This best books for 12-year-old boys and girls (in 7th grade) list is huge and I know you’ll find lots of good books!
I love recommending books to kids so that they want to read, they just can’t put a book down. That’s why I read, review, and recommend so many books — so you can get your 12-year-old boys and girls into a good book.
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Best Books for 12-Year-Olds (7th Grade)
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
Fantastic fantasy world-building, excellent writing, a strong Black female heroine, and a surprise plot twist ending are just a few of the reasons you’ll love this book. Amari’s beloved older brother has vanished. But, she gets a virtual message from him revealing that she’s a magician and will get to attend a secret magician school. There, she discovers she’s actually an outlawed dark magic magician destined to do evil. Only Amari knows she’s not and is determined to prove it, stay in the school, and ultimately, find her missing brother.
Allies by Alan Gratz
Written from many different voices about one day in history, readers easily can see the massive amount of cooperation, planning, and troops from different countries involved in D-Day (when the Allies invaded France at Normandy.) We hear from an American teenage soldier who was born in Germany, a French Algerian girl whose mom is a recently captured spy, a Canadian paratrooper who lands in the wrong spot, and an American black medic. It’s violent and disheartening yet despite terrible losses, racism, and injuries, the fighters persist despite everything to accomplish their goal — to take back the area for the Allies. What an incredible retelling of this day!
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.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers upon layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all. Ever since Conor’s mom gets breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster visits Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth but Conor refuses. Meanwhile, in the awake world, Conor moves in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echos Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually, healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best books I’ve EVER read.
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen
This is a compelling, disturbing, and hopeful childhood story of hardship and survival with moments of kindness and time in nature that sustain the neglected, determined young boy.
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
Petra is on a spaceship traveling to a new home after the Earth is destroyed. When Petra’s awoken, she learns that her parents have been killed and her brother is missing plus all the other humans’ memories have been erased. Except for her. Petra is determined to foil the sinister Collective’s plan to control everyone but she plays the part of a mind-controlled teenager and secretly shares Mexican cuentos with the other Zetas. Her determination will save not only the Zetas but possibly an entire civilization of settlers. Petra is a brave, fierce girl who shows us that we are less than human without art, music, and stories. Había una vez…
A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS
A powerful 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 Brave by James Bird
When Collin, a neurodiverse boy, gets kicked out of 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…
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dees
Middle schooler Mila is feeling trapped— a group of basketball-playing boys is getting too close, grabbing her, touching her, and then telling her that she’s imagining it. Ignoring doesn’t stop the behaviors, neither does telling an adult, telling her friends, or wearing baggier clothing. Now her toxic friend Zara is acting mad and jealous that Mila’s getting the boys’ attention. Unexpectedly, Mila finds her strength when she starts karate classes. That helps her find what works to put a stop to the harassment. I highly recommend this essential book; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls.
House Arrest by K.A. Holt
You’ll feel so many emotions reading this tender, heartwarming story that shows a brave boy who feels anger, fear, worry, and love over his challenging situation. Timothy is under house arrest for the next year, living with a brother who needs constant medical care, and feeling so much pain over his big life changes. Part of his year-long punishment is to meet with a probation officer, meet with a therapist, and write in a journal which is the book we’re reading. When his little brother gets assigned an abusive new nurse, Timothy feels like even if he gets thrown in juvie, he must do something drastic to help his brother. Written in poetic verse, this book speeds along and pulls your heart along with it.
Free Lunch by Rex Ogle
Powerful, memorable, and beautifully written for mature readers, Ogle writes about surviving his poverty and violence-filled childhood. It’s sixth grade and every lunch, Rex must loudly announce. to the hard-of-hearing lunch ladies that he gets free lunch. Not only is Rex shamed by free lunch but also his outfits and constant hunger and violent home life. It’s ultimately a story of survival which may be relatable to some readers and will grow empathy in others.
Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
REALISTIC / DRUG ADDICTION
Across the Desert is a stunning story about a brave girl who has been secretly dealing with her mother’s opioid addiction who makes a daring (and possibly foolheartedly) trek to the desert to rescue her only friend. Jolene is the only person who knows that her friend Addie crashed her ultralight plane alone in the middle of the desert. Jolene steals her mom’s phone and credit card and takes the bus as close as she can to Addie’s location, planning to walk to find Addie. On the bus, she meets a kind and helpful teenager named Marty who, despite Jolene’s reluctance and mistrust, helps Jolene with advice and ultimately, finding Addie. The story is about trust, relationships, boundaries, addiction, survival, and family; it’s also an emotional journey of inner and outer strength that leads to hope and healing.
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
#OWNVOICES / REALISTIC / BODY DYSMORPHIA & EATING DISORDERS
Sarah’s mom’s dysfunctional relationship with food is affecting Sarah– who now thinks that her slowness in basketball is related to eating too much or too many “unhealthy” foods, instead of being from the normal growing pains of puberty. She’s confused, starving herself, and stressed out. Finally, a friend pushes Sarah to get help…and, help is just what Sarah needs to understand the truth about her body, what health truly is, and how her mom’s disordered eating has affected her. EXCELLENT!
The Ruins of Gorlan: Ranger’s Apprentice book 1 by John A. Flanagan
Will is apprenticed to become a Ranger, a job he’s unsure about. But as he develops a relationship with his master and learns what being a Ranger is all about (spying for the kingdom,) and comes 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 series has it all! Ranger’s Apprentice is a must-read, mesmerizing epic fantasy.
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 mom won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for a dangerous gastro-bypass surgery. Fortunately, Ellie gets support from an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful — and accept herself as she is–beautiful and worthy.
Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
Set in the time of early American settlers, this is a beautiful story of love about a night spirit who is still connected to the powerful wood magic of her ancestors. When Willa accidentally discovers that her clan is keeping human captives and forbidden technology, her Faeran clan leader wants her dead. Fleeing the danger of her home, Willa cautiously observes a human man, slowly learning to trust him. When she realizes that one of his children was one of the human captives she saw, Willa knows she must return to her clan and make things right.
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, the policeman’s daughter, is the only one who can see and talk to him except for the other ghost boys who were also killed in racially motivated violence. It’s a well-written, fast-paced read but one that is going to stay with you as you ponder the important topics it addresses.
Lockwood & Co The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Dangerous ghosts and spirits are appearing everywhere in London but only certain kids can see them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost-hunting agency, Lockwood & Co., so they take a perilous job that, if the ghosts have their way, may just be their last. BOXED SET.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green is used to making up creative stories for why she doesn’t have any arms. Especially now in Arizona where her parents are the new managers of a rundown theme park. She befriends a boy at school who, like her, feels different and isolated from the other kids. His name is Connor and he has Tourette Syndrome. Together, he, another new friend named Zion, and Aven investigate a mysterious storage shed that connects to Aven’s past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true (significant) potential.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
HISTORICAL / FANTASY
Part historical (ancient Rome) and part fantasy, Elias and Laia live in a world that enslaves them both in different ways — Elias with fighting and Laia with serving and spying. This is an epic page-turning series with lots of mystery, action, and a hint of romance. It’s SO good that it’s one of the most popular YA books right now.
The Fort by Gordon Korman (his 100th book!)
Tension-filled, disturbing, and powerful, this story alternates the points of view of a group of boys who are each dealing with their own struggles including poverty, OCD, bullying, and domestic abuse. When the boys discover an abandoned bomb shelter in the forest, they make it their fort, which becomes a special and safe place. When one boy, the outsider who isn’t friends with everyone yet, figures out what’s happening with the abused boy who is secretly sleeping in the fort, all the friends try to help him, but it’s tricky and complicated.
Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga by David A. Robertson
#OWNVOICES / FANTASY / INDIGENOUS CULTURE
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
I love this unique world with its plot twists and turns. Epics are super-powerful, evil god-like creatures who control the world’s cities. Because David’s father was killed by Chicago’s Epic named Steelheart, David wants revenge. He joins the rebel group, the Reckoners, to learn how to assassinate Steelheart– a next to impossible feat for a regular human like him. This is a page-turning, mesmerizing series. Boxed Set HERE.
Children of the Fox by Kevin Sands
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 from the stories with themes of problem-solving, friendship, and trust that ends with both an amazing resolution and a cliff-hanger.
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?
Escape from Atlantis by Kate O’Hearn
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.
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.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
This is the amazing & powerful biography of a boy with courage and hope who walked across Africa to find a better life. We also learn the story of an African village for whom water is a two-hour walk, and how the boy, now a man, builds a well for the village.
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
“Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.” Isn’t this a great first sentence? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies were stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother not to mention Stewart is nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King
Multi-layered and compelling with themes of censorship, family, crushes, and growing up… 6th grade Mac lives in a town that bans Halloween, pizza delivery, bright house colors, and staying out past curfew. At school, his book group notices that certain words and phrases are blacked out in The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Mac and his friends Denis and Marci find the original book at a local bookstore and are furious that their teacher thinks they can’t handle the words. They talk to the principal, but she does nothing to support them, and their teacher acts smug and self-righteous. Meanwhile, Mac is also dealing with the aftermath of his mentally ill dad’s actions of theft from their house and his granddad. Also, Mac has a crush on Marci– a compelling feminist character. (They eventually go to a dance together but decide they’re not ready to kiss.) Mac compares how he’s feeling to being an office guy — dealing with hard adult things. I enjoyed the story, there’s a lot to discuss!
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, a step in fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronomer and buying his mom a house. But, his hopes are dashed when he’s told that scholarship students must work, must get A+ grades, and can’t do 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, even asking for tutoring help from the strict headmaster. Despite his efforts, his grades aren’t enough and he gets kicked out. Until, his classmates support him with a walk-out and the headmaster gets the board to change their mind, and the rules.
The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh, illustrations by Kelly Murphy
I LOVED this fairy tale fantasy book — it’s a fantastic Baba Yaga story about a brave and smart orphan girl, Mary, who wants a home, even if it’s with Baba Yaga. She just has to figure out how to be sure Baba Yaga won’t eat her and she does so with help from her friend Jacob and MAGIC!
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
This Newbery winner grabs your attention immediately with an unbelievable (but kind-of believable) story of a boy named Matt who is a clone of the leader of Opium, El Patrón. He realizes that he’s not the first El Patrón clone and learns of a sinister reason why he’s the only Patron clone still alive. Next in the series is The Lord of Opium.
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 other people in tough spots— like her uncle whose sweatshop boss has taken his passport and weekly, Hank, who needs a letter of recommendation to get a job. This book is more than a memorable coming-of-age immigrant story, it’s also about tolerance and diversity and a must-read story you won’t soon forget.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Joseph is an abused boy with a violent father, a parent at age thirteen, and is now living as a foster kid with Jack’s family on their organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we slowly learn about Joseph’s deep love for a rich girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen, and his shattering heartbreak. This is an amazing story– painful yet filled with redemption and hope — beautifully written and one that will give readers so much to ponder.
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 is fascinating, and the characters are enchanting.
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s story will grab your heart and expand it. His dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod — his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way and there, his trip Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the world.
Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
In this society, you are sorted as Wanted, Necessary, and Unwanted. Alex is an Unwanted and is sent to die. But instead of death, Alex is rescued by a magician who has created a secret, magical haven for the Unwanteds where they live and train to use their magic skills. I love the creative magical characters in this world like Alex’s art teacher — an octagator! Here’s the problem — Alex is a twin whose brother is a Wanted. Alex risks the safety of his new home to see his twin in the old world. His actions reveal the secret world and war breaks out.
The Star that Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson
This is a rich coming-of-age historical fiction story set around the first World War about an introspective girl dealing with racism, prejudice, and knowing herself. Norvia struggles with other people’s disdain for her family because of her divorced mother, and she’s hiding that she’s half Ojibwe. Her Uncle Virgil helps Norvia see that changes always happen and she can decide how to respond to those changes. The characters hold Christian beliefs and share Bible verses to encourage each other. Her blended, loving family helps Norvia embrace her full self and live honestly with courage as a Native girl with big dreams.
Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds
An illustrated version of Jason Reynolds’ free verse book about Will, a teenager who witnesses his own brother get shot. He needs to follow The Rules and take revenge on the killer. But, as he travels seven floors in an elevator, each level provides an encounter with a deceased person, and their conversations halt Will’s plans and reveal to him the bigger story of what really happened with his brother.
The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo
A thoughtful novel about a friendship that crosses regions, languages, income levels, and education–despite the stigmas and prejudices. Abena, from a rich southern family in Ghana, is spending the summer with her auntie to help at her auntie’s market store. There, Abena meets Faiza, a Muslim girl from northern Ghana who works as a kayayoo– a girl who uses a large head pan to carry shopping for customers. The two girls immediately become friends, and Abena’s eyes are opened to the differences in their lives and her own privileges. But when someone accuses Faiza of stealing, and Abena gets malaria, they are torn apart until fifteen years later in a beautiful full-circle moment.
Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhode
Addy’s a city kid whose parents were killed in a fire that she escaped. Sent to a wilderness program in California for the summer, she’s surprised to learn that she loves it there; particularly if she can draw maps of her surroundings to know all possible escape routes should a fire happen. Then, the worst does happen. Addy’s on a hike with other campers and counselors when a wildfire tears through the mountains. She knows the best way to safety but it won’t be an easy route and not everyone trusts her to lead. This is a well-written survival story literally and metaphorically that will enthrall readers from beginning to end.
Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone
Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
SLICE-OF-LIFE / BLENDED FAMILY
A rich slice-of-Black-blended-family life in New York City. Jo and her mum move into a big brownstone with Bill and his daughter Sunday plus twins Lee and Liland, their parents Mama Hope and Papa Charles, and so many animals — chickens, cats, a lizard, a turtle, and a dog. It’s hard for Bo to get used to so much togetherness and she misses the one-on-one time she used to have with her mum. While she’s adjusting to her new patchwork-quilted family, she and her new sisters embark on a project to make the upcoming wedding a special day.
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, doesn’t get cast as the lead because, according to the director, she doesn’t look the part of someone all-American. Tara finds solace in the music of Patsy Cline, decides to help make the ensemble the best it can be with an unsanctioned performance and finds her voice. A powerful, must-read story that will open readers’ eyes to the injustice of racism and micro-aggressions and portrays a multicultural girl’s coming of age.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. Viji tells how the two of them ran away from an abusive father to the big city where they met two friendly brothers and lived with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their lives are hard but made easier by the two boys, their new “brothers.” When Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever, so does one of the brothers. And what happens next almost destroys Viji. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new “family” that helps her to see more than misery in the world. 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.
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.
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Alexander skillfully writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parents’ separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer. That is until he gets injured and can’t play. Written in free verse, this is a lyrical, fast-paced story that feels honest and relatable.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is AMAZING, beautiful, moving, and life-changing! 12-year-old Willow is a genius with limited social skills (it’s never stated but we might guess she’s got Aspergers) whose adopted parents are killed in a car crash leaving her so confused without her parents’ support. But, Willow pushes on and finds a most unexpected new family in the back of a nail salon.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
Ten short stories tell about the lives of different kids after their middle school day ends. With complex backstories and incredible depth of character development, Reynold’s fiction feels truthful… so much so that I’m so very glad that I’m not in middle school anymore. What kinds of topics are these kids dealing with? Bullying, fear of dogs, parents who have cancer, stealing, comedian goals, OCD, skateboarding, and friendships. Some stories are funny, some are serious, and all ring true.
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs
Set in historical Mexico, 1913, Petra Luna, her abuela, her little sister, and her baby brother flee their home when Federales burn the village. Petra’s abuelita considers reading and writing to be barefoot dreams but Petra thinks she’ll be able to save her family and realize her barefoot dreams, too. Eventually, they wait with throngs of other people trying to cross the bridge into the United States before the Federales arrive on the Mexican side. Exciting, interesting, and inspiring.
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson
REALISTIC / VERSE
Written in verse with precise text, this is an important book to bring awareness to CTE as well as show families in grief. ZJ’s professional football player dad is changing. He’s stopped playing, gets terrible headaches, surprising anger outbursts, and forgets ZJ’s name. ZJ contrasts this with memories of his dad before the ever after; the before dad who played with ZJ, made him breakfast, and treated his friends like family. Now, there are a lot of doctor’s appointments and not much hope. It’s real, raw, and profoundly sad to watch ZJ slowly lose the dad he once knew.
Wink by Rob Harrell
REALISTIC / CANCER
A funny cancer memoir for kids who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. His eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music, and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results.
Living with Viola by Rosena Fung
REALISTIC / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Viola is Livy’s anxiety personified. Viola is loud and says mean things and doesn’t believe in Liv’s capacity. Fung masterfully lets us live inside Livy’s mind so we can understand what it’s like to have anxiety disorder and just how strong and loud that voice is. Livy’s family are Chinese immigrants in Canada and she feels a lot of pressure from her extended family about being an exceptional student and good daughter. Then with friendship struggles on top of her family concerns, Viola’s voice is stronger than ever. Livy finally tells her parents and gets a diagnosis and support. Moving, profound, and empathy-building — I highly recommend this story; it’s one of the best stories about anxiety that I’ve read.
Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King
REALISTIC / MENTAL ILLNESS
Sara wants to be cured of her mental illnesses and be “normal” like other kids so she makes rules for herself. She hates her out-of-control brain but begins group therapy where she makes a friend; a friend who is covered in hidden bruises. Sara and Erin think of themselves as Star Children, kids wth alien DNA. It’s profoundly sad to witness Sara’s self-loathing. For readers, it’s a valuable opportunity to see inside Sara’s mind and how painful it is to have an invisible disease.
The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks
MYSTERY / ADVENTURE
Written like an adult suspense novel, this is one of the best edge-of-your-seat mystery books for middle grade that I’ve ever read. The author jumps around showing various incidents and people. You’ll have no idea what is going on or what will happen next. A boy with no memory is found at the National Gallery staring at a Degas sculpture. Strangely, this boy does know a great deal about art and artists. Soon we learn he’s being hunted by a team of professional bad guys. The boy, Art, and his foster sister escape from several kidnapping attempts and begin to unravel who he is and what’s going on.
Treasure of the World by Tara Sullivan
REALISTIC / SOUTH AMERICA
An engrossing and unique story about a girl’s struggle to realize her own dreams while still helping her family survive. Ana’s a poor girl living in a small Bolivian mining town. When her abusive dad forces Ana’s sickly younger brother into the mines, he falls ill so Ana drops out of school and goes to the mine in his place. Then, a mine collapse makes Ana’s life even more difficult. She scrambles to find work, thinking that her dreams of school and a different life are over. Until she thinks of a way to work and pass school…
The Outlaws Scarlet and Browne by Jonathan Stroud
Unique post-apocalyptic world-building, interesting characters, and a plot filled with adventure and monsters! Scarlett is a skilled survivor and bank robber who, while traversing the dangerous Wilds, discovers a sole survivor of a bus accident who she rescues. This boy, Albert, has powers– and his prison warden and guards want him back for more experimentation so Albert wants to reach the only safe place for people like him in the Seven Kingdoms. The new friends must travel to the unknown in order to escape monsters and murderous humans.
Anne of West Philly by Ivy Noelle Weir, illustrated by Myisha Haynes
An updated Anne of Green Gables story — with a modern Anne, a foster child in the 8th grade, who moves in with a brother and sister. Anne talks non-stop (which is a bit much for her new foster mom) and occasionally loses her temper. But she’s a smart girl who learns from her mistakes. She loves having a room of her own, a best friend, and soon, a forever family. And she even makes friends with her nemesis, Gilbert, when they work on a robotics team together.
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 already escaped to the west. Greta’s father gets her a message that sets her on a course to dig a tunnel to the west. It’s dangerous but Greta’s determined. Excellent.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
GRAPHIC NOVEL / FAIRY TALE
In this reimagined Snow White story, set in New York City in the 1920s, Snow White’s dad is a Wall Street king, her stepmother is a Zigfield Follies star, and her seven small protectors are street kids. It’s SO interesting how Phelan uses this historical setting to animate a familiar fairy tale. The black and white illustrations set the tone for this dark story with a happy ending.
Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
COMING-OF-AGE / MENTAL ILLNESS
Natalie wants to figure out how to help her mother, who we gather is depressed because she’s in her bed all day long and no longer working. As Natalie prepares for an egg drop contest with two other kids, she looks at her mother’s situation with the same scientific process zeal. Her ultimate plan is to win the contest then use the prize money to whisk her mother away on a special trip. Throughout the story, we see Natalie’s friendships develop as well as a difficult understanding that life and depression are not an exact science. It’s a beautiful, well-done story and a compassionate look at depression.
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.
Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
Get ready for a wild ride of suspense, action, adventure, science fiction, and coolness!! Bloom tells the story of three kids who are not affected by the strange-looking plants that appear out of nowhere and take over land all over the world, covering houses and streets, swallowing animals and people but doing nothing to these kids. Scientists figure out that the plants are an alien invasion…and think these kids may be the only chance they have to stop them. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just tell you that it’s an AWESOME story…and ends on a crazy cliffhanger.
Ravenfall by Kalyn Josephson
This is a wonderful magical adventure of friendship, family, and grief set at a sentient inn with interesting characters. (Like a Jabberwocky!) Anna lives with her extended family at their magical B&B with Otherworld and human world guests. A boy named Colin arrives and asks for sanctuary and help after his parents were murdered and his brother went missing. Anna wants to help him, but she doesn’t think her power to see ghosts is as helpful as her other family members’ powers. But, as they work together to unravel the secrets of his parents, Colin finds his own powers and Anna discovers her own strengths. But will they be enough to stop the menacing creature who wants to kill Colin?
Pretty by Justin Sayre
REALISTIC / COMING OF AGE
Beautifully written and plotted, Justin Sayre has created a coming-of-age masterpiece not to be missed. Sophie’s life is complicated. Hiding her mom’s alcohol addiction affects everything, even her school work. When her mother leaves for a trip, her aunt moves in and gently helps Sophie learn about being a strong, beautiful, biracial woman. Sophie blossoms with the love and kindness of her aunt. Soon, Sophie must decide what she’ll do next — move with her aunt or stay with her mother who eventually returns home from rehab.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
This mesmerizing historical fiction story takes place in Chilmark where a high percentage of deaf individuals live. Mary’s a smart girl who speaks sign language. Then, a researcher arrives with preconceived notations of the “infirmity” of deaf people and he kidnaps Mary as a live specimen. For months she’s imprisoned and forced to work, then locked in a room to be studied. She can’t communicate with anyone because no one else speaks sign and Mary doesn’t have access to a pencil and paper. Eventually, she gets a chance to write a message and makes it back home with help. This is an eye-opening, must-read story!
Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee
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 but she and her little brother are separated from their family. They experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, sickness, and winter’s brutal cold with the Red Army marching right behind them.
Strong as Fire, Fierce As Flame by Supriya Kelkar
HISTORICAL FICTION / INDIA
A powerful story set in colonial India about a girl finding her voice and inner strength. Meera’s dad holds fast to his beliefs that if her husband dies, so she must also die. She’s only twelve and still lives at home but just as she’s about to live with her husband (who she married as a child), her husband dies! Now her father expects Meera to join her husband’s funeral pyre. She doesn’t go. Her aunt gives her the courage to flee. But as she’s escaping, she’s captured by a British captain and assigned to work in his kitchen where she witnesses firsthand the institutional racism and cruelty to her people. Even though her friend and her friend’s sister are fighting for the resistance, initially Meera is afraid and won’t help them. Until…she can not look the other way and fights back by helping the resistance.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
REALISTIC – BEAUTY / SELF-LOVE
Don’t miss this important story about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates that her skin is so dark; she knows her grandma and father hate that about her, too. In her self-loathing, she believes that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have all the things that go along with being pretty. In this coming-of-age story, Genesis finds her voice both literally and metaphorically. It will start the conversation about who defines beauty and how we can do better individually and as a society.
Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII IN JAPAN
An important, multi-layered story of a Japanese girl’s understanding of Hiroshima, grief, family, and the healing power of sharing stories. When Nozomi’s art teacher, Mr. Yoshioka, leaves the school due to sickness, she and her friends plan a festival in his honor called “Hiroshima: Then and Now.” They interview people close to them about their experiences during the bombing (which they call “the flash”), learning many unknown stories including that Mr. Yoshioka lost his beloved and still visits her grave. As the kids learn about their family and neighbor’s lives and deaths, their stories impact the way the kids view things now and their hope for the future, which they each share artistically in the festival.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Hector lives in Cuba with his mom and older brother in a communist-controlled state that imprisoned his now exiled dad. He loves math and his friends. He doesn’t understand why his mom would want to leave Cuba for the U.S. — and doesn’t see the lack of freedoms at first until, at his communist abuela’s prompting, their neighbors turn on them, and something unthinkable happens. Hector’s mom applies to leave Cuba during a short window where it might be possible for gusanos (worms) to leave. Their journey is fraught with complications and dangers. Every second of this book, I felt like I was living in Hector’s shoes. This book is excellent on every level– character development, plot, history, and writing. Highly recommended.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and unhealthy relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life but it’s not easy. She and her siblings are living with their mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She’s required to care for her siblings while her mom works …all the while avoiding making a mess or any noise. A kind teacher at school persists with a reluctant, non-participative Zoey, encouraging her to try debate club. It’s that activity that eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friend getting threatened with a gun. That conversation changes everything for their family for the better…
The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) by Richard Paul Evans
Kids love this book series about a boy with electrical powers and an evil group who wants to control him and the others like him. I zipped through the series and loved every minute.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
ages 9 – 12
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
If you like strong girl power books for teens, you’ll love this story of five mermaids who journey to find each other and the sea witches. An ancient evil is being unleashed and is not just trying to kill the girls but also planning on enslaving or killing their communities. Very entertaining.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks with Jordie Bellaire
In this first book in an Asian-influenced series about an occupied city, we meet two kids from different clans and backgrounds who become unlikely friends. Kaidu is a Dao and new to the Nameless City where he’s studying to be a soldier. Rat is a street girl who teaches Kaidu how to survive in the city. Together they save the city’s leader from an assassination plot. The action and characters are compelling. Next in this series is The Stone Heart.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
REALISTIC / BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS – OCD
My daughter and I could not put this book down — it’S 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!
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. recommended!
The Maze Runner by James Dasher
What a wild ride! Kids can’t put these books down. In this dystopian world, kids are either killed or must kill to survive. There are tons of plot twists that kept me surprised and entertained but I thought the last few books weren’t as strong as the first few. Boxed Set HERE.
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler
Three friends in Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa are separated by war, location, and ideology. Because Leo and Elsa are Jewish, their path includes ghetto housing, escape, and prison camp. But, Max is not Jewish and his main goal is to get the approval of his brutal Nazi father. To do so, he gladly pursues Nazi beliefs and actions, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends weren’t “dogs” or less than human. The story weaves together the three children’s stories in a heartbreaking, beautiful ending that will leave you thinking about humanity, morality, hope, and love.
Above World by Jenn Reese
The gist of the Above World series is that the humans were created to live into tech-dependent, animal-morphed groups who were lab-created for different climates — mer people, snake people, centaur, bird people –and the groups have mostly remained separate from each other. The main character, Aluna, a Kampii (mer), has left her clan in order to discover why the clan is dying. In Mirage, she and her unique group of friends must try to convince the Equian colonies that the evil Karl Strand is trying to take over Above World.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
The author skillfully weaves an important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters from the woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother, it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her Native heritage. The truth opens her eyes (and ours) to the unjust but common practices that happened throughout U.S. history of taking Native kids away from their birth parents; parents whose only crime was being Native.
Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins
REALISTIC / VERSE / #OWNVOICES
A #ownvoices heart-warming story in verse of struggle and unconditional love for a child with challenging behaviors. Hannah hates that her cousin Cal is now living with her family. He’s ruining everything from her parents’ relationship to her gymnastics competitions, not to mention that he’s impossible to trust. As she narrates, we also begin to loathe Cal because of his lying, running away, pranks, and talking back. But once we learn Cal’s backstory and the pain he’s feeling from living with an abusive dad who is now in jail and an addict mom who died of leukemia, we begin to feel compassion for him.
Healer and the Witch by Nancy Werlin
When her beloved grand-mere dies, Sylvie uses her witch magic to remove the cloud of grief from her maman’s head but accidentally removes all memory of Sylvie, too. Desperate to fix her mistake and to learn to use her powers for good, Sylvie and a neighbor boy travel through medieval France in search of someone who could train her. They must determine who to trust, not just because witches are hated and burned, but because some people are duplicitous and manipulative–which Sylvie learns the hard way. Their journey shows Sylvie that she’s able to survive difficulties and trust in herself most of all.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
HISTORICAL FICTION / INDIA
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 a confusing time. This story, filled with historical significance, is masterfully told. You won’t want to put this one down.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me tackles some very big issues including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder. Even as she learns about the other kids who are, Haley is reluctant to share that her own dad is in jail for the car accident killing her mother. When she does eventually share, it’s beautiful to see the other kids support her. This well-written story deserves to be discussed as it has a wealth of ideas to ponder.
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
This beautiful story captures the essence of love, family, and self-discovery. It’s compelling and exquisitely crafted. Osh, a solitary island man, rescued baby Crow when he found her in a small boat on the sea. Crow loves Osh but now at age 12, she wants to know where she came from — was it the island across the way where the leper colony was? She, Crow, and their friend, Miss Maggie journey to the island to find out. The island brings them closer to answers but also into danger, too.
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.
Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas
Based on Cuevas’s father’s life, this beautiful novel captures a boy’s heartfelt longing for family and culture when he’s forced to leave his homeland. Cumba, a 12-years-old boy escapes from Fidel Castro-controlled Cuba. Mimi feels overwhelmed with a new language, noise, and missing his family. He and his little brother write frequently which is how he learns that both his parents have been detained by Castro’s soldiers. As he makes friends and learns about this new country and freedom, he never stops thinking of his family and hoping that they’ll be reunited one day…
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
You’ll fall in love with this magical story about a lonely boy whose beloved grandfather faces a life-ending illness. Micah’s grandfather and Micah hope the Lightbender in the Circus Mirandus who owes the grandfather a miracle, will be able to help. With a missive to the Lightbender, Micah soon discovers the magical circus his grandfather once loved so much. It’s an adventure filled with emotion and faith.
The Outcasts: Brotherband Chronicles, Book 1 by John Flanagan
A well-written story of a young, fatherless boy named Hal whose mom was an Araluen slave. To survive the town’s prejudice against him, he is helped by another outcast, his dead father’s former shipmate, a one-armed recovering drunk. When it’s time for his Brotherband training, he becomes the leader of a rag-tag group of boys. They’ll compete against better, stronger teams who don’t always play fair. The stakes are high and Hal must win even with his group of misfits.
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.
Furthermore (Book 1) by Tahereh Mafi
Magic and color are closely linked in her world. Only Alice has no color in her skin or hair. And her father has been missing for years making her even sadder. She travels with a boy named Oliver to a different magical land in order to find and rescue her Father. But the rules are wildly different and the inhabitants eat people for their magic. Even though Oliver and Alice start their quest at odds, the many challenges join them in a solid friendship. Furthermore is a uniquely creative plot that is so well written, you won’t want it to end.
Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
Set in medieval Scotland, this is an action-packed adventure with a strong female protagonist, medieval and mythical elements, plus an exciting plot. When Drest’s war-band family is kidnapped by knights she sets off in pursuit, taking a wounded soldier hostage. Throughout their travels, the two develop a complicated friendship and Drest learns many uncomfortable truths about her family. First of all, I love when a girl rescues boys from death! You won’t be able to put this excellent story down — I highly recommend it and the sequel, The Hunt for Mad Wolf’s Daughter.
Captain Superlative by J. S. Puller
Right from the start, we know Captain Superlative is gone. This foreshadowing kept me reading with curiosity. It’s a thoughtful plot with captivating characters. The big lesson our main character, Janey, learns is about not standing by when injustice is happening. She learns this from a girl dressed in a swimsuit, wig, mask, and high tops who arrives at her middle school and changes everything. Read this with a book club or with your child — there’s so much to talk about!
Edge of Extinction The Ark Plan by Laura Martin
This is an awesome story about a dangerous world where cloned dinosaurs have taken over. Now Sky and her fellow humans live below ground in safety with Noah as their supreme ruler. Sky discovers that her missing (maybe traitor?) father left her a secret note with cryptic instructions on how to be found. She decides to leave the underground city in order to find her dad. Barely outside a day, she and her friend Shawn are rescued from hungry dinosaurs by a boy who lives in a treetop enclave. When his enclave is attacked by Noah’s soldiers looking for her, Sky realizes that everything she believed about Noah is wrong and is even more determined to find her father.
The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling
Written in verse, this is a heart-wrenching, heart-stopping, suspenseful adventure with lyrical, figurative language about an intense journey of physical hardship and emotional healing. Shifting perspectives between before and after her mom was shot, Nora and her dad climb into a Sonoran Desert canyon for the first time in the year since her mom died. Just as Nora tells her father she hates him, a flash flood careens through the canyon, carrying her father and their supplies away. Alone and terrified, Nora forces herself to find shelter and keep searching for her father, even with the venom from a scorpion bite slowing her down. As she faces her fears and continues on, she overcomes a metaphorical war with the “beast” who has been giving her nightmares for the past year.
Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Told from many different, well-developed characters’ points of view, this is a historical fiction story about the plantations with their abuse and enslavement contrasted with the thriving swamp community of Freewater filled with formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children, loosely based on the history of maroon communities in the South. There are many intertwined story threads including escaped children, Freewater residents, and the plantation owner’s daughter that weave together for a hopeful ending.
The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
Powerful! I don’t normally like books with animal characters but this was epic and I didn’t really notice or care that the characters were rabbits. The writing is excellent, the characters are compelling, and the plotting is exceptional. I totally love this series!
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.
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 is his dad and older brother abusive but they 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.
Unteachables by Gordon Korman
ages 8 – 12
Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
HISTORICAL / FANTASY
Set in historical Rome we follow the life of a slave abandoned by his mother in the mines. After he accidentally discovers Julius Cesar’s magical amulet and it’s protector griffin, he’s in constant danger. It’s an exciting adventure with an unexpected revelation that will have you eager for the next book.
Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
Claire’s dad isn’t just fascinated by ghosts but he leads ghost tours of Chicago. When a reluctant Claire, a firm disbeliever, and scientist, is forced to help out on the tour one night, the ghost of a dead little boy follows her home. And won’t leave her alone. Claire is so scared that she confides in her brother and estranged friends. Together, they use research and scientific reasoning to figure out who the boy is and what he wants from Claire. Creepy with an interesting dose of Chicago history.
The Ghost Network: Activate by I.I. Davidson
Jack and his friend are hackers who get taken to a top-secret tech school where dangerous secrets are hidden behind the STEM school facade. Not only are the kids in danger but there also seems to be a computer implanted inside their brains telling them what to do! The story intrigued me from the get-go but after about the middle, the action was so fast-paced and suspenseful, I was totally hooked.
The Loop by Ben Oliver
The world is one government under the control of an AI called Happy. Luka’s a prisoner in The Loop, a barbaric prison for death row inmates who escape death if they’ll allow experimental surgeries. After Group A’s experiments turn the prisoners into smiley killers, Luka escapes when his prison warden tries to kill him. It’s a crazy, fast-paced adventure of life and death that is impossible to put down.
Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu
Skillful writing transports readers into Sami’s experience of modern Syrian life suddenly torn away by violence, a sudden escape from the violence, awful traveling conditions, detention in England, and a new home in England with hateful relatives. We feel Sami’s 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, readers will see how much they can relate to Sami who is just a regular kid trying to be safe.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. Young Nan’s Sweep father figure is gone so she works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem emerges to save her life. She and her protector golem 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. This is an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is a well-written story about a real-life historical event when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital city and yellow fever killed thousands of citizens. We follow Mattie, a brave young girl, who struggles to survive in an abandoned and diseased city. She’s lost her grandfather to looters and doesn’t know where her mother has gone but fortunately finds help from their coffeehouse’s former cook, Eliza.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
ADVENTURE / HISTORY / FANTASY
This is the story of three children in medieval France who are hunted by the King. Fascinating writing shares pieces of the kids’ stories from third-hand witnesses as retold in an inn. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel, one of the best I’ve ever read. (Sensitive reader warning: There are two scenes with a lot of blood and a few bad words.)
Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull
Brandon Mull has outdone himself with an inventive, totally unique world and characters! Cole, a regular kid, is trick-or-treating with his friends when they all get kidnapped. Cole manages to hide but follows the kidnappers — to another world – a world of five kingdoms, slavery, and magic. Cole is found and sold to slavers on the Outskirts. There he’ll battle mysterious beings living on cloud castles, discover an exiled princess, escape from slavery, and have unimaginable adventures. Amazing! Boxed Set HERE.
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll
FAIRY TALE/GRAPHIC NOVEL
Courageous and adventurous Masha knows Baba Yaga from her grandmother’s stories. After her grandmother dies, and her father remarries, Masha decides to become Baba Yaga’s assistant. To pass Baba Yaga’s tests, Masha uses her wits and the stories from her grandmother. She thinks she will fail when she rescues three children from Baba Yaga’s cage but she passes. Excellent storytelling and illustrations kept me totally enthralled in this not-your-average-fairy tale story.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
In this Wizard of Oz remix, Dorothy is evil and Amy Gunn, the other girl from Kansas, is recruited to help the freedom fighters fix and free all of Oz. Great writing plus an unexpected plot make this hard to put down!
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
WOW. In a word: powerful. This is middle school at its most intimate and revealing where friends experience the challenges of growing up, from an embarrassing sexting photo mistake to a shameful friend betrayal, and where we see the power of forgiveness and love.
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
ADVENTURE / REALISTIC
A winsome story of adventure and finding where you belong. Nicki leaves the group home to live with a family in the witness protection program. She likes her newest foster family and takes her role seriously. She must stay vigilant against potential threats, not stand out, and try to keep her kleptomania under control. As she grows closer to her new family, both their past and hers catch up to them.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
MAGICAL REALISM / GRAPHIC NOVEL
Pashmina is about a girl finding her place in the world. She travels to India to meet her extended family and finds answers about the magical shawl her mother owns. This is a lovely coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel conveyed in incredible, irresistible art.
Dark Life by Kat Falls
When the oceans swallowed much of the earth, humans either moved into stacked cities or the ocean floor. Ty lives in the ocean but his way of life is threatened by murderous outlaws who steal and kill. He befriends a Topside girl named Gemma who is looking for her brother underseas. They learn that her brother is the leader of the outlaws, was a former medical experiment, and has Dark gifts just like Ty. This is action and intrigue from the get-go and you’ll love every minute of it. (Next in the series is Rip Tide.)
Loot by Jude Watson
When March’s dad falls off a building in his last jewel robbery (accident or not?), March is sent to foster care where he meets the twin he didn’t know he had. With the help of two friends at the foster home, they decide to escape and finish March’s dad’s plan to steal all the cursed Moonstones.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
The Someday Birds is a magnificent story of emotional growth and healing. Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow on an adventure that Charlie doesn’t want. But as the kids travel, along with a 20-something girl they hardly know, he searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see . . . someday. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone. As it does, he grows in ways he never imagined. And Charlie hopes that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better. (Also on: Books with Characters on the Autism Spectrum.)
Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Imagine changing your name and moving constantly because you’re in the Witness Protection Program. That’s what Katrina (she’s on the K letter of the alphabet) thinks is their new normal until her parents disappear. That’s when Katrina learns that nothing her parents told her was true. Not Witness Protection. Not her “Uncle”. And not why they’re running. She reveals her story to a new friend named Parker and together, they embark on a journey to find the truth. If you like edge-of-your-seat adventure and mystery, you’ll love this book.
Beneath by Roland Smith
Pat’s parents are checked out and his brother is missing. Pat sneaks off to spend his Christmas vacation tracking his brother, Coop’s, last movements. His search leads him to an underground community but Coop isn’t there anymore, he’s gone deeper under the ground. And he is in terrible danger. Book 2 is Above.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitch Smith
REALISTIC /SHORT STORIES
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.
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
I can’t recommend this book enough — it’s life-changing and profound! Angry at the world, 15-year-old Cole beats a classmate into a coma and brain damage. To avoid jail time, Cole agrees to spend a year by himself on an island in Alaska, thinking he’ll escape as soon as possible this form of Native American justice. But after Cole almost dies, he decides to give the year-long process a chance. Throughout the experience, you’ll feel Cole’s pain and anger deeply which makes his healing and transformation that much more powerful. *This is NOT an accurate portrayal of this particular Native American tribe.
The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
Our complex, likable story-loving heroine Ileana lives in Romania under a real-life, evil leader named Ceausescu. During his totalitarian regime, spies were everywhere. So were disappearances, death, rationing, and fear of saying the wrong thing. Ileana is an ordinary girl who finds joy and solace in stories, especially the folktales her father tells her and the ones she writes and rewrites in her journal. As we read about her life, interwoven in the chapters is a folktale about a brave princess named Ileana who survives thanks to her wit and bravery.
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi
Action-packed from the first page, this is one historical fiction novel you don’t want to miss. Oliver wakes to find his house flooded and his father missing. After being thrown in the poorhouse for orphans, he manages to escape with stolen money only to be accosted by a highwayman. It’s one misfortune after another but Oliver is determined to find his father and sister in London. Somehow.
