The best middle grade books for countering toxic masculinity

The Books I Picked & Why

The Boys in the Back Row

By Mike Jung

Book cover of The Boys in the Back Row

Why this book?

In this frequently hilarious novel about a pair of comic-loving band kids planning a big adventure, Mike Jung delivers a beautiful portrait of middle-grade male friendship. The caring, affectionate relationship between best buds Matt and Eric stands out as they defy stereotypes and preconceptions about how boys are “supposed” to act. And did I mention it’s laugh-out-loud funny?

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Alan Cole Is Not a Coward

By Eric Bell

Book cover of Alan Cole Is Not a Coward

Why this book?

Between his cruel older brother and his rigid, overbearing father, Alan Cole doesn’t have it easy—especially when his brother discovers he has a crush on a boy. But with some help from his friends, Alan learns to stand up for himself and challenge his family’s expectations. This is the kind of book I wish I could send back in time to my younger self, and I know a lot of kids will relate to Alan’s struggles—and celebrate his triumphs.

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As Brave as You

By Jason Reynolds

Book cover of As Brave as You

Why this book?

Over the course of a summer with his grandparents and his big brother Ernie in the country, the ever-curious Genie learns more about his family history—including parts the adults don’t like to talk about—and ends up reimagining what bravery really looks like. As you’d expect from award-winning author Jason Reynolds, this book is moving, full of humor, and it will linger with you long after you close the cover.

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Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

By Carlos Hernandez

Book cover of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Why this book?

This delightfully strange sci-fi romp opens with Cuban-American budding magician Sal Vidon fending off a bully by summoning a raw chicken from another universe, and things only get wackier from there. Among the multi-dimensional hijinks and unusual characters (including a sentient and sarcastic entropy sweeper), Sal stands out as a memorable middle-grade protagonist who’s comfortable and secure in all his weird glory.

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The Best at It

By Maulik Pancholy

Book cover of The Best at It

Why this book?

Rahul Kapoor isn’t sure where he belongs as he starts seventh grade as one of the few Indian American kids in his midwestern town, but he latches onto his grandfather’s advice to figure out what he’s “the best” at… with sometimes disastrous results. This sweet, funny novel tackles relatable issues like facing anxiety and discovering your passion, all with a delightful cast. Rahul’s aunties are a force to behold!

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