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

Why am I passionate about this?

I started writing for kids and teens before I became a parent myself, but now, seeing these kinds of stories from both perspectives, I’m even more passionate about helping foster conversations among families, about the things that are hard to talk about. In the time of pandemics and global warming and school shootings, not to mention the access the internet provides, kids have more questions and concerns than ever. I’ve found, both in my research and in practice, that being honest with kids in a way that they can understand and process is a true gift to them.

I wrote...

Book cover of AfterMath

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Lucy isn't prepared to be the new kid at school. She’s still grieving her little brother, Theo, who recently died from a congenital heart defect. Her parents are so intent on a “fresh start” that she doesn’t know how to talk to them. And the other kids in her grade are survivors of a very different tragedy: a school shooting that devastated their small town four years ago.

Without the shared past that both unites and divides her classmates, Lucy feels lost. Even her love of math doesn’t offer the absolute answers she craves. An after-school mime class gives her a chance to forge new kinds of connections. Lucy finds that while grief can take many shapes and sadness may feel infinite, love is just as powerful.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero

Emily Barth Isler Why did I love 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.

By Saadia Faruqi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero 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?

At a time when we are all asking questions about identity, grief, and how to stand up for what is right, this book by the author of A Thousand Questions will hit home with young readers who love Hena Khan and Varian Johnson-or anyone struggling to understand recent U.S. history and how it still affects us today.

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas-and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win.

Only, this year is going to be more…

Book cover of Take Back the Block

Emily Barth Isler Why did I love 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.

By Chrystal D. Giles,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Take Back the Block as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This book made me want to step aside, hand over the mic, and listen to Wes. A must-read." --Mariama J. Lockington, author of For Black Girls Like Me

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee--

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That--and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games--is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes…

Book cover of Melissa (Formerly Published as George)

Emily Barth Isler Why did I love 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.

By Alex Gino,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Melissa (Formerly Published as George) 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?

Formally titled George, this is the unforgettable
debut from Alex Gino

"Allow me to introduce you to a remarkable book, full of love,
wonder, hope, and the importance of getting to be who you were
meant to be. You must read this." - David Levithan, author
of Every Day and editor of George.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she
knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.

George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then
her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's

Book cover of Taking Up Space

Emily Barth Isler Why did I love 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. 

By Alyson Gerber,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Taking Up Space 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 beloved author Alyson Gerber comes another realistic contemporary novel perfect for fans of Judy Blume. 

Sarah loves basketball more than anything. Crushing it on the court makes her feel like she matters. And it's the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her.
But lately Sarah can't even play basketball right. She's slower now and missing shots she should be able to make. Her body doesn't feel like it's her own anymore. She's worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can…

Book cover of The Giver

Emily Barth Isler Why did I love 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!

By Lois Lowry,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Giver as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

THE GIVER is soon to be a major motion picture starring Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.

Now available for the first time in the UK, THE GIVER QUARTET is the complete four-novel collection.

THE GIVER: It is the future. There is no war, no hunger, no pain. No one in the community wants for anything. Everything needed is provided. And at twelve years old, each member of the community has their profession carefully chosen for them by the Committee of Elders.

Jonas has never thought there was anything wrong with his world. But from the moment he is…

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A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…

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