world, the characters, and the happily ever after.
Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
FRACTURED FAIRY TALE (series)
In this powerful story from Rumplestiltskin’s perspective, you’ll read how Rump discovers who he is and grows into his potential. It takes some work but Rump learns he’s trapped in his mom’s magical “rumple” which requires him to make straw into gold for any trade that another person offers. This is what the miller takes advantage of, leaving Rump without options or any control. With the help of his troll friends, his friend Red, and his aunts, Rump finds a way to stop the magical curse and give the queen back her child.
Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
HISTORICAL FICTION *in verse
Thinking Hitler will invade England next, Ken’s family sends him to safety in Canada. But, Ken’s ship is torpedoed and sunk only days into the journey. Written in verse, this is a moving account of bravery as Ken, several other kids, a priest, the ship’s only woman, and members of the crew spend weeks adrift at sea in an ill-stocked lifeboat. You’ll read about their swollen feet, dehydration, and starvation as well as the stories and songs that helped keep the kids distracted and somewhat hopeful. Ultimately, you’ll be left with a sense of amazement at the resiliency of the human spirit. Very well-written.
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs
Based on the true history of the author’s great-grandmother, this is a beautiful and important story of hope, resiliency, and family set in historical Mexico, 1913. Petra Luna, her Abuela, her little sister, and her baby brother flee their home when Federales burn the village. Petra’s Abuelita calls reading and writing barefoot dreams, meaning they’re not meant to go far but when they’re helped by a female rebel captain, Petra reaffirms that she can be more than her Abuelita thinks — that she can keep her promise to save her family and realize her barefoot dreams, too. Their trials culminate in a harrowing and life-threatening experience as they wait with throngs of other people trying to cross the bridge into the United States before the Federales arrive on the Mexican side. Exciting, interesting, and inspiring.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally Hunt
REALISTIC / DYSLEXIA
Both Ally and her older brother have hidden that they can’t read FOR YEARS. When an insightful teacher named Mr. Daniels helps Ally learn to read, it changes her life and she discovers her true value. This is a beautiful, emotional story that will help kids understand how it feels to live with dyslexia. (Also on Books About Kids Who Have Learning Differences.)
The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett
Beautiful storytelling! Grisha is a dragon who spends a few hundred years enchanted as a teapot. Once he’s a dragon again, he meets a lonely girl whose first and only friend is him. Grisha slowly begins to remember that an evil wizard has imprisoned other dragons. He and Maggie decide to find the missing dragons and free them— no matter the cost. And there will be a cost. The ending is HEARTBREAKING but so, so good.
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
REALISTIC – DEAF, LONELINESS
Iris is a lonely Deaf girl who feels alone at her school and in her immediate family. When Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale who is called the loneliest whale in the world because his song is at a different hertz than other whales, she immediately feels a connection to him. Iris uses her compassionate heart, intelligence, and tinkering skills to write and record a whale song that Blue 55 will hear so he’ll know that he’s not alone. Her subsequent adventure is profoundly life-changing. This is a heartening, poignant story that gives readers insight Deaf children, the richness of Deaf culture, and the life-changing power of compassion.
Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
GHOST ADVENTURE (series)
Set in Victorian London, we learn that dangerous ghosts and spirits are everywhere but only kids can see them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost agency so they take an inadvisable, perilous job that may just be their last. Sixth graders (and me) love this series with its addicting, edge-of-your-seat writing.
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
REALISTIC / POVERTY
Felix doesn’t want to tell anyone that he’s been living in a van for months and months. His mom, Astrid, is worried about social services taking him so he keeps quiet even though he really wants a bathroom. His hope is that he can win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. One of the things I loved about this story is how it shows a child’s love for a parent despite all the parent’s flaws–and his mom has many like lying and not holding down a job. It also depicts homelessness as circumstances beyond a child’s control — which is something most kids don’t know or think to consider. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)
Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman
REALISTIC / INDIAN SOCIETY
Kabir is too old to continue living in jail with his mom who was unjustly imprisoned. He’s forced to leave the jail without his mom and quickly realizes that his so-called uncle is trying to sell him into slavery. Kabir runs away and meets a worldly-wise girl named Rani who helps him survive the streets. Together, the two journey to another city where they hope Kabir’s grandparents live and where Kabir and Rani find kindness and second chances. This powerful story illuminates the problem of homelessness and the justice system in India, yet gives readers hope in human kindness and the possibilities of change. I honestly felt like crying with joy during the last third of the book — it so emotionally resonate.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson HISTORICAL FICTION
I not only learned a TON from this historical fiction novel but also thought it was thoroughly mesmerizing! Eel’s an orphan whose odd jobs start him on the path to saving lives when he helps a real historical person, Dr. Snow, determine if the water pump in Eel’s neighborhood is the source of deadly cholera.
Blended by Sharon Draper
Isabella spends one week with her dad and his girlfriend, the next week with her mom and her boyfriend. She hates it. She really hates exchange day when she switches. She feels like nowhere is home, she’s always visiting. And her parents, one who is white and one who is black, don’t get along. Tensions between the families get worse when both parents decide to remarry — on the same date. Add to this hurtful race issues like when she and her stepbrother are pulled over because of he’s black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sharon Draper writes a story that captures Isabella’s feelings of division as she searches for who she is in her own story.
