Middle grade books about religion, faith, and spirituality can be hit or miss for some. They may be too preachy, too shallow, or entirely erroneous. However, when they’re done right, books like these can help religious kids see themselves represented in stories. They can also educate other non-religious readers about the beliefs of others and help minimize prejudice. Still, some middle grade books highlight the damage that can be caused by religious extremism or intolerance.
Thanks to the educators and librarians in our Facebook Group for their suggestions on this list. If you’re also on the hunt for middle grade books with a religion subplot or featuring kids actively practicing their religion, you’ll like this list.
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25+ Tween Books About Religion, Faith, and Spirituality
Here are 25+ middle grade books about religion:
The books in this category feature characters navigating their Christian beliefs:
Opinions and Opposums
Published: May 2, 2023
Agnes has been encouraged not to question authority by her mom—but that’s especially hard in religion class, where it bugs her that so much gets blamed on Eve and that God’s always pictured one way. After a neighbor encourages her to think for herself, Agnes recognizes the value of asking questions about religion and finds a way to her own spirituality.
Confessions of a Closet Catholic
Published: February 3, 2005
After learning about Lent from her friend Mary Catherine, Justine Silver decides to put her Jewish faith aside and explore another religion, but when her Bubbe suffers a stroke, Justine finds comfort within herself after receiving understanding and guidance from her ailing Bubbe.
8th Grade Superhero
Published: October 27, 2015
After throwing up on the first day of school, Reggie’s been nicknamed “Pukey” McKnight at his Brooklyn school. In a bid to revamp his image, he gets involved with school elections and a local homeless shelter, all while grappling with questions and doubts about his faith.
A Song Called Home
Published: March 15, 2022
Lou as her mom remarries a man named Steve. Lou and her sister Casey have to move from the city to the suburbs to live with Steve, leaving behind their old schools and Lou’s best friend Beth Tsai. Forming this new family is hard on Lou and Casey for different reasons. Lou feels like she’s leaving their alcoholic father behind. Although Lou doesn’t have doubts about her faith, her family is religious, and attends church weekly.
What Happens Next
Published: April 6, 2017
Abby McCourt, astronomy lover, and her family are dealing with her oldest sister, Blair getting diagnosed with anorexia. As Blair goes off to rehab, leaving a potential ballet career in the lurch, the McCourt’s small town is abuzz with a highly anticipated solar eclipse. Abby throws herself into helping a famous astrologer staying at her family’s lodge. Abby and her parents are practicing Catholics who attend mass regularly.
What Momma Left Me
Published: January 8, 2019
Serenity and her brother, Danny, have to move in with their grandparents after her mother’s death. Their father is nowhere to be found and the kids have to deal with their grief while adjusting to a new lifestyle — new school, new friends, new routines — with their mother’s parents. Their grandfather is a preacher and both grandparents are ardent churchgoers. The story is told from Serenity’s point of view as she tries to make sense of life through her poetry in English class.
Published: September 15, 2020
This book focuses on Monique (Mo) and Rasheeda (Sheeda)’s friendship and how it changes over a summer when both girls are drawn into different pursuits. Mo is off at a ballet intensive with Mila, while Sheeda is stuck at church (with her church “friends”) feeling like she has no life.
At the ballet intensive, Mo comes face to face with her competitive attitude, which is fueled by feelings of not “fitting in” with the mostly white, skinny ballet dancers. On the other hand, Sheeda is desperate for something new. Unfortunately, she falls into a risky situation with Mo’s brother, whom she happens to have a crush on.
Will Mo and Sheeda’s friendship survive the summer?
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Published: January 1, 1974
When I finally read this classic earlier this year, I could see why it’s so beloved. Margaret wants many things, but at the top of the list are a connection to God and breasts big enough to wear a bra. Blume lovingly captures the desire to grow up (fast) and belong amongst one’s peers. I was quite surprised by the number of taboo topics this features in under 200 pages (from periods to first kisses to religious issues).
The books in this section are all about tweens embracing or figuring out their relationship to their Jewish faith. I also have a full list of Jewish middle grade books (including books focusing on Jewish culture and religion).
