The best middle grade books with heart and honesty

Who am I?

I’m a middle grade author, and I believe so much in the power of books to help broker conversations between kids and the adults in their lives, especially if those conversations are about things that are often tricky and tough to talk about. I love how middle grade fiction will fearlessly tackle these difficult topics, but does so well with heart and humor. 


I wrote...

Book cover of The Shape of Thunder

What is my book about?

Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend, Quinn, in a year. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.

On the day of Cora’s 12th birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him. The two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Jasmine Warga Why did I love this book?

A Good Kind of Trouble is the beautiful story that follows the main character, Shayla, as she learns to use her voice and speak up for things that matters to her. The book has everything I love in a middle grade novel like humor and heart (Lisa is a master at describing junior high friendships and crushes!), but also engages honestly with the reader about important things like racism and social justice. This book can serve as a fantastic conversation starter for kids and parents and kids and teachers.

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Good Kind of Trouble 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?

From debut author Lisa Moore Ramee comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what's right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give and the novels of Renee Watson and Jason Reynolds.

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she'd also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it's like all the rules have changed.…


Book cover of Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone

Jasmine Warga Why did I love this book?

This is a beautiful and intense book! Jennifer Chan has disappeared, and our protagonist, Mallory, isn’t sure if she’s responsible for Jennifer’s disappearance…or if the aliens Jennifer is obsessed with are. It has a great high concept hook paired with Tae Keller’s gorgeous writing that incisively looks at bullying and the consequences of our actions. I also love the structure that toggles us between the present and past and builds suspense. 

By Tae Keller,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal for When You Trap a Tiger, Tae Keller offers a gripping and emotional story about a girl who is alienated by her friends . . . for believing in aliens.

Sometimes middle school can make you feel like you're totally alone in the universe...but what if we aren't alone at all?

Thanks to her best friend, Reagan, Mallory Moss knows the rules of middle school. The most important one? You have to fit in to survive. But then Jennifer Chan moves in across the street, and that rule doesn't seem to…


Book cover of Those Kids from Fawn Creek

Jasmine Warga Why did I love this book?

I love this book so much! It is about a small town in Louisiana, Fawn Creek (known as Yawn Creek to the residents) where the same 12 kids have been going to school forever until one day a new girl, Orchid Mason shows up and begins to mix things up. It’s about friendship, family, self-deception, and following your dreams. I absolutely loved it. Erin Entrada Kelly is such a master at showing the reader multiple perspectives, which greatly enhances the reading experience. 

By Erin Entrada Kelly,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Those Kids from Fawn Creek 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?

“A powerful and thought-provoking story.”—Shelf Awareness (starred review)

“An emotionally resonant story about authenticity and belonging.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A raw, real exploration of belonging that’s also sweetly hopeful.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Every day in Fawn Creek, Louisiana, is exactly the same—until Orchid Mason arrives. From Erin Entrada Kelly, the winner of the Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe and a Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space, this contemporary school story set in small-town Louisiana is about friendship, family, deception, and being true to yourself and your dreams.

There are twelve kids in the seventh grade at Fawn Creek Middle…


Book cover of In the Key of Us

Jasmine Warga Why did I love this book?

This sweet summer camp love story charts the burgeoning relationship between two girls, Andi and Zora. It’s a book that deals with a lot of heavy stuff—grief, the pressure of parental expectations, mental health, racism—but it also is so enjoyable to read because of Lockington’s warm writing and the beautifully rendered summer camp setting. Also, we even at some points in the book hear from the summer camp itself—so creative and cool! 

By Mariama J. Lockington,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Key of Us 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?

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Andi is grappling with grief following the death of her mother. Zora is exhausted by trying to please her success-oriented parents. Both feel very much alone. Until a summer music camp brings them together.

The only two Black girls at camp in a sea of white children, Andi and Zora slowly begin to connect and reveal their deepest fears and dreams. While Andi is a natural on trumpet, Zora doesn't know if she wants to be a floutist since she also loves to dance.

As Andi and Zora struggle to figure out who they really are,…


Book cover of Caterpillar Summer

Jasmine Warga Why did I love this book?

This is one of my favorite middle grade books ever! Caterpillar Summer is about Cat who finds herself spending the summer with her estranged grandparents at their beach house. The setting in this book is so vividly rendered—it made me immediately want to take a trip to a Carolina beach—but it is also a book that heartfeltly covers topics such as grief, sibling relationships, and what it means to just get to be a kid. This book really captured my whole heart. 

By Gillian McDunn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Caterpillar Summer 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?

Cat is the glue holding her family together. When her little brother Chicken has a meltdown, she knows just how to calm him, whether it's scratching his back or reading his favourite book. They've always had a special bond. But with their mum working extra hard after their dad's death, Cat is struggling to keep everything afloat.

When Cat and Chicken unexpectedly end up spending the summer with the grandparents they've never met, Cat suddenly has the space to be a kid again. Gradually, she discovers that days on Gingerbread Island are full of fishing, fireflies and new friendships -…


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Dancing in the Ring

By Susan Sage,

Book cover of Dancing in the Ring

Susan Sage Author Of Dancing in the Ring

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Influencer Activist Crazy cat lady

Susan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Detroit in the 1920s proved to be the Paris of the West for many – including Catherine McIntosh and Robert Sage. Both law school students, they are as ardent about each other as they are about their career dreams.

From a poor family in the Detroit neighborhood of Corktown, Catherine learns early on, the necessity of being resilient. Bob, the ‘battling barrister,’ boxes in order to pay for law school. Despite his tough-boy personality, Bob was a friend to all: judges, cops, as well as a few members of the notorious Purple Gang. He was immediately smitten with Kate, one of Detroit’s first women attorneys. They became legendary in legal circles for their commitment to social justice causes – as well as notorious in the local speakeasies.

Dancing in the Ring

By Susan Sage,

What is this book about?

Detroit in the 1920s proved to be the Paris of the West for many-including Catherine McIntosh and Robert Sage. These two law school students are as passionate about each other as they are their dreams.

From a poor family in the neighborhood of Corktown, Catherine learned early on, the necessity of being resilient. She becomes one of the first women in Detroit to obtain a law degree. Bob, the 'battling barrister, ' boxes in order to pay for law school. Despite his gruff and tough-boy personality, he is a friend to all: judges, cops, and even a couple members of…


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