The best middle grade books about medicine or illness

Who am I?

As a pediatric intensive care doctor, I have lived most of my adult life caring for sick children in the hospital. But I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book and now I write middle grade novels. I am fascinated by the many creative ways authors tackle the sometimes very difficult subject of illness, medicine, and death and have so much respect for those who can do this in an honest and accurate way. While no one wants kids to get sick, kids (and their siblings and friends) can see themselves in these books.


I wrote...

Meranda and the Legend of the Lake

By Meagan Mahoney,

Book cover of Meranda and the Legend of the Lake

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Meranda thought her life was complicated enough with physical challenges (she uses crutches to walk) and her helicopter parents. But when her great-uncle Mark dies, Meranda and her family visit Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where her parents grew up and where she hasn’t been since the age of three.

Soon, secrets begin to unfold: Why does the newspaper headline say her great-uncle Mark’s death was suspicious? Why do strangers keep calling Meranda “miracle baby”? Why does her usually calm mother seem so panicky and scared? And what on earth does all this have to do with mermaids? Meranda and her new friend, Claire, decide to investigate on their own. But as Meranda begins to separate fact from fiction, she finds herself in very real danger…

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

From Ant to Eagle

By Alex Lyttle,

Book cover of From Ant to Eagle

Why this book?

Written by a fellow Canadian pediatric doctor, this award-winning and heartwarming novel has one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time: “My name is Calvin Sinclair, I'm eleven years old and I have a confession...I killed my brother.” The story follows Calvin’s experience when his younger brother is diagnosed with leukemia, spending time both at home and in the strange new hospital world. The scenes are realistic and both painful and touching. As a pediatrician, I thought Alex did a wonderful job providing glimpses of a child’s journey through illness from both sides of the hospital walls.

From Ant to Eagle

By Alex Lyttle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Ant to Eagle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My name is Calvin Sinclair, I'm eleven years old and I have a confession... I killed my brother.

It's the summer before grade six and Calvin Sinclair is bored to tears. He's recently moved from a big city to a small town and there's nothing to do. It's hot, he has no friends and the only kid around is his six-year-old brother, Sammy, who can barely throw a basketball as high as the hoop.

Cal occupies his time by getting his brother to do almost anything: from collecting ants to doing Calvin's chores. And Sammy is all too eager -…

Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca,

Book cover of Red, White, and Whole

Why this book?

This novel in verse took my breath away. LaRocca, also a physician, captured huge emotion and raw detail with few (yet gorgeous) words on the page. Reha, lives between two worlds; an American middle school and a vibrant Indian community (her parents immigrated from India). Both worlds are turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia. LaRocca’s verses are simple, sparse, and pierce the soul. Her poetic explanations of pathophysiology, chemotherapy, and medicine were both accessible and accurate and blew me away.

Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Red, White, and Whole as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Newbery Honor Book! A heartbreakingly hopeful novel in verse about an Indian American girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia.

* Walter Award Winner * New England Book Award Winner * An NCTE Notable Verse Novel * Golden Kite Award Winner * Goodreads Choice Nominee * A Washington Post Best Children's Book of the Year * An SLJ Best Book of the Year * A BookPage Best Book of the Year * An NYPL Best Book of the Year * A Mighty Girl's Best Book of the Year * An ILA Notable Book…


A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay (illustrator)

Book cover of A Monster Calls

Why this book?

This book is stunning and rocked me to the core. Since his mother became ill (also with cancer), 13-year-old Conor is wakened every night at the same time by an ancient monster. The monster declares it will tell Conor three true stories, after which Conor must tell a true story of his own. Through these stories, Conor faces the truth about his feelings and fears and the reader joins in the profound and incredible journey shared by unlikely allies. It may be a bit scary and sad for very young readers, but the overall message about self-forgiveness it being ok to feel our feelings is executed beautifully.

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked A Monster Calls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling novel and major film about love, loss and hope from the twice Carnegie Medal-winning Patrick Ness.

Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don't quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there's a visitor at his window. It's ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking…


Out of My Mind

By Sharon M. Draper,

Book cover of Out of My Mind

Why this book?

This book was an inspirational and eye-opening read on both personal and professional levels for me. Melody is an 11-year-old girl with severe cerebral palsy who is non-verbal and wheelchair-bound. We learn from her narration that she is clever, funny, and completely unable to express herself so is constantly misjudged. She describes agonizingly frustrating experiences with the medical community which hit close to home and have changed me for good. When Melody is literally given a voice, she learns to use it to its fullest and to show up as she truly is. This is a heartwarming, funny, and inspiring story.

Out of My Mind

By Sharon M. Draper,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Out of My Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller for three years and counting!

"A gutsy, candid, and compelling story. It speaks volumes." -School Library Journal (starred review)
"Unflinching and realistic." -KirkusReviews (starred review)

From award-winning author Sharon Draper comes a story that will forever change how we all look at anyone with a disability, perfect for fans of RJ Palacio's Wonder.

Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can't walk. She can't talk. She can't write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She's the…

Guts: A Graphic Novel

By Raina Telgemeier,

Book cover of Guts: A Graphic Novel

Why this book?

This graphic novel portrayal of a young girl with gastrointestinal symptoms and significant anxiety likely rings true for many children (especially over the last two years!) and is the story of the author’s own struggles with anxiety. A unique exploration of the intertwined and complex relationships between mental health and physical symptoms, Telgemeier’s powerful images depict dramatic internal struggles in a more clear and honest way than anything I’ve seen. She also does a great job taking readers through healthy solutions like therapy sessions, communication, and acceptance and does so with hope and humour.

Guts: A Graphic Novel

By Raina Telgemeier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Guts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A true story from Raina Telgemeier, the #1 New York Times bestselling,
multiple award-winning author of Smile, Sisters, Drama,
and Ghosts!

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has
one, too, so it's probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns
to school, where she's dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends,
not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is
just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina's
tummy trouble isn't going away... and it coincides with her
worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What's going
on?

Raina Telgemeier once…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in brothers, Indian Americans, and family?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about brothers, Indian Americans, and family.

Brothers Explore 63 books about brothers
Indian Americans Explore 19 books about Indian Americans
Family Explore 425 books about family

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Before I Fall, Eleanor & Park, and Unsettled if you like this list.