I have been a bit behind with my book blog posts this year as I have been busy writing my new Poetry book… but have been recently trying to catch up on my middle grade novels. So, I’m VERY excited to be sharing some of my favorite middle grade novels so far of 2021 with you! There are SO many amazing novels this year, so if you have a tween looking for a new book to get lost in this summer, or are a middle school teacher looking for a new book to share with your class – I’m hoping you will find one or two titles in this list. The books this year are rich in diversity and include many novels written in verse (#ownvoicesnovel and culturally immersed adventures seem to be the trend this year!), fantasy, historical fiction, sci-fi, and contemporary fiction all layered with many important themes. Happy reading, everyone!
Red, White, or Whole – Rajani Larocca
A heartbreakingly, poignant and hopeful story written in verse. Reha is a young American Indigenous girl who feels torn between her two cultures. Her life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia. The voice of this character is so believable and so relatable. Have your Kleenex handy.
Ancestor Approved – Intertribal Stories for Kids – edited by Cynthia Leitch Smith
I am SO excited about this book of short stories written by American and Canadian Indigenous authors, including local BC author, Monique Grey Smith. The short stories are perspectives of a variety of Native tweens who are all attending a major powwow in Michigan. (major text-to-text connections to the adult novel There, There by Tommy Orange!) The stories are sad, joyful, funny, mysterious – and the voices weave together beautifully to bring the pow-pow to life. A must for school libraries!
The Frog Mother – Brett D. Huson
I had no idea that this series existed – but this is the fourth in the Mothers of Xsan series – a collection of stories that connects the world to the matrilineal society of the Gitxsan people of the Pacific Northwest Interior of British Columbia. Previous books include Sockeye Mother, Eagle Mother and Grizzly Mother. This book follows the life cycle of the spotted frog and the connection the Gitxsan people have at each stage of their lives. Gorgeous illustrations. Would be a wonderful series for integrating indigenous beliefs and knowledge into an exploration of life cycles.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Aiden S. (as told to his brother) – David Levithan
If you are looking for a portal fantasy to escape in – here it is! One night, 12-year-old Aidan disappears. He and his younger brother Lucas both go to bed (they share a room), and when Lucas wakes up the next morning, Aidan is gone. Police are called and the town searches everywhere. Six days late, Aiden turns up. Where had he been? And so begins the story of twists and turns, truth and reality, fantasy and belief. Love the relationship between the two brothers.
The Last Fallen Star – Graci Kim
This new series by Graci Kim weaves Korean culture and folklore into a thrilling, fast-paced contemporary fantasy. I learned so much about Korean culture. The story is funny, magical, and explores some complex family relationships, sisterhood, and food! I loved the spunk and determination of Riley, the main character, who tells the story. I believe this will be a popular series!
Unplugged – Gordon Korman
When Jett Baranov, rich, privileged, entitled tween, is sent to The Oasis wellness camp for six weeks (think low frills, no tech, vegetarian experience), he is bored and resistant. Enter a cast of diverse characters, pranks, a mystery, and the fun begins. Short, fun summer read told through multiple voices.
The Lion of Mars – Jennifer L. Holm
What would it be like to be an Earth kid, living in a small Mars settlement in 2091, populated by just a few kids and adults? This engaging sci-fi story about 11 year old Bell, who lives on Mars at the American Mars colony explores this question as well as topics of isolation (lots of connections to Covid isolation), problem solving, and living life to the fullest. Some really great character development in this one and I like how it combined science fiction with some “deep thinking” philosophical questions.
Alone – Megan E. Freeman
Another book I read in one sitting, heart in my throat, then sobbed at the end. Twelve year old Maddie wakes up one morning to discover that her entire town has been evacuated and she’s been left behind with her neighbour’s dog, George (best dog character ever!) The story, told in verse in Maddie’s brave voice, is harrowing, poignant, and thought-provoking. (Think contemporary version of Island of the Blue Dolphins) The language is gorgeous, with sparse text on each page – a great choice for both fluent and reluctant readers. The story was very emotional for me – sometimes quite intense but a perfect ending. (Warning – deals with the loss of an animal so be prepared) I loved everything about this book.
Starfish – Lisa Fipps
I finished this book in one afternoon. Loved it so much. It is written in verse and explores Elle’s heart-breaking and inspiring journey through being overweight and bullied into a place of self-worth, standing up for herself, and claiming her right to take up space in the world. It is so inspiring, beautifully written, and had me in reaching for my Kleenex several times.
Thanks a Lot, Universe – Chad Lucas
Set in Halifax Nova Scotia, this middle-grade novel featured two extremely likeable characters – Ezra and Brian. Chapters alternate between their perspectives amidst issues related to important topics including anxiety, bullying, family, and sexuality. Love to have a new voice in Canadian middle grade novels – this one would be best suited for upper middle grades and early high school.
The Gilded Girl – Alyssa Coleman
A wonderful mix of of magic, quirkiness, enchantment, historical fiction, justice, privileges, friendship, and heart! Set in New York in 1909, this book, inspired by the classic The Little Princess, explores issues of inequality and social-economic status mixed into a fast-paced, highly visual, magical, historical fantasy. I LOVED this book and so good for many themes and discussions.
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls – Kaela Rivera
Lots of excitement about this book and it’s actually the first Latinix fantasy books I have ever read. This book is SO MUCH FUN! (Think Pokemon meets Rick Riordan) It is a story about family, community, and power, and the inherent connection between all of those things. It weaves adventure, action, magic, supernatural creatures, Latinx-based mythology, friendship, and lots of emotion into one fast-paced, spirited story! Cece is a likeable protagonist and I feel a second book coming on! (or maybe a movie??)
Stamped – Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
The children’s version of the groundbreaking bestseller Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (available in both adult and YA), this book takes younger readers on a journey from present to past and back again. Readers will discover where racist ideas came from, identify how they impact America today, and meet those who have fought racism with antiracism. Along the way, they’ll learn how to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their own lives. Powerful and one of the best introductions to the history (and present) of race, racism and antiracism for younger readers I have read. Short, easy to read chapters would be great to prompt class discussions.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy – Emmanuel Acho
Wow. If you are looking for a great anchor book to help your younger readers better understand white privilege and racial issues – here it is! The nonfiction book is aimed primarily at white readers to better understand racial issues and should be in every school library across the country. It’s an adaptation of the viral video series by Emmanuel Acho called “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” I would recommend using this as a class read-aloud to launch discussions rather than assign for independent reading as there is a lot to unpack. Each chapter focuses on a race issue including white privilege, microaggressions, bias, color blindness, systemic racism, the Confederate flag, etc. I would likely read one chapter at a time and then have a discussion. Such a great anchor book for Transform and the Knew-New strategies. It has a conversational tone and never feels as if it talks down to readers but OH, SUCH AN IMPORTANT BOOK!
Thanks for stopping by my blog! Would love to know what books are now on your TBR pile! Please share this list with your colleagues so we can get these amazing books into the hands of all the young readers we know! Thank you!