The best middle-grade books about girls who love sports

Barbara Carroll Roberts Author Of Nikki on the Line
By Barbara Carroll Roberts

The Books I Picked & Why

Dairy Queen

By Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Book cover of Dairy Queen

Why this book?

You’d have a hard time finding a funnier, more captivating first-person narrator than D.J. Swank. Growing up on her family’s farm, hoisting hay bales, and playing pick-up football with her brothers, it’s no wonder D.J. has the strength, ability, and desire to play on her high school’s football team. The two things I love most about this book are D.J.’s sheer joy in physical movement and Murdock’s depiction of how the hard work required to master sports skills can build self-confidence and a sense of achievement in young people. The characters are a bit older than those in most middle-grade books, but with nothing more controversial than the drinking of a beer, this is a book kids in the upper range of middle grade will love.

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Samira Surfs

By Rukhsanna Guidroz, Fahmida Azim

Book cover of Samira Surfs

Why this book?

Samira is a Rohingya girl whose family fled anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar and now lives near a refugee camp in a Bangladesh beach town. This doesn’t sound like the set-up for a “sports” book, yet like all the best sports books, this beautiful novel-in-verse is about so much more than simply winning or losing a game. I love the way Guidroz shows the strong bonds that form within a team – in this case, a group of girls who help one another learn to swim and surf, defying cultural standards that bar girls from these activities. I also love how participating in this sport gives Samira a way to grow as an individual and claim her own identity: “Before I was Samira,” she says. “Now, I am Samira the Surfer.”

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The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

By Mick Cochrane

Book cover of The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

Why this book?

This is one of my absolute favorite books. It’s beautifully written, telling a compelling story about Molly Williams, who shared a love of baseball and a deep connection with her father through the long hours they spent talking while he taught her to pitch a knuckleball. When he dies in a car accident, Molly’s world falls apart. Her mother descends into depression, and communication between them stops. Molly slowly puts her life back together when she earns a place on a boys’ baseball team and builds friendships with her teammates. The power of this book lies in its central metaphor: the need for communication. Between pitcher and catcher, between base coach and runner, between parent and child, between friends. 

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By Diana Harmon Asher

Book cover of Sidetracked

Why this book?

Although the main character in this warm and funny book is a boy, I include it in my list of favorite books about girls who love sports because the best athlete in this story of a middle-school cross country team is a girl. She’s the team member all the other kids depend on. The team member who pushes Joseph Friedman – a boy with attention challenges, innumerable phobias, and no athletic “gifts” – to keep trying. She just won’t let Joseph give up. I love the relationships between the teammates in this book. And I love the way Asher shows that in running – as in life – winning doesn’t always mean coming in first. It means trying to do just a little bit better each time you step onto the track.

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Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America

By Karen Blumenthal

Book cover of Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America

Why this book?

Today’s young readers can’t believe that when I was in high school, our basketball team was only allowed in the gym when the boys weren’t using it. They can’t believe there was a time when people thought girls shouldn’t play competitive sports. But really, who could believe it? Who could believe it would take an act of Congress – the 1972 law known as Title IX – to guarantee girls and women the right to equal opportunities in every academic field and in athletics? I love this book because it tells the story of Title IX, a law that mandated academic equity for girls and women, and changed the world for girls who love sports. 

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