Recipe for Disaster
Published: September 14, 2021
Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew . . . ish and hadn’t thought much about her faith until her best friend has an amazing Bat-Mitzvah. All of a sudden, she wants to have a religious practice too. But as she learns about her faith, her desires butt against her parents, who’d rather be Jewish only culturally. This book is a serious exploration of the Jewish faith through the eyes of a girl trying to find her way–written in alternating verse, prose, and recipes.
Published: September 1, 2020
Miriam Brockman’s family — who are Jewish — has just moved into a motel they bought in upstate New York. Next door to the hotel is a diner owned by a Catholic elderly couple whose granddaughter, Kate, befriends Miriam. Miriam also begins working at the diner, peeling grapes for grape pie. In a bid to help draw customers to the motel, both girls create the illusion of a Virgin Mary apparition in a local abandoned drive-in. Their plan works, and customers start flooding the motel, but Miriam can’t shake the guilt, even as she explores other questions about religion and disability.
A Sky Full of Song
Published: April 11, 2023
It’s the year 1905, and Shoshana, her mother, and sisters have fled their home in Ukraine and moved to reunite with her father and older brother in North Dakota. There, the family lives in a prairie dugout, and Shoshana and her big sister Libke start attending school. Soon, the girls–especially Shoshana–begin to experience prejudice because of their Jewish religion and culture. Shoshana is tempted to blend into the mostly Christian community around her, but is that the right path to acceptance? Her sister Libke certainly disagrees.
The Wednesday Wars
Published: May 18, 2009
Seventh grader Holling Hoodhood has to spend his Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker, a teacher who obviously hates him. He can’t go to Hebrew classes or catechism, which the other kids attend on Wednesdays. Instead, he’s stuck doing Shakespeare. Set against the background of the Vietnam war, Holling learns a lot more about people than he expects.
Honey and Me
Published: October 18, 2022
Honey is Milla’s best friend. She loves the warmth of Honey’s boisterous family and wants to spend every moment with them. That is, until Honey transfers to her school and suddenly, everyone seems to like Honey more than they do Milla. This sweet slice-of-life story grew on me with every chapter. Milla and Honey are both Orthodox Jews, so this book includes many details about the religion.
Shira and Esther’s Double Dream Debut
Published: October 10, 2023
Shira and Esther were born on the same day to different parents but are doppelgangers! But that’s where their similarities end. Shira dreams of singing and dancing onstage, but her father, a stern and pious rabbi, thinks Shira should be reading prayers, not plays. Esther dreams of studying Torah, but her mother, a glamorous stage performer, wishes Esther would spend more time rehearsing and less time sneaking off to read books. So the girls decide to switch places!
The Length of a String
Published: May 1, 2018
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.
The Jake Show
Published: May 23, 2023
Jake Lightman is constantly dealing with the consequence of his parents’ divorce. Now he’s stuck between playing the role of “Yaakov” for his mother and “Jacob” for his father. His mom is extremely devoted, while his dad has completely shirked off his Jewish religious tendencies, making Jake’s life between them a real balancing act.
When his new friends invite him to Camp Gershoni — a camp neither parent won’t agree with, Jake concocts a web of lies to get to camp. Unfortunately, his lies also endanger his friendship with Caleb and Tehilla.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah
Published: October 1, 2013
During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-O―who might also be her boyfriend―and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg.
Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.
It’s My Party and I Don’t Want to Go
Published: September 15, 2020
Ellie is a young Jewish girl with undiagnosed social anxiety. She gets physically sick — sweaty, lightheaded, shaky, fainting at times — at the thought of being the center of attention, and even worse when her worst fear actually happens. Her latest anxiety trigger is the thought of her fast-approaching bat mitzvah.
Ellie is dreading standing up in public, reciting sections of the Torah, lighting candles, and all the other associated rituals. So she co-opts her best friend, Zoe into helping her sabotage the event. The girls do everything from hiding invitations, canceling the venue, and putting off the caterer — and the results are simultaneously sad and funny.
Published: May 10, 2022
What if you realized that you can’t seem to maintain friendships? When this happens to Eleni in Dear Friends, she decides to embark on a challenge to revisit and revive her top five failed friendships. As life would have it, just as the process starts, her oldest childhood friend and BFF, Sylvie, starts pulling away from her. Can Eleni get to the bottom of things and recover her friendships before the start of middle school? Eleni goes to Hebrew school regularly, even though she doesn’t have many religious doubts.
