The best middle-grade books about adoption and foster care leave you with eyes full of happy tears and a heart three times as large. Sometimes, these books (especially when realistic) can be tough to read. But they are so valuable, both as windows and particularly as mirrors. According to this website, there are over 400,000 kids in the US foster care system.
In these middle-grade books about adoption, you’ll find orphaned kids, kids in the foster care system, kids being fostered by grandparents or other family members, and those adjusting to being newly adopted. I’ve also included a few books where the focus is on the kid getting an adopted sibling. Most of the books on this list are contemporary middle-grade books, but after majorly crowdsourcing titles on Twitter, I’ve also included a few repeatedly mentioned fantasy titles at the end of this post.
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51 Best Middle Grade Books About Adoption and Foster Care
Here are 51 best middle grade books about adoption and foster care:
The Elephant’s Girl
An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before a tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.
Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago.
A Place to Hang the Moon
It is 1940 and William, 12, Edmund, 11, and Anna, 9, aren’t terribly upset by the death of the not-so-grandmotherly grandmother who has taken care of them since their parents died. But the children do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in short supply, especially if they hope to stay together. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children from London to the countryside be the answer?
It’s a preposterous plan, but off they go– keeping their predicament a secret, and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. Moving from one billet to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets and the hollowness of empty stomachs. They find comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Müller, seems an excellent choice of billet, except that her German husband’s whereabouts are currently unknown, and some of the villagers consider her unsuitable.
A Place to Hang the Moon is a story about the dire importance of family: the one you’re given, and the one you choose.
The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found
When autumn arrives on 141st Street, the Vanderbeekers are busy helping Mr. Beiderman get ready for the New York City Marathon and making sure the mysterious person sleeping in the community garden gets enough to eat. But when they discover the true identity of the person making a home in the community garden’s shed, their world turns upside down as they learn what it means to care for someone in an impossible situation.
In this fourth book in the Vanderbeekers series, return to 141st Street with Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney as they attempt to make their neighborhood a better place, one heartfelt plan at a time.
Closer to Nowhere
For the most part, Hannah’s life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she’s popular at school, and she’s been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in.
For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn’t let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their best to love him.
Told in verse from the alternating perspectives of Hannah and Cal, this is a story of two cousins who are more alike than they realize and the family they both want to save.
Give and Take
Family has always been important to twelve-year-old Maggie: a trapshooter, she is coached by her dad and cheered on by her mom. But her grandmother’s recent death leaves a giant hole in Maggie’s life, one which she begins to fill with an assortment of things: candy wrappers, pieces of tassel from Nana’s favorite scarf, milk cartons, sticks . . . all stuffed in cardboard boxes under her bed.
Then her parents decide to take in a foster infant. But anxiety over the new baby’s departure only worsens Maggie’s hoarding, and soon she finds herself taking and taking until she spirals out of control. Ultimately, with some help from family, friends, and experts, Maggie learns that sometimes love means letting go.
Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets
Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.
From award-winning author Barbara O’Connor comes a middle-grade novel about a girl who, with the help of a true-blue friend, a big-hearted aunt and uncle, and the dog of her dreams, unexpectedly learns the true meaning of family in the least likely of places.
A girl in foster care tries to find her birth mother before she loses her forever in this “tender tale” (School Library Journal, starred review) about last chances and new opportunities.
For a kid bouncing from foster home to foster home, The Book of Changes is the perfect companion. That’s why Marin carries three pennies and a pocket-sized I Ching with her everywhere she goes. Yet when everything in her life suddenly starts changing—like landing in a foster home that feels like somewhere she could stay, maybe forever—the pennies don’t have any answers for her.
Marin is positive that all the wrongs in her life will be made right if only she can find her birth mother and convince her that they belong together. Marin is close, oh so close—until she gets some unwelcome news and her resolve, like the uneasy earth far beneath the city of San Francisco, is shaken.
Tune It Out
Lou Montgomery has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But Lou can only hear the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds or loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.
When Lou crashes their pickup on a dark and snowy road, child services separate the mother-daughter duo. Now she has to start all over again at a fancy private school far away from anything she’s ever known. With help from an outgoing new friend, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, she begins to see things differently. A sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music might just be the thing that saves Lou—and maybe her mom, too.
Planet Earth Is Blue
Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.
While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.”
One for the Murphys
A moving debut novel about a foster child learning to open her heart to a family’s love
Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong–until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She’s not really a Murphy, but the gifts they’ve given her have opened up a new future.
Lila and Hadley
Hadley is angry about a lot of things: Her mom going to jail. Having to move to another state to live with her older sister, Beth, even though they haven’t spoken in five years. Leaving her friends and her school behind. And going blind.
But then Hadley meets Lila.
Lila is an abandoned dog who spends her days just quietly lying around at the local dog rescue where Beth works. She doesn’t listen to directions or play with the other dogs or show any interest in people. So when Lila comes and sits by Hadley (which is hardly anything, but it’s more than she’s done with others), Beth thinks maybe Hadley can help Lila. She tells Hadley they’ll bring Lila home as a foster dog and Hadley can teach her to follow commands, walk on a leash, and be more of a people dog so she’s ready to be adopted.
Only working with Lila is harder than Hadley thought, and so is the mobility training she starts taking to help with her failing vision. It feels like Lila is too stubborn to train and that learning to use a cane is impossible. But unless Hadley can help Lila, she’ll never be adopted into a home. If Hadley could just let go of her anger, she might be able to save Lila … and herself.
When Stars Are Scattered
Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.
Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.
CJ’s Aunt Nic is a psychic medium who tours the country speaking to spirits from Far Away, passing on messages from the dearly departed. And CJ knows firsthand how comforting those messages can be — Aunt Nic’s Gift is the only way CJ can talk to her mom, who died just hours after she was born.
So when CJ learns that she won’t be able to speak to her mother anymore, even with Aunt Nic’s help, she’s determined to find a work-around. She sets off on road trip with her new friend Jax to locate the one object that she believes will tether her mother’s spirit back to Earth . . . but what she finds along the way challenges every truth she’s ever known. Ultimately, CJ has to sort out the reality from the lies.
National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff has written a poignant, heartfelt novel that explores the lengths we go to protect those we love — and the power secrets have to change our worlds.
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins
When it comes to American history or defending the underdog or getting to the bottom of things, no one outsmarts or outfights Lyndie B. Hawkins. But as far as her family goes, her knowledge is full of holes: What exactly happened to Daddy in Vietnam? Why did he lose his job? And why did they have to move in with her grandparents? Grandma Lady’s number one rule is Keep Quiet About Family Business. But when her beloved daddy goes missing, Lyndie faces a difficult choice: follow Lady’s rule and do nothing–which doesn’t help her father–or say something and split her family right down the middle.
Just Like Jackie
For as long as Robinson Hart can remember, it’s just been her and Grandpa. He taught her about cars, baseball, and everything else worth knowing. But Grandpa’s memory has been getting bad—so bad that he sometimes can’t even remember Robbie’s name.
She’s sure that she’s making things worse by getting in trouble at school, but she can’t resist using her fists when bullies like Alex Carter make fun of her for not having a mom.
Now she’s stuck in group guidance—and to make things even worse, Alex Carter is there too. There’s no way Robbie’s going to open up about her life to some therapy group, especially not with Alex in the room. Besides, if she told anyone how forgetful Grandpa’s been getting lately, they’d take her away from him. He’s the only family she has—and it’s up to her to keep them together, no matter what.
Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.
Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to ever since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. And so Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?
All Summer Long
Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he’s off to soccer camp for a month, and he’s been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it’s up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it’s a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he’s acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.
Perfect for fans of One for the Murphys and The Penderwicks, this poignant and moving middle grade novel tells the story of a girl who moves to a new town and meets an unforgettable family—one that will change her and her mother’s lives forever.
Magnolia Grace never wanted to leave Georgia. She never wanted to move with her mama to the farm her daddy owned before he died. But now here she is, in a tiny Vermont town where everybody sings the praises of the father Maggie never knew.
Then Maggie meets the Parker family—two moms, six kids, plus a pony. The Parkers are loud and wild, ask lots of questions, and don’t follow any of the rules Maggie grew up with in Georgia. Suddenly Maggie has questions too—questions about her father, and why Mama kept him away for so long.
In her search for answers, Maggie will learn that families are like patchwork quilts, sewn together by love, and all the more beautiful for their different colors.
The Way to Stay in Destiny
When Theo gets off a bus in Destiny, Florida, he’s left behind the only
life he’s ever known. Now he’s got to live with Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam
War vet and a loner who wants nothing to do with this long-lost nephew.
Thank goodness for Miss Sister Grandersole’s Rooming House and Dance
School. The piano that sits in Miss Sister’s dance hall calls to Theo.
He can’t wait to play those ivory keys. When Anabel arrives things get
even more enticing. This feisty girl, a baseball fanatic, invites Theo
on her quest to uncover the town’s connection to old-time ball players
rumored to have lived there years before. A mystery, an adventure, and a
musical exploration unfold as this town called Destiny lives up to its
The Great Gilly Hopkins
Eleven-year-old Gilly has been stuck in more foster families than she can remember, and she’s hated them all. She has a reputation for being brash, brilliant, and completely unmanageable, and that’s the way she likes it. So when she’s sent to live with the Trotters—by far the strangest family yet—she knows it’s only a temporary problem.
Gilly decides to put her sharp mind to work and get out of there fast. She’s determined to no longer be a foster kid. Before long she’s devised an elaborate scheme to get her real mother to come rescue her. Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t work out quite as she hoped it would…
Pictures of Hollis Woods
is the place where a baby was abandoned
is the baby’s name
is an artist
is now a twelve-year-old girl
who’s been in so many foster homes she can hardly remember them all.
When Hollis is sent to Josie, an elderly artist who is quirky and affectionate, she wants to stay. But Josie is growing more forgetful every day. If Social Services finds out, they’ll take Hollis away and move Josie into a home. Well, Hollis Woods won’t let anyone separate them. She’s escaped the system before; this time, she’s taking Josie with her. Still, even as she plans her future with Josie, Hollis dreams of the past summer with the Regans, fixing each special moment of her days with them in pictures she’ll never forget.
Patricia Reilly Giff captures the yearning for a place to belong in this warmhearted story, which stresses the importance of artistic vision, creativity, and above all, family.
December believes she is a bird. The scar on her back is where her wings will sprout, and one day soon, she will soar away. It will not matter that she has no permanent home. Her destiny is in the sky.
But then she’s placed with foster mom Eleanor, a kind woman who volunteers at an animal rescue and has secrets of her own. December begins to see that her story could end a different way – but could she ever be happy down on the ground?
In her arresting debut, Sandy Stark-McGinnis offers an inspiring story about family, friendship, and finding where you belong.
Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.
In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.
Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home
Twelve-year-old Pavi Sharma is an expert at the Front Door Face: the perfect mix of puppy dog eyes and a lemonade smile, the exact combination to put foster parents at ease as they open their front door to welcome you in. After being bounced around between foster families and shelter stays, Pavi is a foster care expert, and she runs a “business” teaching other foster kids all she has learned. With a wonderful foster family in mom Marjorie and brother Hamilton, things are looking up for Pavi.
Then Pavi meets Meridee: a new five-year-old foster kid, who is getting placed at Pavi’s first horrendous foster home. Pavi knows no one will trust a kid about what happened on Lovely Lane, even one as mature as she is, so it’s up to her to save Meridee.
With help from Hamilton, brooding eighth grader Santos, and Hamilton’s somewhat obnoxious BFF Piper, they set off on an important mission with life-changing stakes. Pavi will stop at nothing to keep Meridee safe.
The Road to Paris
Paris has just moved in with the Lincoln family, and she isn’t thrilled to be in yet another foster home. She has a tough time trusting people, and she misses her brother, who’s been sent to a boys’ home. Over time, the Lincolns grow on Paris. But no matter how hard she tries to fit in, she can’t ignore the feeling that she never will, especially in a town that’s mostly white while she is half black. It isn’t long before Paris has a big decision to make about where she truly belongs.
For Black Girls Like Me
I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark.
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena— the only other adopted black girl she knows— for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.
Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?
Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world.
The War That Saved My Life
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs
This novel sings about loss and love and finding joy in new friendships and a loving family, along with the world’s best bad dog. An uplifting middle grade novel about recovery featuring strong female characters, an adorable dog, and the girl who comes to love him.
It’s a life-altering New Year for thirteen-year-old Lydia when she uproots to a Connecticut farm to live with her aunt following her mother’s death.
Aunt Brat and her jovial wife, Eileen, and their ancient live-in landlord, Elloroy, are welcoming—and a little quirky. Lydia’s struggle for a sense of belonging in her new family is highlighted when the women adopt a big yellow dog just days after the girl’s arrival.
Wasn’t one rescue enough?
Lydia is not a dog person—and this one is trouble! He is mistrustful and slinky. He pees in the house, escapes into the woods, and barks at things unseen. His new owners begin to guess about his unknown past.
Meanwhile, Lydia doesn’t want to be difficult—and she does not mean to keep secrets—but there are things she’s not telling…
Like why the box of “paper stuff” she keeps under her bed is so important…
And why that hole in the wall behind a poster in her room is getting bigger…
And why something she took from the big yellow dog just might be the key to unraveling his mysterious past—but at what cost?
I Can Make This Promise
All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.
Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.
Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now?
Brave Like That
Find yourself. Find your place. Find your brave.
This uplifting tale, which award-winning author Leslie Connor dubbed “a perfectly paced journey of the heart” is perfect for fans of Lisa Graff and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Cyrus Olson’s dad is a hero—Northfield’s former football star and now one of their finest firefighters. Everyone expects Cyrus to follow in his dad’s record-breaking footsteps, and he wishes they were right—except he’s never been brave like that. But this year, with the help of a stray dog, a few new friends, a little bit of rhythm, and a lot of nerve, he may just discover that actually…he is.
The Barren Grounds
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them.
Season of Styx Malone
Meet Caleb and Bobby Gene, two brothers embarking on a madcap, heartwarming, one-thing-leads-to-another adventure in which friendships are forged, loyalties are tested . . . and miracles just might happen.
Caleb Franklin and his big brother Bobby Gene are excited to have adventures in the woods behind their house. But Caleb dreams of venturing beyond their ordinary small town.
Then Caleb and Bobby Gene meet new neighbor Styx Malone. Styx is sixteen and oozes cool. Styx promises the brothers that together, the three of them can pull off the Great Escalator Trade–exchanging one small thing for something better until they achieve their wildest dream. But as the trades get bigger, the brothers soon find themselves in over their heads. Styx has secrets–secrets so big they could ruin everything.
An exquisite second novel from the Newbery Honor author of RULES! TOUCH BLUE, sure as certain, will touch your heart.
The state of Maine plans to shut down her island’s schoolhouse, which would force Tess’s family to move to the mainland–and Tess to leave the only home she has ever known. Fortunately, the islanders have a plan too: increase the numbers of students by having several families take in foster children. So now Tess and her family are taking a chance on Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player who has been bounced from home to home. And Tess needs a plan of her own–and all the luck she can muster. Will Tess’s wish come true or will her luck run out?
Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord offers a warm-hearted, humorous, and thoughtful look at what it means to belong–and how lucky we feel when we do. Touch Blue, sure as certain, will touch your heart.
The King of Jam Sandwiches
Thirteen-year-old Robbie leads a double life. It’s just Robbie and his dad, but no one knows that his dad isn’t like most parents. Sometimes he wakes Robbie up in the middle of the night to talk about dying. Sometimes he just leaves without telling Robbie where he’s going. Once when Robbie was younger, he was gone for more than a week. Robbie was terrified of being left alone but even more scared of telling anyone in case he was put into foster care. No one can know. Until one day when Robbie has to show the tough new girl, Harmony, around school. Their first meeting ends horribly and she punches Robbie in the face. But eventually they come to realize that they have a lot more in common than they thought. Can Robbie’s new friend be trusted to keep his secret?
How to Make Friends with the Sea
Pablo is homesick.
He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.
Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip–and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.
He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.
Sara Lost and Found
Sisters Anna and Sara must rely on each other for strength as they face being separated by the foster care system in this heartwrenching tale of sisterhood, family, and survival.
Sara and Anna Olsen face an uncertain world. Their mother left home and may—or may not—be coming back. Their father is a drummer in a band and comes home long after the girls go to sleep—if he comes home at all. Too often, ten-year-old Sara and twelve-year-old Anna are left to fend for themselves. Then one night, three loud knocks at the door change everything: their father is in jail and social services has come to take the girls away. Rather than risk being split up, Sara and Anna decide their only option is to run away.
But the girls don’t get very far, and when the authorities catch up with them, Sara and Anna are forced back into the foster care system. Along the way, the girls encounter good people who want to help them but they also meet people who have no patience for mistakes or accidents. As Anna begins to act out or withdraw completely, Sara knows that it’s up to her to take care of her older sister. But what if she can’t anymore? What if she finds a forever home that may not include Anna? Will Sara keep the promise she made to her mother to stay with her sister or will she find the courage to do what’s best for herself?
Keys to the City
Lindy can’t believe she has homework this summer — to find her “true passion.” Does curling up with a good book count? Probably not. Luckily, Lindy has the help of a new friend, a happy dog, and a special journal, as she hits the streets of New York City to unlock her secret talents!
Forever, Or a Long Long Time
Flora and her brother, Julian, don’t believe they were born. They’ve lived in so many foster homes, they can’t remember where they came from. And even now that they’ve been adopted, Flora still struggles to believe that they’ve found their forever home. Though Flora is trying her best to trust two new people, when she finds out that there will be a new baby, she’s worried that there won’t be enough love for everyone.
So along with their new mother, Flora and Julian begin a journey to go back and discover their past—for only then can they really begin to build their future.
Every Shiny Thing
In this beautifully constructed middle-grade novel, told half in prose and half in verse, Lauren prides herself on being a good sister, and Sierra is used to taking care of her mom. When Lauren’s parents send her brother to a therapeutic boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum and Sierra moves to a foster home in Lauren’s wealthy neighborhood, both girls are lost until they find a deep bond with each other. But when Lauren recruits Sierra to help with a Robin Hood scheme to raise money for autistic kids who don’t have her family’s resources, Sierra has a lot to lose if the plan goes wrong. Lauren must learn that having good intentions isn’t all that matters when you battle injustice, and Sierra needs to realize that sometimes, the person you need to take care of is yourself.
Half a World Away
Eleven-year-old Jaden is adopted, and he knows he’s an “epic fail.” That’s why his family is traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby—to replace him, he’s sure. And he gets it. He is incapable of stopping his stealing, hoarding, lighting fires, aggressive running, and obsession with electricity. He knows his parents love him, but he feels…nothing.
When they get to Kazakhstan, it turns out the infant they’ve traveled for has already been adopted, and literally within minutes are faced with having to choose from six other babies. While his parents agonize, Jaden is more interested in the toddlers. One, a little guy named Dimash, spies Jaden and barrels over to him every time he sees him. Jaden finds himself increasingly intrigued by and worried about Dimash. Already three years old and barely able to speak, Dimash will soon age out of the orphanage, and then his life will be as hopeless as Jaden feels now. For the first time in his life, Jaden actually feels something that isn’t pure blinding fury, and there’s no way to control it, or its power.
