The best middle grade books about families, changes, and challenges

Who am I?

I’ve been a writer a long time and a reader for even longer. But, above all, I’m someone who has always been interested in people. The book universe is filled with fast-moving, plot-driven fiction, but I find myself drawn to stories focused on layered characters and complex relationships. Since I think families are so basic to our experiences as people, I’m always interested in those stories too. What the five books here have in common are big family changes—mostly caused by adults—that challenge the books’ main characters—who are all kids.


I wrote...

365 Days to Alaska

By Cathy Carr,

Book cover of 365 Days to Alaska

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Rigel loves her life in off-the-grid Alaska. She hunts rabbits, does school through the mail, and plays dominoes with her family in their two-room cabin. But when her parents get divorced, Rigel and her sisters have to move with their mom to the Connecticut suburbs to live with a grandmother Rigel doesn’t even know. Rigel’s holding fast to the secret pact that she made with her father before she left Alaska: if she can stick it out in Connecticut for one year, he’ll bring her back home. But can Rigel make it for that long? And even if she does, will she be the same person at the end of 365 days? 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Fourteenth Goldfish

Cathy Carr Why did I love this book?

Books that use humor to explore serious issues are delightful, and this one tops my list. Eleven-year-old Ellie isn’t the biggest fan of change. Then one day her mom is called to pick up Ellie’s grandfather from the police station and comes home with...a thirteen-year-old boy?! Ellie’s grandfather has managed to reverse the aging process, and now he’s enrolled in her middle school. Ellie and her grandfather form a strong bond over their shared interest in science. She even helps him break into his old lab so he can retrieve the specimen he needs to publish his findings. But Ellie becomes uneasy with the possible applications of her grandfather’s discovery. Maybe change isn’t always the worst thing after all? This light-hearted book will make you laugh—and think. 

By Jennifer L. Holm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fourteenth Goldfish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Believe in the possible . . . with this "warm, witty, and wise" New York Times bestselling novel from three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm. A perfect read about a child's relationship with her grandfather!

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He's bossy. He's cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like…


Book cover of Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Cathy Carr Why did I love this book?

For me, there’s something special about books that embrace the messy complexity of real life—especially when those messes aren’t resolved too neatly. Sixth grade is off to a rocky start for Merci. She’s a scholarship student who doesn’t feel like she fits in at her private school, and now she’s gotten off on the wrong foot with her bossy classmate, Edna. At home, her beloved grandfather Lolo is acting weirdforgetting important things, falling off his bike, and mixing up people’s names. The adults are having whispered arguments and no one in the family will talk to Merci about what's really going on. But when Lolo’s secret finally comes to light, Merci’s family and new friends at school are the ones who understand her anger and help her find her way forward to acceptance. This story about a loving, imperfect family rings true.

By Meg Medina,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Merci Suárez Changes Gears as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Newbery Medal
A New York Times Bestseller

“The realistic portrayal of a complex young Latina’s life is one many readers will relate to. . . . Medina cruises into readers’ hearts.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, as strong and thoughtful as Merci is, she has never been completely like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy…


Book cover of A Place to Hang the Moon

Cathy Carr Why did I love this book?

Painstaking research, great characterizations, and lovely writing come together to make this book sing for me. Orphaned siblings William, Edmund, and Anna aren’t exactly broken-hearted when their distant grandmother dies suddenly. But since she was their guardian, they face the awful prospect of being separated and sent to different homes. When the British government decides to do a mass wartime evacuation of children from London to protect them from the 1940 Blitz, the siblings see an unexpected opportunity. Can they take advantage of Operation Pied Piper to find a new home for all of them? Life in their new town can be cold and harsh, but a growing friendship with the kind local librarian offers a glimmer of hope that their dream might come true. This is a warm-hearted story that earns its happy ending. 

By Kate Albus,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Place to Hang the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

A heartwarming story about three siblings, evacuated from London to live in the countryside, looking for a permanent home--and a new meaning for family.