The Monster Missions by Laura Martin
If you like adventure, fast-paced action, cool world-building, and heroic kids, then read this book next! In a post-apocalyptic world covered by water, all the humans live on ships. After she rescues her ship from a sea monster that no one is supposed to know about, Berkley gets the choice of prison or a mysterious submarine where she’ll hunt monsters. She loves her new life until their sub is hijacked by pirates. Hiding out with her friends in a storage area, she realizes that the only way to stop the pirates is to use the sea creatures in the aquarium tanks. In particular, the brilliant and mischievous– an octopus named Elmer. Everything hinges on the plan because her old ship is under attack and if they don’t get free from the pirates to help, everyone aboard will die.
Impyrium by Henry H. Neff
Hazel is the third granddaughter, a princess who resembles no one else in the family except the most dangerous magician ruler the kingdom ever knew. She, like her ancestor, is gifted at magic and her grandmother wants to use Hazel’s magic to protect the kingdom. But it’s an unjust kingdom, and Hob, a young spy and commoner boy in her service, wants things to change. Hazel will face a choice to follow in the dark magic footsteps of her ancestor. Hob will face doing what he’s ordered or following his heart. Plots within plots, twists and turns, make this an enthralling new fantasy adventure.
Masterminds by Gordon Korman
Eli and his friends discover that their utopian town is a large-scale, illegal science experiment to determine if kids cloned from criminal masterminds can be good when raised in the right environment. Eli and his cloned friends know they can’t stay in their town of lies anymore but how can they escape when the minute they reach the border, they experience violent pain and guards surround them? And if they do escape, what will they next?
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Park writes a wonderfully touching multilayered story about a young half-Asian girl’s life during western expansion, frontier times. After Hana’s mother dies, her father moves the two of them to a small midwestern town. Park sets the scene with care and you’ll see a realistic portrayal of life in the 1880s from the point of view from someone who is experiencing racism. Despite many unfair things, Hana stays resilient and determined to graduate from school and help her father in his shop.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is beautiful, moving, and life-changing! 12-year-old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we guess she’s got Aspergers) whose adopted parents are killed in a car crash leaving her so confused without her parents’ support and explanations about the world Willow observes. But, Willow pushes on and finds a most unexpected new family in the back of a nail salon.
The Endangereds by Philippe Cousteau &Austin Aslan, illustrated by James Madsen
In an action-packed, exciting adventure about super-intelligent, talking animals, Nukilik, a polar bear, is tranqed and taken to a facility holding different endangered animals. When he starts to understand the humans, he’s introduced to the other animals in the facility who all are extra-intelligent like him. They recruit him into their secret group that helps other animals and endangered habitats. When their friends, the ferrets, get relocated to Colorado and put into danger, the Endangereds fly to help and the action really gets exciting. It’s a great story and I can’t wait for the next book!
Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
I stayed up all night to finish this book –it was fantastic! Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. And Sophie has a secret; she’s a Telepath and not human. She must leave the human world for the Elvin world where she’ll face danger from both worlds. Her only hope is to regain the memories about her past.
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
I loved this engaging story about food-enthusiast Gladys suffering in a house of microwaving parents without a taste bud between them. Gladys not only appreciates good food, but she also loves to cook and wants to be a food critic. She already has lots of practice writing her daily notes about her parents’ horrid creations. When a mix-up in a writing contest has the editors of a paper thinking she’s an adult, can she actually write a published review without letting anyone know she’s 10 years old? A FAVORITE book of my 11-year-old daughter!
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
REALISTIC / DEPORTATION / IMMIGRATION / #OWNVOICES
Written in verse, this timely story of immigration and deportation follows 9-year-old Betita who lives in the United States but ends up in detention. When her Papi gets taken by ICE, Betita, her mom, and a neighbor make the mistake of trying to meet him at the border where they also get thrown into detention. Detention is traumatic for them, with horrible conditions and racist guards. There is no sugar coating it, it’s hard to read. Betita relies on her father’s story of cranes, using this overarching metaphor to talk about her clipped wings and her song. She draws and writes poetry to send to her Papi which she gives to a lawyer to pass along and tell her story. Then, her pregnant mom’s sickness forces her into the medical ward, leaving Betita alone in detention. Betita makes the best of it by teaching others how to write poetry and imagine their crane wings flying in the wild. Ultimately, the family agrees to voluntary departure even though it’s not safe in Mexico because at least they’ll be together and not in prison. Powerful and important.
Coo by Kaela Noel
Coo, rescued as a baby by the pigeons, only speaks Pigeon and has never ventured down from the bird’s dovecote but when her best friend bird Burr gets a broken wing from a hawk encounter, Coo must venture down to a healer woman for help. Coo wears plastic bags and is half starved from surviving on garbage the pigeons bring her. When a snowstorm hits, the healer returns for Coo and brings Coo to her apartment, teaching her about the basics of being human including human language. Then, her beloved pigeons are poisoned and Coo knows she must leave Tully to save them. What happens next will change everything for them both. You will love the tender, perfect ending.
