Do your kids know about foster care? Or are they in foster care themselves? No matter your children’s life experience, middle grade books like these about kids in foster care are important to read.
For kids who are in foster care, they might see that they are not alone. They’ll see that other kids have gone through foster care, too.
For children who are not in foster care themselves, they can develop an understanding of what foster care is. These stories can be a learning tool to prompt discussion and develop empathy.
These books show positive foster care situations but mention previous not-so-great situations.
Middle Grade Books About Kids in Foster Care
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Brubaker Bradley skillfully writes about the most difficult topic that too many children face–sexual abuse. This story is heartbreaking, hopeful, horrifying, and powerful. Della’s drug-addicted, psychotic mom is in jail, and Della and her older caretaker sister named Suki, are in foster care with a woman named Francine. They’re not necessarily loved, but they are safe. As Della’s story unfolds, we learn that Suki saved her from the mom’s boyfriend, Clifton, with whom they lived for years, even when her mom was in jail. When both girls start going to therapy, Della learns strategies for anxiety that sometimes work and finds hope that she and Suki’s brains can heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.
Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner
I think you’ll love Lou’s beautiful character arc in this heartfelt story with an authentic portrayal of SPD. 12-year-old Lou and her mom live in a truck. While her mom works as a waitress, Lou hangs out or sings for money, living her mom’s dream. One evening, underage Lou drives in a snowstorm to pick up her mom from work and gets into an accident. She’s sent to foster care with an aunt she’s never met. In her new home, Lou goes to a fancy private school where, after a fire drill meltdown, she’s assessed with Sensory Processing Disorder. She starts to get help from an occupational therapist and a sensory diet, understanding herself better, and learning to trust her kind aunt and uncle. Her situation is complicated and imperfect, which feels completely authentic.
All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
Tender, eye-opening, and heartfelt — this is the story of a foster kid named Red and her journey of abandonment, growing up, empowerment, and finding a family. Red lives with kind-hearted people who run a petting zoo. She is mistrustful and prickly with everyone but the Grooves’ gigantic tortoise. This bond is the first step in unthawing Red’s broken heart. Soon, she becomes friends with a neighbor boy and starts developing a relationship with her foster parents. Unexpectedly, her mother announces that she wants visitation. Red wants her mom to love her that she’s willing to overlook her mom’s self-centered behaviors and the signs that her mother is using drugs again.
When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin
Ben has been through hell — foster family, adoption by an amazing woman who dies after a few years, and now a bad new situation with his adopted mother’s sister and her husband. But, he has two things that are good, really good — his rescued dog, Flip, and his favorite librarian’s daughter as a good friend. Until his new friend’s cancer gets worse . . . and his uncle punches him in the face . . .The story is gripping, the ending bittersweet, and the writing amazing.
Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
A tender, beautiful, redemptive story. December is a foster child who believes with all her heart that she will soon grow wings and fly. Her hope began with the book her mother left her, a book about birds. Now she’s in yet another foster home with a woman named Eleanor who she helps at the wildlife rescue center. At her new school, December makes friends with an outgoing, kind transgender girl named Cheryllynn. After another jump off a high branch in a tree and a trip to the hospital, December finally accepts the truth about everything, including her mother, being a bird, and the future. Her hard-earned realizations shift her future, allowing for love and happiness.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
What a beautiful, heartbreaking, wonderful, transformative book! Nova is autistic and a nonverbal girl in a new foster home who narrates letters to her runaway big sister, Bridget, about her new home. We learn that Bridget always knew how to calm Nova down with storytelling and anything space related. Flashbacks show times in the closet hiding from their abusive mother as well as in other foster situations and schools. Nova clings to Bridget’s promise that Bridget will come back to Nova for the Challenger launch. But the launch happens and Bridget never arrives. Nova finally must face the truth. I’m in awe of the author’s beautiful, gifted storytelling. I love this book SO much.
Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder
After her mother abandoned her at age four, Marin’s lived in different foster homes, trying to stay invisible. Now that her mom is ready to sign away all parental rights, Marin learns she can be adopted. But she doesn’t want to be adopted– she wants her mother to change her mind. Marin’s new foster mother, Dr. Lucy Chang, wants to adopt Marin and is the first to show Marin love. But Marin keeps searching for her mom, rejecting the adoption. This eventually leads Marin to her bio mom and the truth, that her mom doesn’t want her. As sad as it is, this realization leaves Marin open to love and a new family. Beautifully written with sparse language, making it easily comprehendible by children as young as 8.
