The best books about kids who make it through tough times

Why am I passionate about this?

I went through major surgery when I was in eighth grade. The physical pain was bad, but what hurt more was the emotional side. When I returned to school, the friend groups had shifted, shutting me out because of my extended absence. I had to face that time in life alone. Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to works about kids who have to face challenges on their own. When we go through hard times, our true selves come out. They have to; we have no one else. We can’t pretend. We can only try to make it. The books I like show characters that shine through their hardships.


I wrote...

102 Days of Lying About Lauren

By Maura Jortner,

Book cover of 102 Days of Lying About Lauren

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Mouse calls an amusement park home. Nobody notices her, and that's the way she likes it. Mouse sweeps the streets and wears a uniform she “borrowed” and sleeps on the top floor of the Haunted House of Horrors. She has her special hiding methods down to a science. But one morning, a girl named Cat comes looking for Lauren Suszek. Cat notices her, and Mouse doesn’t like it. Mouse cannot let this nosy pest find out who she really is! If Mouse gets discovered living in the park, Mama might come back for her. Or—even worse?—Mama might not come back at all.

Mouse knows she can lose this girl without blowing her cover. A carefully constructed life in the park is all she needs. Right?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crenshaw

Maura Jortner Why did I love this book?

This book is amazing. It’s about a kid named Jackson whose parents are having trouble making ends meet. It looks like they’re going to be homeless... again. But that’s when Crenshaw, Jackson’s old imaginary friend shows up. I love how Katherine Applegate shows Jackson’s fears and hopes. I grew up pretty poor, and so I know that she does a great job with this tough situation. Yet, despite the hardships, Applegate fills this book with fun, like when Crenshaw, a giant imaginary cat, takes a bubble bath.

By Katherine Applegate,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Crenshaw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The heart-warming new story about family and friendships from Newbery Medal-winner Katherine Applegate.

Life is tough for ten-year-old Jackson. The landlord is often at the door, there's not much food in the fridge and he's worried that any day now the family will have to move out of their home. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken and he's imaginary. He's come back into Jackson's life to help him but is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

A heart-warming story about family and friendships from Newbery medal winner Katherine Applegate.


Book cover of All of Me

Maura Jortner Why did I love this book?

I never thought I’d love a book written in verse; poetry just isn’t my thing. Yet, Chris Baron’s work took my breath away. I was mesmerized and couldn’t put it down.

It’s about Ari, an overweight kid, who struggles with his self-worth because of his size. I’ve struggled with my weight too–all my life. So I understood what he was going through. It broke my heart when Ari harmed himself, but I appreciated seeing him make it through this tough time. He showed determination and grit.

By Chris Baron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All of Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"Beautifully written, brilliant, and necessary," (Matt de la Pena, Newbery Medalist), here is a body-positive book about how a boy deals with fat-shaming.

Ari has body-image issues. After a move across the country, his parents work selling and promoting his mother's paintings and sculptures. Ari's bohemian mother needs space to create, and his father is gone for long stretches of time on "sales" trips.

Meanwhile, Ari makes new friends: Pick, the gamer; the artsy Jorge, and the troubled Lisa. He is also relentlessly bullied because he's overweight, but he can't tell his parents―they're simply not around enough to listen.

After…


Book cover of The Thing About Jellyfish

Maura Jortner Why did I love this book?

This book features a girl named Suzi, who is convinced her friend drowned because of a jellyfish sting. She’s so affected by her friend’s death that she stops talking. I loved seeing Suzi research jellyfish through this book.

I love learning and studying and how she went about it was cool. She was determined and strong. I also appreciated how the plot moves from the present to the past and showed the truth about Suzi’s friendship in the end.

By Ali Benjamin,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Thing About Jellyfish 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?

It's peculiar how no-words can be better than words. How silence can say more than noise, or a person's absence can occupy even more space than their presence did.

Suzy is twelve when her best friend, Franny, drowns one summer at the beach. It takes two days for the news to reach Suzy, and it's not something that she can accept: Franny has always been a strong swimmer, from the day they met in swim class when they were just five. How can someone all of a sudden, just no longer be there?

Suzy realizes that they must have got…


Book cover of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Maura Jortner Why did I love this book?

Coyote and Rodeo, her dad, travel the country in a converted school bus. Coyote is strong. You can tell that from one of the first scenes when she stamps out a lit cigarette with her bare foot. But she’s also got a loving heart.

You can tell that by how she interacts with Ivan, a cat she adopts in the first chapter. She and her dad are on the move because of a family tragedy–a tragedy that her dad isn’t ready to face. But Coyote has a plan and she is ready to see it through... despite how hard it is.

Part of why I love this story is because the book The One and Only Ivan is Coyote’s favorite, and it’s one of mine too.

By Dan Gemeinhart,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Five years. That's how long twelve-year-old Coyote and her dad, River, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation. It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters.

Coyote hasn't been home since, but when she learns that the park in her old neighbourhood is being demolished - the very same park where she, her mum, and her sisters buried a memory box - she devises a plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state.

On the way, they'll pick up an eclectic group of folks. Lester…


Book cover of Plotting the Stars 1: Moongarden

Maura Jortner Why did I love this book?

First off, this book was written by a good friend of mine and I got to read early, early drafts of it. But more importantly, Myra, the main character, is in a special school on the Moon for kids with magic. Only, she doesn’t have magic. She has to try to fake her way through it.

That is, until she develops the wrong kind of magic. When she discovers she’s a Boton, all is lost. She could be put in jail for having plant magic–or worse. Myra isn’t very good at making friends, but she learns through this tough situation how to trust other people.

By Michelle A. Barry,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Plotting the Stars 1 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?

"Moongarden blooms with heart and adventure. A stellar update of The Secret Garden, woven with a little science fiction, a lot of magic, a vibrant heroine, and a plucky robot sidekick to rival R2-D2." —Victoria Aveyard, New York Times bestselling author of Red Queen

The Secret Garden meets The City of Ember. Failed climate change policy, an intergalactic conspiracy, and the magical, unlikely heroine who could unearth it all. An explosive STEAM-inspired series starter perfect for young change makers.

Centuries ago, Earth’s plants turned deadly, and humanity took to space to cultivate new homes. Myra Hodger is in her first…


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Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

By Kimberly Behre Kenna,

Book cover of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

Kimberly Behre Kenna Author Of Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

From early childhood, I escaped into nature when times got tough—climbing trees, exploring the woods, and chatting with beach creatures. When I had to be indoors, books were my escape, and most of my favorites had rich nature settings that were so well-drawn that I could see them and feel like I was actually there. Following strong protagonists as they deal with life challenges by interacting with nature was an affirmation for me and still is. As a parent and former fifth-grade teacher, I’ve witnessed the power that books have to lessen loneliness and inspire hope and activism. 

Kimberly's book list on middle grade kids and nature mingle

What is my book about?

Artemis Sparke has had it with humans. She heads to the nearby salt marsh to hang out with the birds, plants, and mollusks who don't make a big deal of her stutter. The shoreline sanctuary is predictable, unlike her family and friends, and the data in her science journal proves it.

But one day that data goes haywire, and her bird friend RT confirms it: the salt marsh is dying. Artemis discovers that the historic hotel where she lives with her mom may be part of the problem, but speaking up would mean confronting the cranky hotel owner who happens…

Artemis Sparke and the Sound Seekers Brigade

By Kimberly Behre Kenna,

What is this book about?

"...Artemis Sparke is pure energy! ...Kenna's well-crafted debut is a timely gift." -Leslie Connor, National Book Award finalist and author of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle and Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?

When Artemis Sparke has had it with humans, she heads to the nearby salt marsh to hang out with the birds, plants, and mollusks who don't make a big deal of her stutter. The shoreline sanctuary is predictable, unlike her family and friends, and the data in her science journal proves it. But one day that data goes haywire, and her bird friend RT confirms it: the…


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