Like many lists about important themes, this list of middle-grade books about bullying has been on my mind for a long time. I was bullied in elementary school and in what Americans call middle school as well. It’s pretty easy for all kinds of kids to be bullied and it can make kids feel alone, small, and helpless. Often, parents don’t know that their kids are getting bullied, and even when they do, they may be dismissive or their desire to help may seem to worsen things.
I wish I had these books about bullying when I was between ages 8-12. In this list, you’ll find books in which bullying is a major subplot. For several of these books, bullying is the plot. I like that in these stories, bullies do not triumph because the bullied party finally speaks up, shuts the bully up by winning them over or finds someone else who will speak up for them. In some of these books, readers will get a peek into the mind of bullies and see how they are often propelled by their own insecurities. Hopefully, overall, your kids find these middle-grade books about bullying to be empowering.
Just a note that while most of these books have already been published, I’ve also included a few forthcoming titles, so feel free to bookmark this and return to it as more of these get published.
Let’s get started. Click on the book covers to go their Amazon pages.
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Best Middle-Grade Books About Bullying
Out of Place
Published: June 4, 2019
Twelve-year-old Cove Bernstein’s year has gone from bad to worse. First, her best friend, Nina, moved from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City. Then, without Nina around, Cove became the target of a bullying campaign at school. Escape seems impossible.
But opportunities can appear when you least expect them. Cove’s visit to a secondhand clothing store leads her to a surprising chance to visit Nina, but only if she can win a coveted place in a kids-only design competition. Cove doesn’t know how to sew, but her friend at the retirement home, Anna, has promised to teach her. And things start really looking up when a new kid at school, Jack, begins appearing everywhere Cove goes.
Then Cove makes a big mistake. One that could ruin every good thing that has happened to her this year. One that she doesn’t know how to undo.
Stick with Me
Published: November 3, 2020
Izzy’s best friend seems to be ditching her for the Queen of Mean, Daphne Toll. Izzy wants to fit in and have some real friends, but all she really has are her drawings. And then her family rents out their house during winter break for some extra cash—and that family’s daughter is sleeping in Izzy’s room and attending the same camp!
Wren is focused on perfecting her ice-skating routine after tanking at sectionals last year. But when her sister qualifies for a life-changing treatment for her epilepsy, Wren is carted off to stay in a rented home near Boston. It doesn’t help that she’s forced to attend the local theater camp, where it seems like the mean girls have it out for her.
Will Izzy and Wren’s shared status as targets of Phoebe and Daphne bring them closer? Or will middle school drama prevent them from ever becoming friends?
Published: May 2, 2017
Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.
Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Published: January 1, 2011
Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She’s ready to rule the school as a sixth grader, go out for captain of the school basketball team, and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother’s sister, is coming to visit for several months — and is staying in Lucy’s room.
Lucy’s vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, a bully who tries to scare Lucy off the basketball team, and Chinese school with the annoying know-it-all Talent Chang. Lucy’s year is ruined — or is it?
A wonderfully funny, warm, and heartfelt tale about the ways life often reveals silver linings in the most unexpected of clouds.
The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle
Published: January 23, 2018
Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard.
An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.
Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground haven for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin and, eventually, Benny.
But will anyone believe him?
The Queen Bee and Me
Published: March 3, 2020
Meg has always found comfort in her best friend Beatrix’s shadow. Self-assured Beatrix is the one who makes decisions, and the girls have been a pair since kindergarten. But middle school has brought some changes in Beatrix, especially when Meg tries to step outside her role as sidekick.
A special science elective is Meg’s first step away, but when she’s paired with quirky new girl Hazel, Beatrix steps in to stake her claim on Meg. Meg is taken aback at how mean Beatrix can be–and how difficult it is to stand up to her friend. But as Meg gets to know Hazel while working on their backyard beehive project, she starts to wonder: Is being Beatrix’s friend worth turning down the possibility of finding her own voice?
This pitch-perfect exploration of middle-school friendship dynamics brims with heart and hope, and will resonate with readers of all ages.
Published: May 3, 2016
Despite growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and though her bullying seems isolated at first, it quickly escalates. Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran, soon becomes the target of Betty’s attacks. While others see Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. And as tensions mount in their small community, Annabelle must find the courage to stand as a lone voice for justice.
