The best middle grade books for parents to read with kids for family discussions

Emily Barth Isler Author Of AfterMath
By Emily Barth Isler

The Books I Picked & Why

Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

By Saadia Faruqi

Book cover of Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

Why this book?

Like many parents of kids and tweens, I sometimes forget that my kids weren’t alive yet on 9/11, nor do they understand the ripple effects of the terrorist attacks and surrounding time on our current political and social world. My husband and I had just moved to New York City on September 11, 2021, and witnessed the city’s grief and resilience firsthand, but it’s hard to explain to our kids the effects that that event had on how some people treat and regard American Muslims and people of color, and how history still very much affects us all today. This book is a wonderful way to start that conversation with kids.

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Take Back the Block

By Chrystal D. Giles

Book cover of Take Back the Block

Why this book?

Giles does a wonderful job with a current hot topic that might come up a lot for kids: gentrification. Take Back the Block made me want to leap into action, and that’s a pretty magical thing to be able to say about a book! Not only did I want to read more about these characters, but I wanted to get involved in my own city to preserve homes and mitigate gentrification. Change is constant, and kids will love this book for talking about the changes we can control and those we cannot, and how to see the difference. Parents will appreciate a way to concretely illustrate what gentrification is, and to have honest conversations about it with their kids.

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Melissa (Formerly Published as George)

By Alex Gino

Book cover of Melissa (Formerly Published as George)

Why this book?

Kids ask the best questions, right? I love when they want to understand current events and things that really matter to their fellow humans, but I’m occasionally at a loss as to how to explain things in kid-appropriate language that they can really grasp. I’m endlessly grateful to Alex Gino for writing Melissa, formerly published as George. Even the retroactive title change of this book made for awesome conversation with my kids-- it was a great way to illustrate how people transition and how, while it might be an adjustment, we can get used to change and see the joy of properly gendering and using the correct name for our friends and neighbors.

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Taking Up Space

By Alyson Gerber

Book cover of Taking Up Space

Why this book?

Body image and eating disorders are complex subjects that a lot of parents wait too long to think about, let alone talk to their kids about. I love how this beautiful story shows that grownups are figuring things out, too-- that parents aren’t perfect nor do they have to be for kids to grow and change. I look forward to reading this one with my kids so that we can have the language to talk more openly about our relationships with food and our feelings about our bodies. It’s more important than ever to call attention to diet culture and illustrate to kids that they are so much more than how they look. 

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The Giver

By Lois Lowry

Book cover of The Giver

Why this book?

My other recommendations have been very recent/contemporary picks, but I’d be remiss to not include this book, which absolutely changed my life when it came out. I was thirteen when this book was published, and it rocked my world, and, not to mention, further made me want to be a writer. More than that, this book was one of the first times I’d read something that truly questioned adults, that posited that sometimes, grownups don’t know everything, or make the right choices even when they do. It blew my mind to think about questioning authority and the illusions that kids are shown from birth, and that one kid can really make a difference. Among this list of great conversation starting-books for tweens, I think this one adds a level of nuance, and shouldn’t be missed!

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