Yesterday we focused on the younger set (kindergarten particularly), today we’re looking at the middle grade audience. I’ve got four fabulous books today geared toward a late elementary/middle school crowd; two graphic novel-esque reads and two traditional chapter books that could easily be read aloud to multiple ages in a family or classroom setting. Bullying (and cliques and all the various subgroups of all of these) and self-identity are huge issues in this age group and each of these books addresses the concepts in slightly different ways. All excellent for sparking discussions with kids that aren’t always forthcoming or willing to talk. Let me know if you’ve got others that have worked for you!
Part illustrated book, part graphic novel (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid) Emmie starts out her narrative as a puddle of slime (literally) explaining the hierarchy of outcasts at her school and how she’s so low she doesn’t even fit in to any of those categories. She’s super quiet and just fades into the background and under the radar. She does have a best friend, Brianna, and the two of them discuss crushes at lunchtime even writing poems to and drawing pictures of the boys in question. Things get really complicated when Emmie’s poem slips out of her notebook and finds it’s way into Tyler’s hands. Suddenly, she’s the talk of the school and she’s forced to talk to boys, girls to stand up for herself, confront her crush and notices a quiet girl in her art class who becomes an unlikely ally.
All kids, no matter how (un-)popular, will relate to Emmie’s brutally honest feelings of self-doubt and not knowing where or how to fit in. They’ll also cheer for her as she figures a few things out for and about herself and hopefully follow her example just a bit!
Written and Illustrated by: Terri Libenson
Number of Pages: 185
Publisher: Harper Collins/Balzar and Bray, 2017
Age Range: 8-12
Over the course of a week 2 boys become unlikely allies and come to understand each other and what it means to be a friend.
Ravi has just moved to the US from India. There his family was wealthy, he was a star cricket player and top of his class and he’s sure that he’ll have no trouble fitting in and impressing his new classmates.
Joe has an auditory processing disorder that sends him to the resource room on a regular basis and makes it hard for him to concentrate. On top of that he is huge for his age and his mom has recently started working in the school cafeteria. Add those all together and it makes him a prime teasing subject.
Dillon Samreen’s family is from India too, but they’ve long since assimilated (what Ravi calls an ABCD, American-Born Confused Desi.) He’s got a smart mouth, sticky fingers and a penchant for picking on others, particularly Joe. Ravi is convinced the two of them are meant to be best friends but as the week wears on he comes to realize that Dillon is actually not a nice person and he might have misjudged Joe as well. The culminating event made me laugh so much I was forced to read it out loud to my husband and 15 year-old who laughed right along with me. A brilliant little statement on judging others and being true to yourself.
Written by: Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Number of Pages: 216
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2016
Age Range: 8-12
On her first day in a new school Penelope is humiliated when she trips in the hallway and everyone laughs at her. One boy, Jaime, stops to help her up but when the laughing and teasing increases she pushes him away and immediately regrets it. Eventually she finds the art club where she fits in but she can’t forget what she did and keeps trying, unsuccessfully, to find ways to apologize to him.
Meanwhile a rivalry is increasing between the art club and the science club who are both vying for the one spot left at the annual club fair. The principal has promised the spot to the club that proves they contribute to the school but mostly the two spend their time pranking and sabotaging each other in an effort to get the upper hand.
Things come to a head when both clubs are disbanded and Jaime and Penelope come up with a plan to get the two groups to work together on one project that will save their clubs and contribute to the school.
This is another great tale of misfits finding their strengths and learning to navigate the muddy waters of the school social scene. A quick read, graphic novel with a hint of anime in the art.
Written and Illustrated by: Svetlana Chmakova
Number of Pages: 210
Publisher: Yen Press, 2015
Age Range: 8-12
Bonus book—not dealing strictly with the first day of school but starting a new school, tolerance, diversity, friendship, being true to yourself and a million other issues kids face every day. And one of my favorites of the year so far!
Mia and her family immigrated to America from China to have a better life. But so far, nothing has really been better. They don’t have a big house, they don’t eat hamburgers every day, she misses her cousin and even her mom seems to have lost faith in her. They think things have finally turned around when they find an opportunity to manage a motel near Disneyland. But the hotel owner, Mr. Yao, despite being Chinese himself, is dishonest and mean, manipulating the terms of their contract and making life miserable for the Tangs.
Mia is constantly trying to prove to her mother that she can make it in America, that her English is good enough for her to pursue becoming a writer and hoping that the kids in her class won’t learn the truth about her situation. Mia’s a hard worker, jumping in and helping as the desk manager and making friends with all of the weeklies (those who live at the motel). And then her family starts harboring other immigrants in some of the empty rooms in order to help them get back on their feet and off to better situations. Will Mia’s family’s good intentions be their downfall?
Mia doesn’t have to dig very deep to find an amazing inner strength that leads her to stand up to various bullies, fight for what is right, gain friends of all shapes and sizes, face her mother and help the family business to succeed beyond everyone’s expectations.
This book easily jumped to the top of my favorites list this year. It’s full of heart and tough subjects handled beautifully (racism, immigration, bullying) with the perfect mix of childlike innocence and the depth and wisdom that only a child’s perspective can bring. It’s a great one for opening up conversation about multiple facets of the immigration situation.
Written by: Kelly Yang
Number of Pages: 286
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books
Age Range: 8-12
Good luck to any and all that are facing middle school for the first time this year. Maybe one of these books will provide that little bit of insight and hope needed to make it through! You’ve got this!