With so many good books for 6th graders, which are the best choices for your 11 and 12-year-olds in 6th grade? I got you covered. Below you’ll find the BEST of the best middle grade books for sixth graders that are spot-on for maturity, reading level, theme, topic, and appeal.
100 Best Middle Grade Books for 6th Graders
Each book review includes a genre tag, so look for the genre terms mystery, fantasy, realistic (also called contemporary), historical fiction, funny, and science fiction to help you find a good book in a genre that your children or students want to read. Because it’s always helpful to match a child’s interests with the books that they read, I’ve included topics of note next to the genre tag (mental health, zombies, coming of age), and I’ve bolded the sentence that summarizes the book. Then, you can scan through this list for topics and genres without having to read each review. Unless you want to.
What makes a good book for a sixth grader?
Young readers at this age love books that relate to their lives, books about growing up, identity, belonging, friendships, or bullying. These tween readers want books that are mirrors to their own lives and doors and windows into the lives of others.
It may go without saying but 6th graders want engaging writing, compelling storylines, interesting characters, books in a series, graphic novels, true stories, fascinating nonfiction, and timeless classics.
Do I have to read all these books?
That’s the good news and where I can help. My goal when I was a teacher was to read all the books my students so I could perfectly match books to readers, not to mention my two children, who both went through their own reading challenges and motivation issues. Now, as a book blogger, I can read all the books and save you time!
Yes, reading fast is my superpower, I developed Imagination Soup as a resource for teachers, parents, librarians, and grandparents to share all the best books for kids, including new releases, best sellers, and classics. And, to save you time so you don’t have to read all the books.
What does that mean for you? The Imagination Soup book lists can help you! You don’t have to read (preview) all the books. I’ve already read them.
Middle grade books are novels that back in the old days (when I first started teaching) were called chapter books. Now chapter books refer to beginning chapter books with illustrations meant for ages 6 to 8 while the term middle grade applies to books written for children who are in upper elementary grades and middle school, grades 4 to 7. Basically, 6th graders (11-year-olds) are the perfect age reader for middle grade books because middle grade books are written for 9 to 12-year-olds.
What age is 6th grade?
If you’re wondering what age 6th grade is in the United States, it’s usually age 11 turning age 12 sometimes during the year. In my state, 6th grade is sometimes located in elementary school and sometimes in middle school.
How do you motivate middle schoolers to read?
CHOICE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for reading books—in other words, letting kids pick their own books helps motivate more reading.
For most of us, we also need to get screen time under control so books can have a chance.
Not to mention, sometimes we forget that kids need blocks of TIME to read. When kids have packed schedules, reading doesn’t happen. Is there time for each child to sit down and read for 10 to 30 minutes every day—and for you to read together for at least some of that time?
Another essential ingredient to motivating a 6th grader is book access. Research shows that the more books kids can get their hands on, the better the chances of reading success. If you can’t pick out books at your library, use the library website to put books on hold to pick up later. Or, use your Libby app to check out eBooks online or download Amazon Kindle ebooks.
Finally, where does your 6th grader read? Have you made a cozy space for sustained reading? And if you did, would that be motivating? (Maybe!?)
But, there’s more. Find more teacher-suggested ideas for their students, including book swaps, author visits, book clubs, and the Global Read aloud in this post “12 Ways to Motivate Middle School Students to Read.”
What if my child or student is below grade level in reading?
What if my child or student is an advanced 6th grade reader?
If you want harder (to comprehend / more mature topics) books, visit my books for 7th graders list.
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Read Alouds, Book Series, & Nonfiction Books for 6th Graders
Good Books for Kids in 6th Grade
Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibb
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!
City Spies by James Ponti
When Sara, a foster kid and hacker, gets in trouble again, her new so-called lawyer recruits her to be an MI6 spy. Sara joins a team of other kids, trains quickly, and is immediately sent undercover to break open a big case in Paris. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I predict you’ll love every second of this action-packed story! It’s filled with great characters and an interesting twisty plot.
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
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.
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
Theodore Boone The Scandal by John Grisham
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 Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling
Written in verse, this is a heart-wrenching, heart-stopping, suspenseful adventure about Nora and her dad’s climb into a Sonoran Desert canyon for the first time in the year since Nora’s 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.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles by John Flanagan
ADVENTURE / FANTASY
6th graders love this well-written book series 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.
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. Tweens reading this book will love the suspense, the fascinating world, the characters, and the happily ever after.
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
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 fighting nonstop with John. If your middle school kids like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
The Monster Missions by Laura Martin
If your tweens like adventure, fast-paced action, cool world-building, and heroic kids, then give them this book next! In a post-apocalyptic world covered by water, Berkly rescues her ship from a sea monster and is taken to a mysterious submarine to hunt monsters. When their sub is hijacked by pirates, she uses the sea creatures in the aquarium tanks to stop them.
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.
The Last Dogs: The Vanishing by Christopher Holt
This middle grade book series for 6th graders is a fast-paced, unique dystopian adventure. 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.
