Middle-grade books about anxiety are becoming more and more important, thanks to the anxious times we’re living in. More people (parents, teachers, and children) struggle with clinical anxiety. While many manage their symptoms with therapy and medication, it doesn’t hurt to see their stories reflected in the books they read.
In the past, I made a list of middle-grade books about mental illness which included some of the books on this list. For today’s list though, I’m focusing on the best middle-grade books about anxiety disorders.
According to the DSM V, “anxiety” encompasses more than just generalized anxiety disorder. It also covers “separation anxiety disorder, selective mutism, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder, and anxiety disorder due to another medical condition.”
Although no longer classified as “anxiety disorders,” I’ve also included books featuring protagonists or their parents with OCD and PTSD on this list. Both of these disorders are closely related to anxiety disorders and fall under the same umbrella of neurotic, stress-related, and somatoform disorders
Let’s get started. Click on the images to go straight to their Amazon page. I’ve marked Kindle Unlimited titles with an asterisk(*), and indicated when a book is part of a series.
Disclaimer: I use affiliate links for Amazon and will make a cent or two if you buy using these links. It’s a great way to support a blog(ger) you love.
Middle Grade Books About Anxiety – Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls*
Here’s the first book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers.
Alvin, an Asian American second grader, is afraid of everything—elevators, tunnels, girls, and, most of all, school. He’s so afraid of school that, while he’ s there, he never, ever, says a word. But at home he’s a very loud superhero named Firecracker Man, a brother to Calvin and Anibelly, and a gentleman-in-training, so he can be just like his dad.
Annie Richards knows there are a million things to look out for—bicycle accidents, chicken pox, runaway zoo animals. That’s why being careful is so important, even if it does mean giving up some of her favorite things, like bike races with her best friend and hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Everyone keeps telling Annie not to worry so much, that she’s just fine. But they thought her brother, Jared, was just fine too, and Jared died.
It takes a new neighbor to make Annie realize that her plans for being careful aren’t working out as well as she’d hoped. And with a lot of help from those around her, Annie just may find a way to close her umbrella of sadness and step back into the sunshine.
Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?
Related: The Best Graphic Novels for Tweens
To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is:
―The number four
―The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil
―A crisp white pad of paper
―Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines
What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are sometimes broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Poetry Slam Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with white tablecloths. Molly is sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?
But as time passes, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control. In this fresh-voiced debut novel, one girl learns there is no such thing as perfect.
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine
Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.
It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.
Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.
What would John Lockdown do?
Stanley’s about to find out.
If middle school were a race, Joseph Friedman wouldn’t even be in last place–he’d be on the sidelines. With an overactive mind and phobias of everything from hard-boiled eggs to gargoyles, he struggles to understand his classes, let alone his fellow classmates. So he spends most of his time avoiding school bully Charlie Kastner and hiding out in the Resource Room, a safe place for misfit kids like him.
But then, on the first day of seventh grade, two important things happen. First, his Resource Room teacher encourages (i.e., practically forces) him to join the school track team, and second, he meets Heather, a crazy-fast runner who isn’t going to be pushed around by Charlie Kastner or anybody else.
With a new friend and a new team, Joseph finds himself off the sidelines and in the race (quite literally) for the first time. Is he a good runner? Well, no, he’s terrible. But the funny thing about running is, once you’re in the race, anything can happen.
Related: Middle-Grade Books About Sports
The Wild Path
Twelve-year-old Claire Barton doesn’t like the “flutter feeling” that fills her chest when she worries about the future, but she knows what she loves: the land that’s been in her family for three generations; her best friend Maya; her family’s horses, Sunny and Sam; and her older brother Andy. That’s why, with Andy recently sent to rehab and her parents planning to sell the horses, Claire’s world feels like it might flutter to pieces.
When Claire learns about equine therapy, she imagines a less lonely future that keeps her family together, brother and horses included. But, when she finds what seem to be mysterious wild horses in the woods behind her house, she realizes she has a bit more company than she bargained for. With this new secret — and a little bit of luck — Claire will discover the beauty of change, the power of family, and the strength within herself.
Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped―even though she’s told her parents that they have. She’s homesick and friendless and every day she feels less and less like herself.
But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star―a star that looks like a child―fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and she knows that it’s up to her to save the star. And so, with the help of some unlikely new friends from Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self.
