The best middle grade books for kids that want to change the world

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author and educator with a passion for justice. I once finished teaching a lesson on peaceful protest thirty minutes before the students at my middle school led a campus-wide walkout. Unlike me, who didn’t attend my first march until I was thirty, they were ready to speak up, following in the steps of the high schoolers from Parkland and the activists on Instagram. Born into the era of the Arab Spring, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter, they saw the status quo as ripe for the challenge, their voices the anvil to topple it all. The books in this list will be inspiration for any young reader with this same passion for change.


I wrote...

Margie Kelly Breaks the Dress Code

By Bridget Farr,

Book cover of Margie Kelly Breaks the Dress Code

What is my book about?

With the right first-day-of-school outfit and her best friend, Daniela, by her side, Margie Kelly expected the first day of sixth grade to be perfect. It wasn’t.

Dress-coded during her first class, Margie soon sees sexism everywhere at her school and begins her own campaign to end it. But as Margie moves forward with her plans, she’s confronted with her own privilege and the knowledge that change requires more than a sign and an Instagram hashtag.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Prettiest

Bridget Farr Why did I love this book?

You’re pretty pretty, but not that into sports. Decades later, I still remember these words of rejection from my seventh-grade crush. The Prettiest brought up all my middle school emotions during the first chapter when someone creates and spreads a list of the top 50 prettiest girls in the school. The pain and humiliation the main characters experience as they struggle with their relationship to the list—on it, off it, pretty but not the prettiest—was painfully realistic. Thankfully, author Brigit Young fills the story with humor and moments of sweet friendship and leaves the reader ready to change the expectations of beauty once and for all. 

By Brigit Young,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Prettiest 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?

A list appears online, ranking the top fifty prettiest girls in the eighth grade.

Eve Hoffman is disgusted by the grating, anonymous text messages she's been receiving ever since she was ranked number one.

Sophie Kane is sick of the bullying she's endured after being knocked down a peg by the list.

And Nessa Flores-Brady is tired of the outside world trying to define who she is.

Reeling from the rampant sexism and objectification in their school, the three girls attempt to track down the list's creator. But are they prepared for what they might find?


Book cover of Omar Rising

Bridget Farr Why did I love this book?

This book is both the perfect mirror and window for young readers: it reflects back the typical challenges of adjusting to a new school and meeting the expectations of your family, while also opening up the world of private schools in Pakistan. Aisha Saeed weaves the cultural details into a familiar plot, making this book an excellent choice for building empathy and inspiration. I loved following the friendships of this group of boys who work together to find their place in their school, even when it means breaking the rules. 

By Aisha Saeed,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Irresistibly appealing and genuinely inspiring-a story that helps us to see the world more clearly, and to see ourselves as powerful enough to change it." -Rebecca Stead, author of Newbery Award Winner When You Reach Me

In this compelling companion to New York Times bestseller Amal Unbound, Amal's friend Omar must contend with being treated like a second-class citizen when he gets a scholarship to an elite boarding school.

Omar knows his scholarship to Ghalib Academy Boarding School is a game changer, providing him-the son of a servant-with an opportunity to improve his station in life. He can't wait to…


Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Bridget Farr Why did I love this book?

This cover caught my eye with the black armband, instantly reminding me of the important Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines, which focused on students’ rights to protest at school. Despite dealing with heavy subject matter, this book had me laughing as the main character Shayla comments on her middle school life—frightening lab partners, her four-inch forehead, or the dorky gym shorts she has to wear for PE. Shayla is the perfect hero to root for as she fights against her own itchy-hand allergy for trouble to stand up for what’s right. Plus, I loved her call out of her school’s biased dress code in chapter five! 

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Good Kind of Trouble 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?

From debut author Lisa Moore Ramee comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what's right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give and the novels of Renee Watson and Jason Reynolds.

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she'd also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it's like all the rules have changed.…


Book cover of Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Bridget Farr Why did I love this book?

Knowing they’ll be the ones to experience the brunt of climate change’s consequences, young activists have become increasingly vocal as they demand action. Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet provides a close-to-home example of how students can get involved in climate activism as they follow in her discovery of the polluted river near her home. Barbara Dee’s novels take on challenging issues while keeping the characters real and full of heart, and her latest is no exception. This book will inspire young climate activists to take action and force them to consider the challenges—for their community, their family, and their friendships—that changing the world can bring.

By Barbara Dee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet 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 School Library Journal Best Book of 2022

From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a middle grade novel about a young girl who channels her anxiety about the climate crisis into rallying her community to save a local river.

Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.

When Haven’s…


Book cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Bridget Farr Why did I love this book?

Non-fiction isn’t normally my style, but the language and story-telling in this book make it a must-read. William Kamkwamba’s true story of saving his family by developing a windmill is the stuff of movies—and now it is! This book (now available as a feature film and a picture book) will remind young activists that they have the skills within them to change the world. Still, they never need to do it alone.

By William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba's tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season's crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family's life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William's windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. Retold for a younger audience, this exciting memoir shows…


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Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

By Kimberly Behre Kenna,

Book cover of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

Kimberly Behre Kenna Author Of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

From early childhood, I escaped into nature when times got tough—climbing trees, exploring the woods, and chatting with beach creatures. When I had to be indoors, books were my escape, and most of my favorites had rich nature settings that were so well-drawn that I could see them and feel like I was actually there. Following strong protagonists as they deal with life challenges by interacting with nature was an affirmation for me and still is. As a parent and former fifth-grade teacher, I’ve witnessed the power that books have to lessen loneliness and inspire hope and activism. 

Kimberly's book list on middle grade kids and nature mingle

What is my book about?

Artemis Sparke has had it with humans. She heads to the nearby salt marsh to hang out with the birds, plants, and mollusks who don't make a big deal of her stutter. The shoreline sanctuary is predictable, unlike her family and friends, and the data in her science journal proves it.

But one day that data goes haywire, and her bird friend RT confirms it: the salt marsh is dying. Artemis discovers that the historic hotel where she lives with her mom may be part of the problem, but speaking up would mean confronting the cranky hotel owner who happens…

Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

By Kimberly Behre Kenna,

What is this book about?

"...Artemis Sparke is pure energy! ...Kenna's well-crafted debut is a timely gift." -Leslie Connor, National Book Award finalist and author of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle and Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?

When Artemis Sparke has had it with humans, she heads to the nearby salt marsh to hang out with the birds, plants, and mollusks who don't make a big deal of her stutter. The shoreline sanctuary is predictable, unlike her family and friends, and the data in her science journal proves it. But one day that data goes haywire, and her bird friend RT confirms it: the…


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