The best middle grade novels about first love

Who am I?

Although I was an avid reader of romance when I was a tween, the middle grade novels I wrote prior to Crashing in Love were about more “serious” topics. Yet, much of the mail I received from kids had pressing questions about the future of potential love interests. That’s when I realized that I’d been guilty (like many) of considering romance to be “light” fiction. What could be more important, more serious, than discovering ourselves while making genuine connections with others? Those letters changed my mind. Learning to love is essential and not to be taken lightly at all.


I wrote...

Crashing in Love

By Jennifer Richard Jacobson,

Book cover of Crashing in Love

What is my book about?

Since her parents divorced, twelve-year-old Peyton has known that to achieve happier outcomes in her life, she’s got to focus on eliminating her flaws—and on making sure her first boyfriend is truly right for her. Guided by her collection of inspirational quotes and her growing list of ideal boyfriend traits, Peyton is convinced that this summer will be the perfect summer, complete with the perfect boyfriend! But when she discovers a boy lying unconscious in the middle of the road, the victim of a hit-and-run, her perfect summer takes a dramatic detour.

With abundant warmth and gentle humor, Jennifer Richard Jacobson offers a novel about searching for perfect answers—and finding that reality is both messier and far more intriguing than anything you can dream up.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Drama

Jennifer Richard Jacobson Why did I love this book?

This incredibly engaging graphic novel about thirteen-year-old Callie, and the ups and downs of her infatuations, had me cheering! I was transported back to my own drama club experiences and reminded that it's much easier to explore crushes (and to survive disappointment) when embraced by a tight-knit, supportiveand in this case, passionate—community. Raina Telgemeier creates wonderfully complex and nuanced characters. I cared deeply about them all...well, maybe not Bonnie.

By Raina Telgemeier,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Drama 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?

Raina Telgemeier, the author of the award-winning SMILE, brings us
her next full-colour graphic novel . . . DRAMA!

Callie loves theatre. And while she would totally try out for her
middle school's production of Moon Over Mississippi, she's a terrible
singer. Instead she's the set designer for the stage crew,
and this year she's determined to create a set worthy of Broadway
on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know
much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members
are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage
AND offstage drama that…


Book cover of The Next Great Jane

Jennifer Richard Jacobson Why did I love this book?

Who can resist a heroine who climbs a tree barefoot (in growing winds) and leaps to an attic window to hear one of her favorite authors speak? Not me! I’m a big Jane Austen fan and K.L. Going was able to capture the spirit and wit of her work in this wonderfully layered and romantic tale. (No worries if you or middle grade students you know are not familiar with Austen—the story stands on its own.)  

Just like in my book, the story is set in Maine and the protagonist’s parents are divorced. There are multiple loves stories in this book, and I adored every one of them. I cried big happy tears in the end. I bet you will too.

By K.L. Going,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Next Great Jane 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?

From award-winning author K. L. Going comes a happily-ever-after story of a girl who discovers the true secret to all good writing--through an unlikely friendship, some well-intentioned matchmaking, and little bit of science.

Jane Brannen wants nothing more than to become a famous author like Jane Austen--she just needs to figure out the key to literary success! Her chance to uncover the secret arrives when bestselling author J. E. Fairfax visits her tiny town of Whickett Harbor. Unfortunately, a hurricane rolls in and Jane gets stuck with the author's snobbish son, Devon, instead. But when the skies clear, Jane realizes…


Book cover of Redwood and Ponytail

Jennifer Richard Jacobson Why did I love this book?

I cannot say enough wonderful things about this heartfelt novel in verse about Tam (Redwood) and Kate (Ponytail) who fall in like while finding their authentic selves. Kate (like Peyton in my book) is a perfectionist—she’s got her list of boxes to check. But then Tam comes along, and Kate is set on an invigorating path of discovery. K.A. Holt’s brilliant poetry dazzles as she shares two journeys that are often joyful, satisfying introspective, and completely engrossing.

By K.A. Holt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Redwood and Ponytail 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?

2020 Odyssey Honor Award
2020 Rainbow Booklist Title
NCTE 2020 Notable Poetry Book
ALSC Notable Children's Recordings

Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate's sleek ponytail and perfect facade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam's so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She's everything Kate wishes she could be. It's complicated. Except it's not. When Kate and Tam…


Book cover of Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai

Jennifer Richard Jacobson Why did I love this book?

This sweet story brings me back to the rush of heady (albeit sometimes fleeting) infatuations and reminds me that simple friendship rules such as “Don’t let guys come between us” are not always as simple as they seem. The best part? Although Keiko ends up with the right romantic interest (there’s a scene that will melt your heart), she learns that self-love is paramount.

By Debbi Michiko Florence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai 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?

Fans of Judy Blume and Jenny Han are sure to fall head-over-heels
for this funny, sweet story of crushes, competition,
and the confusing reality of middle school.
"Heartbreak is for suckers."

When Jenna Sakai gets dumped over winter break, it confirms what
she learned from her parents' messy divorce: Relationships
are risky and only lead to disappointment.
So even though she still has to see her ex-boyfriend Elliott
at newspaper club, Jenna is going to be totally heartless this
semester - no boys, just books.

But keeping her cool isn't always easy.

Jenna's chief competition for a big journalism
scholarship…


Book cover of The Chance to Fly

Jennifer Richard Jacobson Why did I love this book?

Another wonderful drama club romance! Thirteen-year-old Nat braves big moves for her passions, which include musical theater, friends, and one certain boy who happens to be one of my favorite literary love interests. Both authors are actors (Stoker the first actress to appear on Broadway in a wheelchair) and the authenticity of their experiences shines through on every page.

By Ali Stroker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Chance to Fly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A heartfelt middle-grade novel about a theater-loving girl who uses a wheelchair for mobility and her quest to defy expectations-and gravity-from Tony award-winning actress Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there's one thing she's absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there's not a cast album she hasn't memorized and belted along to. She's never actually been in a musical though, or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair…


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By Bruce Tate,

Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

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What is my book about?

The plan was insane. The trap seemed to snap shut on Bruce and Maggie Tate, an isolation forced on them by the pandemic and America's growing political factionalism. Something had to change.

Maggie's surprising answer: buy a boat, learn to pilot it, and embark on the Great Loop. With no experience, and knowing little about seafaring, diesel motors, or navigation, Maggie, Bruce, and the family dog decided to take on the six-thousand-mile journey down inland rivers, around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and across the Great Lakes. They would have to navigate canals, rivers, seas, and locks. But along the way, they made new lifelong friends and were forever changed.

For nine months, Bruce and Maggie navigated shallow rivers, bottomless lakes, joy, and loss. Against all odds, they conquered the Great Loop, and along the way, found common cause across political divides with new friends while blowing the walls off their world.

Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,


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