Realistic #OwnVoices Chapter Books

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Middle school students generally love to read realistic fiction chapter books, finding comfort, wisdom, and insight in the relatable themes of growing up, coming of age, and friendships.

 

These particular titles for tweens ages 9 – 12 feature diverse characters and are written in the authentic voice of a person from that culture, #OwnVoices.

 

These contemporary middle-grade books take place in the present so I also recommend this #OwnVoices historical fiction chapter book list which includes many not-to-be-missed titles.

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#OwnVoices Realistic Chapter Books


The Magical Reality of Nadia
by Bassem Youssef and Catherine R. Daly, illustrated by Douglas Holgate
Funny, entertaining, and filled with important themes of friendship, growing up, and racism, this is one of my new favorite books! Nadia unexpectedly discovers an ancient Egyptian teacher (Titi) trapped in her hippo amulet. He comes out onto a paper and TALKS! Tita helps Nadia with problems she faces at school like the new kid who is rude and prejudice about her Egyptian culture and troubles with her friends who are working together on a school project. Totally wonderful, heartfelt, and relatable– don’t miss this new book for ages 8 – 12.


Red, White, and Whole
by Rajani LaRocca
Reha is struggling to figure out her place in her two worlds–India and America. She wants Amma to understand how she feels but when her Amma gets cancer, Reba focuses on being virtuous enough so her mom will get better. But, her Amma dies. And Reha feels so much grief. Then, she gets a letter mailed by a nurse from her Amma that helps Reha move into her future and belonging to two cultures. (It’s a heartfelt, beautiful ending and if you’re like me, you’ll probably cry!)


Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
edited by Cynthia Leitch Smith
These exceptionally written, interconnected stories are about kids and their experiences with the powwow, cultural aspects of the Native communities, growing up, and belonging. They’re wonderfully written and wholly engaging. At first, each story seems distinct, but the stories intersect with graceful wonder. It’s a beautiful collection of stories that amplifies Native voices and gives non-Native folks a view of the modern-day lives of Indigenous kids and their families.


In These Magic Shoes
by Yamile Saied Mendez
A tenderhearted, beautiful story about family, asking for help when you need it, racism, and grit. When their mom doesn’t return home from work, Minerva steps up to care for her siblings and herself. She doesn’t tell anyone that her mom’s missing so they won’t get sent to foster care or a holding center. She knows her mom would never leave them but she doesn’t know what to do. She bravely faces each day with strength but desperately wants to just be a kid again with no responsibilities — like pulling her little sister out of an abusive daycare. At school, Minerva tries out for the Peter Pan musical and speaks up against the play’s racism. At home, her sisters talk about the fairies they see just like the fairies from her mamá’s stories. Finally, Minerva contacts her mom’s estranged mother, their abuela, for help because the kids are out of food and money and desperately need help.


Taking Up Space
by Alyson Gerber
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. (Her mom has HUGE food issues — she doesn’t buy food, often forgets to feed Sarah, gives Sarah passive-aggressive, incorrect messages on what being healthy means, and binges on hidden candy around the house.) But, Sarah feels excited to spend time with a boy that she likes who shows her a different way of thinking about food. Unfortunately, their time together causes problems with a good friend who likes him, too — and that friend stops talking to Sarah and so do many other girls. 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. Girls and boys need this book — they need to know that body image issues and eating disorders happen to other kids, too, that puberty changes their body, and there is NO shame in getting help.


The Ship We Built
by Lexie Bean
Rowan is a lonely child who feels confused about his gender identity. Born a girl, Rowan longs to be a boy. He changes his name all the time reflecting what a confusing time it is, which he shares in letters he attaches to balloons, hoping someone will find them and understand his struggles. Even more confusing is his dad coming into his room at night which he questions in his search for what it means to be a male because he doesn’t like his father’s version.The Ship We Built is a story filled with longing and heartbreak, confusion and questions, abuse and hope. It’s powerful, emotional story about gender identity, sexual abuse, and survival. 

