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

The Books I Picked & Why

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

By Dusti Bowling

Book cover of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Why 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.

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By Jerry Spinelli

Book cover of Stargirl

Why 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.

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Because of Winn-Dixie

By Kate DiCamillo

Book cover of Because of Winn-Dixie

Why 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.

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A Good Kind of Trouble

By Lisa Moore Ramée

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Why 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.

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A Place at the Table

By Saadia Faruqi, Laura Shovan

Book cover of A Place at the Table

Why 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!

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