The best middle grade books on grief/healing that are actually fun to read

The Books I Picked & Why

Whichwood

By Tahereh Mafi

Whichwood

Why this book?

After the death of her mother and the abandonment of her father, 13-year-old Laylee is the sole remaining Moordeshor in her village, responsible for laundering the souls of the recently dead. Her struggle to keep up has turned her into a grumpy recluse, but the book is saved from becoming too morose by a witty narrator and the arrival of a pair of spunky children inexplicably determined to help her. I absolutely adore every character in this story, and the writing is exquisite. Furthermore, the unique world building in this story tackles death and grief with plenty of heart, but in a fantastical way that removes the sting of experiencing loss in the “real” world. 


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The Canyon's Edge

By Dusti Bowling

The Canyon's Edge

Why this book?

There are a million reasons to love this book! First, it speaks to the consequences of the gun violence epidemic in the United States; the book is about a tween who lost her mother one year ago in a random shooting. Nora and her father plan a hike in an Arizona valley on the anniversary of their loss, but a flash flood washes away Nora’s father and their gear, leaving her stranded. What follows is an extraordinary story that explores anxiety, PTSD, grief, and resilience. I especially love that this story is written in verse—the sparse writing heightens the emotional impact and has the added benefit of appealing to reluctant readers. 


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The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

By Dan Gemeinhart

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Why this book?

This story resonated with me because I grew up traveling the country and spent time living in a renovated school bus. But even if you didn’t experience a transient childhood, you’ll still appreciate Coyote’s adventures and especially the warm and loving relationship she has with her father, Rodeo. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Coyote and Rodeo aren’t traveling for the fun of it so much as they are trying to run away from the pain of losing Coyote’s mother and sisters. This story is full of marvelous characters that pulled me in, kept me reading, and guaranteed that I needed a full box of Kleenex at the end. A wonderful book! 


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Many Points of Me

By Caroline Gertler

Many Points of Me

Why this book?

This book is quieter than the other books on this list, but I consider it a “fun” grief book for a few reasons. First, it’s set in New York City and features the Met. Since the vast majority of readers presumably didn’t grow up there, the unique setting alone makes the book an enjoyable read. But I also love that the main character, Georgia, gets drawn into a mystery while trying to cope with the loss of her father, a well-known artist who left behind an incomplete series of works, one of which may have included Georgia as the subject. Finally, I appreciated the way the author wove real art facts throughout the story, making it a compelling read for any age! 


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The Shape of Thunder

By Jasmine Warga

The Shape of Thunder

Why this book?

This is a fresh take on gun violence—this time the story is a dual point of view, told by academically inclined Cora and soccer player Quinn, who were best friends until Quinn’s brother killed Cora, two other kids, and himself. I love the contrast in voices between the two girls, who are both fully realized and distinctive and yet both suffering the same intense grief. What I really love about this story, though, is that the girls finally reconnect over a plan to find a wormhole in the universe and travel back in time to change the day their lives were forever altered. This magical read about grief and the power of friendship gripped my heart and didn’t let go even after I’d turned the very last page. 


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