Impressive New Middle Grade Books You Don’t Want to Miss

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Many of these middle-grade books are all about the hard work of growing up– whether they’re about coding or adoption or ADHD or something else — they’re still tackling coming-of-age, too.


Coming-of-age means these are about kids growing into young adulthood learning hard-earned life lessons about who they are and how to make sense of the world around them.


Talk about relatable for any of our children or students, right?


And so many of these books are going on my best books for 2019 list. I can’t wait for you to read them, too!!


Impressive New Realistic Middle-Grade Books

Emmy in the Key of Code
by Aimee Lucido
I loved this novel in verse so much that I’m adding it to my best books of 2019 list. It’s an exquisite book that celebrates music, STEM, making friends, and growing into yourself. Emmy’s eager to start a new school and make friends but she’s thwarted by rudeness at every turn. A daughter of professional musicians, Emmy decides to accept that even though her entire life is music and she lives for music, she’ll never be a musician herself. So for an elective, she takes computer programming instead of music. A girl in her programming class named Abigail is friendly but only during class. Which makes Emmy feel both good for that little attention but angry at being kept a secret. As Emmy’s family adjusts to San Francisco, Emmy figures out her place in the world, especially as it relates to her growing love for programming. Lucido skillfully connects music and programming in a memorable, poetic story that even non-programmers can understand.
Added to: The Best STEM Chapter Books for Kids Ages 8 – 12Best Books in Verse That Get Kids Reading, and The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.


For Black Girls Like Me
by Mariama J. Lockington
Just like the author’s own experience as an adoptee, 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. (Adults will recognize the signs of bipolar disorder.) 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. Don’t miss this insightful, honest story — it makes you think and will stay with you long after the last page. This is going on my list of the BEST books of 2019. It might sound like it covers too many topics but it’s perfect, beautifully written, and emotionally resonate.
Added to The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.


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 in a beautiful, important story. 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. Emilia initially doesn’t want to see her friend Clarissa’s racism but her best friend Gus helps her see the truth about what’s going on. She becomes a passionate activist against injustice. Meanwhile, Emilia’s father’s return from the Marine’s is different than before; he’s quiet and distant this time. When he invites Emilia to work on a vintage car, teaching Emilia to weld, it helps rebuild their relationship, too. I love the Spanish words and phrases intermixed throughout but I speak Spanish. It might not be easily inferred if someone isn’t fluent because there aren’t clarifying sentences restating things in English. I’m adding this to my best books of 2019!
Added to: Best Middle Grade Books about Learning Disabilities / Learning Differences and The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.


by Raina Telgemeier
WOW — another slice-of-life graphic novel story! It’s amazing, honest, and relatable with a more serious tone than Telgemeir’s previous books about a topic that is very necessary in children’s literature– anxiety. As in her previous books, Raina shares her own life story, how in elementary school, her fears and anxieties led to terrible stomach aches, days of missed school, and time in therapy. Guts sensitively delves into the mind-body connection, showing therapy in a positive light –which I suspect might be some children’s only example in their lives so far. Although in the story, when Raina shares her big secret of going to therapy, her friends aren’t judgmental because they’ve either gone to therapy themselves or know someone who has. But if it’s a reader’s introduction to therapy, I wholeheartedly appreciate that the story shows a kind counselor who gives Raina helpful strategies. My daughter and I both love when Raina bravely presents to her class a strategy she learned in therapy — deep breathing. Later, another classmate uses what she learns from Raina about deep breathing before an intestinal surgery. Along with the topics of anxiety and therapy is also the wordplay of “guts” for literal stomach pain as well as metaphorical courage, all providing fodder for meaningful discussions with your kids.
Added to: Best Chapter Books About Characters Who Have a Mental Health Illness and The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.


