Today is World Kindness Day – a holiday that I only learned about because it was on my calendar. For some reason that struck me as a little sad. An international day promoting large and small acts of kindness seems like something we could all use right now. Lucky for us, one place that it’s really easy to find acts of kindness is middle grade literature. So, in the spirit of World Kindness Day, I’m sharing the books I’ve read this year that center kindness and community, and I’m including and handful of books that are next up on my to be read list.
For fans of New Kid and Allergic, a must-have graphic novel about five very different students who are forced together by their school to complete community service… and may just have more in common than they thought.
Can five overlooked kids make one big difference?
There’s George: the brain
Sara: the loner
Dayara: the tough kid
Nico: the rich kid
And Miguel: the athlete
And they’re stuck together when they’re forced to complete their school’s community service hours. Although they’re sure they have nothing in common with one another, some people see them as all the same . . . just five Spanish-speaking kids.
Then they meet someone who truly needs their help, and they must decide whether they are each willing to expose their own secrets to help . . . or if remaining invisible is the only way to survive middle school.
With text in English and Spanish, Invisible features a groundbreaking format paired with an engaging, accessible, and relatable storyline. This Breakfast Club-inspired story by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, award-winning author of Concealed, and Gabriela Epstein, illustrator of two Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations, is a must-have graphic novel about unexpected friendships and being seen for who you really are.
A stand-alone companion to the acclaimed national bestsellers A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild.
Exiled from his band, a young, wild horse must find his way across treacherous terrain to reunite with his family after being captured for the Pony Express. A fast-paced animal survival story about wild horses, family bonds, and a changing environment. Illustrated in black-and-white throughout.
Young colt Sky was born with the urge to run. Alongside his band, he moves across the range searching for fresh water and abundant grazing. But humans have begun to encroach on Sky’s homelands. With fewer resources to share, Sky knows that he must leave if his family is to survive. He hopes that one day, he’ll be strong and brave enough to return and challenge the stallion to lead the herd.
Being a lone wild horse in a vast landscape is not easy, and things get even more dangerous when Sky is captured and forced to run for the Pony Express. Now, against all odds, Sky must find a way to escape and reunite with his family.
A Horse Named Sky is a stand-alone companion novel to Rosanne Parry’s New York Times bestsellers A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild. Chronicling the perils of westward expansion and the grueling Pony Express from the perspective of a wild horse, A Horse Named Sky is a gripping animal survival story about family, courage, trust, leadership, and loyalty. Impeccably researched and illustrated in black-and-white throughout, A Horse Named Sky is an excellent read-aloud for parents and teachers, and a wonderful choice for fans of DreamWorks’s Spirit and Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty.
Includes black-and-white illustrations throughout, a map, and extensive backmatter about wild horses and their habitats.
This powerful and poignant coming-of-age middle grade debut novel follows an Arab American girl named Yasmeen as she moves to San Antonio with her family and navigates finding friendship–and herself. Perfect for fans of Other Words for Home, Front Desk, and American as Paneer Pie.
When twelve-year-old Yasmeen Khoury moves with her family to San Antonio, all she wants to do is fit in. But her classmates in Texas are nothing like her friends in the predominantly Arab neighborhood back in Detroit where she grew up. Almost immediately, Yasmeen feels like the odd girl out, and as she faces middle school mean girls and tries to make new friends, she feels more alone than ever before.
Then Yasmeen meets her neighbor, Ayelet Cohen, a first-generation Israeli American. As the two girls grow closer, Yasmeen is grateful to know someone who understands what it feels like when your parents’ idea of home is half a world away.
But when Yasmeen’s grandmother moves in after her home in Jerusalem is destroyed, Yasmeen and Ayelet must grapple with how much closer the events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are than they’d realized. As Yasmeen begins to develop her own understandings of home, heritage, and most importantly, herself, can the two girls learn there’s more that brings them together than might tear them apart . . . and that peace begins with them?
In this twisty middle grade mystery for fans of Knives Out, The Inheritance Game, and The Westing Game, thirteen-year-old twins Hope and Gordon enter a spelling bee in a last-ditch effort to save their family from financial ruin, only to find themselves in a cut-throat competition to uncover a fortune and dark secrets about the wealthy relations they’ve never known.
Hope Smith can’t stand rich people–the dictionary magnate family the Wintertons most of all. Not since she and her twin brother, Gordon, learned that their dad was one. So when Gordon enters the family into the Winterton’s charity spelling bee, Hope wants nothing to do with it. But with their mom losing her job and the family facing eviction from the motel where they live, they desperately need the money, and it looks like Hope doesn’t have much of a choice.