The Spinner of Dreams
Annalise Meriwether—though kind, smart, and curious—is terribly lonely.
Cursed at birth by the devious Fate Spinner, Annalise has always lived a solitary life with her loving parents. She does her best to ignore the cruel townsfolk of her desolate town—but the black mark on her hand won’t be ignored.
Not when the monster living within it, which seems to have an agenda of its own, grows more unpredictable each day.
There’s only one way for Annalise to rid herself of her curse: to enter the Labyrinth of Fate and Dreams and defeat the Fate Spinner. So despite her anxiety, Annalise sets out to undo the curse that’s defined her—and to show the world, and herself, exactly who she is inside.
The List of Things That Will Not Change
After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.
When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”
As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy, and readers will discover why the New York Times called Rebecca Stead a “writer of great feeling.”
Five Things About Ava Andrews
Eleven-year-old Ava Andrews has a Technicolor interior with a gray shell. On the inside, she bubbles with ideas and plans. On the outside, everyone except her best friend, Zelia, thinks she doesn’t talk or, worse, is stuck-up. What nobody knows is that Ava has invisible disabilities: anxiety and a heart condition.
Ava hopes middle school will be a fresh start, but when Zelia moves across the country and Ava’s Nana Linda pushes her to speak up about social issues, she withdraws further. So Ava is shocked when her writing abilities impress her classmates and they invite her to join their improv group, making up stories onstage. Determined to prove she can control her anxiety, she joins—and discovers a whole new side of herself, and what it means to be on a team.
But as Ava’s self-confidence blossoms, her relationship with Zelia strains, and she learns that it isn’t enough just to raise your voice—it’s how and why you use it that matters.
Sara and the Search for Normal (Panic Attacks)
Sara’s Rules to be Normal
1. Stop taking your pills
19. Make a friend
137. Don’t put mayonnaise on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Sara wants one thing: to be normal. What she has instead are multiple diagnoses from Dr. Ring. Sara’s constant battle with False Alarm—what she calls panic attacks—and other episodes cause her to isolate herself. She rarely speaks, especially not at school, and so she doesn’t have any friends. But when she starts group therapy she meets someone new. Talkative and outgoing Erin doesn’t believe in “normal,” and Sara finds herself in unfamiliar territory: at the movies, at a birthday party, and with someone to tell about her crush—in short, with a friend. But there’s more to Erin than her cheerful exterior, and Sara begins to wonder if helping Erin will mean sacrificing their friendship.
Every Missing Piece
Maddy Gaines sees danger everywhere she looks: at the bus stop, around the roller rink, in the woods, and (especially) by the ocean. When Maddy meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the North Carolina woods, she suspects is Billy Holcomb–the boy who went missing in the fall.
As Maddy tries to uncover the truth about Billy Holcomb, ghosts from her own past surface, her best friend starts to slip away, and Maddy’s world tilts once again. Can she put the pieces of her life back together, even if some of them are lost forever?
Not If I Can Help It
Willa likes certain things to be certain ways. Her socks have to be soft . . . and definitely can’t have irritating tags on the inside. She loves the crunch of popcorn and nachos . . . but is grossed out by the crunch of a baby carrot. And slimy foods? Those are the worst.
Willa can manage all these things — but there are some things she can’t deal with, like her father’s big news. He’s been keeping a big secret from her . . . that he’s been dating the mom of Willa’s best friend Ruby. Willa does NOT like the idea of them being together. And she does NOT like the idea of combining families. And she does NOT like the idea of her best friend becoming her sister overnight. Will she go along with all of these changes? NOT if she can help it!
Middle Grade Books About Social Anxiety
It’s My Party and I Don’t Want to Go
Ellie Katz is sabotaging her own party.
Sure, it seems extreme, but it’s the only option for her bat mitzvah. Crowds and attention always made her nervous, and lately they’ve been making it harder and harder for Ellie to breathe. The celebration would mean (1) a large crowd, (2) lots of staring, and (3) distant family listening to her sing in another language. No thank you!
To avoid certain catastrophe, she hatches a plan with her best friend Zoe to ruin the big day. Cue the email hacking, DJ takedown, and an all-out food fight! Everything is falling apart according to plan, until a fight with Zoe leaves Ellie alone on her path of destruction, facing some unintended consequences and disappointments. Can she find a way to right her wrongs, face her fears, and light her candles?