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Overnight, a fence with armed guards divides Berlin. Gerta is stuck on the east side with her brother and mother while their father and another brother escape to the west. Greta’s father gets her a message that sets her on a course to dig a tunnel under the wall and freedom. It’s dangerous but Greta’s determined.
Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Nielsen deftly captures the history of Lithuania’s book smugglers as well as the fundamental truth that books give readers freedom from oppression; books keep alive a language, culture, and identity, no matter how hard someone tries to erase it. Audra doesn’t know her parents are book smugglers until they are arrested by the Cossacks. She flees to their contact’s house, not wanting anything to do with smuggling books. Part of her reluctance is because she herself can’t read or write but she slowly learns and develops a passion for stories. Not only that, she became a clever smuggler. It’s inspiring that a little country of farmers managed to keep their culture alive even after the Russians banned their language and their books. Highly recommended!
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s story will grab your heart and expand it. His dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod — his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way and there, his trip Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the world.
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
A wonderful, heartwarming historical fiction story with close-knit siblings who stick together and eventually find their forever home. (If you like the Vanderbeekers, you’ll love this book, too!) Three siblings join the groups of children leaving London during WWII for safety. But in their case, their neglectful grandmother has recently died and they need to find a new home. Unfortunately, their placements are horrid. It’s only the library and the kind librarian who help them survive the bullying and hunger. What’s worse, the librarian is deemed “unsuitable” to be their foster mother since her missing husband is German. However, when things go from bad to worse in their latest home, the children demand to live with the librarian no matter what.
Treasure of the World by Tara Sullivan
REALISTIC / POVERTY
An engrossing and unique story about a girl’s struggle to realize her own dreams while still helping her family survive.
Ana’s a poor girl living in a small town high in the Bolivian mountains whose feeble economy revolves around mining. When her abusive dad forces Ana’s sickly younger brother into the mines, he doesn’t last long before he’s bedridden with a cough and fever. To help, Ana drops out of school and goes to the mine in his place. Then, after a mine collapse that kills her dad and leaves her brother’s whereabouts unknown, Ana’s life gets even more difficult. She scrambles to find work, thinking that her dreams of school and a different life are over. Until she thinks of a way to work and pass school…
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Written in a diary as letters to her Mama, Nisha shares how her life is turned upside down when the British rule of India ends in 1947, splitting the country into two — the Muslim north where she lives becomes Pakistan and the Hindu south remains India. Even though Nisha’s mom was Muslim, Nisha, her brother, her doctor Papa and her grandmother are forced to leave their home in the north because they are Hindu. There’s violence everywhere; nowhere is safe, not even the trains. It’s a harrowing journey and confusing time. This story, filled with historical significance, is masterfully told. You won’t want to put this one down.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
SCI-FI/ ADVENTURE (series)
This is a must-read, excellent Newbery-winning book about amazing lab rats with intelligence who escape from the lab and form their own community. This was always one of my fifth graders favorite read-alouds.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Sometimes growing up means seeing the difficult truth about someone you love…Scoob takes a spontaneous road trip with his beloved G’ma in her new camper, escaping his dad’s spring break punishment. As they visit places from his G’ma’s past, their trip turns out differently than he expects. What begins as only a fun adventure turns into a revelation of current and historical racial prejudices (Scoob is black and his grandmother is white). What’s more, things become strange and confusing as Scoob notices more weird behaviors from G’ma. Was she trying to steal jewelry in the store? And why are there stacks of cash hidden in the camper? Perfect pacing, an intriguing plot, and memorable characters make this a top pick for middle grade #ownvoices.
Jinxed by Amy McCulloch
SCIENCE FICTION (series)
This is “a fairy tale, but not of princes and frogs, ball gowns and pumpkins, but of makers and metal, of wire and ingenuity and inspiration and creativity and invention.” In this evolved society, the tech company MONCHA makes computerized pets called bakus that act like smartphones and computers. Lacey finds an unusual, half-destroyed cat baku and rebuilds it using a 3D printer and found parts. When her baku Jinx starts to work, he’s noticeably different than the others because he can speak into her mind and think for himself! So when she starts competing with other kids at her prestigious school in the battle of the bakus, Jinx doesn’t follow the rules which lead to two bad things — his capture and the discovery of a sinister truth about the MONCHA company. Fantastic, fast-paced, and thought-provoking.
Not Your All America Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
COMING OF AGE / RACISM / THEATER / #OWNVOICES
Lauren, a girl with Jewish and Chinese heritage, tries out for the school play but despite her talent, doesn’t get cast as the lead because, according to the director, she doesn’t look the part of someone all-American. Her best friend Tara, who is not as talented, gets the leading role because she fits the look of a so-called American girl. The story is filled with both micro-aggressions and overt racism like an incident at the mall’s food court, the stereotypes in the movie “16 Candles”, and the director’s casting decisions. Tara finds solace in the music of Patsy Cline, decides to help make the ensemble the best it can be with an unsanctioned performance, and finds her voice. A powerful, must-read story that will open readers’ eyes to the injustice of racism and micro-aggressions and portrays a multicultural girl’s coming of age.
Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster
Tor Lulna wishes for a different gift that he’s given and ends up with a curse. This prompts a journey with his friends to leave their homes and search for the evil Night Witch who might break Tor’s curse. Along the way, the friends encounter new lands, people, and dangerous monsters. Interspersed through the story are myths from their culture that may actually give them a map to find the Night Witch. Columbian mythology, an exciting adventure, and a very surprising ending add up to a fantastic first book in a new series.
The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
9-year-old Nicholas Benedict, a genius orphan with narcolepsy, lives in a poorly run orphanage where he’s maltreated and bullied. In this prequel to the series, Nicholas discovers there’s a treasure somewhere in the orphanage. While he and his friend search, he finds a way to improve life for all the kids living there. Boxed set here.
Chains, Forge, Ashes (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson
Live the Revoluationary War time period through the eyes of an African-American girl named Isabel and her friend, Cuzon. Enslaved, escaped, or enlisted, these two are determined survivors. The writing is amazing and the stories, captivating. I love and highly recommend these books; they’ll transport you back into history. Boxed Set Here.
Ahisma by Supriya Kelkar
Not only did I learn a lot (a lot!!) about Indian history during the time of Gandhi, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this incredible, passion-filled story. Anjali’s parents join the freedom movement against the British government. Through her parents, Anjali begins to see her world differently including the poverty-stricken caste of many people call “the Untouchables”. Other Indian families do not like the changes her family is making. Then, Anjali’s mom is thrown in jail! I couldn’t put this book down.
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
ADVENTURE / REALISTIC
A winsome story of adventure and finding where you belong. Nicki leaves the group home to live with a family in the witness protection program. She likes her newest foster family and takes her role seriously. She must stay vigilant against potential threats, not stand out, and try to keep her kleptomania under control. As she grows closer to her new family, both their past and hers catch up to them.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Growing up, Imogene (aka. Impy) always loved her family’s part in the Renaissance Faire . . . that is, until middle school. Even though she gets her dream to work in the faire as a squire, she also just wants to be like the other girls at her school, too. Her journey is painful and honest as she figures out who she wants to be. It’s narrated as a hero’s journey which, with the faire background and middle school drama, feels perfect. Beyond being a terrific coming of age story, I’m sure this book will interest tween readers in Renaissance festivals themselves.
Smile, Drama, Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL (series)
Raina shares her growing up stories with humor and amazing art in these three popular books. My 10-year-old daughter read Sisters four times the first week she owned it, they’re excellent books and quite addictive. Smile is a funny, relatable story about braces, friends, boys, and life in middle school.
Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Rose Lee Carter is a girl who is raised by her grandma and father, works in the cotton fields, and is best friends with the preacher’s son. She dreams of leaving Mississippi for the north like her mom and aunt, especially after the white men who killed Emmett Till are found not guilty in a real-life historical trial.
Hera: The Goddess and her Glory by George O’Conner
MYTHOLOGY / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Both my kids love O’Conner’s graphic novels and can’t wait for his next book, Hades. If you’re big Greek mythology fans, check out his other books, Athena and Zeus: King of the Gods.
Podkin One-Ear The Legend Begins by Kieran Larwood (series)
Well-written and enthralling, you’ll love every moment of this story about a young rabbit who reluctantly grows into his destiny. One cold winter night, the night before Bramblemas, a traveling bard seeks shelter in Thornwood Warren. He’s offered shelter and food in exchange for his stories; stories about the heroic Podkin One-Ear. Alternating between the bard’s present moment experience and the story of Podkin, we learn that young Podkin was a lazy, spoiled prince. When the cruel Gorm who are metal dark magic rabbits arrive at his family’s burrow to kill everyone inside, Podkin escapes with his much braver sister and little brother. No longer able to be spoiled and lazy, Podkin tries his best to be brave and pull his weight, often failing miserably but occasionally succeeding, too.
The Seventh Most Important Thing: One Kid. One Crime. One Chance to Make Things Right by Shelley Pearsall
Angry with grief, Arthur throws a brick at Junk Man’s head. The judge sentences Arthur to work for the Junk Man who asks Arthur to collect the items on the list of the Seven Most Important Things. Transformed by this experience, Arthur becomes an advocate for the Junk Man’s art. This is fictional but is inspired by the true story of American folk artist James Hampton whose work is in the Smithsonian. This story resonates emotionally and would make for a great bedtime or class read aloud.
Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks
SCI-FI / GRAPHIC NOVEL (series)
Sanity and Tallulah are two good friends who live on a space station. Sanity is a brilliant inventor — but her newest (illegal) creation, a three-headed kitten named Princess Destroyer of Worlds has escaped and is living up to her name — destroyer. The friends look for their missing kitten but instead discover a big problem that will destroy the space station only it’s not caused by the kitten. While the station is evacuated, the friends work hard to stop the duct weasels and the engine from overheating. I love the space station setting, the super-smart problem-solving main characters, and the non-stop action.
Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy
I highly recommend this powerful story of two maltreated girls who hope for a better future. The narrator is a white girl in the south who is nothing more than a slave to her family, she doesn’t even have a name. She meets and joins a runaway slave who is escaping the horrific brutality of slavery and separation from her family. Together they find kindness and hope with a Quaker family. “You just keep mending and darning, stichin and stichin. At first, things look all pieced together, but after a while, you don’t even notice the stitched-up spots everywhere; they just look all of a piece. Never like new, but all of a piece and good enough to last a life.”