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
ADVENTURE / DYSTOPIAN (series)
It’s a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over above ground. Sky and her fellow humans live belowground with Noah, their supreme ruler. Sky leaves the underground city to find her missing dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn meet a human boy who lives in treetop enclaves. But Noah’s soldiers attack, and Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong. Mesmerizing and exciting!
Fantasy, Mythological, and Magical Realism
Legend of the Dream Giants by Dustin Hansen
A beautifully-crafted story about a young, naive giant named Berg who doesn’t want to be like the monstrous Ünhold giant. But Berg is manipulated and becomes a prisoner. His friend Anya tries to help Berg see what’s really happening, but Berg believes the human’s lies until tragedy strikes. This is a story about trust, hope, belonging, friendship, and truth.
Hither and Nigh by Ellen Potter
Guaranteed to enthrall with masterful storytelling and wildly inventive world-building, Hither and Nigh draws you into a magical, multi-layered story of adventure and heart. When Nell is forced to join the Last Chance Club or be expelled from school, she’s surprised when the students get lessons in magic! This begins Nell’s search for her missing brother. Her search leads to the magical world of Nither and poachers who kidnap non-magical children with big imaginations.
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 middle grade 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.
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice 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.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
We loved this so much that 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.
Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
If your child hasn’t learned about Norse 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 and a great book to read for 6th graders.
Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
FANTASY / ADVENTURE (series)
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. He’ll battle mysterious beings living on cloud castles, discover an exiled princess, escape from slavery, and have unimaginable adventures.
Skyborn Sparrow Rising by Jessica Khoury
Ellie is an orphan Sparrow girl in a world of avian-human caste system who flees the orphanage so she can compete for a coveted spot in the knight training school. She travels with a group of thieves and their friendship and adventures open her eyes to who is actually honorable and heroic. She also discovers that the stolen gargol eye has powerful healing properties. This fantasy adventure checks all the boxes with a courageous main character and complicated companions, an interesting world, and lots of surprises.
The Iron Trial(Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Even though Callum tries to fail the entrance trials, he is admitted to the school his dad says is evil. But the Magisterium school is not as bad as he expects. Call learns about his elemental powers, he forges bonds of friendship with his teammates and rescues a wolf puppy who is infused with the evil magic of Chaos. I couldn’t put this book down — especially after the surprise twist about who Callum really is!! One of the best books for 6th graders.
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 I) love this series with its addicting, edge-of-your-seat writing.
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.
A Tale of Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Bloody and macabre, Hansel and Gretel abandon their terrible parents in order to find better ones –ones that won’t try to kill them. The narrator warns us of the bloody things to come. While he’s sometimes distracting, for the most part, 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.
Skandar and the Unicorn Thief by A.F. Steadman
In Skandar’s world with bloodthirsty unicorns and unicorn riders, he’s denied as a unicorn rider until a mysterious woman sneaks him in. He learns he and his unicorn have the forbidden 5th spirit element like the evil Weaver whose been wreaking destruction and stealing unicorns. His new friends help him hide the magic and control his unicorn who hates pretending to be a water elemental. But he and his unicorn’s elemental magic may be the only ones who can stop the Weaver.
Children of the Fox by Kevin Sands
MIDDLE GRADE FANTASY
Callan’s a gaffer who 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.
Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
In a Thai-inspired world where caste determines your future, Sai’s new job as a mapmaker’s assistant is far beyond her station, which is why she can’t wait to join the Mapmaker on a sailing quest to find a new continent and maybe, find herself a new home. During the trip, the Mapmaker reveals his past hubris of mapping and claiming already-inhabited lands, which their war-hungry country would then use and destroy. Add in a stowaway, a mutiny, a shipwreck, and a gigantic creature, this is a compelling middle grade book about colonialism, discovery, and humanity.
Lightcasters by Janelle McCurdy
After the Reaper King’s soldiers attack her forever dark city and capture her parents, Mia, her brother Lucas, plus two other friends flee the nefarious soldiers toward her grandparent’s in the capital city. To make it through the dangerous Nightmare Plains, Mia reluctantly bonds with not one but two wild umbras, creatures made of shadows and starlight, and learns she’s one of the mythical Lightkeepers, foretold to defeat the Reaper King. Unique, super cool world-building, fantastic storytelling, and perfect pacing, this is one book you won’t be able to put down!
Podkin One-Ear The Legend Begins by Kieran Larwood (series)
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.
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.
Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Artsby Erika Lewis
Fast-paced with Celtic mythology, read about a foster child attending a magical school and searching for answers about her mysterious heritage. Kelcie is a foster kid raised in the human world. At the Academy, she discovers that she’s a mistrusted elemental called a Saiga, a mistrusted elemental, and finds friends who help her learn about her unique powers. They’ll also fight the monsters who continue to attack Kelcie.
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone
A magical fairy tale and a powerful hero’s journey set in a snowy world, this story begins with a memoryless girl named Eska who is a prisoner of the Ice Queen. The Queen uses dark magic to steal people’s voices so she can gain immortality, and she wants Eska’s voice most of all. When Flint breaks into the Palace to rescue his mother, he discovers and rescues Eska instead. Together, they search for answers to stop the Queen and to find out who Eska is. An absolutely amazing mythical adventure!
