The best middle grade books about kids living here and now

Beverley Brenna Author Of Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life
By Beverley Brenna

Who am I?

I love middle-grade stories that touch the mind, the heart, and the funny bone. These books are filled with possibilities and hope—they give me courage for the future. I have three grown sons who have inspired much of my thinking about children and childhood, and I keep close to me all of the children I worked with as a teacher, hoping they might finally see themselves and the world they know in the pages of what their children read. I’m grateful to other writers who inspire me to read, and to write, creating the best stories we can for kids living now, today, in the world we have (and imagining the world we want to see). 


I wrote...

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

By Beverley Brenna, Tara Anderson (illustrator),

Book cover of Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

What is my book about?

Nine-year-old Jeannie really, really wants a hamster. Her dad has moved out, her mother is busy with work, and her brother might be addicted to video games. Sapphire really, really wants a family. Life in the pet store is no picnic, and it’s been hard imagining the thrill of freedom. Both narrators come together in a hilarious, heartwarming story about finding one’s place in the world. 

Jeannie’s dad and his new partner are gay, and Jeannie’s family expands to include Robin, along with Sapphire—a very special rodent whose existential wonders frame an important story about belonging. Anna, a trans woman who lives in the neighborhood, completes a cast of characters that encourage readers to embrace diversity, recognize their purpose, and be who they are. 

The books I picked & why

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A Boy Named Queen

By Sara Cassidy,

Book cover of A Boy Named Queen

Why this book?

I wish these characters lived on my street. When Queen says to Evelyn that his chosen name is like a sorting hat, helping him decide whom to like on the basis of how they respond to it, I pretty much jumped up and down with admiration. He also tells Evelyn about his force field—it lets all the dumb things bounce off, but directs the nice things right into his heart—and I wish that all of us had such a gift. This story breaks my heart and then puts it back together. I’ve read it about a million times. 


Jason's Why

By Beth Goobie,

Book cover of Jason's Why

Why this book?

At last, a book about a kid whose anger is just as big as the anger of many kids I know, and whose transition into parent-requested foster care isn’t easy—but gets easier. Jason and his family are in trouble, and this straightforward novel opens a door that readers don’t often walk through, unless we’re opening that door in real life. This novel reflects real-life situations in a direct and caring story about what happens next. 


Danny, King of the Basement

By David S. Craig,

Book cover of Danny, King of the Basement

Why this book?

This is a play about homelessness. It takes a topic that’s often on the news and makes it personal and relevant through the perspectives of Danny and his mom as they navigate real reasons for living on the street. It’s a captivating story, and kids need to read more plays—along with graphic novels—because they take us on a wonderful journey through dialogue. 


Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

By Shari Green,

Book cover of Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Why this book?

Macy’s mom is getting married and Macy isn’t looking forward to a new step-dad and two pesky little step-sisters. When Macy and her best friend have a falling out, the crabby ancient woman next door—who doesn’t even know sign language—couldn’t possibly become an ally…or could she? I love the free verse format of this novel, and the use of bolded text for dialogue, and how Macy’s hearing impairment is a streamlined and interesting aspect of her characterization.   


The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga, Book One

By David A. Robertson,

Book cover of The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga, Book One

Why this book?

Two contemporary kids go on a quest that’s complex and dangerous—I’m back in Narnia with this one, except I’m travelling with my neighbour’s kids. A terrific blend of the best kind of realism, with portals where other times and worlds connect. And it’s set in Winnipeg—with Book Two just out—by David A. Robertson, a Canadian Indigenous author with a whole list of great titles to read in addition to this one! 


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