So this month I’ve been trying to read more “Middle School” books so that I can confidently recommend new novels to teachers in our schools. So besides increasing my book total for my reading goal for the year 2021 I found some REALLY good middle school reads that have been published over the last few years. Here are just a few:
Hello, Universe by Kelly Entrada,
A group of kids with totally different personalities become close friends after the universe throws them together to search for a missing boy.
Virgil Salina: a sixth-grade boy. So shy his family calls him “Turtle”. He is small for his age and therefore gets bullied by his classmates. He becomes slightly traumatized by his Lola’s (grandma’s) Filipino folktales about stones gobbling up young boys. Virgil has a guinea pig named Gullivar that is his best friend.
Valencia Somerset: is an 11-year-old girl who is questioning the existence of God however she stills talks to St. Rene. Valencia is deaf and suffers from nightmares of abandonment. She is tough and doesn’t think she needs a “gazillion friends” in fact her best friend is a stray dog she finds in the woods near he house.
Kaori Tanaka is a twelve-year-old girl who fancies herself a psychic and offers her services to anyone who isn’t an adult. She is confident and creative and always makes herself available to help people by giving them “readings”
Chett Bullins is a bully. He particularly likes picking on Virgil. He feels uncomfortable around Valencia because he believes she can read lips and therefore knows all his secrets. Chett is particularly preoccupied with finding and capturing a snake just to prove how tough he is to both his classmates and his father.
Themes of friendship, courage, and resiliency.
Black Brother Black Brother by Rhodes Jewell Parker
Donte and Trey are brothers. Donte hates school probably because he is one of the few black boys who attend and is therefore treated unjustly by the predominantly white student and faculty. To make matters worse, Donte’s brother Trey presents as white and doesn’t suffer racism. In trying to discover where he belongs in his world, Donte starts training under a former Olympic fencer Arden Jones and soon becomes a competitive fencer. Themes of bullying, racism, resilience, family, and friendship.
He Who Dreams by Florence Melanie
Our young protagonist John finds his identity in being one of the strongest soccer players at his school. One evening, as he is waiting for his little sister to finish her gymnastic class, he discovers an Indigenous dance class. Sensing a connection to the music, he forges a friendship with the dance teacher who encourages him to try Indigeninous dance himself. John tries to balance both the Irish and Cree sides of his culture but keeps his dancing a secret from his family as he navigates the mocking of his soccer teammates and the hostility of the boys in his dance class.
Themes of identity, family, culture, courage.
The Science of Unbreakable Things by Tae Keller
With the help of her friends, Natalie sets out to win a science competition so she can use the prize money to help her mother overcome depression by flying her to see a rare orchid known for surviving impossible odds. This story includes humorous illustrations and THE most engaging footnotes that help us love Natalie even more.
Themes of mental health, friendship, family.
Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter
Allergic is a graphic novel. It is a heartwarming story about Maggie who desperately wants a pet but is devastated because she is severely allergic to pet dander. Maggie takes it upon herself to outsmart her allergies and try to find a pet that she isn’t allergic to.
Themes of family, friendship, resiliency.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang and her parents immigrate from China and take jobs managing a motel – a place where they not only work but live. Unfortunately, the owner of the motel is corrupt and takes advantage of the Tangs by not paying them a fair wage, and by taking the cost of any damages caused by hotel guests out of their paycheck. Although living in and managing the hotel has its hardships, Mia meets an assortment of hotel “residents” who are kind and helpful and end up being allies of the Tangs. Mia, being the precocious, brilliant 11-year-old she is ends up saving the ay for not only the hotel guests but for her own family.
Themes of inclusion, bullying, the immigrant experience, friendship, and resiliency.