Exceptional! Korean American Pippa is a great basketball player but her guardian older sister won’t let her play unless her grades improve. But math tutoring by the cutest boy she’s ever seen might be what leads to a scholarship at a prestigious private school. Pippa uses the new school to reinvent herself, hiding her background from the popular kids (not wealthy, from a rival middle school.) While she’s figuring out who she is, she is mean to her best friend. Little does she know that someone is watching and documenting it all, sending her threatening emails, then publishes the truth for the entire school to see. In a satisfying ending with valuable life lessons, Pippa decides to not be ashamed of her working-class family, her culture, or her friends. Girl readers, in particular, will be able to relate to the social hierarchy of middle school and the temptation to change yourself to suit others.

Can You See Me
by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
Co-written by Libby Scott who is a girl on the autism spectrum (#ownvoices) and based on her journals, this poignant story shows just how hard it is to to be autistic with daily struggles of being misunderstood. But it also shows how difficult it really is for family and friends to understand what it’s like to be autistic. Tally’s behavior reflects her brain trying to navigate the world and it is challenging for others, even when they try hard to understand. Tally relates to 3 legged dog who doesn’t like new people. She takes everything literally, has trouble (big trouble!!) with mandates, feelings, and friendships. Eventually, Tally learns to find her own version of “normal”.

Measuring Up
by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu
A beautiful story of food, a close-knit, multigenerational family, finding your place in a new culture and country, and staying proud of your heritage…Cici moves to the U.S. from Tawain and wants her A’má to come, too. She hopes to win the grand prize in a cooking contest and use the money to buy her A’má a plane ticket. Cici wants to cook American food like her cooking contest partner…She learns from Julia Child but in the end, Cici returns to her Tawainese roots to win the contest.
On her 12th birthday, Zoe, a girl who loves to bake, discovers a letter to her from her incarcerated biological father, Marcus. She decides to write him back, even daring to ask him about the murder he’s in jail for — did he really do it? Marcus writes to Zoe that he’s innocent and he can prove it which sets Zoe on a quest to find out the truth for herself, even if her mom and dad forbid it. She enlists the help of her Grandma and her best friend, Trevor. You won’t be able to put down this winsome story with a heroine you can’t help but adore; a story that illuminates social justice with themes of family, friendship, and love.

 

Read Aloud Books for 5th Grade
Front Deskby 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, determination, and diversity.

The Sea in Winter
by Christine Day
Maisie feels sadness, grief, and anger at not being able to dance due to a knee injury. Dance was her life so she pretends her knee feels okay and is healing, even though it still hurts. She takes a hiking trip with her parents and little brother where she reinjures herself with a bad fall. Now she really won’t be able to return to dance. Her mom and therapist help Maisie work through the feelings and envision a different future for herself. With themes of grief, identity, and Native American heritage, this story resonates with anyone who has felt the pain of shattered dreams.
Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #OwnVoices
Blended by Sharon Draper
Isabella spends one week with her dad and his girlfriend, the next week with her mom and her boyfriend. She hates it. She really hates exchange day when she switches houses. She feels like nowhere is home, that she’s always visiting. To make it worse, her parents, one who is white and one who is black, don’t get along. Tensions between the families get worse when both parents decide to remarry — on the same date. Add to this, hurtful race issues like when she and her stepbrother are pulled over because he’s black and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Draper writes a story that captures Isabella’s feelings of division as she searches for who she is in her own story.
Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #OwnVoices
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Don’t miss this important middle-grade book from 2019 about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates her dark skin, believing that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d be pretty and have a better life. Despite this and troubles at home with a ne’er-do-well father who can’t keep a job, at her newest school an insightful music teacher introduces Genesis to jazz legends like Billie Holliday. This changes everything. Now Genesis can find her voice, literally and metaphorically.

