The best books about navigating the middle school years with honesty and empathy

Why am I passionate about this?

As a former middle school teacher and librarian, I know first-hand the power of story to motivate and teach. Over the years, I have also been lucky enough to facilitate several mother-daughter book groups and have found that books that show characters wrestling with decisions about doing the right thing, and recovering from bad choices, help to show children that there is always hope. Middle school is a time of such challenge and change, and stories that show authentically drawn characters navigating this tough terrain can act as guideposts. Becoming independent, finding your voice, growing empathy, and cherishing family and friends are necessary steps to becoming confident and healthy humans.


I wrote...

Elinormal

By Kate McCarroll Moore,

Book cover of Elinormal

What is my book about?

While skipping lessons at the prestigious ballet academy that her mother forced her to enroll in, 11-year-old Elinor Malcolm meets Indira, a mysterious older girl who encourages her to explore her identity and expand her world. A touch of magical realism infuses their encounters and shapes their relationship. Indira’s influence helps Elinor find a path that ultimately is satisfying for both her and her mother. Friendship, family, identity, and the importance of honest communication and being true to oneself are interwoven themes that create a fascinating tapestry and a very compelling story.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hope in the Valley

Kate McCarroll Moore Why did I love this book?

This book shows the strength and determination of a twelve-year-old dealing with friendship, family, grief, and change. It speaks to the power of believing in yourself and finding your voice.

I loved the character of Pandita and the strength and determination she shows in doing the right thing for herself, but more importantly, for the community at large. Mitali Perkins is a beautiful writer and this book is filled with passion, empathy, and heart.

By Mitali Perkins,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hope in the Valley 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?

Hope in the Valley, from National Book Award Nominee Mitali Perkins, is a middle-grade novel exploring grief, friendship, family, and growing up in a community facing a housing crisis.

Twelve-year-old Indian-American Pandita Paul doesn't like change. She's not ready to start middle school and leave the comforts of childhood behind. Most of all, Pandita doesn't want to feel like she's leaving her mother, who died a few years ago, behind. After a falling out with her best friend, Pandita is planning to spend most of her summer break reading and writing in her favorite secret space: the abandoned but majestic…


Book cover of Better with Butter

Kate McCarroll Moore Why did I love this book?

This book has an unlikely character pairing: a twelve-year-old girl who is afraid of literally everything, and a bullied goat that tends to faint when faced with stressful situations.

These characters, the wonderfully named protagonist Marvel, and Butter the fainting goat, help each other face their fears. This is such a quirky and sweet book – I found myself rooting along page after page. The story is filled with empathy and the joyful power of believing in yourself and standing up to adversity.

By Victoria Piontek,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Better with Butter 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?

A girl with anxiety disorder finds an unlikely friend -- and emotional support animal -- in the form of an adorable fainting goat.

Twelve-year-old Marvel is afraid of absolutely everything -- amusement park rides, food poisoning, earthquakes, and that big island of plastic floating through the ocean. She also obsesses about smaller worries like making friends, getting called on by the teacher, and walking home alone.

Her parents and the school therapist call her worries an anxiety disorder, but Marvel calls them armor. If something can happen, it will. She needs to be prepared.

But when Marvel stumbles on a…


Book cover of Beyond the Bright Sea

Kate McCarroll Moore Why did I love this book?

I read this book with my mother-daughter book group and we all loved it!

The story focuses on the quest for twelve-year-old Crow to discover where she came from and who she truly is. It’s a story filled with suspense and intrigue fueled by Crow’s insatiable curiosity. There are powerful lessons here for Crow and for the lucky readers who follow her journey. The writing is hauntingly beautiful!

By Lauren Wolk,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Beyond the Bright Sea 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?

'Harper Lee has a worthy successor. Wolk is a big new talent' - The Times

Crow has lived her whole life on a tiny, starkly beautiful island. Her only companions are Osh, the man who rescued her from a washed-up skiff as a baby and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their neighbour across the sandbar. But it is only when a mysterious fire appears across the water that an unspoken question of her own history forms in Crow's heart, and an unstoppable chain of events is triggered. Crow sets out to find her lost identity - and, ultimately, to learn…


Book cover of Alone

Kate McCarroll Moore Why did I love this book?

Twelve-year-old Maddie makes one bad decision with terrible repercussions that sets this story in motion as she finds herself utterly and truly alone.

This is a story that the girls in my mother-daughter book group had much to say about. Her quest to survive in a world that has been transformed seemingly overnight forces Maddie to trust her instincts in order to survive on her own.

The story reads like a metaphor for the transition from child to adult. The themes of honesty, resilience, and optimism in the face of challenging circumstances are at the heart of this riveting story.

By Megan E. Freeman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Alone 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?

Perfect for fans of Hatchet and the I Survived series, this harrowing middle grade debut novel-in-verse from a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet tells the story of a young girl who wakes up one day to find herself utterly alone in her small Colorado town.

When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She's alone-left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.

With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive…


Book cover of A Bird Will Soar

Kate McCarroll Moore Why did I love this book?

I honestly picked this book up because I love birds and the cover is gorgeous. And then I fell in love with Axel, the main character, and I didn’t want the book to ever end.

The writing is so lyrical and poetic, the characters are so fully rendered, and the plight of the rescued eagle and all the forces at play make this a most compelling read. This is a book with heart and compassion and it will leave you rooting for Axel as he navigates his challenging family situation and learns to soar.

By Alison Green Myers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Bird Will Soar 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?

WINNER OF THE SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARD

A heartfelt and hopeful debut about a bird-loving autistic child whose family's special nest is in danger of falling apart.

Axel loves everything about birds, especially eagles. No one worries that an eagle will fly too far and not come home-a fact Axel wishes his mother understood. Deep down, Axel knows that his mother is like an osprey-the best of all bird mothers-but it's hard to remember that when she worries and keeps secrets about important things. His dad is more like a wild turkey, coming and going as he pleases. His dad's…


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Touching the Surface

By Kimberly Sabatini,

Book cover of Touching the Surface

Kimberly Sabatini Author Of Touching the Surface

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Mom Coach Chocolate connoisseur HSP

Kimberly's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she can't remember her past, is getting the cold shoulder from her best friend, and has no idea why she keeps repeating the same mistakes across her previous lives. Elliot just wants to move on, but first, she'll be forced to look at her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. She'll also have to face the person she’s killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her previous lives, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most…

Touching the Surface

By Kimberly Sabatini,

What is this book about?

Experience the afterlife in this lyrical, paranormal debut novel that will send your heart soaring.

When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn't remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.

Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she'd rather keep buried. Memories of people she's hurt, people she's betrayed...and people she's killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of…


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