Related: More Middle-Grade Historical Fiction
The Parker Inheritance
Published: March 27, 2018
When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding its writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.
So with the help of Brandon, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?
Published: April 14, 2020
THE PRETTIEST: It’s the last thing Eve Hoffmann expected to be, the only thing Sophie Kane wants to be, and something Nessa Flores-Brady knows she’ll never be . . . until a list appears online, ranking the top fifty prettiest girls in the eighth grade.
Eve is disgusted by the way her body is suddenly being objectified by everyone around her.
Sophie is sick of the bullying she’s endured after being relegated to number two.
And Nessa is tired of everyone else trying to tell her who she is.
It’s time for a takedown. As the three girls band together, they begin to stand up not just for themselves, but for one another, too.
Published: April 2, 2019
Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.
But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.
Published: August 22, 2017
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.
Save Me a Seat
Published: May 10, 2016
Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.
Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.
Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.
Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.
The Liberation of Gabriel King
Published: June 16, 2005
Gabriel King was a born chicken. He’s afraid of spiders, corpses, loose cows, and just about everything related to the fifth grade. Gabe’s best friend, Frita Wilson, thinks Gabe needs some liberating from his fears. Frita knows something about being brave— she’s the only black kid in school in a town with an active Ku Klux Klan. Together Gabe and Frita are going to spend the summer of 1976 facing down the fears on Gabe’s list. But it turns out that Frita has her own list, and while she’s helping Gabe confront his fears, she’s avoiding the thing that scares her the most.
Published: May 2, 2017
In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.
When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.
In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same.
We Dream of Space
Published: May 5, 2020
Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.
Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.
The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.
Told in three alternating points of view, We Dream of Space is an unforgettable and thematically rich novel for middle grade readers.
Farah Rocks Fifth Grade
Published: January 1, 2020
Farah and her best friend, Allie Liu, are getting excited to turn in their applications to the Magnet Academy, where they both hope to attend sixth grade. But when new girl Dana Denver shows up, Farah’s world is turned upside down. As Dana starts bullying Farah’s little brother, Samir, Farah begins to second-guess her choice to leave him behind at Harbortown Elementary/Middle School. Determined to handle it on her own, Farah comes up with a plan–a plan that involves lying to those closest to her. Will her lies catch up with her, or can Farah find a way to defeat the bully and rock fifth grade?
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
Published: June 21, 2016
Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one-of-a-kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan, more of a quest, really, to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.
Freak the Mighty
Published: August 27, 2013
It has been over twenty years — and more than two million copies, eight foreign editions, and a popular Miramax feature film — since the world was introduced to this powerful story of a unique friendship between a troubled, oversized boy and the tiny, physically challenged genius who proves that courage comes in all sizes.
American as Paneer Pie
Published: June 9, 2020
As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.
When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.
To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.
When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.
Published: March 14, 2017
Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). “Readers will be instantly engrossed in this relatable neighborhood adventure and its eclectic cast of misfits.”—Booklist
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.
They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.
The acclaimed and award-winning author of Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls writes with an authentic, humorous, and irresistible tween voice that will appeal to fans of Thanhha Lai and Rita Williams-Garcia.
Genesis Begins Again
Published: August 18, 2020
There are ninety-six reasons why thirteen-year-old Genesis dislikes herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list:
-Because her family is always being put out of their house.
-Because her dad has a gambling problem. And maybe a drinking problem too.
-Because Genesis knows this is all her fault.
-Because she wasn’t born looking like Mama.
-Because she is too black.
Genesis is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so…even if it means harming herself in the process. But when Genesis starts to find a thing or two she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping change others.
Published: May 29, 2018
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.
Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.
Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.
Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
Related: More Asian Middle-Grade Books
All’s Faire in Middle School
Published: September 5, 2017
Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind—she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.
As she did in Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson perfectly—and authentically—captures the bittersweetness of middle school life with humor, warmth, and understanding.
Fish in a Tree
Published: February 5, 2015
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
Related: 7 Books Like Fish in a Tree
What If a Fish
Published: August 11, 2020
Half-Colombian Eddie Aguado has never really felt Colombian. Especially after Papa died. And since Mama keeps her memories of Papa locked up where Eddie can’t get to them, he only has Papa’s third-place fishing tournament medal to remember him by. He’ll have to figure out how to be more Colombian on his own.