Fighting Words
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Della’s drug-addicted, psychotic mom is in jail, and after something bad happened…Della and her older sister Suki are in foster care with a woman named Francine. They’re not necessarily loved but for once, they are safe. As Della’s story unfolds, we learn that Suki saved Della from their mom’s boyfriend Clifton. We suspect that Suki was abused also but we don’t know until much later in the story after her suicide attempt. 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. We see this progress at school where, instead of lashing out and punching someone or swearing, Della uses her voice to stop a boy who is sexually harassing the girls in her class. I recommend it for kids to read with grown-ups because most children will need to unpack and discuss the themes and issues in this heartfelt story.
Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #OwnVoices
Booked by Kwame Alexander
I’m AMAZED at how skillfully Alexander writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parent’s separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer. That is– until he gets injured and can’t play. Written in free verse, this is a lyrical, fast-paced chapter book story that feels honest and relatable.
When a new refugee boy from Syria arrives at Alexa’s London school, she can’t wait to be friends with him. However, Ahmed doesn’t talk or make eye contact. Alexa and her friends learn that Ahmed was in a real war and has been separated from his family. When Alexa and her friends hear that England is going to shut the borders, they decide they must go to the Queen to help Ahmed be reunited with his family. They go to the palace in person, tangling with the guards, and getting in big trouble but it eventually leads to media attention and a happy solution. Showing the power of individuals to make a difference, this moving novel for upper elementary and middle school ultimately is about human kindness and friendship.

 


The Bridge Home
by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities starting with when they run away from an abusive father and move to the big city. There, they meet two kind brothers and live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how capable her sister is at surviving. Unfortunately, Rukku develops a terrible cough and fever from living in a new mosquito-infested area. In order to get help, Viji must risk telling an adult, even though all the adults have failed them in the past. It’s an honest, heartbreaking book that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India.

 

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
Clayton feels happiest with his grandfather, playing the blues. Unfortunately, his mom hates everything about the blues because it represents her father’s abandonment of the family. When Clayton’s beloved grandfather dies and his mom takes his harmonica, he ditches school to find his grandfather’s old band. Instead of musicians, he encounters a gang of boys and gets picked up by the police. This is a superbly crafted 2017 chapter book about grief, family, and forgiveness.

 


Clean Getaway
by Nic Stone
Sometimes growing up means seeing the difficult truth about someone you love…Scoob takes a spontaneous road trip with his beloved G’ma in her new camper, escaping his dad’s spring break punishment. As they visit places from his G’ma’s past, their trip turns out differently than he expects. What begins as only a fun adventure turns into a revelation of current and historical racial prejudices (Scoob is black and his grandmother is white). What’s more, things become strange and confusing as Scoob notices more weird behaviors from G’ma. Was she trying to steal jewelry in the store? And why are there stacks of cash hidden in the camper? Perfect pacing, an intriguing plot, and memorable characters make this a top pick for 2020 middle grade and #ownvoices.

 


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.

 

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
Each Tiny Spark is one of the best books about learning differences that I’ve ever read that also tackles PTSD and prejudice. Emilia is a Cuban-America girl whose ADHD makes focusing on school and school work a challenge. Her mom helps her stay on top of her assignments but her mom leaves for a work trip, leaving Emilia on her own. During this time, the community proposes to redraw the school district’s boundary lines, exposing prejudice and ongoing injustice. Now, Emilia must decide what she’s going to do — ignore what’s happening or take action.

 


El Deafo
 by Cece Bell and David Lasky
In this multiple award-winning graphic novel, Cece Bell shares her own story of growing up with a hearing impairment, using a very bulky hearing aid, and finding her place in the world. Funny and moving, this is a beautiful coming-of-age story of courage and determination.

 

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
An excellent, diverse, page-turning coming-of-age story, this is about a girl with divorced parents, Mexican on her mom’s side and punk rock on her dad’s side. Malú’s unhappily forced to move to Chicago with her mother where she eventually finds her place after starting a Latin-flavored punk band. When their group doesn’t get into the talent show, they decide to play anyway. In the parking lot. (So punk!) We see Malú discover herself through life’s challenges and adventures and also learn what the first rule of punk actually is. I love how she is supported by both her parents!

