Thursday, February 16, 2017

Great Diverse Books to Give - for Middle School!

One way to support diverse books, authors, and illustrators is with our dollars. Publishers speak "money," and it is important to purchase diverse books as well as to check them out from your local library.

I love giving books as gifts, so I thought I would put together a series of posts on great diverse books to give as gifts. This first post introduces some great books for middle school readers.


Diverse Books for Middle School


Contemporary realistic fiction


  • Listen, Slowly (2015) by Thanhhà Lại. An incredible story of family, heritage, and belonging told through the eyes of Mai/Mia, a Vietnamese-American California girl who finds herself unexpectedly in Vietnam for the summer with her grandmother.
  • Blackbird Fly (2015) by Erin Entrada Kelly. Middle schooler and Filipino-American Analyn (Apple) is trying to navigate the horrors of middle school after being ranked as the third ugliest girl on the school's unofficial "Dog Log." This is a story about the power of acceptance and true friendship contrasted with the terrible bullying and racism of middle school. 
  • A Long Walk to Water (based on a true story) (2010) by Linda Sue Park. This powerful story includes two separate (at the beginning) narratives of 11 year olds from Sudan in the 1980s and 2000s. Some very harsh realities about the experiences of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan are included but make the uplifting ending even more powerful.
  • Drama (2012) by Raina Telgemeier. This realistic-fiction graphic novel focuses on seventh-grader Cassie, and the drama of the title refers both to her interests in theater set design as well as the kinds of drama one expects in middle school - issues with friends and relationships (including gay characters and crushes). 
  • Hour of the Bees (2016) by Lindsay Eager (realistic verging on magical realism). Carolina (Carol) has to spend the summer with her family, getting her grandfather's ranch ready to be sold so that he can be moved into an assisted living home, now that his dementia is progressing. She is curious about this grandpa she has never met, and his dementia serves as a gateway between the realism of much of the novel as it contrasts with the story he tells her about the ranch and its history. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful debut novel. 
  • The Crossover (2014) by Kwame Alexander, winner of the Newbery Award and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. This novel-in-verse features the inside perspective of eighth grade Josh Bell. Josh and his twin brother are basketball stars and take after their father. 
  • Booked (2016) by Kwame Alexander. Booked is another novel-in-verse, this time told from the perspective of twelve-year old Nick Hall, an up-and-coming soccer star, plagued by his wordsmith father's book, Weird and Wonderful Words. The story touches many important issues and difficulties in tween/teenage life but without getting too heavy into more grownup content.
  • Better Nate than Ever (2013) by Tim Federle. This charming debut chapter book stars wanna-be actor Nate Foster who runs away from home in Pennsylvania to a Broadway audition in New York City. Packed with theatrical and musical references, this humorous story will delight readers, while also helping build empathy and celebrate differences. There is also a sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
  • Lily and Dunkin (2016) by Donna Gephart. Each telling their side of the story, eighth graders Lily (neé Timothy) and Dunkin (neé Norbert) are both trying to figure out who they are and their places in the world, as they work through the special challenges of middle school. Lily is looking for the confidence (and parental support) to publically embrace her transgender identity, while Dunkin is worried about fitting in at a new school and balancing the demands of his bipolar disorder and medications. This is an important book for so many reasons, but just as important, it's a great read and an engaging story.


History and historical fiction



  • The Inquisitor's Tale: or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (2016) by Adam Gidwitz and illuminated by Hatem Aly [a Newbery Honor book]. The Inquisitor's Tale is told as an homage to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with various narrators picking up the story while sitting around in an Inn. Each narrator brings something different to unfolding tale of three very different children who suddenly find themselves together (and eventually facing off against the King). There are many important lessons about friendship, religious tolerance, and the power of words and books ... plus much hilarity (and a flatulent dragon).
  • How I Became a Ghost (2013) by Tim Tingle. As the title implies, our Choctaw narrator and main character does not survive his family's journey along the Trail of Tears. This is a powerful and moving story that grips the reader immediately. (First in a series still being written.)
  • The War that Saved My Life (2015) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley [Newbery Honor Book and Schneider Family Book Award Winner]. Tenacious young Ada, born with a club foot, hasn't seen the world outside her family's apartment until she and her brother, Jamie, are sent out from London as World War II looms. This is an immediately engaging story, featuring a strong heroine, and one that I think many kids will enjoy.
  • One Crazy Summer (2010) by Rita Williams-Garcia [Newbery Honor, Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, Coretta Scott King Winner, and a National Book Award Finalist]. Sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are off to spend a month in the summer of 1968 visiting their mother in Oakland, CA. Delphine, the oldest (and our narrator), is the only one with memories of their mother, who left right after Fern was born. This is a book with strong characters that pull you into the story, balanced against a tumultuous time period (with enough explanation and context provided to help kids without strong background knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement or the Black Panthers). A fascinating and thought-provoking book. The series continues with P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson [a Newbery Honor book, National Book Award Winner]. This incredible memoir is told in vivid poems that are rich with history and imagery. Suitable for middle school and up, this book could be read by later elementary students, but a strong background in US history and the Civil Rights movement would help a student understand much more of the nuance and the references woven through the book. Inspirational!
  • Echo (2015) by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This lovely, lyrical novel weaves together three individual stories into its powerful conclusion. I have heard tell that the audiobook is fantastic, because of the inclusion of music, which is central to the book and all three stories.
  • Salt to the Sea (2016) by Ruta Sepetys. This World War II historical fiction novel is a young adult novel, but it is hugely popular among my middle schoolers. Salt to the Sea is told in four alternating perspectives as different groups of people (mainly children) find themselves together fleeing the advancing armies and faced with their only escape route across the sea. There are so many parallels here to the modern refugee crisis in Europe, which add additional painful layers to this story. For mature readers.
  • March series (2016) by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell [National Book Award Winner, Printz Award Winner, Sibert Winner, and Coretta Scott King Award Winner]. This is an important and powerful read, especially now. It is frankly disconcerting to see this look back at the work leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts and then compare it to how they are currently being eroded. A must-read.
What are YOUR favorite diverse books for middle school?

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