Roll with It
by Jamie Sumner
This meaningful story will tug at your heartstrings. It’s narrated by Ellie a girl who loves to bake, who has CP, cerebral palsy, and who rolls through life in a wheelchair. She hates having an aid at school who’s supposed to help her with everything, even going to the bathroom. When her mom moves them to Oklahoma to help care for her grandfather, even though she’s from the so-called wrong side of the tracks, she makes friends with other trailer park kids — the first friends she’s ever had. It’s a sweet story about taking risks, the importance of finding your tribe, and growing up. I appreciate that the author skillfully shows readers that kids in wheelchairs are just like everyone else but with different challenges like accessibility (where your chair can go) and getting dressed. Highly recommended.
Added to: Best Children’s Books with Characters Who Have Physical Differences and The Best Middle Grade Chapter Books & Graphic Novels of 2019.


by Alyson Gerber
Clea is a chess-loving girl who gets distracted easily (except when she hyper-focuses in chess) and it’s becoming a problem, especially in school but also with friends. She’s resistant to do the testing her parents want, refusing to believe she could have ADHD. But blurting out things and living with regret, she feels like she’s not in control. As she learns more about her brain, she realizes that she can figure out strategies to help her keep focused. Readers who don’t have ADHD will get a glimpse into the way this kind of brain works. It is exactly like what my oldest daughter who has ADHD tell me it’s like with thoughts bouncing all over the place. Important and insightful.
Finding out my husband had ADHD — and wasn’t being a jerk by ignoring what I just said (which was really very important, of course)– helped our marriage tremendously. (Thank you, marriage counseling!) Learning this also helped prepare me to parent a child with ADHD… Ultimately, I think it’s especially important for those of us who parent or teach children who have ADHD to understand that ADHD is a REAL thing and is both a challenge and a blessing. Added to: Best  Books about Learning Disabilities / Learning Differences

The Hero Next Door
edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Teachers, you’ll want to buy this book of short stories to use in your classrooms for your writing and reading workshops. You’ll find excellent writing and impactful stories like “Home” by Hena Khan that shows a sister with mixed feelings about her newly adopted brother. Or “Rescue” by Suma Subramaniam about a mother and daughter escaping abuse leaving behind their beloved dog. The short stories, all written by writers with diverse voices and cultural perspectives, gift us characters whose actions make the world a better place; they’re everyday heroes who feel scared and have challenges, too but whose actions show bravery and kindness. Parents and librarians, this book belongs in the hands of kids who like to read in short chunks, or who need to see themselves reflected in stories, or who need to journey outside their insulated world.


They Called Us Enemy
by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker (ages 10+)
A must-read, must-add-to-all middle and high school classrooms book! Both history and memoir, this is an essential story that takes place during WWII when the US government declared war on Japan and subsequently all Japanese people, forcing anyone of Japanese descent, including children, into detention camps…George’s family leave behind a two-bedroom house in Los Angeles, taking only what they can carry. They are transported first to a cramped, smelly horse stable and then to a bare-bones, overcrowded barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

George and his brother adapt well –mostly because they have amazing parents but this story also shows the reality for the adults in their new, unfair situation. It shows George’s parents’ resiliency and perseverance. Honestly, there are so many important details about what was happening politically as well as what daily life was like but too many to share in this review.

When World War II ended, leaving the camps isn’t an easy, happy ending for any of the detained families. As you can imagine, they have nothing– no jobs nor bank accounts and are returning to a world of prejudice.

The narration jumps to present-day events, showing similar human rights violations such as the current detainees and separation of families which powerfully connects how we are even now facing grave injustices against human rights.

George is very clear how much credit and honor his father deserves in getting their family through what they experienced. He emphasizes that his father always believed in American democracy despite what happened because it is a government of people — and people can step up to make things better. Which George has done with his own advocacy work. And we can, too.

Some More Than Others
by Renée Watson
Amara’s mom doesn’t want her to travel with her father on his work trip from their home in Oregon to New York City. But Amara wants to see her father’s family and the city where he grew up. Eventually, her mom lets Amara go with her dad. This takes half the book which made the story feel sluggish. She stays with her grandfather and hangs out with her cousins, delighting in the extended family and the busy city. This is yet another solid slice-of-life story from Renée Watson about a girl discovering her place in her family and the world.


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  1. Thanks for a great list of new MG books. I am writing a newsletter article about new children ‘s mysteries. Send me a quote or book rec from you, your children or students! Still looking for the best mystery of 2019!