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...

The Shape of Thunder

By Jasmine Warga,

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.

The books I picked & why

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A Good Kind of Trouble

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Why 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.


Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone

By Tae Keller,

Book cover of Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone

Why 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. 


Those Kids from Fawn Creek

By Erin Entrada Kelly,

Book cover of Those Kids from Fawn Creek

Why 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. 


In the Key of Us

By Mariama J. Lockington,

Book cover of In the Key of Us

Why 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! 


Caterpillar Summer

By Gillian McDunn,

Book cover of Caterpillar Summer

Why 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. 


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