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE
An excellent, diverse, page-turning coming-of-age story, this is about a girl who is half-Mexican on her mom’s side and half-punk rock on her dad’s side, both which are cultures prominently featured in the story and her life. Malú’s unhappily forced to move to Chicago with her mother where she eventually finds her place when she starts a latin-flavored punk band. When their group doesn’t get into the talent show, they decide to play anyway. In the parking lot. (So punk!) See Malú discover herself through life’s challenges and adventures then find out what the first rule of punk actually is.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
What a luminous, sparkling gem of a book with quirky, complex characters! Granny drags Louisiana out of bed in the middle of the night, insisting that they leave their home to confront the family curse. Not only does Louisiana not want to leave her friends and home, but things get even worse when Granny abandons Louisiana at a motel along the way. Forced to fend for herself, Louisiana figures out how to survive miles from home while worrying that the family curse has destined her for an unhappy life. Don’t miss this enthralling, emotionally resonant story.
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Hilarious. While on a class trip to Washington D.C., Wyatt and his best friend, Matt, are positive they’ve discovered a plot to blow up the White House. Wyatt’s crush, Suzanna, helps the friends make a plan, and as you can imagine, disaster and humor strike as the kids try to stop the bombing.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
MAGICAL REALISM / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Pashmina is about a girl finding her place in the world. She travels to India to meet her extended family and finds answers about the magical shawl her mother owns. This is a lovely coming of age middle grade graphic novel conveyed in incredible, irresistible art.
Betty Before X by Ilyasha Shabazz and Renee Watson
I devoured this compelling, well-written story about a year in the teen life of Betty who later became well known for being the wife of Malcolm X. Betty’s mother seemed to despise her but Betty had good friends and younger siblings who loved her. Eventually, kind church friends took her in and adopted Betty. During this period of her life, we see the importance of church, counting her blessings, the activist housewives group she belonged to, and how family is what you make it. Reading this account made me want to know more about the rest of her life! Excellent!!!
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL (series)
My daughter found this book SO RELATABLE — just like she struggles with confidence and speaking up, so does the main character, Peppi. This well-done graphic novel tackles the issues of friendships and confidence, among other things. (So glad I’m not in middle school anymore.) We highly recommend this graphic novel.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Stuck in a museum with her sister and father who is working on a sword exhibit, Ophelia’s curiosity leads her to a locked room where she finds a boy who has been trapped for thousands of years. But Ophelia doesn’t believe in that kind of thing. Except for she kind of does — because her mother used to tell her about witches and magic. This is a breathtaking journey of loss, acceptance, hope, and friendship. It’s a wonderful retelling of The Snow Queen.
The Ghost Network: Activate by I.I. Davidson
Jack and his friend are hackers who get taken to a top-secret tech school where dangerous secrets are hidden behind the STEM school facade. Not only are the kids in danger but there also seems to be a computer implanted inside their brains telling them what to do! The story intrigued me from the get-go but after about the middle, the action was so fast-paced and suspenseful, I was totally hooked.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
REALISTIC / PAKISTAN
Amal’s life is turned upside down when she offends a regional Pakistani overlord and is forced to leave her home and school to work in his home as a servant — indefinitely. She finds her inner strength and fights back, freeing herself and the other household slaves. The author deftly sets the scene of rural Pakistan. Readers will feel transported, feel the injustice, and cheer for Amal’s bravery.
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
Arthur Welsh is a poor homeless Norwegian boy who works for passage on a ship to England as the caretaker of a captive polar bear, a gift for the King Henry of England. The conditions for the polar bear are worse than the boy’s, both being victims of their circumstances, powerless and captive. It’s a physical and emotional journey of survival and friendship. The two survive a pirate attack, escape in the wild, and a new life in England. I hated the captivity of the bear but I loved this story and the bond of friendship between animal and man.
Captain Superlative by J. S. Puller
Foreshadowing kept me reading with curiosity because I couldn’t imagine who this superhero girl in a book that was not a fantasy. It’s a thoughtful plot with captivating characters. The big lesson our main character, Janey, learns is about not standing by when injustice is happening. She learns this from a girl dressed in a swimsuit, wig, mask, and high tops who arrives at her middle school and changes everything. Read this with a book club or with your child — there’s so much to talk about!
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
REALISTIC / SURVIVAL
Angry at the world, 15-year old Cole beats a classmate into a coma and brain damage. To avoid jail time, Cole agrees to spend a year by himself on an island in Alaska, thinking he’ll escape as soon as possible this form of Native American justice. But after Cole almost dies, he decides to give the year-long process a chance. Throughout the experience, you’ll feel Cole’s pain and anger deeply which makes his healing and transformation that much more powerful. I just finished this amazing story and want to reread it again.*This is NOT an accurate portrayal of this particular Native American tribe.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
ADVENTURE / HISTORY / FANTASY
This is the story of three children in medieval France and tackles big issues such as faith, God, prejudice, friendship, and family. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel that will make you think deeply and leave you changed. (Sensitive readers: there are a few swear words and two scenes with a lot of blood.)
