Wild adventures, coming-of-age misfortunes, and lasting friendships are a staple of middle-level books, and these 25 standout picks fit the bill.
Balcarcel, Rebecca. Shine, Luz Véliz! The Chronicle. ISBN 9781797209678.
3-6 g–When a serious injury sidelines soccer star Lucy, the sixth-grader feels like she’s floundering. Then, helped by her brilliant elderly neighbor, she discovers coding. A touching tale of family and self-discovery, this well-crafted tale will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Bird, James. Benjamin’s second chance waterfalls. Feiwell and his friends. ISBN 9781250811561.
5th year superior-Benjamin Waterfalls is used to getting into trouble, until his latest shoplifting lands him a “boot camp” sentence with his Ojibwe family. Set in what is now Grand Portage, MN, this tale of redemption and healing draws heavily on Ojibwa traditions and wisdom. A heartfelt second chance story.
Booth, Coe. Caprice. School. ISBN 9780545933346.
5th year superior-As Caprice struggles with the idea of choosing between an elite boarding school and her neighborhood school in Newark for eighth grade, she is also haunted by painful memories that resurface. Booth’s accessible novel uses a mix of verse poetry, flashbacks, and time-stamped current accounts to address abuse with unflinching honesty.
Bury, Catherine. Drew Leclair gets a clue. Bugle. ISBN 9780358639602.
5th year superior-Drew is an aspiring seventh-grade criminal profiler who takes notes from her hero, profiler Lita Miyamoto, to solve cases in her middle school. His toughest case yet involves uncovering the identity of a cyberbully who exposes his classmates’ most sensitive secrets, including his own. This modern version Harriet the spy discusses friendship, acceptance and sexuality.
Callender, Kacen. Moon flower. School. ISBN 9781338636598.
4th year superior– So many people hate Moonflower without knowing them. It is only when Moonflower travels out of their bodies to the spirit world that they find peace. It’s a nuanced blend of otherworldly fantasy with the realistic inner struggles of mental illness. The sorrows and triumphs of Moonflower will have readers crying and cheering.
Clayton, Dhonielle. The Marvelous. illus. by Khadijah Khatib. Holt. ISBN 9781250174949.
3-7 gr.-Ella is the first Conjurer to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, and she can’t wait to hone her magical skills. But she’s stuck spending most of her energy dealing with other students’ (and teachers’) biases against Conjurers. This is a stellar example of a fresh take on the magic school subgenre.
Dalton, Ryan. This Last Adventure. Carolrhode. ISBN 9781541599284.
5-8 grams-Archie and his grandfather have always had a close relationship, but when Grandfather is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Archie seeks help through made-up fantasy stories based on the older man’s past. The harsh realities of this devastating disease are treated gently and honestly in this blend of realistic fiction and fantasy.
Dao, Julie C. Team Chu and the Blackwood Battle Arena. farrer. ISBN 9780374388751.
4th to 8th grade–When siblings Clip and Sadie Chu begin to see a strange boy in the epic virtual reality laser arena they frequent, they realize he isn’t a character; he’s trapped in the game, and it’s up to them to get him out. This fast-paced sci-fi adventure story combines jaw-dropping action, virtual reality games, and sibling relationships in a way that feels effortless.
Dee, Barbara. Haven Jacobs saves the planet. S.&S./Aladdin. ISBN 9781534489837.
3-8 g–Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs’ anxiety about climate change turns into an opportunity for action when a science project shows the local impact of pollution. Dee is at the heart of anxiety, friendships and taking an active role in her life in this resounding contemporary novel.
Ellis, Deborah. Walk. Grindstone wood. ISBN 9781773068152.
3-7 gr.–Ten unconnected protagonists have 11th birthdays. Every child has the opportunity to see through another’s eyes and take a step forward to make the world a better place. This realistic short story will take readers deeper into their own hearts and dreams.
Farid, Diana. Vague. illus. by Kris Goto. Cameron Kids. ISBN 9781951836580.
5th year superior–Ava, 13, is used to surfing the waves, whether on her board or at home facing the high expectations of her Persian mother. When tragedy strikes, Ava must ride her most heartbreaking wave yet. This historical verse novel will immerse readers in its poignant story of young loss while painting a stunning portrait of life in 1980s California.
Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatls. Disney-Hyperion. ISBN 9781368068192.
3-7 gr.– At a market, Shinji is thrown into the adventure of his life when he finds a figurine of a Coatl, a feathered serpent creature from Mesoamerican lore, and strives to get the figurine back to Mexico before its curse does not take effect. This adventure between Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson is about respecting and preserving cultures instead of taking them.
Kelly, Erin Entrada. Those kids from Fawn Creek. green willow. ISBN 9780062970350.