As if by magic, the perfect opportunity arises. Eddie—who’s never left Minnesota—is invited to spend the summer in Colombia with his older half-brother. But as his adventure unfolds, he feels more and more like a fish out of water.
Figuring out how to be a true colombiano might be more difficult than he thought.
Published: July 29, 2014
Raina Telgemeier’s #1 New York Times bestselling, Eisner Award-winning graphic memoir based on her childhood!
Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.
Published: February 4, 2020
Isaac’s sixth grade year gets off to a rough start.
For one thing, a tornado tears the roof off the school cafeteria. His mother leaves on a two month business trip to China. And as always. . . . there’s the itch. It comes out of nowhere. Idiopathic, which means no one knows what causes it. It starts small, but it spreads, and soon–it’s everywhere. It’s everything. It’s why everyone calls him Itch–everyone except his best friend Sydney, the only one in all of Ohio who’s always on his side, ever since he moved here.
He’s doing the best he can to get along–until everything goes wrong in the middle of a lunch swap. When Sydney collapses and an ambulance is called, Itch blames himself. And he’s not the only one. When you have no friends at all, wouldn’t you do anything–even something you know you shouldn’t–to get them back?
Drawing on her own experiences with idiopathic angioedema and food allergies, Polly Farquhar spins a tale of kids trying to balance the desire to be ordinary with the need to be authentic–allergies, itches, confusion and all.
Maybe He Just Likes You
Published: October 1, 2019
For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.
It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.
Published: October 1, 2019
Bell Kirby is an expert at systems, whether he’s designing the world’s most elaborate habitat for his pet chinchilla, re-creating Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest inventions in his garage, or avoiding Parker Hellickson, the most diabolical bully Village Green Elementary has ever seen.
Since third grade, Parker has tormented Bell, who’s spent two long years devising a finely tuned system that keeps him out of Parker’s way. Sure, it means that Bell can’t get a drink when he wants to, can’t play with his best friend on the playground, and can’t tell his parents about his day, but at least he’s safe.
Until Daelynn Gower touches down in his classroom like a tornado.
Bell’s not sure why the new girl, with her rainbow hair, wild clothes, and strange habits, is drawn to him, but he knows one thing–she means trouble. It’s bad enough that she disrupts Bell’s secret system, but when Daelynn becomes the bully’s new target, Bell is forced to make an impossible decision: Finally stand up to Parker. . .
On Thin Ice
Published: July 30, 2019
Ked Eakins is about to lose everything.
He’s just discovered that his dad has gambled away their rent money. They’re going to get kicked out of their home.
But Ked is determined to fight back. He hatches a plan to save their apartment by rebuilding a vintage minibike in his school’s maker space, which he’ll sell for a profit.
Still, the plan is a gamble of his own: Going to maker space forces Ked into the path of a school bully, who torments him about his progressive spinal condition.
Can Ked — with the help of some unlikely new friends — find a way to fix the bike and save his family from going under before it’s too late?
Published: April 5, 2016
Like lightning/you strike/fast and free/legs zoom/down field/eyes fixed/on the checkered ball/on the goal/ten yards to go/can’t nobody stop you/can’t nobody cop you…
In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!
Related: More Sporty Middle-Grade Books
Okay for Now
Published: April 5, 2011
As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.” In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.
Black Brother, Black Brother
Published: March 3, 2020
Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.
When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested.
Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.
As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.
Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.
Courage for Beginners
Published: August 12, 2014
Twelve-year-old Mysti Murphy wishes she were a character in a book. If her life were fictional, she’d magically know how to deal with the fact that her best friend, Anibal Gomez, has abandoned her in favor of being a “hipster.” She’d be able to take care of everyone when her dad has to spend time in the hospital. And she’d certainly be able to change her family’s secret.
Seventh grade is not turning out the way Mysti had planned. With the help of a hot-hair balloon, her new friend Rama Khan–and maybe even the heroes of the Texas Revolution–can she find the courage to change?
Me and Marvin Gardens
Published: January 31, 2017
Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy has abandoned him. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the nearby creek, in the last wild patch left, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks.
One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has seen a creature like this before. The animal–Marvin Gardens–becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.
