The best sporty middle grade novels for athletes and non-athletes alike

The Books I Picked & Why

Bea Is for Blended

By Lindsey Stoddard

Book cover of Bea Is for Blended

Why this book?

This heartwarming novel is full of soccer, touching family dynamics, and girl power. It stars a feisty sixth-grader named Bea who has to adjust to a new house, a new school, a new blended family, and a new neighbor who’s gunning for her position on the soccer field. At first, Bea is determined to look out for herself and protect her turf, but then she and her neighbor team up to fight against sexism and form the first-ever all-girls squad. The team dynamics in this book will make any reader cheer. Soccer fans will love the on-field action, but this gem of a novel also has humor, emotional depth, delightful and inspiring characters, and even references to the beloved Katherine Paterson novel Bridge to Terabithia!

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Taking Up Space

By Alyson Gerber

Book cover of Taking Up Space

Why this book?

Alyson Gerber nails the emotional, physical, and interpersonal aspects of sports in this story about twelve-year-old Sarah, who feels best about herself when she’s playing basketball until her body starts changing and she can’t play as well as she used to. With wisdom and compassion, Gerber shows how Sarah’s desperate desire to regain her basketball skills leads to a struggle with disordered eating. Taking Up Space opens important conversations about diet culture and self-esteem, and I love the way it explores what happens when puberty interferes with an athlete’s ability to perform. The basketball scenes are fast-paced and engaging, and the book also has cooking, crushes, complex parent characters, and compelling friend dynamics—plenty of hooks for all types of readers. 

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Dough Boys

By Paula Chase

Book cover of Dough Boys

Why this book?

I love Dough Boys because it’s an engrossing, authentic story about basketball, music, friendship, and the hard decisions thirteen-year-old kids sometimes have to make. It follows Rollie and Simp, best friends who play on an elite basketball team in their low-income neighborhood...but playing on the team means getting involved as lookouts for a local drug ring, and the boys have very different feelings about the pressures and responsibilities they face. Basketball scenes provide an entryway into important topics, and through the two well-developed protagonists, Chase explores what happens when a sport feels like your only chance at the future you want, and what happens when you’re no longer sure you love a game that used to be part of your identity.

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Ana on the Edge

By A.J. Sass

Book cover of Ana on the Edge

Why this book?

Ana on the Edge is a powerful novel about figure skating and gender identity that’s equally perfect for figure skating enthusiasts and kids looking for LGBTQIA+ stories. It’s obvious from the first page that the author is a figure skater who knows the sport intimately, but the sparkling skating scenes are just as fun and accessible for readers who watch the occasional Olympic figure skating competition as they would be for insiders. And the most special part of this book is the poignant way it depicts a kid who is figuring out the gender identity that feels right while competing in a very gendered sport. I loved Ana and could not put this book down; I know many readers will feel the same.

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Much Ado about Baseball

By Rajani LaRocca

Book cover of Much Ado about Baseball

Why this book?

How can baseball, math, salty snacks, and Shakespeare fit together in one book? I’m not entirely sure, but somehow, Rajani LaRocca has combined these seemingly disparate elements to create Much Ado About Baseball, a delightful retelling of Much Ado About Nothing. This magical summer adventure features two equally lovable main characters, Trish and Ben, math rivals turned baseball teammates who come together to solve a problem. I love that there’s a female pitcher on a team of mostly boys, and I love all the connections LaRocca makes between baseball and math. Whether kids are baseball fans, math whizzes, or neither of these things, they’re sure to enjoy this charming novel, which also features an extremely sweet dog.

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