4-7 Gr–Fawn Creek, LA, isn’t the kind of place where a lot of change happens, so local students are instantly intrigued when Orchid arrives. This story challenges the tropes of small town history by showing the realities of life in a poor small town and the limitations the characters face; Fawn Creek itself also feels alive, with the setting being as much of a character as the kids.
Levithan, David. Answers in the pages. Knopf. ISBN 9780593484685.
5th year superior–When a fifth grader’s parent takes up their assigned reading and objects to a sentence, the students find themselves in a philosophical quagmire as the book’s challenge makes its way to the school board. A timely book that should not only be in every library, but is also a real pleasure to read.
Lockington, Mariama J. In the key to us. farrer. ISBN 97803 74314101.
5-8 grams–Andi and Zora, two of the only black kids at music camp in northern Michigan, are frequently thrown together by students and staff who ignorantly assume they’ll hook up. They start to develop a real friendship, and maybe more. This coming-of-age story tackles sensitive topics like body image, mental health, racism, and grief with a gentle hand.
Magoon, Kekla. Chester Keene cracks the code. Random Lamb/Wendy. ISBN 9781524715991.
3-7 gr.-When a classmate approaches Chester Keene to work on a super secret mission, he is convinced it will bring him closer to his absent father and help him fight a tyrant. In this fast-paced heist story, Magoon also expertly explores the complex relationships of a single-parent family and changing family dynamics.
Malinenko, ally. This house appearing. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. ISBN 9780063136571.
5th-9th grade-Jac has been in remission from cancer for almost five years, but as the birthday approaches, so do the symptoms – and a mysterious house that Jac has never seen before but inexplicably feels drawn to. This horror with fantasy elements explores the trauma of illness and grief, and its impact on those we love, as well as healing through coping with one’s own experiences.
Melleby, Nicole. The science of anger. Algonquin. ISBN 9781643750378.
4th to 8th grade–Joey knows his anger is a problem. A school genetics unit inspires her to track down the sperm donor her parents used to try to figure out who she is. This novel features an endearing protagonist navigating her complex identity and defining “family” for herself.
Okogwu, Tola. Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun. S. & S./McElderry. ISBN 9781665912617.
3-7 gr.-Onyeka has always felt insecure about her hair, which she can never control. After her friend nearly drowns, she discovers she is a Solari with psychokinetic powers tied to her hair. Onyeka travels to Sun Academy where she learns how to harness her powers in this adventure where Black Panther meets X-Men.
Paulsen, Gary. North wind. farrer. ISBN 9780374314200.
4th to 8th grade-An orphan named Leif finds himself alone in a canoe fleeing north along a rugged and untamed shoreline to escape a deadly plague, discovering a deep connection to the wilderness along the way. Readers will be swept away by the beauty of Paulsen’s latest gift, which is so much more than a story of survival.
Roe, Monica. Air. farrer. ISBN 978037 4388652.
4-7 Gr– Emmie, a seventh grader, doesn’t need help, as most people assume when they see her wheelchair. She needs them to realize that she is capable of so much when the systems aren’t actively in her way. Set in contemporary South Carolina, this realistic novel deftly balances the sport of wheelchair motocross, disability rights, friendship, grief, poverty, and independence.
Sass, AJ Ellen Out of the Lines. Small, Brown. ISBN 9780759556270.
3-7 gr.–Ellen Katz is a 13-year-old, autistic, queer Jewish teenager who loves routine, but spending two weeks on a school trip to Barcelona helps her realize that it’s okay to try new things and make new new friends. A touching story of identity, friendship and first crushes.
Buffer, Phil. Small town pride. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780063118782.
5th year superior-Jake is the only openly gay kid in his small town in Ohio. He doesn’t mind, until the pride flag his father hung outside his house sparks controversy, inspiring Jake to plan Barton Springs’ first Pride festival. Stamper’s excellent novel about coming of age in a turbulent environment will spark important conversations around homosexuality and community.
Turaud, Maria. The last hope in Hopetown. Small, Brown. ISBN 9780316368452.
3-7 gr.-Sophie Dawes loves her adoptive mothers, who are both vampires, which brings an added level of scrutiny now that some vampires have gone rogue and attack humans. Equal parts horror and mystery, this contemporary tale is sure to delight readers who enjoy a spooky vibe with their thrillers.
Yes, Lisa. Maizy Chen’s last chance. Random. ISBN 9781984830258.
4th year superior–When Maizy’s 11-year-old grandfather falls ill, she and her mother visit her grandparents for the first time. While helping to run their Chinese restaurant, Maizy discovers her family’s history with lasting roots in the town since the 1880s. This quick, humorous and heartwarming tale will appeal to readers of all ages.