The best middle grade books with kids who feel like outsiders in their family

Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to stories about outsiders and misfits. Who hasn’t, at some point, wondered if they fit in with their family, friends, or school? I love the moments in stories when characters find their voice and recognize that being different can be empowering. As an elementary teacher, it’s my hope that each student in my classroom can share their uniqueness and let their voice shine. I want them to know that it’s okay to feel different or to be weird. The lead characters in the middle grade books I’m recommending all have that sense of being an outsider in some way. I hope you enjoy them.

I wrote...

Worse Than Weird

By Jody J. Little,

Book cover of Worse Than Weird

What is my book about?

"Hank and Coral will never change. They live in their own infinite loop of weirdness." MacKenna MacKensie MacLeod is convinced she has the weirdest parents in the world. They grow their own food, raise chickens, lead drumming circles, and even participate in naked bike rides! What’s worse is that they shun technology—Mac’s true love! Wanting to ditch her parents’ Mother Earth Festival, Mac sets out to win a citywide food cart scavenger hunt and the money she needs to attend her dream summer coding camp. Along the way, she learns that help often comes from the strangest of places and that maybe there are other problems that are worse than weird.

The books I picked & why

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For Black Girls Like Me

By Mariama J. Lockington,

Book cover of For Black Girls Like Me

Why this book?

"I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark.The opening line of this gorgeously narrated novel sets the stage perfectly. Makeda, a Black girl adopted by White parents, moves with her family to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Keda can’t help but notice the physical differences between herself and her family, the stares she receives from others, and the constant question who do you belong to? Keda’s journey to find her voice gave me all the feels…worry, anger, joy, compassion, and sadness. Get a box of tissues ready before reading!

How to Train Your Dad

By Gary Paulsen,

Book cover of How to Train Your Dad

Why this book?

"My father was always practical in the weirdest possible way.This is one of the masterful Gary Paulsen’s final books for young readers, and I loved it. The life of Carl and his father is eccentric, to say the least. Dumpster diving for food scraps? Reweaving old cloth to make clothes? Carl and his best friend, Pooder, have a plan to make his life better! Using a puppy training manual for inspiration, Carl sets out to train his own father to change for the better. What follows is a tangent-filled, laugh-out-loud, heartwarming training session.

Finding Orion

By John David Anderson,

Book cover of Finding Orion

Why this book?

"Everybody’s family is a little nutso. But there’s nuts…and then there’s the Kwirks." A scavenger hunt to find the ashes of their late grandfather! That premise may seem macabre, but John David Anderson has a gift for plotting the oddball, yet heartfelt, storyline with memorable main characters. With Rion Kwirk and his nutty family, he has done it again. From the opening chapter when a clown appears at the Kwirk’s door, singing a message about the death of their grandfather, I knew I was in for a hilarious, fun-filled journey—one that reminded me that being out of the ordinary only makes you extraordinary.


By Jennifer Gennari,

Book cover of Muffled

Why this book?

"How can I be me in a loud world?Amelia is sound sensitive. Even the smallest sounds, like soft footsteps, and gum chewing feel amplified in her head. Imagine having to deal with that discomfort each minute of the day? Gennari’s beautiful, detailed writing helped me feel exactly what daily life was like for Amelia, including her struggles to fit in at school and home. Mostly it made me empathetic to my soft-spoken, introverted students who deal with their outgoing classmates every day. 

The Truth about Twinkie Pie

By Kat Yeh,

Book cover of The Truth about Twinkie Pie

Why this book?

"I guess my family likes to do things pretty different. Kind of weird, huh?" From the first page, I was swept up by GiGi’s say it like it is voice. For her entire life, her older sister, DiDi, has raised her on stories and recipes from their deceased mama. When they move to a new town, GiGi longs for a fresh start—something different than the study, study, study her sister insists upon. As GiGi’s friendships blossom, the gulf between her and DiDi widens, and I was reminded of how our impulses often lead to trouble. GiGi’s choices made me wince, gasp, sniffle, but ultimately cheer! (Did I mention recipes? This book has lots!)

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