Book Lists

Great Friendships in Middle Great Books

Honey and Me, my debut novel out Oct 18th with Scholastic Press, which follows the highs and lows of 6th grade with best friends Milla and Honey. Cover art by Shamar Knight-Justice.

In honor of my debut novel Honey and Me—a coming-of-age story about the friendship and escapades of two eleven-year-old girls—being available for preorder, I thought I would do a post about the central theme of friendship in middle grade novels. Although main character Milla has her insecurities and must find the courage to step out of her best friend Honey’s shadow, I deliberately wanted to write about a true friendship, supportive rather than undermining, with give and take, each friend filling in in the spaces where the other needs help.

I adore the friendship between Isaac and Marco in Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

For this reason, I just absolutely loved Falling Short, the new book by Pura Belpré-award-winning author Ernesto Cisneros. Isaac and Marco go through sixth grade going to all kinds of lengths to try to help each other when one has a strength and the other a weakness. The two boys continuously respect each other despite their differences, and I can’t think of another book where the friendship between two boys appears in quite this way (please add in the comments any that you know of!) Everyone should be blessed with a friend like Isaac to Marco, and Marco to Isaac.

Alexa & Katie on Netflix, my favorite show about a friendship

 

A special shout-out to the Netflix show Alexa & Katie for one of the most beautiful of female friendships I’ve ever seen depicted. While this is obviously not a middle grade novel, I think it’s noteworthy in this context. I watched it with my seven-year-old (who was watching it a second time), my sixteen-year-old loved it too, and although it’s about two girls starting high school (while one is just finishing a course of chemo for leukemia,) I’d say it’s perfectly pitched toward a middle grade audience. If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it for its humor, poignancy, spot-on cast, fabulous acting, sharp dialogue, and that perfect combination of every episode making me both laugh out loud as well as surreptitiously wipe tears from my eyes.

 

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, a wonderful book about finding yourself and friendship

Another book that I adore for the core friendship at its heart is The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, about Pacy, known as Grace at school, who is looking for her talent, her identity and a best friend. The essence of the Chinese Year of the Dog, which Pacy’s mother tells her is a year for friendship, comes true when Melody arrives and the two girls develop an instant bond. Especially moving and illuminating is this joint interview of Newbery Honor-winning author/illustrator Grace Lin and Alvina Ling, VP and Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, about how this book is actually based on their own friendship as children!  Or this joint podcast interview with them about the publishing industry, or even better their own podcast Book Friends Forever.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE FRIENDSHIPS?

I put a call-out to my fellow MUF contributors as well as to the SCBWI-British Isles Facebook group for more suggestions of great, not-so-great, favorite or otherwise memorable friendships in MG literature—whether something that you read as a child and stuck with you, or something you’ve read more recently— and got some great recommendations.

Props to YA author Matt Killeen for immediately suggesting “Anne Shirley and Diana… bosom friends.” Although I used “Judy Blume meets All-of-A-Kind Family” to pitch Honey and Me, I think the friendship between Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables was definitely an inspiration for my own characters Milla and Honey. And actually, when I think about it, it really does all come back to Anne and Diana, who are eleven when they first meet, as the prototype for middle grade friendships in modern literature. (Again, please add in the comments if there’s something older I’m not thinking of.)

When I See Blue by Lily Bailey has a gorgeous friendship in it. Hannah Gold’s books have beautiful animal-human friendships of course! And Phil Earles’s When the Sky Falls has an animal-boy friendship too and themes of being understood my someone/thing. The Super-Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates has a really authentic friendship trio in it and it’s worth checking out Jenny Pearson’s other books as she really gets child friendships right (being a teacher helps).” Anna Gamble

MUF bloggers write:

I like Wish by Barbara O’Connor, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, and as a kid I loved the loyalty and friendship between Sara Crewe and Ermengarde St. John in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.” Laurie J. Edwards

Soup by Robert Newton Peck was my favorite friendship book growing up. Its about the hilarious adventures during the 1930s of Robert and Soup and it’s based on the author’s own childhood. I also loved All-of-a-Kind Family which explores friendship and sisterhood. Most recently feels almost impossible to choose. So many! But I must include a shout to Simon & Schuster’s MIX imprint (Aladdin Books) which is dedicated to books about tween female friendship. I’ve had the honor of writing three books for the imprint including, Queen of Likes, The Hot List and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly.Hillary Homzie

The Hot List, by Hillary Homzie, about the “de-intensification of a friendship”

I also want to note that sometimes friendships are unstable, toxic, or unhealthy, and unfortunately this is something that most people encounter at some point in their life, not to mention being the root cause of so much middle school emotional injury. Hillary Homzie’s The Hot List is about what she describes as the “de-intensification of a friendship” which I think is an invaluable topic for an MG book.

