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. 

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The books I picked & why

A Boy Named Queen

By Sara Cassidy,

Book cover of A Boy Named Queen

Why did I love 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. 

By Sara Cassidy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Boy Named Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Queen, a new boy in Evelyn's grade five class, wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos. Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. And yet in her quiet way she notices things.

How will the class react to Queen? How will Evelyn?

Evelyn takes particular notice of this boy named Queen. The way the bullies don't seem to faze him. The way he seems to live by his own rules. When it turns out that they take the same route…

Jason's Why

By Beth Goobie,

Book cover of Jason's Why

Why did I love 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. 

By Beth Goobie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jason's Why as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2014 Silver Birch Express Award nominee

Jason's mom says he is a problem, and puts him in a group home. Now Jason has to live with boys and grown-ups he doesn't know.

Jason thinks, Now I'm in a house that isn't my house. I watch their hands and feet. When hands and feet move fast, you're going to get hit.

There's a big bubble of mad inside Jason. It makes him yell and throw things. Jason wants to be good and move home again, but the mad bubble just won't go away.

Book cover of Danny, King of the Basement

Why did I love 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. 

By David S. Craig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Danny, King of the Basement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In two years, Danny and his mom have moved more often than most kids lose teeth...

When Danny moves into a new basement apartment, the kids he meets seem to have way more problems than just being hungry. But Danny’s imagination creates a community that allows his friends to cope with their problems and ultimately to help Danny—because his crisis isn’t losing a home. It’s gaining one…

Book cover of Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

Why did I love 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.   

By Shari Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2018 ALA Schneider Family Book Award, Middle Grade Books category

Sixth grade is coming to an end, and so is life as Macy McMillan knows it. Already a "For Sale" sign mars the front lawn of her beloved house. Soon her mother will upend their perfect little family, adding a stepfather and six-year-old twin stepsisters. To add insult to injury, what is Macy's final sixth grade assignment? A genealogy project. Well, she'll put it off - just like those wedding centerpieces she's supposed to be making.

Just when Macy's mother ought to be understanding, she sends Macy…

The Barren Grounds

By David A. Robertson,

Book cover of The Barren Grounds

Why did I love 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! 

By David A. Robertson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Barren Grounds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle-grade fantasy series from award-winning author David Robertson.

Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home -- until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only…

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