 

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Just like the author’s own experience as an adoptee (#ownvoices), it’s hard for Makeda being a black adopted girl in a white family that she loves but doesn’t feel like she fits– or is even seen. But there are even more challenges for Makeda these days, starting with being the little sister to a newly distant teenager, moving to a new town away from her BFF, having parents who constantly fight, and watching her mom’s mental health deteriorate and blaming herself. After her mom’s mania takes them on a trip to Colorado which abruptly nose dives into severe depression and a suicide attempt, Makeda reaches out for help. An insightful, honest story.
In this #ownvoices book, Marcus is an entrepreneurial kid who uses his intimidating size to make money off of other kids. He’s also very protective of his brother with Down syndrome who faces prejudice at school. When Marcus gets suspended, his mother takes them to Puerto Rico, the home country of their father who abandoned them years ago. Even though they are only meant to visit relatives, Marcus hopes to find his father and reconnect. Instead, he finds a loving, extended family, the truth about his dad, and a growing sense of his own identity. Remarkable. I loved every moment of this story.


Starfish
by Lisa Fipps
Heartbreaking and inspiring, this poignant story in verse shows a girl who learns, after years of fat-shaming and bullying, to define herself not based on what others say but on who she really is.
Ellie’s nickname is Splash because of her size but Ellie loves swimming; it’s her safe escape where she feels the most comfortable. Her biggest bully? Her mother–who won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for gastro-bypass surgery. Not even Ellie’s dad stands up to her mom’s cruel treatment of Ellie. Fortunately, Ellie finds an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful. “As I float, I spread out my arms and my legs. I’m a starfish, taking up all the room I want.” It’s brilliantly written and empowering. Run out and buy this book, it’s a must-read, must-own, sure-to-be-an-award-winner.

More to the Story by Hena Khan
I adore every single thing about this beautiful, heart-warming diverse chapter book that is loosely based on Little Women. Jameela is one of four girls in a Pakistani-American family and she’s passionate about journalism. When her father leaves for a new job out of the country, Jameela wants to write an epic article that will make her dad proud. Unfortunately, in the process, she hurts a new friend by focusing the article on what she wants and not what he feels comfortable sharing. As she digests her hard-earned lessons, she learns that her beloved little sister has lymphoma. Despite the challenges, her family sticks together with laughter and love. Khan skillfully weaves a story of family, culture, community, and social justice that is sure to become a modern-day classic.


Wink
by Rob Harrell
I highly recommend this funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s life for readers who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. School becomes pretty challenging because his eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– among other things made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results — like a new, unexpected friend. (Note: Some bad language.)

After a happy, hardworking life in the U.S., Guerrero’s parents are deported to Columbia, leaving Diane behind and forgotten just as she’s about to start high school at a school of the arts. She survives by staying with different friends, moving when they don’t have space for her, trying to be invisible and the perfect house guest, and excelling in school. Her story is an incredible journey of survival and strength and will profoundly affect readers.

 


New Kid
 by Jerry Craft
This graphic novel is the Newbery winner for 2020! Jordan’s parents make him go to a private school across town where he’s one of the only kids of color. Besides having the tricky business of navigating friendships, he now must deal with the two separate worlds of his neighborhood and his school along with racism and balancing academics with his artwork. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.

 


The Other Half of Happy
by Rebecca Balcarcel
Quijana’s struggling with her identity. She notices that she doesn’t fit with the other Latino kids because she doesn’t speak Spanish fluently. Not only that, she knows she won’t fit in with her father’s family in Guatemala and is planning on running away instead of visiting. She knows she fits in with her scientist, Florida-living grandmother but she’s worried about grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. Meanwhile, her little brother seems to be adding more unusual behaviors besides not talking, he’s averse to lights, sounds, and touch. Could he have autism? She finds two friends but has a crush on one who doesn’t seem to like her back. Heartfelt and relatable, this coming-of-age story will appeal to readers who like to read about complicated, diverse characters who are just trying to figure out their place in the world.

 

Other Words for Home
Written in evocative yet readable verse, follow a young girl from her home in Syria as she moves with her mother to 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, 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!

 


Pie in the Sky
by Remy Lai
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English along with growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. He likens learning English with becoming human. Because a big part of his life centers around baking cakes from growing up in a bakery and baking with his papa, after school with his brother, he bakes the cakes that his father wanted to include at his dream Pie in the Sky bakery. (Even though it’s against his mother’s rules.) Like Jingwen says about his new beginnings and sad losses, it’s a story that is both salty and sweet. Only in truth, this book is actually the perfect blend of savory deliciousness. (*He does say crap several times in the context of learning a new English word and it applies to his difficult school situation. Honestly, you can’t blame him!)


The Brave
by James Bird
Run out to get this absolutely jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful book with a main character you’ll fall in love with (and whose character arc is HUGE.) It’s filled with metaphorical, meaningful, and symbolic writing and you will feel ALL the feelings. When Collin, a boy who counts every letter spoken to him and says the number out loud, gets kicked out of yet another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon…


The Chance to Fly
by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
Musical theater kids, get ready for your next favorite book filled with singing, theater puns, and inclusivity. Nat, a thirteen-year-old girl in a chair, moves to a new town where she auditions for her favorite musical, Wicked telling her parents. She thinks that Nessa is her perfect role since Nessa is also in a chair. The group of kids also involved in the musical are welcoming and accepting. But she needs to show the director just how much she can do — that she can dance in her own way– and it works. Then, when a fire burns the theater down, the show is canceled. Nat rallies the cast to find a solution. (Grit is Nat’s middle name.) (And singing.) Add in a bit of romance, friendship troubles, and a surprising new role for Nat to make this is one gem you won’t want to miss.

Gaby, Lost and Found
by Angela Cervantes
When Gaby’s mom is deported, she moves in with a disinterested, neglectful father who forgets to even feed her. Gaby’s only solace is in the animal shelter where she volunteers. Her fervent hope that when her mom comes home, she’ll have a real home again…and get to adopt a cat.

Ghost
by Jason Reynolds
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team and it’s life-changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well-written with a hopeful message about growing up and growing into yourself.

 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This book is brilliantly written for so many reasons. First of all, because it addresses the very real issue of police violence against black children but it does not vilify or stereotype. Second of all, the author shows us the complexity of issues and the humanity of a police officer from the perspective of his daughter. After Jerome is unjustly shot, he becomes a ghost. Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, sees and talks to him but he can also see other ghost boys who were killed in racially motivated violence. It’s a well-written, fast-paced story about important current events and social justice.

 


A Good Kind of Trouble
by Lisa Moore Ramée
Middle school is hard enough with friend drama but add to it not-being-black-enough drama, personal and community race-related drama, and boy drama. Frankly, it’s a lot for 12-year-old Shayla who, unlike her older sister with all-black friends, has a diverse friend group that she calls The United Nations. When a jury finds a cop innocent in the shooting death of a black boy, despite a video showing the boy walking away, Shayla decides to take a stand and support the Black Lives Matter movement. She wears an armband to school and rallies many of her classmates of all ethnicities to join her, even though the principal says it’s against the rules. This is a powerful story about a girl finding her voice.
ownvoices realistic fiction for middle school readers
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 incredible story deserves to be not just read but discussed deeply as it contains a wealth of ideas to ponder. Such as what does it mean to “harbor” someone? Amazing!!

Land of the Cranes
by Aida Salazar
Written in verse, this timely story of immigration and deportation follows 9-year-old Betita who lives in the United States but ends up in detention. When her Papi gets taken by ICE, Betita, her mom, and a neighbor make the mistake of trying to meet him at the border where they also get thrown into detention. Detention is traumatic for them, with horrible conditions and racist guards. There is no sugar coating it, it’s hard to read. Betita relies on her father’s story of cranes, using this overarching metaphor to talk about her clipped wings and her song. She draws and writes poetry to send to her Papi which she gives to a lawyer to pass along and tell her story. Then, her pregnant mom’s sickness forces her into the medical ward, leaving Betita alone in detention. Betita makes the best of it by teaching others how to write poetry and imagine their crane wings flying in the wild.  Ultimately, the family agrees to voluntary departure even though it’s not safe in Mexico because at least they’ll be together and not in prison. Powerful and important.


Santiago’s Road Home
by Alexandra Diaz
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico with nowhere to go except back to an even worse grandmother. But, Santiago unexpectedly meets a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. Santiago is a keen survivor and helps them find a trustworthy coyote but their group is attacked and must find the route without their coyote’s help. The heat and lack of water almost kill them, he and his adopted little sister are rescued half dead and taken to an internment camp where they’re separated. He learns that his sister is reunited with her mom but without papers or any way to prove he’s related to them, he’s confined for endless, hopeless days with guards who treat him like a criminal. He learns to read until the school funding is cut. Will Santiago get a happy ending? This book is amazing — unflinchingly honest about the situation of illegal immigrants with a heroic main character who you’ll love.


Garvey’s Choice
by Nikki Grimes
First of all — WOW! Grimes wrote this entire book not just in verse but in tanka poem!! And it worked!! Garvey wants to connect to his father but it seems like it’s a chasm that’s too big — Garvey likes reading and chess while his father likes sports. But when Garvey finds an interest in music, will be the bridge that connects him to his dad? I loved this painful, sweet story of redemption and belonging!

 

Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #OwnVoices
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Amal’s life is turned upside down when she offends a regional Pakistani overlord. She is forced to leave her home and school in order to work for the overlord in his home as a servant — indefinitely. Amal finds her inner strength and fights back, freeing herself and the other household slaves. The author skillfully sets the scene of rural Pakistan making you feel transported. In addition, you’ll feel the injustice and cheer for Amal’s bravery.

Black Brother Black Brother
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
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.
Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #OwnVoices
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina’s struggling when her friend, Soojin, wants to change her name to be more American and be friends with other kids. Her troubles are put into perspective though when Amina’s mosque is attacked, dimming her worries about middle school drama. In a heartening turn of events, the community, including her friend Soojin, supports the mosque by providing a place for everyone to gather and helps them rebuild. Through it all, Amina learns there’s space for more than one friend in her life.

 

The House that Lou Built by Mae Respicio
Lou and her mother live in San Francisco with her grandmother. Lou’s worried when her mother says that they need to move somewhere more affordable so Lou makes it her mission to build a tiny house on the land her architect father left her, hopefully before they are forced to sell it. Readers will enjoy the close-knit Filipino family’s lives as well as Lou’s determination.

 


The Last Last Day of Summer
by Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
If you’re a fan of wild and wacky stories, this is the book for you. Cousins Otto and Sheed accidentally stop time, freezing all the people in the town. Mostly. Because a sinister Mr. Flux on a gigantic beast can move about as can all the people related to time like A.M. and P.M.and Father Time. Throw in some unexpected plot twists and excellent writing and it adds up to a delightful adventure that just proves you should be careful what you wish for… While this isn’t totally realistic fiction because it’s well, magical realism, it is a fun summer vacation-type of adventure worth including on this list.

 

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
After a terrible car accident,  Ruthie’s entire body is in a cast. She’s stuck in bed for months, then more months, adding up to over a year with no television in the 1960s. It’s a story based on the author’s real-life and we see this time of hardship punctuated by a vibrant, caring neighbor, a loving school tutor, and a determined physical therapist. Overall, Ruthie feels gratitude that she didn’t die, even on her hardest days but it’s a challenging time, to say the least, one that I personally connected to because of a daughter with a long-term illness.


What Lane?
by Torrey Maldonado
Short and fast-paced, this is the story of a boy who learns to think for himself instead of being influenced by friends and how Stephen notices he’s living in a world that treats him differently than his white friends. Stephen concludes that he gets to decide what lane he’s in– not the world or his peers.

#OwnVoices Diverse Chapter Books for Tweens
Brianna believes that being the fifth-grade president will lead her to big things such as having her own cupcake business and a cooking show. Unfortunately, both she and her competition don’t always behave nicely. Will they learn from their mistakes?

 

Chapter Books with Diversity
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
I loved this book because it personalizes a very real situation — what happens when parents get deported without their children. When Mari’s parents are deported, she and her sisters are left behind on the farm where her parents worked. Mari and the farm family’s son, Tyler, develop a friendship that helps both of them cope with the growing challenges in their lives while Mari hopes that one day her family will be reunited.

Stef Soto, Taco Queen
by Jennifer Torres
In a sweet OwnVoices realistic chapter book of figuring out who you are and taking pride in your culture, Stef Soto feels embarrassed by her dad’s taco truck, especially when he picks her up at school. But that changes when she learns that new city regulations could force her dad to sell the truck and get a different job. Filled with relatable middle school angst, Spanish words, Latinx culture, friendship troubles, and a loving family, this yummy read is a savory treat.

 

STAT: Standing Tall and Talented: Home Court by Amar’e Stoudemir, illustrated by Tim Jessell
Based on the real story of Amar’e Stoudemire’s life, he writes about when he was 11. He was a skateboarder, a basketball player, and a worker with his dad’s landscape company. When some other kids start trash-talking his friends, Amar’e used his intelligence and basketball skills to find a solution.

 

#ownvoices Chapter Books for Middle School
Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
Izzy’s life was a series of houses, sadness, and secrets – why wouldn’t her mom tell her about her dad who died before she was born? Why did they always move? When Izzy’s mom unexpectedly sends Izzy to her Nana’s in New Mexico, whom she barely knows. Izzy lands in a new culture where she discovers her past, present, and future. Just as Izzy learns to make tortillas with practice and patience, she also learns the story of her dad, her mom, and ultimately her own story. The wisdom mixed with grief mixed with love creates a beautiful coming of age story by OwnVoices — I cried and celebrated. And, cried some more.

 

Twintuition Double Vision by Tia and Tamera Mowry
Not realistic completely but magical realism, this story focuses on identical twins living in a new town who experience flashes of precognition when touching some people. Unfortunately, the sisters aren’t getting along these days and it is very challenging to go to a new school. Then, when their policewoman mother faces a serious problem, the twins come together and use their magical abilities to save their mom from scandal. Twintuition is a quick, enjoyable read.

 

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
I’m in awe of how Rhuday-Perkovich created such a moving realistic story and lovable but insecure main character, Reggie McKnight, an unpopular yet thoughtful middle-school student who is hoping to get past his horrible nickname (Pukey). He spends a lot of time with his church youth group which leads to an interest in his school’s elections for president. This book for middle school students explores the themes of social justice, faith, friends, and family.

 

children's middle grade books with diverse main characters
This is a powerful anthology of diverse stories written by talented #OwnVoices authors such as Matt de la Peña, Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, and others. The stories are all excellent — some are hilarious (“Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains”), some are inspiring (“How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium”), some are both (“The Difficult Path”), and some are meaningful slice-of-life stories (“Main Street”).


Get a Grip Vivy Cohen
by Sarah Kapit
What a page-turner! Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs. The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball and her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily? It’s no surprise that this is a chapter book by #Ownvoices because the story feels so real. It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.

Realistic #OwnVoices Chapter Books
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2 Responses

  1. Katy Ross says:

    This list is so comprehensive. Thank you! I run a diverse book club for 2-4 graders and it can be really hard to find quality books that are appropriate for this age group. I found several on this list that I think will fit the bill nicely. Thank you!!

    1. I’m so happy it’s helpful! Thanks for the feedback, Katy and best wishes with your book club.

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  • WELCOME

    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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