A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year

It is 1940 and William, 12, Edmund, 11, and Anna, 9, aren't terribly upset by the death of the not-so-grandmotherly grandmother who has taken care of them since their parents died.

But the children do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in short supply, especially if they hope to stay together. Could the mass wartime evacuation of…


Book cover of While I Was Away

Cathy Carr Why did I love this book?

In my experience, a truly unique book is rare, and I’m always excited to find one that stands apart because of premise and setting. Waka is happy in her sixth-grade class in Kansasuntil her parents notice she’s losing her Japanese language skills and decide to take action. They send Waka to Tokyo to spend several months living with her grandmother and attending a local public school. In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing kanji, feels awkward around her reserved grandmother, and can’t figure out the social scene at school. Japan may be her parents’ birth country, but in Tokyo, Waka is an outsider. Where is Waka’s real home, and who will she be once she figures that out? An unforgettable memoir with lots of fun 1980s flavor. 

By Waka T. Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked While I Was Away as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Named one of New York Public Library's Best Books of the Year!

The Farewell meets Erin Entrada Kelly's Blackbird Fly in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to 1980s Japan, where she was sent as a child to reconnect to her family's roots.

When twelve-year-old Waka's parents suspect she can't understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been…


Book cover of New Kid

Cathy Carr Why did I love this book?

This novel made me laugh out loud, and the lessons it offers in grace under pressure linger long after reading. Budding cartoonist Jordan Banks wants to go to art school for seventh grade, but his mom enrolls him in a prestigious private school known for strong academics instead. Not only does he have to get used to a new school, Jordan is one of the only kids of color in his whole grade. Making the long commute from his Washington Heights apartment to the Riverdale Academy Day School, he finds himself torn between two worlds—and feeling like he might not really fit in anywhere. Can Jordan figure out a way to navigate his new school while staying true to himself, his family, and his neighborhood friends? This vibrant graphic novel is full of wisdom, humor, and honesty. 

By Jerry Craft,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked New Kid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature!

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is…


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The Warlock's Curse

By C.B. Oresky,

Book cover of The Warlock's Curse

C.B. Oresky Author Of The Warlock's Curse

New book alert!

Who am I?

Since childhood, the library was a wondrous place filled with magical tales and epic stories about strange realms that I could take home…devour…and get lost in. I grew up dancing to enchanting classical music…as an adolescent I painted majestic unicorns…my best friends are my enchanting pets. I often retreat into the deep silent woods or walk along the crashing waves of the ocean to find solace in the magical beauty of nature. Now, as a writer I hope to bring the wonder I’ve found in this world into the strange places and unique characters I create. I hope you enjoy a few of my favorite fantasies: worlds that I truly fell in love with.

C.B.'s book list on fantasy filled with so much magic and wonder

What is my book about?

Clara and Angelica Grace have never met ghosts. They’ve never sailed on a tall ship, ridden wild unicorns, or fought with magical weapons. Instead, the teenage twins have a wretched existence, ignored by their troubled parents in a rundown home and tormented by the town’s snobs.

Everything turns topsy-turvy all of a sudden when the discovery of an ancestor’s hidden journal with an odd key to an unknown door leads them into an entirely different realm.

The girls go on a thrilling oceanic voyage to search for mysterious whales, train with a seasoned warrior, and are befriended by a wise Master. But all is not a bouquet of lovely lilies…they are hunted by a cunning warlock and must rid themselves of The Warlock’s Curse.

The Warlock's Curse

By C.B. Oresky,

What is this book about?

Clara and Angelica Grace have never met ghosts. They’ve never sailed on a tall ship, ridden wild unicorns, or fought with magical weapons. Instead, the teenage twins have a wretched existence, ignored by their troubled parents in a rundown home and tormented by the town’s snobs.

Everything turns topsy-turvy all of a sudden when discovery of an ancestor’s hidden journal with an odd key to an unknown door leads them into an entirely different realm.

The girls go on a thrilling oceanic voyage to search for mysterious whales, train with a seasoned warrior, and are befriended by a wise Master.…


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