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Compelling, honest storytelling about a sassy foster kid with a big chip on her shoulders…Gilly is an angry foster kid. We meet her after she’s moved in with Maime Trotter and her diminutive, special needs son. Initially, Gilly isn’t likable–she swears, steals, and makes racist comments. (Which is why it’s been banned in so many places.) BUT, please stick with the story because just as the adults in Gilly’s life stick with Gilly, the story arc and her character’s growth are SO worth you sticking out the uncomfortable parts.
Wish by Barbara O’Connor
Charlie Rose does not want to get settled with her aunt and uncle or make friends with the friendly neighbor boy named Howard because she wants to go back to her mom. She relies on superstition and wishes yet as the story progresses, Charlie’s relatives show her love and kindness, and the wishes start to seem less meaningful. After some time, Charlie sees that her mother is never going to change and begins to soften into her new family…what she always wanted. It’s a powerful story about finding love and belonging.
Something Like Home by Andrea Beatriz Arango
In this emotional novel in verse, Laura’s parents are in rehab, and she’s in foster care with an aunt she doesn’t know. She longs to go home to her parents. When she sees an abused puppy in a cage for free, she takes it home and names it Sparrow. She’s not permitted to visit her parents, but when she learns that the rehab clinic accepts therapy dogs, she starts training Sparrow. Her friend at school has sickle cell and is hospitalized, so she sneaks her dog to cheer him up. At the same time, Laura hurts her friend’s feelings by telling him their friendship is temporary. Her parents leave rehab early, and things seem worse than ever. This moving story is about family and healing and includes a nonbinary therapist and a mention of girls dating.
Forever or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter
It’s almost impossible for former foster kids Flora and Julian to believe their new home is a forever home. Not when they’ve had so many broken promises in the past. To help them believe and heal, their adopted mom takes them on a journey to their past foster homes for answers. And to help them build a strong future. We feel the pain and the trauma as these siblings bravely face their past so they can find their future. Beautiful and haunting.
Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis
This beautiful story will grab your heart! Dess is a survivor who is reunited with her baby brother in his long-term foster home which Dess helped him get after she called social services on her mother. The foster family loves on both kids but their biological daughter Hope struggles between jealousy and compassion for her new sibling. Just as Dess finally starts to trust her foster family, her mother wants her back. (Oh, and interestingly enough, the foster family is black and Dess is white.) There’s way more to the story of course but you should know that it’s a thought-provoking coming-of-age book about family and hard choices.
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
I loved this winsome story of adventure and finding where you belong. Nicki leaves the group home to live with a foster family in the witness protection program. She likes her new family and takes her role as their fake daughter 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.
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
(Although this is listed for middle grade, I think the issues are better for ages 12+.)
An abused boy, Joseph, is taken away from his violent father to live as a foster kid with Jack’s family on an organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we learn about Joseph’s history– his love for a girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter, and his heartbreak when it was all taken away. This is a painful powerful story but one with redemption and hope, too. I highly recommend it. Plus, it’s great for discussion and a good long cry.
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Carley’s foster family, the Murphys, show her stability and love — something she never thought was actually real. It’s a process but Carley slowly unthaws toward the family. And just as she feels her walls come down, her mom wants her back. Her story is a journey of pain, love, forgiveness, redemption, strength, and family.
Primer by Jennifer Muro and Thomas Krajewski, illustrated by Gretel Lusky
16-year-old Ashley hopes her latest foster home will be a fit — and it is! The couple is great– they’re funny, quirky, and accepting. Then, Ashley finds very special lab-created body paint in her foster mom’s closet and learns that when applied to her body, the paint gives her superpowers, different powers for each color like fire, flying, and strength. Meanwhile, her incarcerated dad is giving her trouble and the government’s soldiers hunt for the missing paints. Fast-paced and exciting, this graphic novel is perfect for readers who love underdogs, girl power, superheroes, and art!
More Middle-Grade Books About Kids in Foster Care
The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon