Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #OwnVoices
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.
Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun
Can You See Me by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott
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.
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
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.
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.)
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… This book is one of the BEST middle-grade books, not just of 2020, but of all time.
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
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 characters who you’ll love.
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.
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.
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.
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.