The best middle grade books to help kids build empathy for those in need

Who am I?

I am the author of two middle grade books, and I love writing about kids who may not have much materially but abound in heart and courage. I grew up in a small southern town and my childhood was just like that—low on income but full of love, hope, and friendship. I want kids to know that despite their circumstances there is hope for a better life. Like Wavie’s mom tells her in my book, Hope In The Holler, “You’ve got as much right to a good life as anybody. So go find it!”


I wrote...

Hope in the Holler

By Lisa Lewis Tyre,

Book cover of Hope in the Holler

What is my book about?

Before Wavie's mother died, she gave Wavie a list of instructions to help her find her way in life, including: Be brave, Wavie B! You got as much right to a good life as anybody, so find it! But little did Wavie's mom know that events would bring Wavie back to Conley Hollow, the Appalachian hometown her mother left behind. Now Wavie's back in the Holler—in the clutches of her Aunt Samantha Rose. Life with Samantha Rose is no picnic, but there's real pleasure in making friends with the funny, easygoing kids her aunt calls the "neighborhood-no-accounts." With their help, Wavie just might be able to prevent her aunt from becoming her legal guardian and find her courage and place in the world. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How to Steal a Dog

Lisa Lewis Tyre Why did I love this book?

This is a wonderful book about homelessness that is full of heart and humor. I love that it explores the question of whether it’s okay to do something wrong, in this case stealing a dog for the reward money, when you’re desperate for money. This is an entertaining way to teach kids about the reality of living out of a car, the choices kids and their parents must navigate when impoverished, and how we often make biased assumptions when we encounter those less fortunate than ourselves.

By Barbara O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Steal a Dog 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?

Half of me was thinking, Georgina, don't do this. Stealing a dog is just plain wrong. The other half of me was thinking, Georgina, you're in a bad fix and you got to do whatever it takes to get yourself out of it.

Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set…


Book cover of Front Desk

Lisa Lewis Tyre Why did I love this book?

This is a fantastic book about the hardships many immigrants face, from being taken advantage of by their employers, to language barriers, and of course, racism. What I loved about this book is its portrayal of community. Growing up poor, I know that it’s often those with nothing who give the most. Kids will cheer for Mia as she works the front desk, helps those around her, and stands up to injustice.

By Kelly Yang,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Front Desk 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?

Four starred reviews and over ten best-of-year lists!* "Many readers will recognize themselves or their neighbors in these pages." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Winner of the Asian / Pacific American Award for Children's Literature!* "Many readers will recognize themselves or their neighbors in these pages." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred reviewMia Tang has a lot of secrets.Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean…


Book cover of The Same Stuff as Stars

Lisa Lewis Tyre Why did I love this book?

Life is tough for Angel—her dad is in jail, her mom is irresponsible, and she has to take care of her seven-year-old brother. Paterson doesn’t hold back in this unflinching look at family brokenness, but as sad as the circumstances are, there is hope! Angel meets some new adults and through their small kindnesses, she learns that she is stronger than she ever knew. It’s a great message for any kid who is struggling with too much responsibility. It has a redemption arc that I also loved. 

By Katherine Paterson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Same Stuff as Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Angel's dad is in jail and her mum's abandoned her and her little brother at their great-grandmother's crumbling farmhouse. Grandma can't even look after herself, let alone two children, so Angel finds that it's left up to her. In a dreary and lonely world there is only one bright spot - a mysterious stranger who appears on clear nights to teach Angel all about the stars. Katherine Paterson is an internationally acclaimed author who has won the Newbery Medal (twice), the National Book Award for Children's Literature (USA) twice, and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award.


Book cover of The Bridge Home

Lisa Lewis Tyre Why did I love this book?

I’ve been to India three times and I love to share books that show its complex, beautiful, and sometimes brutal culture. When sisters Viji and Rukku leave home to escape their abusive father, readers are given a detailed look at what living on the streets of India is like for many children. It’s a realistic lesson on the caste system and abject poverty, all wrapped in a compelling story; and I am always a fan of books that show siblings that care deeply for one another. I also hope it sparks an interest in that amazing country and its inhabitants.

By Padma Venkatraman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Bridge Home 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?

"Readers will be captivated by this beautifully written novel about young people who must use their instincts and grit to survive. Padma shares with us an unflinching peek into the reality millions of homeless children live every day but also infuses her story with hope and bravery that will inspire readers and stay with them long after turning the final page."--Aisha Saeed, author of the New York Times Bestselling Amal Unbound

Cover may vary.

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman's stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai's teeming streets, so when runaway sisters…


Book cover of Once You Know This

Lisa Lewis Tyre Why did I love this book?

This beautiful book opens with the line, “Every day Mr. McInnis tells us to imagine our future.” Unfortunately, for Brittany, she can’t envision a future that holds anything good. Her mother is in an abusive and controlling relationship and her grandmother suffers from dementia. I love that this book shows a positive teacher, a mom who, despite her own bad choices, truly loves her children, and a family willing to go to bat for one another. Extra points for the intergenerational storyline of a grandmother who lives with the family.

By Emily Blejwas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Once You Know This 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 girl wishes for a better life for herself, her mom, and her baby brother and musters the courage to make it happen in this moving and emotionally satisfying story for readers of Kate DiCamillo and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

“Once You Know This reminds me of a flower blooming in the crack of a sidewalk. It’s important, and it’s special. Just read it.”—Ali Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Thing About Jellyfish
 
Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol,…


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Book cover of Sweet Dreams, Boone

Susan Grant Author Of The Bottle House

New book alert!

Who am I?

I am a Bible college graduate whose faith has always been a practical matter. Because I learned to find the “so what” of the Bible, when I became a teacher of the Bible in the public schools of Rowan County, North Carolina, my elective courses had waiting lists for students to get in to. As I now teach in Maine, I found I could continue to share a practical Christian faith through my writing. The books I have listed here do the very thing that I seek in my own writing.

Susan's book list on authentically illustrating genuine Christian faith

What is my book about?

Boone is a sad and lonely little dog. He doesn’t like to be left alone when Mom goes to work.

To help him feel better, Mom buys him a special basket for his bed. When he sleeps, he dreams of a long-ago time and meets a man who is sad and lonely too, until he meets Jesus.

Sweet Dreams, Boone

By Susan Grant, Kelly Artieri (illustrator),

What is this book about?

Boone is a sad and lonely little dog. He doesn’t like to be left alone when Mom goes to work. To help him feel better, Mom buys him a special basket for his bed. When he sleeps, he dreams of a long-ago time and meets a man who is sad and lonely too, until he meets Jesus.


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