Do you shy away from middle grade books because you think they're one-dimensional or all about wizards? The truth is that middle grade stories cover the full range of genres and styles, from contemporary fiction to memoir, poetry, nonfiction, and of course fantasy.
Although these books are not as complex as adult literary fiction, the stories address big issues, opening readers' minds and sparking important discussions. Today is all about contemporary fiction, and posts later in the week will cover other genres.
Read these books yourself, take notes for gift-giving, or try a readalong with a middle grader in your life.
Surviving Middle School
- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead is about two groups of students who are navigating the rocky waters of middle school. Told from three perspectives, the novel explores different ways kids respond to social pressures and problems at home. Major themes: social media, changing friendships, young love, and popularity. Audience: older MG readers. [Wendy Lamb Books, August]
- Connect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague focuses on Audry and Aaron who meet at a wilderness camp meant to help give middle grade children confidence and social skills while they learn about the outdoors. The campers, who each have different issues (such as being too introspective, untrusting, or overly sad) learn to rely on each other and become true friends. Major themes: friendship, bullying, trust, self-identity, and family. [HarperCollins, September]
- Don't Vote for Me by Krista Van Dolzer looks at what happens when a self-described band geek decides to challenge the popular girl for class president. The more David gets to know his opponent, the more he questions his desire to win. Major themes: popularity, family issues, and seeing people for who they really are. [Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August]
- A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel looks at how a young teen copes with her father's accidental death, which occurred when they were on a father–daughter canoe trip. This is less a survival in the wilderness story than one about a girl finding her way after her world is forever altered. Major themes: grief, family, responsibility, and friendship. Audience: older MG readers. [Ooligan Press, November]
- Dear Opl by Shelley Sackier introduces us to Opal, who comforted herself with food in the aftermath of her father's sudden death. After a disturbing medical checkup, she takes on a pen name and starts a blog to vent her feelings; soon others are turning to "Opl" for advice. Sensitively written and spiked with humor. Major themes: weight and body image, popularity, grief, self-esteem, health, and family. [Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August]
- The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is about how 12-year-old Suzy copes with her friend's drowning just weeks before the start of seventh grade. Told in the present and in flashbacks over the course of their friendship, Suzy struggles to understand both the accident and the ways her friend changed over the previous year. Major themes: friendship, being different, family, maturing, and mean girls; minor themes of divorce and a gay relationship. [Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September]
- Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is about a young teen who is placed in foster care after spending time in a series of state-run homes for troubled boys. Although he slowly becomes comfortable with his new family, he can't stop dreaming about meeting his infant daughter. Major themes: first impressions, class differences, teen parenthood, fathers, and domestic abuse. Audience: older MG readers. [Clarion Books, October]
- A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel is about a young girl whose family relocates from Seattle to a small town in South Carolina. The move is fraught with extra challenges for 12-year-old Alice because she is legally blind as a result of her albinism. Major themes: living with a disability, family, independence, and mental health issues. [Sky Pony Press, October]
- Until I Find Julian by Patricia Reilly Giff documents young Mateo's secret journey from a village in Mexico, across the border, to a town in Alabama to find his older brother, who is an undocumented laborer. This age-appropriate story shows us the personal side of an important contemporary issue. Major themes: brothers, friendship, trust, and hope for a better future. [Wendy Lamb Books, September]