Published: January 1, 2010
Ever since a deeply unfortunate incident earlier this year, Reggie’s been known as “Pukey” McKnight at his high-intensity Brooklyn middle school. He wants to turn his image around, but he has other things on his mind as well: his father, who’s out of a job; his best friends, Ruthie and Joe C.; his former best friend Donovan, who’s now become a jerk; and of course, the beautiful Mialonie. The elections for school president are coming up, but with his notorious nickname and “nothing” social status, Reggie wouldn’t stand a chance, if he even had the courage to run. (CONT.)
The Humiliations of Pipi McGee
Published: September 17, 2019
The first eight years of Penelope McGee’s education have been a curriculum in humiliation. Now she is on a quest for redemption, and a little bit of revenge.
From her kindergarten self-portrait as a bacon with boobs, to fourth grade when she peed her pants in the library thanks to a stuck zipper to seventh grade where…well, she doesn’t talk about seventh grade. Ever.
After hearing the guidance counselor lecturing them on how high school will be a clean slate for everyone, Pipi–fearing that her eight humiliations will follow her into the halls of Northbrook High School–decides to use her last year in middle school to right the wrongs of her early education and save other innocents from the same picked-on, laughed-at fate. Pipi McGee is seeking redemption, but she’ll take revenge, too.
All of Me
Published: June 11, 2019
Ari has body-image issues. After a move across the country, his parents work selling and promoting his mother’s paintings and sculptures. Ari’s bohemian mother needs space to create, and his father is gone for long stretches of time on “sales” trips.
Meanwhile, Ari makes new friends: Pick, the gamer; the artsy Jorge, and the troubled Lisa. He is also relentlessly bullied because he’s overweight, but he can’t tell his parents—they’re simply not around enough to listen.
After an upsetting incident, Ari’s mom suggests he go on a diet, and she gives him a book to help. But the book—and the diet—can’t fix everything. As Ari faces the demise of his parents’ marriage, he also feels himself changing, both emotionally and physically. Here is a much-needed story about accepting the imperfect in oneself and in life.
The Magical Imperfect
Published: June 11, 2019
Etan has stopped speaking since his mother left. His father and grandfather don’t know how to help him. His friends have given up on him.
When Etan is asked to deliver a grocery order to the outskirts of town, he realizes he’s at the home of Malia Agbayani, also known as the Creature. Malia stopped going to school when her acute eczema spread to her face, and the bullying became too much.
As the two become friends, other kids tease Etan for knowing the Creature. But he believes he might have a cure for Malia’s condition, if only he can convince his family and hers to believe it too. Even if it works, will these two outcasts find where they fit in?
Pack of Dorks
Published: October 14, 2014
Lucy knows that kissing Tom Lemmings behind the ball shed will make her a legend. But she doesn’t count on that quick clap of lips propelling her from coolest to lamest fourth grader overnight. Suddenly Lucy finds herself trapped in Dorkdom, where a diamond ring turns your finger green, where the boy you kiss hates you three days later, where your best friend laughs as you cry, where parents seem to stop liking you, and where baby sisters are born different.
Now Lucy has a choice: she can be like her former best friend, Becky, who would do anything to claim her seat at the cool table in the cafeteria, or Lucy can pull up a chair among the solo eaters—a.k.a. the dorks. Still unsure, Lucy partners with super quiet Sam Righter on a research project about wolves. Lucy connects her own school hierarchy with what she learns about animal pack life—where some wolves pin down weaker ones just because they can, and others risk everything to fight their given place in the pack. Soon Lucy finds her third option: creating a pack of her own, even if it is simply a pack of dorks.
Weaving tough issues, including bullying, loyalty, and disability, with a thread of snarky humor, family bonds, and fresh perspective, Pack of Dorks paints characters coming-of-age and coming-to-terms. This new paperback edition includes a Q&A with the author as well as a sample chapter of Beth Vrabel’s upcoming middle grade novel, A Blind Guide to Stinkville.
A Place at the Table
Published: August 11, 2020
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?
Published: August 11, 2020
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.
The Kate in Between
Published: May 18, 2021
Twelve-year-old Saves Best Friend’s Life.
Well, that’s what the headline says. The reality? Kate McAllister hasn’t been friends with Haddie Marks in months. And the reason Haddie fell through the ice the first place? It was Kate’s fault.