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park HUMOR
What a totally hilarious premise paired with fantastic writing! Rafe’s goal in middle school is to break every single rule. You can imagine how his plan will go, right? Filled with cartoon-like illustrations, this story is going to crack you up and be a sure-fire hit with kids.
Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams
DYSTOPIAN ADVENTURE (series)
In pursuit of his missing father, Will finds a crazy, cult-like subterranean group (“The Colony”) controlled by frightening leaders who will stop at nothing to maintain control and order in their colony below the surface of the earth.
To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson
Someone is trying to frame Jackson for a prank he didn’t even commit — and they’re doing a great job of it! It will take months to prove the video is falsified and by then Jackson will have missed the robot contest due to his punishment. Jackson and his friends are determined to prove their innocence but it won’t be easy. This is a great adventure filled with twists and turns.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
I’ve read this book so many times, I can’t count — many times with my classes as a read aloud — and every time it’s just as fantastic. (That doesn’t always happen with books.) A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable, well-written adventure in space that deals with the overarching theme of good vs. evil. Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, and friend, Calvin, set off to find her scientist father who disappeared while researching tesseracts.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team and it’s life-changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well-written and hopeful about growing up and growing into yourself.
Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp
I read many parts out loud to my kids while I was reading this book – they were just so funny!! Now my kids are addicted to this series, too. Quirky but lovable Ivy’s adventures involve a sinister ghost, a mystical jewel, and a surprising destiny.
Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts
It’s a great adventure withreal-lifeconflict between new step-siblings who are on a sailboat trip with their uncle. A storm sinks their ship and they barely make it to a deserted island. They’ll have to work together to survive. And hope their parents can find them. The books are great fast-paced reading for anyone who loves action and adventure.
Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard
ADVENTURE / SCI-FI (series)
Darkus Cuttle’s museum director dad mysteriously disappears from a locked room in the museum. Darkus learns that there’s something very strange going on . . . and it has to do with intelligent beetles and a cruel benefactress of the museum. This middle-grade chapter book took me by surprise, it’s filled with charm, uniqueness, and interest.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
If your child hasn’t learned about Nordic mythology, this will be a great (short) intro! To end the long winter, Odd must journey to find Asgard, a city under siege from the Frost Giants. A wonderful, nail-biting adventure.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
I LOVE this fantastically developed historical fiction story for several reasons – the girl-centric history is really interesting (and empowering), the characters are so well-developed you feel as if you know them, and the plot is a grand adventure! The author imagines a friendship between Ada Byron, genius daughter of Lord Byron and the world’s first computer programmer, and Mary Shelley, the world’s first science-fiction author who almost could have been friends in real life but for about a decade of years. Mary joins Ada to study with Ada’s tutor and the duo form a detective agency. In this first adventure, Mary and Ada learn about another historical figure who invented hypnotism and solve the case of a stolen heirloom.
The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds
As I read this book I kept thinking wow– another important life lesson — because they just keep coming in this story. Atticus is bullied, upset at his parents’ separation, and uninspired in school . . . until he meets the language arts substitute, Mr. Looney. Mr. Looney shows Atticus, and his classmates, how to find WHO THEY ARE in the company of characters in a story (specifically To Kill a Mockingbird) and how that transfers to their own lives. I loved Mr. Looney’s character — how he just was present for Atticus without giving advice but facilitating Atticus’ self-discovery. I also loved that the story had a realistic ending. (However, I didn’t love the use of the word crap so much — but that’s just a personal preference but understand that it’s an honest depiction of how many kids talk so in that respect it makes sense.)
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina’s struggling. Her best friend, Soojin, befriends another girl as well as wants to change her name to be more American. Then Amina’s mosque is attacked, dimming her worries about middle school. In a lovely turn of events, the community, including her friend Soojin, support the mosque with a place to gather and rebuilding efforts. Through it all, Amina learns there’s space for more than one friend in her life.
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
SCI-FI / HUMOR
Popular for so many ages, this book series is a must-own. Jack and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse where they plan for rescuing his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing being quite capable) and fighting zombies. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Delightful. Who would have thought?! BOXED SET HERE.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1 by John Flanagan
I’m a new John Flanagan fan — this was such a well-written story of a young, fatherless boy named Hal whose mom was an Araluen slave. To survive the town’s prejudice against him, he is helped by another outcast, his dead father’s former shipmate, a one-armed recovering drunk. When it’s time for his Brotherband training, he becomes the leader of a rag-tag group of boys. They’ll compete against better, stronger teams who don’t always play fair . The stakes are high and Hal must win even with his group of misfits.
Mother Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
This series kept my daughter reading all summer last year. The story begins when a group of 6th graders join a mother-daughter book club. Each book in the series focuses on one book the girls read (such as Little Women, Daddy Long Legs, and Pride and Prejudice) and the relationships of the girls among themselves, the relationships with their mothers, and the business of growing up.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Bem 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. AMAZING!