After winning the preliminary round, the Smiths are whisked to Winterton Chalet to compete in the official Winterton Bee against their long-lost relatives. Hope wants to get in and out, beat the snobbish family at their own game, and never see them again. But deceased matriarch Jane Winterton had other plans for this final family showdown. Before her death, she set up a clue hunt throughout the manor–an alternate way for Hope and Gordon to get the money that could change their lives.
Still, others are on the trail, too. With tensions at an all-time high, a fortune at stake, and long-simmering family secrets about to boil to the surface, anything could happen.
A tense, clever clue hunt unafraid to tackle the challenges and secrets often kept behind closed doors, Final Word is a gripping series starter sure to satisfy even the most voracious armchair detectives.
Return to Harlem’s “wildly entertaining” family in this funny, heartwarming sequel. When catastrophe strikes their beloved upstairs neighbors, the Vanderbeeker children set out to build the best, most magical healing garden in Harlem–in spite of a locked fence, thistles and trash, and the conflicting plans of a wealthy real estate developer.
While Isa is off at sleepaway orchestra camp, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney are stuck at home in the brownstone with nothing to do but get on one another’s nerves. But when catastrophe strikes their beloved upstairs neighbor, their sleepy summer transforms in an instant as the Vanderbeeker children band together to do what they do best: make a plan. They will create the most magical healing garden in all of Harlem.
The New York Times bestselling Vanderbeekers series is perfect for fans of the Penderwicks. As Booklist commented in a starred review: “Few families in children’s literature are as engaging or amusing as the Vanderbeekers, even in times of turmoil.”
From award-winning author Gary D. Schmidt, a warm and witty novel in the tradition of The Wednesday Wars, in which a seventh grader has to figure out how to fulfill an assignment to perform the Twelve Labors of Hercules in real life–and makes discoveries about friendship, community, and himself along the way.
Herc Beal knows who he’s named after–a mythical hero–but he’s no superhero. He’s the smallest kid in his class. So when his homeroom teacher at his new middle school gives him the assignment of duplicating the mythical Hercules’s amazing feats in real life, he’s skeptical. After all, there are no Nemean Lions on Cape Cod–and not a single Hydra in sight.
Missing his parents terribly and wishing his older brother wasn’t working all the time, Herc figures out how to take his first steps along the road that the great Hercules himself once walked. Soon, new friends, human and animal, are helping him. And though his mythical role model performed his twelve labors by himself, Herc begins to see that he may not have to go it alone.
When you can choose to be anyone, how do you know who you really are? From the author of Better You Than Me and I Speak Boy comes another fun and relatable book about new experiences and how staying true to yourself is the best way to be okay.
Twelve-year-old Amelia Gray has changed schools thirty-nine times (!!!) because of her dad’s job, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for making friends. But that’s okay. Amelia loves her “life on the go” with Dad and their adorable supermutt, Biscotti. She’s been in enough middle schools to know that friendships are messy, and who needs that?
But when her dad announces that he wants to stay in their new town for the whole summer–maybe even forever–Amelia realizes she’s going to have to do the one thing she’s never had to do: fit in.
So she gives herself not one but three total makeovers, to try out a few personalities and hopefully find her “thing.” Is she Amie, a confident track star? Mellie, a serious journalist? Or Lia, a bold theater kid?
Juggling three identities is hard, and Amelia soon finds herself caught in the kind of friendship drama she has always managed to avoid. Yet despite her best efforts, she still can’t answer the most important question of all: Who is the real Amelia Gray?
A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.
Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression.
The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show.
They make good cooking partners… but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?
In the dead of night, a truck arrives in Slaughterville, a small town curiously named after its windowless slaughterhouse. Seven mysterious kids with suitcases step out of the vehicle and into an abandoned home on a dead-end street, looking over their shoulders to make sure they aren’t noticed.
But Ravani Foster covertly witnesses their arrival from his bedroom window. Timid and lonely, Ravani is eager to learn everything he can about his new neighbors: What secrets are they hiding? And most mysterious of all…where are the adults?
Yet amid this shadowy group of children, Ravani finds an unexpected friend in the warm and gutsy Virginia. But with this friendship comes secrets revealed–and danger. When Ravani learns of a threat to his new friends, he must fight to keep them safe, or lose the only person who has ever understood him.
Full of wonder, friendship, and mystery, The Midnight Children explores the meaning of “home,” what makes a family, and what it takes to find the courage to believe in yourself.
* “A story of fierce friendship, bravery, loyalty, and finding–or making–a place to belong.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee—
Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with the crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what Wes wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.
But when a powerful real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grown-ups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known without a fight. He’s always been good at puzzles, and he knows there must be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it before it’s too late?
Chrystal D. Giles’s timely debut explores community, social justice, family, and friendship, and asks what it means to belong–to a place and a movement–and to fight for a cause that you believe in.
See anything you like? If so, share in the comments – and maybe within your community.