Here are some books centered around Buddhism:
Published: September 19, 2023
This is a forthcoming middle grade graphic novel by award-winning picture book author Minh Le about a boy who’s sent to a silent meditation retreat after an incident with a bully. There, when a nun gathers all the kids to tell them the Jataka tales—the stories of the Buddha’s many past lives—Bình takes a fantastical dive into his imagination and starts to see himself in these stories.
Published: September 26, 2023
Prince Siddhartha lives in a beautiful palace in the heart of Kapilavastu. His father, the king, ensures that he has the best of everything—he just can’t go outside. He is locked up away from the city, away from anything that might cause him pain. He knows nothing of illness, aging, sorrow, or death, yet Siddhartha feels the pain regardless, and it instills a burning curiosity to understand the world outside—and the nature of human suffering.
I Am Kavi
Published: September 19, 2023
It’s 1998 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In the middle of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Kavi is dealing with her own personal upheavals. Her mother has remarried her father’s best friend after his death and is expecting a new baby.
Meanwhile, Kavi is getting sent to the city on a scholarship to an elite private school. There, she starts telling lies of a life of wealth and grandeur– small at first, then bigger and bigger — to fit in with the rich kids until she begins to lose herself. Kavi’s family is Buddhist, but she isn’t sure how she feels about her religion.
Here are some books with Muslim protagonists. For a longer list, check out my list of Muslim middle grade books.
Published: September 6, 2022
When Nimra joins public school after years in Islamic school, she’s not expecting to become 1/4th of Barakah Beats, a popular boy band in her school. But that’s what happens. When her BFF (at least to Nimra) stops acting so BFF-y after Nimra decides to wear her hijab to public school, Nimra is desperate to keep their friendship. Even if it means joining a boy band when it conflicts with her Islamic beliefs. Can Nimra find a way to use her voice without going against her values or hurting her new friends and bandmates?
Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero
Published: September 7, 2021
Yusuf Azeem is not a hero like his dad who talked down a gun man in their small-town A-Z Dollar Store. But his dad’s heroism doesn’t prevent him from getting worsening hateful notes in his locker telling him to “Go Home.” Yusuf and his friend Danial had expected that this would be their year — their entry into middle school and a chance to compete in a robotics contest. However, when some of the townspeople, including a group called the Patriot Sons try to stop the construction of their town’s mosque and begin to target Yusuf and other Muslims in the community, they are forced to take a stand.
Bhai for Now
Published: October 4, 2022
Two boys’ lives collide when they discover that they look exactly alike. Ashar is an ice hockey player who lives with his mom and is fairly popular at school. His goal is to get into the best high school by his ice hockey skills. He also has a cousin, who’s currently mad at him for reasons he doesn’t know.
Shaheer has just moved to town with his dad for the umpteenth time and has given up on the idea of finding a forever home when the kids at school start calling him by Ashar’s name. The boys quickly find out that they’re twins and start switching places to get to know their parents better and convince them to keep the boys together. Both boys are also Muslim although one is more religious than the other.
Turtle of Oman
Published: August 26, 2014
Aref does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Sidi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase—but he refuses. Finally, she calls Sidi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Sidi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Sidi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Sidi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase—mementos of home.
More to the Story
Published: September 3, 2019
More to the Story is a modern middle-grade novel inspired by the classic novel, Little Women. Four Muslim-American sisters Jameela, Maryam, Bisma, and Aleeza are distraught when their dad has to go abroad for six months for a job.
Thirteen-year-old Jam, as she is fondly called has just become the features editor for her school’s newspaper. She’s determined to impress her dad with her first story. At the same time, a family friend’s nephew, Ali moves from the UK to Atlanta. As Jam and Ali’s friendship blossoms, one of her sisters receives devastating news about her health. The protagonist and her family are practicing Muslims.
I couldn’t find many books on this subject, but here’s one:
Published: October 1, 2017
In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle. But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”–non-violent resistance–to stand up to the British government. This book explores a lot of the religious strife between Indian Hindus and Muslims.
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There they are: 25+ of the best middle grade books about religion, faith, and spirituality. All of these books have various degrees of involvement with this theme, but I hope you find something that hits the perfect tone. for you.
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