Children of the Black Glass by Anthony Peckham
If you like exciting adventures with surprising twists and cool world-building, read this middle grade fantasy book next! Abandoned by their mom, Tell and Wren live with their dad on the mountain but their dad gets blinded in an accident. The mountain rule is that if you can’t work, you can’t drain the resources and must be killed. So the children go down the mountain to trade their dad’s black glass and find a cure. They’ve never been to the big city since it is forbidden for children. In the city, they immediately lose everything and discover an unfamiliar world with different rules, lies, treachery, and feuding families and sorcerers. Wren and Tell make tentative friendships but must use their cleverness and new and old knowledge to survive the secrets revealed and the chaos of war.
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.
The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton and Khadijah Khatib
If you like fantasy books, you’ll love this story about a girl named Ella whose conjuror magic is finally allowed at the prestigious Arcanum Training Institute. But the prejudice in the world against her magic continues at the school. Despite the many enemies at her school, she persists and makes two friends who help her when she’s falsely accused of a crime and when her favorite professor vanishes. At the same time, the dangerous Ace of Anarchy escapes prison and seems to be searching for her long-lost daughter who might be Ella’s best friend. Interesting and exciting.
Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Córdova
A marvelous middle-grade novel with the perfect blend of action and adventure mixed with family tragedy, betrayal, magical creatures, and an amazing kid who saves the day! Val gets her two siblings to help her on one last mission to save the magical creature egg that a boy is live streaming so that no one gets hurt or learns about magical creatures. Her family used to be Monster Protectors until one killed her dad. Her nefarious Uncle and his Monster Hunters have lured one of her siblings to his hunter side, and they are chasing Val and her other siblings to get the egg first.
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 retelling of The Snow Queen.
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.
Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo
Get ready for an exciting adventure filled with Latin American and Spanish mythology! This story is the perfect balance of action, dialogue, & description interspersed with Spanish words and phrases. 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 discover what it has to do with La Mano Peluda and the prophesied Morphling who is meant to save the world.
Sea of Trolls 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.
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 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.
Haru Zombie Dog Hero by Ellen Oh
Edge-of-your-seat writing and action, the bond between a dog and boy (and family) grounds this paranormal adventure in love even though it’s also about evil scientists and zombies! Luke loves his dog, Haru, more than anything. So he’s devastated when their family’s mean landlord gets Haru taken away by the pound. But instead of going to the pound, Haru is sent to a sinister laboratory where scientists experiment on dogs. (This part is hard to read for us animal lovers — but hang in there, Haru will be okay.) Instead of dying like the other dogs, Haru wakes up changed. Violent. A stray cat named Penelope reminds Haru of his people, which helps his impulses. Then, the other more violent zombie dogs escape the lab — and Haru knows he must protect his people no matter what!
The Adventurers Guild by Zach Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Get ready for your new favorite middle grade fantasy adventure series. Zed and Brock don’t want to be chosen for the Adventurers Guild. Nobody does. Unlike the mages or merchants guild, the adventurers must leave the safety of their walled city to fight the monsters who live on the outside. Unfortunately, Zed and Brock are picked as Adventurers. And before they can finish training, Zed, Brock, and others are sent outside the city on a fact-finding mission that uncovers treachery, fiendish beasts, and Zed’s untapped magic. Imaginative world-building, intriguing plot twists, and complex characters kept me enthralled from page one!
Once There Was by Kiyash Monsef
This brilliant book mesmerized me from the first page with layered storytelling, plot twists, and surprises. Marjan’s father recently died. She’s alone and the owner of her dad’s veterinary practice, even though she’s only a sophomore in high school. When asked to help a sick gryffin, she’s shocked to discover her father’s secret job as a mythical creature vet. She tries to unravel the lies and secrets in her father’s life, including if he was murdered, but the world of magical creatures is confusing and filled with trickery. Marjan isn’t sure if she can trust her instincts about right and wrong…and she feels like she’s missing part of herself. Woven within the narrative story are her father’s Iranian folktales about mythical creatures.
Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl by Julie Kagawa
Traveling with his aunt around the world, Shinji is kidnapped off his aunt’s boat by the Hightower Corporation who wants a statue he just bought in. a market. A girl who works at the Corporation helps Shinji escape and they turn to the rag-tag Society for Explorers and Adventurers for help. Adventure from the first page, plenty of science and magic, an evil mega-corporation, an ancient curse, a spy, and an angry spider monster — this is a mesmerizing, exciting adventure.
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 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.
The Vanquishers by Kalynn Bayron
An exciting paranormal vampire-slaying middle grade adventure! Boog and her friends’ parents are still obsessed with vampire fighting — even though the vampires were all wiped out years ago. Or were they? When Boog’s friend Aaron reappears as a VAMPIRE, Boog and her friends search for the vampire maker to turn their friend back to human. The kids get caught sneaking around and discover their parents have BIG SECRETS about the Vanquishers vampire hunters. Can they work together to find the vampire that changed Aaron–and kill it?
Brick Dust and Bones by M.R. Forunet
Marius Grey is a 12-year-old Cajun Cemetery Boy and student. But he’s also working nights as a monster hunter to earn mystic coins for a really important spell that will bring his mother back to life…and time is running out. In desperation, Marius decides to hunt one of the most dangerous monsters in the swamp, a rougarou, even though his only friend, a monstrous mermaid, doesn’t want Marius to risk his life. The story is compelling and entertaining, with a heroic main character who loves his mom more than anything. You won’t be able to put this one down!
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, with terrible losses, racism, and injuries, but the fighters persist despite everything to accomplish their goal — to take back the area for the Allies.
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.
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?
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. One of the best books for 6th graders.
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh
REALISTIC & HISTORICAL / KOREAN WAR
In the present day, Junie faces bullying, microaggressions, and friendship troubles leading to suicidal thoughts, medication, and therapy. At the same time, Junie interviews her grandparents, immigrants from South Korea, about their war-filled childhood hardships. Her grandpa’s story helps Junie find her own strength. Moving, important, and beautiful. *SENSITIVE READERS: This book includes suicidal thoughts, the violence of war, and a couple of bad words.
Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
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.
Loyalty by Avi
HISTORICAL FICTION – REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Noah’s loyalist dad dies after being tarred and feathered so his mom takes them to an uncle’s house in Boston. He becomes a spy at a tavern run by a free Black man named Jolla who opens Noah’s eyes to the hypocrisy of the Sons of Liberty, who want freedom for themselves but not for slaves. Noah realizes he needs to think for himself about to whom he is loyal — but it’s not an easy choice. Avi does an incredible job showing Noah’s inner turmoil and sharing the historical setting and events, this would be a great book club book for sixth graders!
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 escapes to join with the Vigilance Committee to fight back and rescue their kidnapped friends. An action-packed plot with both reimagined & actual history that is so good, your 6th grader will love.
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII
Three friends in Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa, become separated by war, location, and ideology. Leo and Elsa are Jewish so their path includes ghetto housing, escape, and prison camp. But, Max is not Jewish and to gain the approval of his brutal Nazi father, he pursues Nazi beliefs, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends weren’t “dogs” or less than human. The story’s conclusion weaves together their stories in a heartbreaking, beautiful ending that will leave you with a lot to discuss humanity, morality, hope, and love.
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 by her mother’s zeal for Hitler. 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’s Witness, that maybe this philosophy isn’t right and that you should stand up for what’s right.
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.
Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee
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. As they continue south, they experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, and winter’s brutal cold with the Red Army marching right behind them. Amazingly, the two siblings make it south, where they’re reunited with their family.
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.
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. One of the best books for 6th graders to teach about this historical time.
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.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a young girl and her protector golem. To survive, Nan 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.
Once In a Blue Moon by Sharon G. Flake
James Henry hasn’t left the house in months. His twin sister Hattie encourages him to start small so they can be ready for the upcoming blue moon and a visit to the Lighthouse. When James Henry eventually ventures outside, they begin their long journey to the lighthouse. But their trip is fraught with dangers, including mean neighbor kids and racist men. Surprisingly, the perils draw James Henry farther and farther out of his shell, especially when his sister needs him, and we learn what happened that traumatized him. This lovingly written verse novel set in the historical South is a masterpiece of forgiveness, healing, and family bonds. I loved everything about it!
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. It’s a sobering, powerful story based on historical events.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams Garcia
It’s a typical southern summer in Alabama in 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. This is a strong family that loves each other and God with all they’ve got.
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.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
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.
A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar
A tender and poignant middle-grade novel in verse showing an important time in history, the power of collective voices against injustices, and a girl finding her strength. Lula’s family are migrant workers. When Lula’s mom gets sick from pesticides, they can only get her medical care if they join the worker strikes started by Phillipino migrant workers. Eventually, her violent dad is convinced to join the strike which transforms their family, gives the girls hope, and helps Lula’s mom get health care.
We Are Wolves by Katrina Nanestad
This story follows a little girl and her family in East Prussia after Hitler loses the war and the Russians take over, pillaging as they go. It’s about the grays of war, the impossible choices you must make to survive, and how love wins. When Liesl and her siblings are separated from their mother, they survive by stealing and foraging, sometimes in the woods and sometimes in a borrowed home–until the Russians find it. Their story is harrowing and thought-provoking and ultimately warm-hearted.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
HISTORICAL FICTION (series)
Set in the Martha’s Vineyard community of Chilmark with a high percentage of deaf individuals, Mary’s a smart girl who speaks sign language. But a researcher kidnaps Mary as a live specimen and imprisons and studies her. Even worse, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
Chains, Forge, Ashes (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson
Live the Revolutionary 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 are captivating. I love and highly recommend these books; they’ll transport you back into history. Boxed Set Here.
Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer
Shoshana, her mom, and her siblings flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine in 1905 for North Dakota to a mud house on the plains with her father and brother. But being Jewish isn’t always accepted, even in this new country. And Shoshana wants to fit in so much that she agrees to participate in the Christmas activities. Ultimately, Shoshana learns (with a little help from her sister Libke) to be proud of being Jewish, even when others don’t accept her. Stunning writing with a loveable main character make this a middle grade book that you won’t want to miss.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
HISTORICAL MAGICAL REALISM
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.)
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.
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.
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 Dwight’s middle school experience.
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park
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 good book for 6th graders is going to crack you up and be a hit with 6th grade kids.
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
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.
Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp
I read many parts out loud to my kids while I was reading this book because 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.
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.
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.
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.
Tornado Brain by Cat Patrick
MYSTERY / NEURODIVERSITY
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. It’s a brilliant, touching first-person story that gives us insights into a neurodivergent character’s brain in a suspenseful mystery story.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
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.
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.
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.
Isabel 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.
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.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
A fantastically developed historical fiction book for 6th graders about 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.
A Perfect Mistake by Melanie Conklin
MYSTERY / ADHD
This is a great read for anyone who likes mystery, adventure, and well-developed, interesting characters. Max is living with the tragic aftermath of a night out that left one of his best friends in a coma. Initially, Max doesn’t want to think about what happened when he snuck out to the Res because he left before his friends did. While he’s trying to navigate school with ADHD and being exceptionally tall, Max also decides he must find out what happened to his friend. And he and a new friend named Sam discover that more than one person is lying.
Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, illustrated by Gabriela Epstein
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Spanish-speaking kids are thrown together to complete before-school community service hours. When the kids notice the homeless mom and her child living in a van, they try to help with leftover food. But they get into trouble by the cafeteria lady who thinks they’re stealing. This is a powerful story about kindness, racism, differences, and marginalized individuals including non-native-English speakers and homeless folks.
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
A heartbreaking, hopeful coming-of-age story. 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 a horrible 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. To cope, Perry istens to the inmates’ stories, hoping that they’ll be helpful in reuniting him with his mother.
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. Her biggest bully is her mother who won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and pushes for gastro-bypass surgery. Fortunately, Ellie finds an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful.
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 an important novel about tolerance and diversity. 6th graders will love the writing, the characters, the plot, and the messages of inclusion and determination.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
On her 12th birthday, Zoe discovers a letter from her incarcerated biological father named Marcus. She secretly writes back and asks if he’s guilty. Marcus says he’s innocent and he can prove it, which sets Zoe on a quest for 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 6th grade readers will love in a story that illuminates social justice with themes of family, friendship, and love.
A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS
A powerful, hopeful story with complex, three-dimensional characters about grief, family, community, and homelessness. When their family becomes homeless after her dad dies, June helps her little sister and non-speaking mom get settled at Huey House. Despite the shock of their new situation, June finds kindness from many of the people at the shelter. But when Mrs. G, their social worker gets fired for not agreeing to the city’s new homeless policies, June helps organize a protest and discovers that home isn’t a place and family isn’t always blood.
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.
My Not-So-Great French Escape by Cliff Burke
Rylan hopes that traveling to work on a farm in France with his former best friend will repair their friendship. But once there, Rylan is separated from his arrogant friend which helps him be open to befriending other international kids, milking a goat named Bijou, growing a garden from scratch, and discovering the truth about his father, who’d abandoned him years before. The growth that Rylan experiences is incredible; readers will be cheering him on as he forges his path, experiencing hard-earned, painful truths about his former friend and his dad and finding wonderful new lessons about what he values.
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 art. This book for 6th graders feels truthful, relatable, and important.
How to Stay Invisible by Maggie C. Rudd
A heartbreaking and hopeful survival story. Raymond’s neglectful parents abandon him completely so he takes his dog Rosie, and they set up camp in the woods behind his middle school. There, he survives on his own, foraging in dumpsters and fishing for food as he continues to attend school. When a playful coyote hurts Rosie, he meets an old man who helps them both — which is especially significant because it’s over the Christmas break when he can’t get dumpster food from school. Raymond doesn’t want to tell anyone, including the old man or his two friends at school, what he’s surviving, but the truth comes out when another boy discovers his campsite and a snake bite almost kills him. HOW TO STAY INVISIBLE is a powerful story of grit, survival, and longing for family. I couldn’t put it down.
The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett
(For this book review, I’m not going to tell you too much about the story– because it would spoil your reading experience.) Kemi adores her close-knit family, her African American artist mom, her baby sister, a baby sibling on the way, and most of all, her beloved Nigerian dad. When an asteroid threatens everyone on Earth with imminent death, Kemi and her family leave for her cousins’ house, where she starts a time capsule. The exceptional storytelling is emotional (I cried SO MUCH) and important with themes of family, racism, and values. A must-read, must-experience-for-yourself-kind-of book.
Finally Seen by Kelly Yang
This middle-grade novel explores the importance of books as mirrors and doors, the challenges of immigration, the realities of racism, and book banning. Lina’s lived with her Lao Lao for the last five years but she moves to join her dad, mom, and little sister in LA, leaving her beloved Lao Lao behind in a nursing home. But, it’s not what she expected and she’s embarrassed when she struggles with English words and surprised at her family’s financial struggles. Even still, Lina’s bright spots are a kind ESL teacher, the graphic novels she reads and writes, and her new friends, Finn and Carla.
All of Me by Chris Baron
REALISTIC / BODY IMAGE
Ari’s lonely since his dad left, and he’s bullied for being fat and Jewish. Ari hates being fat so much that one day, he hurts himself. So, his mom helps him start a diet which works to help him lose weight –but it doesn’t fix everything. As Ari grows into himself, he is supported by a kind rabbi who accepts him unconditionally offering patience and wisdom. Soon, Ari realizes that he’s more than his weight. This is a moving and powerful story with heart and hope.
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
REALISTIC / KOREAN CULTURE
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 not to be ashamed of her working-class family, her culture, or her friends.
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.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Hands down, this is one of the best life-changing books for 6th graders. 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 that she’s smart with a talking keyboard tablet. Heartbreaking. Real. Inspiring. Beautifully written. This is one of my favorite books for 6th graders on this list.
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
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.
The Brave by James Bird
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…
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
REALISTIC / DEAF
Iris is a lonely Deaf girl who feels alone at her school and in her immediate family. She identifies with Blue 55, the loneliest whale in the world whose song is at a different hertz than other whales. 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.
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
REALISTIC / REFUGEES
Astunning 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.
Fox Point’s Own Gemma Hopper by Brie Spangler
REALISTIC GRAPHIC NOVEL
Gemma is a tall girl who loves baseball but feels like Cinderella, working nonstop to keep her family together ever since her mom abandoned them, and her dad is always working. She resents her older brother, the Prince of Baseball, for the attention he gets for his talent and that he doesn’t help her around the house. Plus, she is having school and friendship troubles. But after a video of her pitching goes viral and a good talk with her brother, her brother helps Gemma achieve her baseball dreams, too. And in an incredible character arc, not only does Gemma comes into her own, she finally admits the truth that her mom is never coming back.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
REALISTIC 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.
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.
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.
Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
REALISTIC / DRUG ADDICTION
Jolene is a brave girl who has been secretly dealing with her mother’s opioid addiction and makes a daring (and foolheartedly) trek to the desert to rescue her only friend. She 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. The story is about trust, relationships, boundaries, addiction, survival, and family.
The Summer of June by Jamie Sumner
ANXIETY / REALISTIC
A hopeful, beautiful story about living with anxiety; not curing it but managing it! June experiences severe anxiety which sometimes makes her pull out her hair and have panic attacks. So she starts the summer by shaving her hair off completely and spends her days at the library with her youth librarian mother. She meets a boy named Homer. They gradually become friends but she hasn’t told him the truth about her anxiety. Her mom and her therapist’s gentle care gets June the medication and guidance she needs, and she learns that many people care and accept her.
Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Bree and her dad move to Florida, where she has to take Swim 101 at school. But she ditches because she can’t swim and is afraid. luckily, her neighbor and babysitter is a former swim team captain, and she teaches Bree how to swim. When Bree accidentally makes the swim team, she learns about teamwork and friendship. This is a wonderful feel-good story about failure, perseverance, and teamwork.
Tumble by Celia C. Pérez
This heartfelt story is about heritage, identity, and…Mexican wrestling. When Adela’s stepdad wants to adopt her, Adela secretly uncovers who her biological dad is — and finds out he’s from a famous luchador family. She contacts him with high hopes of connecting, but those hopes are slowly dashed when her bio dad, Manny, consistently drops her off with his family and leaves. Adela loves getting to know her extended family, especially her twin cousins, — but wishes Manny would want to spend time with her. Adela must figure out what it means to have Manny in her life or not.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book brilliantly 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.
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.
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.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE
An excellent, 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 of 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. And Malú discovers the first rule of punk.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji and her little sister Rukku run away from an abusive father and sick mother. They meet two friendly brothers and join them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Unfortunately, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever, and what happens next will almost destroy Viji. 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.
Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION / MIGRATION
Skillful writing shows Sami’s modern-day Syrian life torn away by violence, his family’s sudden escape from the country, awful traveling conditions, detention in England, and his stay with hateful relatives. We feel his emotions every step of this journey — from thinking about playing video games and soccer to his worry about capsizing in an overcrowded boat in the ocean and to blaming himself for his mom and sister being at the mall when it was bombed. In sharing his experiences, we see how much we relate to Sami because he’s just a regular kid trying to be safe.
Unsettled by Reem Faruqi
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION / VERSE
Nurah’s family moves from Pakistan to Georgia, U.S., and she feels distinctly unsettled at her new outsider status which includes everything from her accent to her clothing to her brown skin. She makes one friend, and that helps her feel more comfortable. Meanwhile, her brother who excels at swimming suddenly quits after bullies violently attack him. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story that tackles racism, bullying, friendship, belonging, family, culture, and self-confidence.