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
I almost couldn’t read this story because I was so sad at the beginning when Peter’s father forces Peter to leave the fox Peter’s raised from a kit in the woods, then drives Peter 300 miles away to his grandfather’s house to live. I mean, talk about heartbreaking! Peter feels just as awful and sets off, on foot, to find his fox. We also read the story from Pax’s point of view who is so confused but hopes his boy will return. Fortunately, Pax is adopted by a leash of foxes who teach him to survive in the wild and Peter is helped by a grumpy war-veteran hermit. Yes, this is a coming of age book but it’s also a commentary on war and the power of friendship.
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson
By the same author as 100 Cupboards, this is a creative, thrilling, action-packed time-traveling adventure. Our hero, Sam Miracle, is a foster kid with two bad arms, who sees things that no one else can — things in a parallel world. Of course, he’s got enemies who wish to stop him. In fact, those enemies have killed him many times in past versions of the world. But with the help of a wise Native American healer, a Native American priest, the two personality-filled snakes that have become his arms (!), and his friend, Glory, maybe, just maybe, Sam can live and save the world.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
This is a wise, Newbery award-winning story of loss, death, love, and grief. As she travels with her grandparents across the United States in search of her missing mother, Salamanca Tree Hiddle makes sense of her life by telling stories. In this case, about a girl named Phoebe Winterbottom who like Salamanca has a lost mother. Readers must piece together clues to the truth of Salamanca’s life — this is an excellent book club choice, there’s so much to uncover and discuss.
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
It would be hard as an author not to vilify this country for sending thousands of Japanese Americans to prison camps. But this author doesn’t. She just skillfully shares the evocative story of 10-year old Manami of Washington State, who is sent with her family to a dusty camp, leaving behind her beloved dog, Yujiin, and everything else they owned. Devastated, Manami stops speaking. Her story is painful, sprinkled with hope, and all too real. Please read this with your kids– it’s important.
Sea of Trolls series by Nancy Farmer
A bard, a boy, a band of Viking berserkers, trolls, dragons, and a quest — what more could you want in a series? This is one of those can’t put it down books that will keep you up all night reading and I loved it. (Actually, I love all Farmer’s books.) Your kids will enjoy reading a new adventure in Norse and Old English mythology.
sabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantasy
In Chicago, 10-year old Isabel sells the newspaper she wants to write for during the days of speak-easies and the Mob. When one of her customers is accused of murder, Isabel decides to investigate and prove the woman’s innocence. She meets the famous woman reporter, Maude Collier, and two new friends who all are important to solving the case. This historical mystery grabbed my attention from the first page. The book’s memorable characters and interesting plot make the historical setting very memorable.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Magic and color are closely linked in her world. Only Alice has no color in her skin or hair. And her father has been missing for years making her even sadder. She travels with a boy named Oliver to a different magical land in order to find and rescue her Father. But the rules are wildly different and the inhabitants eat people for their magic. Even though Oliver and Alice start their quest at odds, the many challenges join them in a solid friendship. Furthermore is a uniquely creative plot that is dense with description and beautiful language.
Dead City by James Ponti
PARANORMAL / SCI-FI (series)
Molly’s recruited to hunt zombies in New York City, just like her mother, who is dead. Or is mom actually a zombie? And why is she trying to contact Molly? This is a great action-adventure-mystery series with a zombie focus.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams Garcia
It’s a typical southern summer in Alabama 1969 and Delphine and her two sisters are visiting their extended family. Daily life means minding their grandmother, Big Ma, a crotchety matriarch, getting extra loving from their much sweeter great-grandma, Ma Charles, hanging out with neighbor, JimmyTrotter, and working at the tricky business of growing up. No matter what happens, a Vonetta-stealing tornado included, this is a strong family that loves each other and God with all they’ve got. It’s a powerful book that transports you into Delphine’s world, if only for the summer.
Science Comics: Bats Learning to Fly by Falynn Koch
NONFICTION / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Factual information is embedded within this story about a lost little bat who observes a tour group in the desert learning about bats from a tour guide. When the little bat gets hurt, he’s taken to a wild animal hospital where he meets other kinds of bats. At the hospital, the bats lively conversations help the little brown bat learn more about bats — what they eat, how they fly, different species, echolocation, and where they live. SO well done!
Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick
What is it like when your parents are divorced — and one finds a new partner? In this coming-of-age story written from two different points of view, Naomi’s mom is dating a man named Tom who has a daughter also named Naomi. Both girls’ parents push them to become friends. Of course, both girls feel resistant — especially when Naomi’s mom asks her to go by her first and middle name — Naomi Marie — to differentiate the two. It’s a tricky time in these kids’ lives, something the authors made relatable and enjoyable to read. The wisdom the parents give to their kids and their unwavering love of their children is inspiring. This is a story that rings true with a pitch-perfect ending.
Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry
AJ’s parents are leaving on a research trip so she must stay with her very strict grandmother Jo who doesn’t approve of AJ’s soccer and skateboarding, and other non-ladylike pursuits. After hearing strange sounds, AJ discovers a room filled with exotic, talking birds and learns that her proper grandmother has “rescued” these birds from bad environments. In fact, grandma Jo and her old lady friends are a team of crooks, a heist club. And they want AJ’s help. Well-written and interesting, this is an excellent mystery and coming-of-age story.