Nothing has been the same since Kate’s mom abruptly moved to Utah without her. Kate thought a change would help—something to make her outsides look and feel better than her insides—but joining Taylor Tobbit’s clique has come with a price: leaving her best friend Haddie in the dust. If Kate’s mom could turn her back on her old life so easily, why can’t Kate? But being friends with a girl like Taylor isn’t easy. Especially when Taylor decides that her next target is Haddie. And when things get out of hand that day on the frozen pond—with Haddie plunging into artic-cold water and Kate rescuing her—Kate’s life becomes even more unrecognizable: she’s hailed as a hero. But Kate knows the truth…and it’s eating her up inside. With so much at stake—her past friendship with Haddie, her present friendship with Taylor—Kate must decide who she wants to be in the future: a liar, a follower, or something greater?
Clues to the Universe
Published: January 12, 2021
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.
Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.
Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?
As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.
Emmy in the Key of Code
Published: September 24, 2019
In a new city, at a new school, twelve-year-old Emmy has never felt more out of tune. Things start to look up when she takes her first coding class, unexpectedly connecting with the material—and Abigail, a new friend—through a shared language: music. But when Emmy gets bad news about their computer teacher, and finds out Abigail isn’t being entirely honest about their friendship, she feels like her new life is screeching to a halt. Despite these obstacles, Emmy is determined to prove one thing: that, for the first time ever, she isn’t a wrong note, but a musician in the world’s most beautiful symphony.
My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer
Published: May 7, 2012
Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business. Even when faced with bullying, June won’t give up on winning the blue ribbon; more importantly, she won’t give up on her family.
Me and Sam Sam Handle the Apocalypse
Published: May 14, 2019
I could see the big inside of my Sam-Sam. I had been training him for 252 days with mini tennis balls and pieces of bacon, just to prove to Dad and Mom and Aunt Gus and the whole world that a tiny, fluffy dog could do big things if he wanted to. I think my little dog always knew he could be a hero.
I just wonder if he knew about me.
When the cops show up at Jesse’s house and arrest her dad, she figures out in a hurry that he’s the #1 suspect in the missing library fund money case. With the help of her (first and only) friend Springer, she rounds up suspects (leading to a nasty confrontation with three notorious school bullies) and asks a lot of questions. But she can’t shake the feeling that she isn’t exactly cut out for being a crime-solving hero. Jesse has a neuro-processing disorder, which means that she’s “on the spectrum or whatever.” As she explains it, “I get stuck on lots of stuff, like words and phrases and numbers and smells and pictures and song lines and what time stuff is supposed to happen.” But when a tornado strikes her small town, Jesse is given the opportunity to show what she’s really made of—and help her dad.
Told with the true-as-life voice Susan Vaught is known for, this mystery will have you rooting for Jesse and her trusty Pomeranian, Sam-Sam.
Published: July 28, 2020
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 Adventure Is Now
Published: May 4, 2021
Sometimes it’s hard to be Milton P. Greene. He says all the wrong things, his family is falling apart, and everyone at school avoids him because of the very embarrassing Bird Brain Incident. But when Milton plays his video game Isle of Wild, he becomes someone else―Sea Hawk, the brave and brilliant naturalist explorer who conquers danger at every turn.
Then Milton’s parents ship him off to the remote Lone Island for the summer, where his uncle Evan is an environmentalist researcher. The island is chock-full of spectaculous species, and Milton realizes this is his chance to become the brave and brilliant naturalist he’s always wanted to be―and even meet some fellow explorers!
But as it turns out, the future of the Lone Island is in some pretty serious peril, and the only thing that can save it is a field guide full of cryptic clues. If Milton and his unexpected new friends are going to protect the island, they’ll have to trust each other, discover new truths, and embark on a wild and wondrous adventure all their own.
The Adventure is Now is a dazzling, fun-filled story from Jess Redman.
There are they are: 51 of the best middle-grade books about bullying! Thanks so much to all the teachers, librarians and authors who shared bullying books with me on this Twitter thread. It’s a good one to keep an eye on if you want more recommendations, since I stopped adding replies on October 8.
Have you read any of the books on this list? What are your favorite middle-grade books about bullying? I’d love to hear — as you know, more recommendations are always welcome!