Counting by 7’s
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Emily Out of Focus
Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks are already starting to show the moment they reach the hotel—her parents are all about the new baby, and have no interest in exploring.
In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese-American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help.
New country, new family, new responsibilities—it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.
The Length of a String
Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birth parents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.
Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. Then her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, and Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adoptive family of her own. And as Imani reads the diary, she begins to see her family, and her place in it, in a whole new way.
Kimchi and Calamari
Kimchi and calamari. It sounds like a quirky food fusion of Korean and Italian cuisine, and it’s exactly how Joseph Calderaro feels about himself. Why wouldn’t an adopted Korean drummer—comic book junkie feel like a combo platter given:
(1) his face in the mirror
(2) his proud Italian family.
And now Joseph has to write an essay about his ancestors for social studies. All he knows is that his birth family shipped his diapered butt on a plane to the USA. End of story. But what he writes leads to a catastrophe messier than a table of shattered dishes—and self-discovery that Joseph never could have imagined.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.
Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.
Greetings from Witness Protection
The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.
Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths
Eleven-year-old Stella misses her (unreliable) mom, but she loves it at great-aunt Louise’s house. Louise lives on Cape Cod, where Stella hopes her mom will someday come and settle down. The only problem? Angel, the foster kid Louise has taken in. The two girls live together but there’s no way they’ll ever be friends.
Then Louise suddenly passes away one morning—and Stella and Angel decide not to tell anyone. Now they have to depend on each other for survival. Now they are forced to trust each other with the biggest secret ever.
With great empathy and humor, Sara Pennypacker tells the story of two very different girls who unexpectedly become each other’s true family.
When Lonnie was seven years old, his parents died in a fire. Now he’s eleven, and he still misses them terribly. And he misses his little sister, Lili, who was put into a different foster home because “not a lot of people want boys-not foster boys that ain’t babies.” But Lonnie hasn’t given up. His foster mother, Miss Edna, is growing on him. She’s already raised two sons and she seems to know what makes them tick. And his teacher, Ms. Marcus, is showing him ways to put his jumbled feelings on paper.
Told entirely through Lonnie’s poetry, we see his heartbreak over his lost family, his thoughtful perspective on the world around him, and most of all his love for Lili and his determination to one day put at least half of their family back together. Jacqueline Woodson’s poignant story of love, loss, and hope is lyrically written and enormously accessible.
Strays Like Us
From the moment Fred (never Winifred!) spots a scruffy little mutt with sad eyes, she knows she’s in big trouble. Toby’s in bad shape, and Fred longs to rescue him from the old man with the mile-long mean streak who lives next door. But Margery — the straight-talking woman who is fostering Fred — says going over to their house is against the rules.
And since Fred will only be around until her mother comes to grips with her dependence, Fred can’t let herself care too deeply. Not about Toby or Margery or Delia, a new classmate whose insistent friendship surprises Fred at every turn. Because the more Fred lets this lovable band of misfits into her heart, the harder it’ll be to leave them all behind.
In this story of loss and love, acclaimed author Cecilia Galante examines life’s difficult choices and how a girl plus the dog she loves can add up to finding family in the most unlikely places.
For fans of fantasy, check out:
- Melissa Sarno’s A Swirl of Ocean
- Lindsay Lackey’s All the Impossible Things
- Zoraida Cordova’s The Way to Rio Luna
There they are: 51 of the best middle-grade books about adoption and foster care! I know I missed several wonderful books, so please share your recommendations below!
Which of these middle-grade books about adoption and foster care have you read and loved? What did I miss?
Many thanks to today’s sponsor: S.G. Wilson and Me vs. the Multiverse: Enough About Me! It’s the second book in the Me vs. the Multiverse middle grade series, perfect for sci-fi and adventure lovers. Thank you for supporting the authors and brands who keep Reading Middle Grade running!
More Book Lists
- Middle-Grade books about families (big and small)
- My favorite sister stories in middle-grade books
- The best middle-grade books about divorce and blended families
See all the book lists I’ve ever made, indexed alphabetically by theme.