 


Many people suggested New Kid by Jerry Kraft, which was on my list too.
“I was thinking about your Q[uestion] about MG books and friendship, and how essential friendship is at that age and often how complicated those relationships are. One more recent MG book I really enjoyed was the graphic novel NEW KID by Jerry Craft, about a 7th grade boy named Jordan who starts at a new school where he is one of the few kids of color in his grade. Jordan wants to keep his old friends from his neighborhood and make new ones at his school, but he often feels like he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. This is a smart, engaging, funny and moving #middlegradenovel I think kids really relate to.” Andrea Pyros

Agreed! And I particularly love that in its sequel, Class Act, we also get the POV of some of Jordan’s friends.

THE MAGIC INGREDIENT

I think that one could argue that friendship is both essential in MG literature, and also that little bit of magic ingredient that makes it stick with you long after you are a child, becoming a part of the make up of your own coming of age. Here are some great lists of middle grade books about friendship that have already been compiled. Please add your own favorites, from childhood or more recently, in the comments!

15 Great Middle Grade Books About Friendship

4 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Books

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/6-awesome-middle-grade-friendship-novels/

 

50 Must-Read Middle Grade Friendship Stories

12 Books About Friendship for Middle Grade Readers

Better Together: 10 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Lit

 

Honey and Me, out with Scholastic Press on October 18th, 2022, and available for preorder now. Visit me at meiradrazin.com.

Diversity in MG Lit #36 May 2022

Here’s the roundup of some of the many diverse MG books on sale in May. Diverse titles have increased dramatically. I will be concentrating more attention on debut authors, beginnings of new series, and underrepresented elements within diverse books. As always if I’ve missed a May title, please drop a mention in the comments on this page.
cover Because of you John LewisI love a MG appropriate picture book like Because of You, John Lewis: the true story of a remarkable friendship by Andera Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown. John Lewis was a lifelong champion of justice. Unlike his companion Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was struck down in his prime, John Lewis went from the Civil Rights movement of his youth to a very long life of service and witness. Pinkney has chosen to highlight the friendship between King and Lewis in light of a connection Lewis made late in his life with a young activist Tybre Faw. Emphasizing the role of mentorship is a powerful choice for readers at an age to seek mentors. Back matter includes historic photographs, a timeline, additional resources, and the text of the poem “Invictus” which Tybre Faw read at Lewis’s funeral.
book cover The Wonders We SeekIslam is a much larger and more diverse faith than is often represented on the page. The collected biography– The Wonders We Seek: Thirty Incredible Muslims who helped shape the world by Saadi Faruqi & Aneesa Mumtaz, illustrated Saffa Khan –is a collection of well known Muslims who may be less known in mainstream America. The book contains a good mix of scientists, activists, artists, athletes and even a spy! It offers a useful perspective on world events. They are arranged chronologically from the scientist Al-Ma’mun of Baghdad born in the 700s to education advocate Malala Yusufzai who was born in 1997 in Pakistan.
book cover HummingbirdDepictions of disability are the least common representation in diverse books for kids. I was delighted to find
Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd. It’s about Olive Martin, a wheelchair using middle schooler, who has brittle bone disease. This makes her highly vulnerable to fractures and limits her physical growth. Her emotional and social growth knows no such bounds as Olive navigates public school for the first time. The author Natalie Lloyd has brittle bone disease herself and based the story on some of her own experiences.
Future Hero: race to fire mountain by Remi Blackwood is the first in a series of chapter books featuring an African American boy who finds a portal to a fantastical world in his cousin’s barbershop. Regular illustrations and an inviting layout make it a good choice for readers of the Ranger In Time series and fans of the Black Panther.
Book cover Lia ParkAnd finally Jenna Yoon has a debut MG novel, Lia Park & the Missing Jewel. This twist on the child-goes-to-wizard-school story is about a girl who just wants to go to normal school and attend normal parties like any other 12 year old. But in sneaking out to the party of the year, Lia is kidnapped by evil forces. Now she has to dust off her under-appreciated wizard skills to find the jewel of power. A journey which takes her to Korea and to an undersea dragon kingdom. Delicious!
Going on sale this month are graphic novels
Swim Team: small waves big changes by Johnnie Christmas and Lowriders to the Rescue by Cathy Camper illustrated by Raúl the Third
New MG novels include
Must Love Pets: friends fur-ever by Saadia Faruqi
Shine On Luz Véliz by Rebecca Balcarcel
Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia & Prince JoelMakonnen
Moonflower by Kacen Callender
Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper
The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Middle Grade & YA Books About Allergies