The List of Things that Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
REALISTIC / DIVORCE / LGBTQ+
This story is a beautifully written slice-of-life story with authentic characters and relatable themes of family and big life changes. When Bea’s parents get divorced, her dad helps her focus on the things that won’t change — like her parents’ love for her — even though many other things will and do change. To help her feel safe, Bea keeps a list of things that WON’T change in a special journal. (Which, by the way, is a great idea!) When she learns that her dad and his boyfriend are getting married and that she’ll get a new sister, she’s excited. But her new stepsister isn’t excited to be sisters, not at all, at least not right away. It’s a bumpy journey that shows the ups and downs of divorce and changes as well as how much easier it is when you have loving parents.
The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow
American-raised Wendy’s Nazi-spy mom takes her to live in Germany during World War II. Wendy doesn’t even speak the language and feels overwhelmed with her mother’s zeal for Hitler. But when Wendy starts working at Lebensborn, the place where only Aryan children live — many who were forcibly removed from their parents — she sees the truth.
The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke
When the government cracks down and discovers her mom’s secret lab, Nere learns that her mom has experimented on her . . . and many other kids . . . so that they can survive underwater. Suddenly Nere has gills and is forced to swim for her life to meet up with the other kids who are part of the Neptune Project, traveling to where her not-really-dead-after-all father has built an underwater headquarters. The journey is dangerous and there’s tension within the group. Will they survive the trip and if they do, to what end? (The second book, The Neptune Challenge, is also fantastic.)
Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
This beguiling story of Whichwood captures the humanity of loneliness, love, and life’s purpose inside a beautiful story of a mordeshoor girl with the magic of the dead in a town that no longer values her work. Two young strangers appear on Laylee’s doorstep to help. They mostly fail. But fortunately for the reader, the young strangers get a second chance to help Laylee not just escape an unjust prison sentence but find happiness as well. This requires help from their buggy friend and thousands of reanimated corpses. It’s not your average story, it’s better –brilliant.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother Devon is killed in a school shooting, leaving Caitlin, who has Aspergers, to make sense of the world on her own, without his compassionate and understanding guidance. Her father isn’t helpful, he’s lost in his grief. So when Caitlin reads about grief and closure, she decides to go after closure in a literal, hands-on way. And it will help both her and her father build their relationship and let go of Devon. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read — so powerful and honest, I loved it.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chaining
Two girls are selected to attend the school for villains and school for heroes. Only all your stereotypes will be blown out of the water with which girl goes where. This series will make you think deeply about what makes someone good, friendship, and love. Excellent. Boxed Set HERE.
Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
This series kept my 12-year old daughter reading all summer last year. The story begins when a group of 6th graders begin a mother-daughter book club. Each book in the series focuses on one book the girls read (such as Little Women, Daddy Long Legs, and Pride and Prejudice) and the relationships of the girls among themselves, the relationships with their mothers, and the business of growing up.
Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone
REALISTIC / STEM
At coding camp, Allie makes an app to help kids can find new friends. When she returns to school, she releases it only to discover it has a major glitch. Relatable and engaging, this is a cool STEM-themed story of a middle school girl’s coding project that has unexpected consequences both positive and negative.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English
Experience the 60s in Los Angeles, a turbulent time of racism and burgeoning activism, from the perspective of Sophie, a sweet black girl who lives in an all-white neighborhood. Her parents’ marriage is in trouble, her sister is about to leave for college, and her best (white) friend has moved on. Surprisingly, Sophie’s strict, disapproving housekeeper becomes an ally, something Sophie needs during the challenges of life and growing up. Well-crafted story and characters.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and relationships. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life living with she and her siblings, mom, and her mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She cares for her siblings while her mom works, trying not to make a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school encourages Zoey to join the debate club. This activity eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friendship worries.
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.
Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley
A beautiful story of misfit friends set in the 1980s. Both are lost and emotionally abandoned children who become friends when Ziggy’s abandoned at his grandmother’s house the neighborhood. June Bug’s mom suffers from a severe mental disorders including fear of germs ever since June Bug’s dad died of AIDS. She doesn’t get out of bed, she doesn’t cook, and she’s obsessive about cleanliness. June Bug is starving because there’s no food in the house but she doesn’t want to tell anyone, even her uncle. Luckily, Ziggy’s Nana Jean notices and offers June Bug love, food, and safety. deeply connected to these survivor kids. The friends’ imaginary world helps them deal with the neighborhood bullies and family troubles. It’s a complex story with friendship, love, and redemption despite the pain of abandonment and the effects of mental illness.
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Wow. You’ll not only learn a TON from this historical fiction novel, but it is thoroughly mesmerizing! Eel is an orphan who turns one of his odd jobs into saving lives when he helps a real historical person, Dr. Snow, determine if the water pump in Eel’s neighborhood is the source of the deadly cholera.
Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Now that Elyse is twelve, it’s not just the words that other people say about her that appear on her skin, but also her own self-talk. The words stay about two weeks and the negative words itch badly. Because there are a lot of negative words right now ever since her best friend’s ditched her. Anonymous notes encourage Elyse to try new things and grow out of her comfort zone. She does and is surprised with the positive results including self-acceptance. This would be an interesting book to discuss with a book group!
Thrones of Bones Frostborn by Lou Andres
Two misfits — a boy named Karn who is only good at playing a board game, and a girl named Thianna who is a half-human, half-giantess — unexpectedly partner to survive deadly soldiers, undead warriors, trolls, and a dragon. I absolutely loved this adventure and can’t wait for the next in the series. Plus, I’m so happy to see that Norse mythology is growing in popularity with writers.
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou
Two girls in two locations (Texas and Pakistan) each discover a magical book, The Exquisite Corpse, in which a love story appears that will eventually connect the girls to each other and their histories. It’s a beautifully written book of friendship and self-discovery.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
This middle-grade novel great for 12-year-olds 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.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
If you’ve been a fan of Rick Riordan, you’re probably more knowledgeable about Norse mythology than most. Now, discover the major stories of this Northern culture from Neil Gaiman’s perspective. Gaiman shares stories of the beginning of the Gods, how the Nine Worlds were formed, how Odin lost one eye, the children of Loki, and so much more, all the way to Ragnarok. These stories are more bloody than the Greek pantheon but they are quite entertaining nonetheless and hard to put down once you get reading.
Book Lists By Age
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