Middle Grade Books About Performance Anxiety
Something to Say
Eleven-year-old Jenae doesn’t have any friends—and she’s just fine with that. She’s so good at being invisible in school, it’s almost like she has a superpower, like her idol, Astrid Dane. At home, Jenae has plenty of company, like her no-nonsense mama; her older brother, Malcolm, who is home from college after a basketball injury; and her beloved grandpa, Gee.
Then a new student shows up at school—a boy named Aubrey with fiery red hair and a smile that won’t quit. Jenae can’t figure out why he keeps popping up everywhere she goes. The more she tries to push him away, the more he seems determined to be her friend. Despite herself, Jenae starts getting used to having him around.
But when the two are paired up for a class debate about the proposed name change for their school, Jenae knows this new friendship has an expiration date. Aubrey is desperate to win and earn a coveted spot on the debate team.
There’s just one problem: Jenae would do almost anything to avoid speaking up in front of an audience—including risking the first real friendship she’s ever had.
The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane
Eleven-year-old Maybelle Lane collects sounds. She records the Louisiana crickets chirping, Momma strumming her guitar, their broken trailer door squeaking. But the crown jewel of her collection is a sound she didn’t collect herself: an old recording of her daddy’s warm-sunshine laugh, saved on an old phone’s voicemail. It’s the only thing she has of his, and the only thing she knows about him.
Until the day she hears that laugh–his laugh–pouring out of the car radio. Going against Momma’s wishes, Maybelle starts listening to her radio DJ daddy’s new show, drinking in every word like a plant leaning toward the sun. When he announces he’ll be the judge of a singing contest in Nashville, she signs up. What better way to meet than to stand before him and sing with all her heart?
But the road to Nashville is bumpy. Her starch-stiff neighbor Mrs. Boggs offers to drive her in her RV. And a bully of a boy from the trailer park hitches a ride, too. These are not the people May would have chosen to help her, but it turns out they’re searching for things as well. And the journey will mold them into the best kind of family–the kind you choose for yourself.
Middle Grade Books About Anxiety – PTSD
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.
Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?
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?
Best Middle Grade Books About Anxiety – OCD
The Goldfish Boy
Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.
When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
Lucy Callahan’s life was changed forever when she was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but the zap gave her genius-level math skills, and she’s been homeschooled ever since. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!
Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?
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.
Center of Gravity
Tessa is an anxious person, but it’s become worse since her mother died a few months ago. To calm herself down she cuts out photos of missing kids―from milk cartons―and keeps them in a file. It helps her feel like she’s not alone.
When her dad announces suddenly that he’s getting married―and that they’re moving, Tessa must navigate new friendships and a new stepmother. She knows she should let go of old habits, but that’s easier said than done. Her struggle is one that many readers will understand.
Middle-Grade Books Featuring a Parent/Grandparent with Anxiety
Each Tiny Spark
Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It’s hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.
Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family’s auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear.
But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend, Gus, at the center of the conflict.
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins
Family + Loyalty = Keeping Secrets
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.
Kat Greene Comes Clean
Life is messy.
Kat Greene lives in New York City and attends fifth grade in the very progressive Village Humanity School. At the moment she has three major problems—dealing with her boy-crazy best friend, partnering with the overzealous Sam in the class production of Harriet the Spy, and coping with her mother’s preoccupation with cleanliness, a symptom of her worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder.
With nowhere to turn, Kat reaches out to the free-spirited psychologist, Olympia, at her new-age private school in New York’s Greenwich Village. Olympia encourages Kat to be honest. Eventually, Kat realizes that sometimes asking for help is the best way to clean up life’s messes.
As Brave As You
Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck, Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he hides it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).
How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.
Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?
There they are: 27 of the best middle-grade books about anxiety, including picks about OCD and PTSD. It’s worth noting that not all of these books specify that the particular character deals with OCD or PTSD, but they display symptoms that match those diagnoses.
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Which of these middle-grade books about anxiety have you read and enjoyed? Which ones have your students particularly benefited from? I would love to know! I have many favorites on this list myself, especially those ones I’ve already reviewed on my blog or on Goodreads.
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