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), 1 in 13 children under age 18 have food allergies in the U.S.. That’s 32 million Americans, 5.6 million of them children. It’s a serious problem that impacts every classroom and many, many households. There are many wonderful books for younger kids about food allergies that teach them how to be safe by reading labels, asking about ingredients, checking with a trusted adult before eating anything, and carrying their medication and EpiPens when they go out, but when it gets to the middle school years, there’s less out there for food allergic kids or kids with other allergic conditions.

On one hand, that make sense. Middle school kids know the ropes by now, but on the other hand, as kids enter their teen years, risk-taking behavior around food allergies (as well as other serious allergies) skyrockets. Seeing children in books managing their allergies is important, even if the characters don’t always make perfect choices every time. In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, here are 5 middle-grade and YA titles about food allergies and other allergic conditions that tween and teen readers will enjoy.

Are we missing any? Tag MUF and share your picks with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, too.

Allergic: A Graphic Novel by Megan Wagner Lloyd (author) and Michelle Mee Nutter (illustrator)

From the publisher: “A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel featuring a girl with severe allergies who just wants to find the perfect pet! At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with getting ready for a new baby, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie loves animals and thinks a new puppy is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur! Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd draws on her own experiences with allergies to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong.”

Allergy angle: Allergic is about a 5th grader with an allergy to dogs, not food, but it is sweet and fun, and younger MG readers will appreciate the gentle approach to managing a health condition.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough

From the publisher: “Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton–almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday. Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild. Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?”

Allergy angle: As noted in the blurb, Luis has a bee allergy and carries an EpiPen, and  the book makes it clear that managing a serious condition can be hard for a kid.

 

Almost Midnight: 2 Festive Short Stories by Rainbow Rowell and Simini Blocker (illustrator)

From the publisher: “Almost Midnight: Two Festive Short Stories by New York Times bestselling author Rainbow Rowell contains two wintery short stories, decorated throughout with gorgeous black and white illustrations by Simini Blocker. ‘Midnights’ is the story of Noel and Mags, who meet at the same New Year’s Eve party every year and fall a little more in love each time . . . ‘Kindred Spirits’ is about Elena, who decides to queue to see the new Star Wars movie and meets Gabe, a fellow fan.”

Allergy angle:  Noel has an allergy to tree nuts, which he mentions right off the bat when he meets Mags. Though this is a YA title, it can also be read by upper middle-grade readers.

 

 

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

From the publisher: “If Life Was Like a Song Nina Simmons’ song would be You Can’t Always Eat What You Want. (Peanut allergies, ugh). But that’s okay, because as her best friend Brianna always said, We’re All in This Together. Until the first day of the seventh grade, when Brianna dumps her to be BFFs with the popular new girl. Left all alone, Nina is forced to socialize with her own kind–banished to the peanut-free table with the other allergy outcasts. As a joke, she tells her new pals they should form a rock band called EpiPens. (Get it?) Apparently, allergy sufferers don’t understand sarcasm, because the next thing Nina knows she’s the lead drummer. Now Nina has to decide: adopt a picture-perfect pop personality to fit in with Bri and her new BFF or embrace her inner rocker and the spotlight. Well… Call Me a Rock Star, Maybe.”

Allergy angle: I wrote My Year of Epic Rock because my then-elementary aged child had food allergies and I wanted there to be books out there that dealt with the challenge of being different during the years you most want to fit in. Nina has an allergy to peanuts and eggs.

Fearless Food: Allergy-Free Recipes for Kids by Katrina Jorgensen 

From the publisher: “Let’s get cooking with more than 100 allergy-free recipes for kids! Fun, delicious and easy-to-make breakfasts, snacks, sides, main dishes and desserts avoid the Big-8 food allergens whenever possible. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Chef Katrina Jorgenson has created amazing recipes that avoid milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Plus, the recipes are easy enough for kids to make on their own. The whole family will love Baked French Toast with Homemade Blueberry Sauce, Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta, Creamy Mac and Cheese, Banana Ice Cream and so much more!”

Allergy angle: There is no shortage of wonderful cookbooks for people with food allergies, intolerances, or celiac disease (who must avoid all gluten products). Here is one of them!