The best middle-grade books about the ins and outs of friendship

Why am I passionate about this?

In my work and my writing, I love to explore what helps friendships thrive and what trips us up. My book BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships grew out of a friendship program I ran for preteens. My second book, Middle School - Safety Goggles Advised grew out of the stories I heard after spending time in 7th-grade classrooms. As a child, I loved interactive books so I include activities like quizzes, choose-your-own-ending stories, and other ways to engage readers in my books. I have a master’s degree in social sciences and my latest books explore social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids.


I wrote...

BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships

By Jessica Speer, Elowyn Dickerson (illustrator),

Book cover of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships

What is my book about?

Let’s face it, friendships can be challenging. BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) tackles friendship struggles head-on, leaving readers informed and empowered as they navigate the tricky world of friendship.

Through fun activities, quizzes, and real stories, this book helps girls decipher healthy vs. unhealthy relationship skills and how to navigate struggles. But more importantly, this book gives girls a new perspective on friendship and the role they play in creating positive change.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Jessica Speer Why did I love this book?

This fun, heartfelt story is about a middle school girl, Aven, that was born without arms. When her family moves to Arizona, she has to start over and make new friends. Moving is challenging for any kid, but especially difficult if you are in middle school and look very different from your peers.

Aven is funny, authentic, and self-aware. Watching her navigate the challenges in her life is inspiring and encourages readers to question their assumptions and judgments about themselves and others. This story includes a mystery, some adventure, as well as a beautiful reflection on acceptance and friendship.

By Dusti Bowling,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus 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?

The paperback edition of the bestselling middle grade novel about a spunky girl born without arms and a boy with Tourette syndrome navigating the challenges of middle school, disability, and friendship - all while solving a mystery in a western theme park. Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she'll have…


Book cover of Stargirl

Jessica Speer Why did I love this book?

This wonderful story is about the power and perils of nonconformity. The main character, Stargirl, is truly enchanting. She represents the ethereal qualities that people aspire to have: to appreciate the little things, to dare to be different, and to be kind to strangers. Her selfless, unique nature does not go so well in her critical high school environment. The story is beautifully told, leaving readers inspired to let their true selves shine and to accept others as they are.

By Jerry Spinelli,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Stargirl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Soon to be an original film on Disney+ streaming service!

Before ELEANOR AND PARK, there was STARGIRL. The seminal life-affirming YA novel celebrating first love and self-acceptance - now in a beautiful new edition for the next generation of readers.

She's as magical as the desert sky. As mysterious as her own name. Nobody knows who she is or where she's from. But everyone loves her for being different. And she captures Leo's heart with just one smile.

STARGIRL is a classic of our time that celebrates being true to ourselves and the thrill of first love. A life-changing read…


Book cover of Because of Winn-Dixie

Jessica Speer Why did I love this book?

Kate DiCamillo has an amazing way of creating characters that are easy to fall in love with, including a dog named after a grocery store. My daughters and I loved this book, which sits prominently on our shelf of favorite books. This story is especially beautiful because of the main characters, Opal and her father. Both are struggling with the abandonment of Opal’s mother. This book deals with important themes of grief, hope, acceptance, loss, friendship, and the healing power of animals.

By Kate DiCamillo,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked Because of Winn-Dixie 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?

Funny and poignant, this 2001 Newbery Honor novel captures life in a quirky Southern town as Opal and her mangy dog, Winn-Dixie, strike up friendships among the locals.

One summer's day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries - and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It's because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it's because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that…


Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Jessica Speer Why did I love this book?

Twelve-year-old Shayla prefers to follow the rules. But now in that she’s in middle school, she’s no longer sure what the rules are. Her sister is involved in Black Lives Matter, which Shayla doesn’t think is for her. After a protest, she starts wearing an armband to school in support of BLM.

Over the course of the story, Shayla learns to face her fear and do what she knows is right, even if it impacts her friendships. This story deals with difficult questions of belonging, especially when it comes to race and taking a stand on things that matter.

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 A Place at the Table

Jessica Speer Why did I love this book?

This is an engaging book about friendship, immigration, culture, and family. The story follows two middle school girls that find a connection through cooking. Both are the daughters of immigrants and find much-needed support in each other as they navigate middle school, family struggles, and racism. This book is especially appealing to foodies as it is filled with cooking too!

By Saadia Faruqi, Laura Shovan,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked A Place at the Table 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 timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression.

The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has…


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Funny Folk Tales for Children

By Allison Galbraith,

Book cover of Funny Folk Tales for Children

Allison Galbraith Author Of Funny Folk Tales for Children

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a storyteller and folktale collector. All my jobs have involved telling stories – as a community librarian, in theatre, in education, and since 2006 as a professional storyteller and writer. I work in schools, festivals, and outdoor education with all sorts of people and their animals. I have honed my skills to find the most enjoyable traditional tales that can be shared widely. I live in Scotland, where I encourage families to read and tell their favourite stories together. Storytelling is a living art form that belongs to everyone. More than anything, I love the natural world, and I bring the magnificence of nature into all my work.

Allison's book list on world folktales for reading to everyone over six

What is my book about?

These are the funniest folktales in the world. You will be amazed at the intelligent animals and LOL at the ridiculous scrapes the humans get themselves into in these short stories. Discover why dogs are our best friends, learn how to change a cow into a zombie, and meet a shape-shifting, cartwheeling raccoon dog.

Suitable for reading age 7+. This book is perfect for storytime & reading together at bedtime and holidays. These stories will cheer even the grumpiest grandparent up :).

Funny Folk Tales for Children

By Allison Galbraith,

What is this book about?

'It's the best present you can give. It never breaks and doesn't need batteries. What is it?'

The answer is inside THIS BOOK!

Eleven of the funniest traditional tales from around the world. Laugh your socks off as you discover why dogs are our best friends, learn how to flummox fairies, and meet a shape-shifting, cartwheeling badger.


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