It’s National Cousins Day! And to celebrate, I executed a not-so-scientific search of middle-grade books that highlight relationships between cousins. What I found was that many such books also feature quite a bit of diversity when it comes to race, gender, and culture. But whether it’s a cousin from a far-away place, a cousin with a different lifestyle, or cousins that just happen to get along, that special family bond plays an important part in the characters’ lives. So take a tip from these great stories of extended families, and connect with a cousin today. Who knows what might happen.
The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Thirteen-year-old Staggerlee used to be called Evangeline, but she took on a fiercer name. She’s always been different—set apart by the tragic deaths of her grandparents in an anti-civil rights bombing, by her parents’ interracial marriage, and by her family’s retreat from the world. This summer she has a new reason to feel set apart—her confused longing for her friend Hazel. When cousin Trout comes to stay, she gives Staggerlee a first glimpse of her possible future selves and the world beyond childhood.
My Cousin’s Keeper by Simon French
In this Australian import, eleven-year-old Kieran wants to be part of the “in” group at school. He wants to be on the soccer team. He wants to fit in. But then his weird cousin Bon turns up, both at school and at home. Bon knows nothing about fitting in, with his long blond braid, babyish hand-knit hat, and funny, precise voice. Bon doesn’t play sports, and he likes to draw imaginary maps with stories about “Bon the Crusader” and “Kieran the Brave.” He’s an easy target for teasing, and Kieran has little patience for him. Even more irritating, Bon’s only friend is the other new kid, a cool girl named Julia who wears cowboy boots and has a confidence that fascinates Kieran. What could she and Bon possibly have in common? With unflinching honesty, My Cousin’s Keeper takes on childhood jealousy, family secrets, and unexpected kindness.
The Callahan Cousins (#4 Together Again) by Elizabeth Doyle Carey
Look out Gull Island! Neeve, Phoebe, Kate, and Hillary—the twelve-year-old Callahan cousins—are back at their grandmother Gee’s rambling seaside estate for Christmas break! When the girls camp out at a whale museum, they stumble upon a mystery they can’t ignore. Phoebe takes the lead as the girls join forces to solve an island mystery. This is the final book in the series.
Cupcake Cousins (Book One) by Kate Hannigan
In the first of a series, Willow and Delia, nine-year-old cousins, can’t wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding. But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don’t exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
Twelve-year-old Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead. Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed—like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico. Inspired by true events, The Only Road is a story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.
Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai
A rough and tumble tomboy, twelve-year-old Ariana couldn’t be more different from her cousin Laila, who just arrived from Afghanistan with her family. Laila is a proper, ladylike Afghan girl, one who can cook, sew, sing, and who is well versed in Pukhtun culture and manners. Arianna hates her. Laila not only invades Ariana’s bedroom in their cramped Fremont townhouse, but she also becomes close with Mariam Nurzai, Ariana’s best friend. Then a rival Afghan grocery store opens near Ariana’s family store, reigniting a decades-old feud tracing back to Afghanistan. The cousins, Mariam, and their newfound frenemy, Waleed Ghilzai, must ban together to help the families find a lasting peace before it destroys both businesses and everything their parents have worked for.
The London Eye Mystery by Siohban Dowd
Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim board the London Eye, but after half an hour it landed and everyone trooped off—except Salim. Where could he have gone? How on earth could he have disappeared into thin air? Ted and his older sister, Kat, become sleuthing partners, since the police are having no luck. Despite their prickly relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin. And ultimately it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.
Letters From Rifka by Karen Hesse
Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to Tovah, the beloved cousin she has left behind. Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea, detainment on Ellis Island–and if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair. Based on a true story from the author’s family, Letters from Rifka presents a real-life heroine with an uncommon courage and unsinkable spirit.
Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Flying the Dragon tells the story of two cousins in alternating chapters. American-born Skye is a good student and a star soccer player who never really gives any thought to the fact that her father is Japanese. Her cousin, Hiroshi, lives in Japan, and never really gives a thought to his uncle’s family living in the U.S. Their lives are thrown together when Hiroshi’s family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), have to move to the U.S. suddenly. Skye resents that she is now “not Japanese enough,” and yet the friends she’s known forever abruptly realize she is “other.” Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye’s intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi’s expertise, and Skye’s growing interest in, kite making and competitive kite flying, culminating in a contest at the annual Washington Cherry Blossom Festival.
What’s your favorite book about cousins? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.