Poignant Middle Grade Books About Feelings, Friendship, & Growing Up

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I’m out of my reading slump — hooray! And have some books to tell you about. Books that are worth reading, sharing with your classrooms, and sharing with your kids.


New Poignant Middle-Grade Books (2019)

Other Words for Home
by Jasmine Warga
Written in evocative yet readable verse, follow a young girl from her home in Syria as she moves with her mother the United States. Jude’s journey is one of growing up, being brave, and discovery. Readers will see how Jude finds her way– relating other ESL students in their safe classroom space, finding new friends, getting her period and starting to wear a headscarf, and even performing in the school play. Her insights on life in America helps us understand what it’s like to be an immigrant experiencing this country for the first time. Beautiful!
Added to: Chapter Books in Verse that Hook Tween Readers, Children’s Books About Immigration, and The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.


Pilu of the Woods
by Mai K. Nguyen
In this emotionally resonant story, Willow’s uncomfortable emotions are actual monsters who are literally bottled up in bottles but keep escaping in bursts of mean words. In the woods, she meets a runaway Magnolia tree spirit named Pilu. As Willow and Pilu share their stories, Willow reveals that she knows her emotion monsters keep growing when she ignores them. But she persists in ignoring them because she thinks that to be nice, she must keep the monsters stuffed away. Eventually, as Willow and Pilu talk, Willow realizes that the uncomfortable emotion monsters are a part of her; that if she is kind and listens to them, they won’t be as big. Introspective, sensitive, and important– this is a dazzling openhearted journey of self-discovery and healthy emotional growth. I LOVE everything about this story.
Added toThe Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.

Up For Air
by Laurie Morrison
Annabelle a child of divorce who doesn’t see her father due to his drinking problem. She’s figuring out friendships and belonging, aware that she doesn’t fit in at school because of her learning disabilities. Fortunately, she does fit in at the pool on the older kids’ swim team. Annabelle thinks that the high school boy’s attention means he likes her but in a tough life lesson, she’ll come to understand that his behavior doesn’t mean that at all. I enjoyed this story because it felt authentic to the teenage experience.
Added to: Books with Characters Who Have Learning Differences

All the Greys on Greene Street
by Laura Tucker, illustrations by Kelly Murphy
Art and color are fundamental to this story about a young artist named Olympia, daughter of two artists. After her dad mysteriously disappears and her mom’s depression confines her to bed, Olympia bravely tries to hide her home situation from adults while investigating her father’s location. Fortunately, her friends love Olympia so much that they are willing to make her mad and tell trusted adults so that Olympia’s mom can get help. It’s a portrait of friends who are family plus a story that shows the real challenges that come when you have a parent who is depressed.
Added to: Mental Illness in Children’s Books

Shouting at the Rain
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
It’s a summer with big ups and downs of friendship. Throughout the challenges and new experiences, Delsie learns who she is and that a fickle friendship won’t crush her. She even develops a new friendship with a boy named Ronan — all the while feeling sad and confused about why her mother left her with her grandmother. I love how this helps kids see that they, too, can be resilient with difficult friendships and/or family situations.

by Kayla Miller
Both my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed this meaningful graphic novel from the author of Click (a story we also loved). It’s not just about a summer camp experience but also about the challenges of friendship, particularly when you have a friend who is clingy, wants to be your only friend and is jealous of other people. That is hard for Olive! She wants to be Willow’s friend but she also likes other people. The story feels honest and relatable as well as being a helpful road map to how you might handle your own friendships.

Poignant Middle Grade Books About Feelings, Friendships, & Growing Up

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