Crown of Three by J.D. Rinehart
The realm is ruled but a power-hungry and despicable king. When his mistress gives birth to triplets of a prophecy, the three children are spirited away and hidden separately. Now that the children are older, each of them face challenges and adventures that lead them to the truth of who they really are — the foretold saviors of the empire. It’s a great adventure story with cool creatures, a few zombies, danger, and epic kid-power. I’m looking forward to the next book.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
I struggled a bit with the British words– maybe your kids will as well. (It’s a great opportunity to learn to make inferences with British vocabulary!) All that aside, this middle-grade novel is a puzzling mystery that only the boy named Ted who seems to be on the spectrum (his brain is different but not explained) can solve. How did his cousin disappear from a closed pod on the London Eye? The enjoyable action and intrigue will keep your attention throughout — and you’ll wonder why you didn’t guess the ending before Ted.
Hypnotists by Gordon Korman
Mix the action-packed writing of Korman with a boy who can hypnotize others – and who is recruited to be in a “special” school to save the world. But is that really what the school does? Another hit for the talented Gordon Korman!
Nightbird by Alice Hoffman
Wow. Nightbird’s magic isn’t only in the story but in the woven images of enchanting characters and plot. This book will stay with you long after the last page. Twelve-year-old Twig lives on the edges, trying to stay unnoticed in order to protect her secret brother — a handsome, smart boy who lives in the attic of her home. He bears the family curse — he has wings. But when he won’t stay hidden anymore–and reveals himself to their beautiful neighbor girl. Twig hurries to stop the curse and prevent the town from hunting her brother as a monster. It’s a wonderfully bewitching story I couldn’t put down!
The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow
American-raised Wendy’s Nazi-spy mom takes her to live in Germany during World War II. Wendy doesn’t even speak the language and feels overwhelmed with her mother’s zeal for Hitler. Her mom gives her a bracelet to symbolize “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” At first, it seems to be a good plan considering all the horrible things that might be happening. But when Wendy starts working at Lebensborn, the place where only Aryan children live — many who were forcibly removed from their parents — she learns from her new friend, a Jehovah Witness, that maybe this philosophy isn’t right and that you should stand up for what’s right. I really, really love this book for middle-grade readers – it’s so good!
The Last Dogs: The Vanishing by Christopher Holt
Holt is an amazing writer and the story is a fast-paced, unique dystopian adventure that your kids will thoroughly enjoy. All the humans are gone. Max, a yellow Lab, knows that he must find and save his human family. From the moment he escapes the kennel at the vet’s, Max and his friends, Rocky and Gizmo, face huge obstacles in his quest to find his humans — starving wolves, no food, a gang of subway rats, a house of cats, and the controlling Corporation, a “perfect” society for dogs where everyone works and no one can leave.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk REALISTIC / HISTORICAL
Jimmy McClean’s grandfather takes him on a road trip where he shares the stories of Crazy Horse — his life and battles up to his death. They travel from the Dakotas (home of the Lakota) to Wyoming and other places significant to Crazy Horse’s life. I thought that following the duo traveling to the sites and then hearing the grandfather’s mesmerizing stories made this book easy to follow and very interesting. I only wish they had included a map so I could picture it in my head without using another reference book. It’s a sobering, powerful story based on historical events.
Theodore Boone The Scandal by John Grisham ADVENTURE (series)
This is my first Theodore Boone novel and I enjoyed it. I picked this book because it’s about teachers cheating on standardized tests. I think students, teachers, and parents can all relate to hating standardized tests so you’ll find this plot relatable and intriguing. Theodore, a helpful kid known for his burgeoning lawyering skills, learns his friend wrote an anonymous letter to turn in the cheating teachers. Both he and his friend are conflicted, especially when the teachers lose their jobs and are prosecuted.
The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stokes, illustrated by David Sossella HISTORY
If Ancient Rome is your preferred destination, you’ll need your handy handbook close by to make sure you survive — which seems to be unlikely since, since as the book says, “Rome is an absolute deathtrap.” Filled with tongue and cheek hilarity while also being boldly informative about the historical topic! These are my new favorite history books.
The Quest for the Truth series by Brock Eastman SCI-FI / CHRISTIAN (series)
I couldn’t put these books down — which was a very fun surprise because I didn’t know what to expect from a Christian fiction series like this. The writing is fantastic — fast-paced and engaging and the story itself is intriguing, a futuristic world in which the four siblings’ archeologist parents are kidnapped by forces trying to find artifacts that will lead them to eternal life. The kids pursue both the artifacts and their missing parents across different planets where they discover a hidden civilization of blue-colored people, escape a dangerous laboratory with predatory creatures including dinosaurs, learn a friend is really a foe, get captured by pirates, and so much more. I’m looking forward to the final book, book five!
Continue to more book reviews for 11 year olds
More Book Lists:
Easy Reader Books for 5- and 6- year olds
Beginning / Easy Chapter Books for 6- and 7- Year Olds
Books for 8-year olds
Books for 9-year olds
Books for 10-year olds
Books for 11-year olds
Books for 12-year olds
Challenging Books for Young Advanced Readers