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
Set in Mumbi, this is a deftly narrated, hope-filled story of the inequities around water with themes of advocacy, education, and community. 12-year-old Minni’s community has access to water only a few hours per day with severe water shortages. When Minni is forced to leave school to work as a maid, she sees the water (and other) iniquity first-hand and discovers that the family’s dad is the water mafia boss. Her decision and action to report him makes a difference — and gives us hope that one person can make a difference.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Don’t miss this important book for 6th graders 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.
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. But McKenna knows she has it, too and doesn’t tell anyone. During the race, she relies on her lead dog to be her eyes. Another racer, a boy with a blind dog, shows her that his blind dog Zesty is a powerful leader. The challenges of the race and her new friendship help McKenna realize that just like Zesty, her differences can make her better.
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.
Muffled by Jennifer Gennari
Amelia is extremely sensitive to noise. But this year at school, she’s trying not to wear her big noise-canceling headphones. Her dad gives her purple earmuffs to wear if she needs something. She clings to them even though they don’t help with sounds. Even with her challenges, she makes a new friend who tries to understand Amelia and asks Amelia to do the same for her — because friendship goes both ways. A lovely story about growing up and learning to live with auditory sensitivities.
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.
The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE / PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES
Nat is a thirteen-year-old girl in a wheelchair who auditions for her favorite musical, Wicked, without telling her parents. 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 in a chair. Then, when a fire burns the theater down, the show is canceled. So Nat rallies the cast to find a solution. The book for 6th graders concludes with a bit of romance (a kiss), friendship troubles getting resolved, and a surprising new role for Nat.
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.
Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King
REALISTIC / MENTAL ILLNESS
Sara wants to be “normal” like other kids, so she makes rules for herself. Among other diagnoses, Sara is bipolar. She hates her out-of-control brain. Meanwhile, she begins group therapy and makes a friend; a friend who is covered in hidden bruises. Eventually, 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.
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.
Match Point by Maddie Gallegos
review written by Jemma Tayor
REALISTIC (GRAPHIC NOVEL)
Match Point by Maddie Gallegos is one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past year, with a cute style, wholesome story, and a message about the importance of communication. They also integrate ASL into the book in a really natural and interesting way for the graphic novel medium. Rosie’s dad wants her to become the racquetball champion, but she hates the sport. When she meets Blair, a cool girl her age who plays as well, she finally starts to learn how to have fun with the game again.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green’s parents move them to Arizona to run a theme park. Aven doesn’t have any arms. 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. She and her new friends investigate a mystery involving Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential.
No Place Like Home by James Bird
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS / OJIBWE
Beautiful character development, vivid details, and a strong narrative voice draw you into this story about homelessness, Ojibwe culture, growing up, family, and the love of a dog. Based on James’ childhood, Opin is a sweet, hopeful boy who lives with his mom and his older brother in their car, traveling from city to city. He adores his mother, but he’s scared of his angry, violent older brother, who comes and goes as he pleases. When Opin finds a hurt dog, the love of a dog fills a friend void for Opin–until his brother takes the dog away. Despite the challenges of Opin’s life, beauty and joy are threaded throughout this compelling story that is one of the best of 2023. *Sensitive readers, there are a few swear words.
Wink by Rob Harrell
A funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s life. 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. The guitar music helps Ross express his frustrations and find his joy. NOTE: some bad language
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
An important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, the 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.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Alexander skillfully writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year-old Nick struggles with his parent’s 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.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 travel to find Kabir’s grandparents, find kindness, and second chances.
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. He wants to win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book for 6th graders 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.
Dust by Dusti Bowling
Avalyn, a spelling bee fanatic, lives in dry Arizona, which is supposed to be better for her asthma–until Adam moves to town, bringing pain and throat-clogging, asthma-attack-inducing dust storms. She wonders if her superpower is sensing energy– like Adam’s negative energy. As she investigates and observes Adam, she and her friends continue to be relentlessly bullied at school. She also struggles with the challenges that come with food and environmental allergies. This story deftly addresses abuse, bullying, asthma, and allergies.
All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
My 6th grader and 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?
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.
Blended by Sharon Draper
Isabella spends one week with her dad and his girlfriend, the next week with her mom and her boyfriend, and she hates it. 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 he’s Black. This middle grade book captures Isabella’s feelings as she searches for who she is in her own story.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace
COMING OF AGE / BULLYING
An outstanding, surprisingly philosophical, poignant story about dealing with bullies, growing in confidence, and the complexities of human beings. Matt doesn’t think he can survive 3 more years of middle school bullying so he writes supervillain Master Plan who is also a “gentleman of size”, asking for help. Surprisingly, Master Plan emails back with helpful, sage advice but is Master Plan actually looking out for Max or for himself?
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s 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 to Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the world.
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
REALISTIC / DEPORTATION / IMMIGRATION
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. Detention is traumatic–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. 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.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit
REALISTIC / BASEBALL
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?
Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed
A superb book of determination, resiliency, and community set in Pakistan. Omar gets a scholarship to attend a prestigious Pakistani boarding school. But, his academic hopes are dashed when he’s told that scholarship students must work and get A+ grades without any sports or clubs. Omar is grateful for his new friends and teachers but he’s worried he’ll lose it all so he studies all the time. Despite his efforts, his grades aren’t enough and he gets kicked out. But, his classmates support him with a walk-out, and the headmaster gets the board to change their minds and the rules.
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. His Great Uncle Frankie Bell sends him crazy socks and when Xavier wears them, people notice, and it gives him “swag”. 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.
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.
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.
Not Your All America Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
COMING OF AGE / RACISM / THEATER
Lauren, a girl with Jewish and Chinese heritage, tries out for the school play but, despite her talent, she doesn’t get cast as the lead since 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. Tara finds solace in the music of Patsy Cline and finds her voice.
Treasure of the World by Tara Sullivan
REALISTIC / POVERTY
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 to mine, Ana drops out of school and goes to the mine in his place. Then, after a mine collapse kills her dad, 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 go to school…
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
REALISTIC / 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 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!)
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life with her siblings and mom and her mom’s abusive boyfriend in his trailer. She babysits 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, which 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.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
REALISTIC / NEWBERY AWARD
This is an award winning classic 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. Sixth grade readers must piece together clues to the truth of Salamanca’s life, making this an excellent book club choice.
All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
REALISTIC / FOSTER CARE
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 even when her biological mom contacts her.
Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
ENVIRONMENT / OCEAN / ANIMALS
Beautiful, this story about two orca siblings separated from their families, trying to find food and their seasonal home, is filled with adventure and danger and suspense. 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 toward 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.
Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan
Get ready for action, intrigue, plot twists, and super-cool technology in the book for 6th graders! Ana’s freshman class at her specialized marine and naval academy are the only survivors after the academy is blown up. As the class races to escape on a ship, their chaperone reveals that Jules Verne’s novels based on Captain Nemo are mostly true and Ana’s the only surviving relative of Captain Nemo. They must thwart the first of many attacks and then evade the enemies to find Nemo’s infamous ship, the Nautilus.
The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen
Yared’s Uncle Moti moves them around frequently When soldiers come after Yared, he and another game player, the Ibis, escape the troops and the giant monster in order to find out what’s really true. 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!
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. The friends discover an even bigger problem that will destroy the space station. While the station is evacuated, the friends must stop the duct weasels and the engine from overheating.
Hypnotists by Gordon Korman
SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURE (series)
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!
Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by Sylvia Liu
SCIENCE FICTION (series)
In a world where corporations control everything, at age 13, kids get “meshed” into the multiweb. Hana meets a mysterious hacker who makes her see that getting meshed might not be good. When Hana’s school friends get sicker and sicker, Hana discovers that someone is using kids as human experiments. Even worse, her mom is involved in it. With the help of a wise old man, two friends, and her sister, they work together to help the sick students and stop the corporation’s nefarious plans.
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. One of the best books for 6th graders.
Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion by Gregory Mone
Lewis’s scientist dad believes that Atlantis still exists, and when Lewis sneaks off to find his dad’s lab, he ends up on a journey with his dad and his dad’s research assistant. Meanwhile, an Atlantian girl sneaks away from home and passed the guards to see if there could be life above the ocean. When their fates collide, the excitement at each other’s existence is short-lived because the Atlantian Eraser guards capture Lewis’s dad…and then Lewis and Hanna. Interesting, action-packed, and filled with cool tech!
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 terrific action-adventure-mystery book series for 6th graders with a zombie focus.
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?
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, this is a great book series for middle school readers.
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 students’ favorite read aloud books.
Escape from Atlantis by Kate O’Hearn
SCIENCE FICTION (series)
Don’t miss this wildly inventive, exciting, and thought-provoking adventure. Riley, her dad, her cousin, and her aunt are sailing in the Bermuda Triangle when they’re attacked by a leviathan. Riley and her unpleasant cousin, Alfie, wake up on an island with overly friendly, rule-centered people including half-animal people. They soon learn the sinister truth of the rule-centric community and are determined to escape.
Jinxed by Amy McCulloch
SCIENCE FICTION (series)
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. She starts competing with other kids at her prestigious school in the battle of the bakus. When Jinx doesn’t follow the rules, it leads to two bad things — his capture and the discovery of a sinister truth about the MONCHA company. Fantastic, fast-paced, and thought-provoking.
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
SCI-FI / HUMOR (series)
It’s the end of the world and Jack and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse. Currently their plans only include rescuing June who doesn’t need rescuing and fighting zombies. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Tons of fun! BOXED SET HERE
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.
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.
Do graphic novels count as good books for 6th graders?
Yes! Reading graphic novels requires literacy skills and strategies including sequencing, drawing inferences, and predicting. The graphic novels of today are fully developed narrative stories with a story arc and complex characters. Reading books like graphic novels counts as reading books!
What are good books for a 6th grade book club?
Go to this list of books to find recommendations for your book club. That being said, any book on this list that interests your child or student can be good to read and discuss.
What book from this list should tweens read first?
Whatever looks interesting to your reader should be the book they read. There’s something for everyone on this book list.
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