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

Who am I?

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.

The books I picked & why

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The Prettiest

By Brigit Young,

Book cover of The Prettiest

Why 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. 

Omar Rising

By Aisha Saeed,

Book cover of Omar Rising

Why 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. 

A Good Kind of Trouble

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Why 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! 

Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

By Barbara Dee,

Book cover of Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Why 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.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

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

Book cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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