I don’t post about novels very often because it takes me so long to read enough books to make a post! But a new school year is always a great time to highlight some of my favorites of the year so far. In my experience, one of the best way to inspire your students to read is to get them excited about books! I love having a few new “hot picks” to share those first weeks of school. Giving book talks and sharing “book trailers” or choosing that perfect “read-aloud” book to launch the new year can be just the thing to inspire your students to dive into books this year! Many of these books are also excellent choices for reading aloud, whole class novel study, or to add to your Lit Circle choices.
Trends this year? I’m noticing authors tackling tough topics such as homelessness, poverty, activism, and bullying. There are also many “coming of age” stories with tweens navigating emotional and physical changes as they mature. If you teach those middle graders or are a teacher librarian – here are my favorite new novels (so far) of 2022:
I have divided this post into two parts. This week, I am featuring books I would recommend for UPPER middle grades (mature grade 6 to grade 8) and next week, I will share my favorites for LOWER middle grades (grades 4-early 6). As with ANY book you bring into the classroom, PLEASE READ FIRST to ensure it is an appropriate fit for your students.
Gabe in the After – Shannon Doleski
Themes of grief, loss, community, hope, friendship, and first crush run through this post-apocalyptic story inspired by Anne of Green Gables. (sounds weird, but it works!) Set two years after a global pandemic, twenty survivors, most of them children, have moved from their coastal town to a smaller island where they all live in a mansion. During Gabe’s turn to look for survivors, he finds Relle Douglas and brings her home. That new friendship, coupled with another tragedy, spurs him to wonder if there are other survivors out there and he sets out to search for them. Anne of Green Gables fans will see many parallels, others will enjoy the light romance and COVID connections.
Swim Team – Jonnie Christmas
Swim Team is a middle grade graphic novel that follows Bree, a girl who moves with her dad to a new state and has to begin at a new school. Bree is a math whiz but ends up having to take swimming class because all the other electives are full. Bree knows nothing about swimming, but thanks to an older lady in her building who was once a swim champ, and a little tenacity, Bree ends up competing in the state swim meet. A powerful coming of age story that explores sports, the meaning of friendship, family struggles, bullying, and the stereotype of Black people not swimming.
A Duet for Home – Karina Yan Glasser
An important, eye-opening look at homelessness but filled with gentleness and hope. Told in dual perspectives, A Duet for Home shares the stories of June and Tyrell, two biracial tweens currently living at the Huey House homeless shelter whose stories are intertwined by a prank gone wrong. Full of community, family, music, activism, and speaking out against injustice. This is a must read middle grade novel that will make both a great read aloud and Lit Circle choice.
Ghostlight – Kenneth Oppel
No middle grade novel list would be complete without the latest from Canadian author Kenneth Oppel! Once again, Oppel creates a creates a fast-paced, spooky fantasy set in Canada (Toronto) with GREAT characters. This story follows Gabe who lands a summer job giving a ghost tour of a lighthouse. While telling ghost stories to tourists, he accidentally connected with Rebecca, the ghostly daughter of the former lighthouse guardian, who asks Gabe for help to kill the evil ghost-eater Viker before he starts killing again.
WARNING: This book includes some scary descriptions and themes and I would recommend for 13 years and older.
The Last Mapmaker – Christina Soontornvat
Get ready for a high-seas, coming-of-age adventure set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world! Sai pretends to be from a wealthy family in order to get an apprenticeship with a mapmaker. She hides that her father is a criminal, and uses her skills as a forger to help the mapmaker copy maps and documents. When the mapmaker goes on a sea voyage to explore new regions of the world, Sai is eager to leave her past behind and start a new life. Compelling girl-power fantasy, great adventure, and don’t forget the dragons!
The Tryout – Christina Soontornvat
What could be more horrible than trying out to be a cheerleader in front of the your entire grade seven class? Not to mention, having your best friend say she doesn’t want to be your partner for the tryouts! This graphic novel, based on the author’s childhood, captures the many cringe-worthy moments of middle school life while shining a light on the challenges of being biracial and dealing with racism. A great addition to the MG graphic novel world that invites LOTS of connections!
Operation Do-Over – Gordon Korman
The latest by Canadian great Gordon Korman weaves themes of friendship, first crushes, loyalty, promises, consequences, and regret mixed in with a little magic and time travel! WOW! The story follows seventh-grader Mason and and his best friend Ty, who in order to save their friendship, make a pact to avoid their mutual crush on classmate Ava. But when a freak storm brings Mason and Ava together, Mason breaks the pact and loses his best friend. Five years later, Mason is lonely and friendless — until he gets the magical chance to change the past with a “do-over”. Great for “What would you do?” discussions!
The Road to After – Rebekah Lowell
This powerful novel-in-verse is full of both sadness and hope. It’s told from the perspective of Lacey, a young girl escaping domestic violence with her mother and sister. I love how this book explores the range of emotions that Lacey and her family go through. Great parallels of Lacey learning to garden, growing a seed into a sunflower, just as she is starting to grow and heal herself. This is such an important book for everyone to read.
Thirst – Varsha Bajaj
Set in one of the poorest communities in Mumbai where access to clean water is limited, this story is about how one girl makes a a positive difference in her family, her community, and her own life. Minni, our wonderfully strong heroine, “struggles to juggle” when she has to temporarily take over her mom’s responsibilities while keeping hold of her dreams to get an education and make something of herself. Lots of important themes to unpack with older students including: the inequalities surrounding access to water and education; poverty; theft and corruption. Recommended for mature grade 6’s and older.
Forever Birchwood – Danielle Daniel
Set in the northern mining town of Sudbury, Ontario in the 1980’s, this is a tender, powerful story of Wolfe and her three best friends, on the cusp of turning 13 and all the changes that brings, trying to save their town’s trees and a historic site they discover. This is debut novel by Canadian indigenous picture book author Danielle Daniel has many themes including friendship, environmentalism, activism, and indigenous teachings about nature.
Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone – Tae Keller
Jennifer Chan is the new quirky girl obsessed with aliens, making her the subject of ridicule. At school, she is rejected by the cool clique and even the nerds. And then she goes missing. WOW! This book takes a deep dive into the mentality of bullying, belonging, and popularity. It is so, so thought provoking, real, and powerful. A gripping magical-realism plot that flips between “Then” and “Now” chapters. Every middle schooler needs to read this book! Based on the author’s own experience with bullying, this book would make an amazing read-aloud, whole class novel, or literature circle choice. One of the best middle grade books I have read about friendships and bullying, ever.