It’s finally list season and I’m kicking things off with this list of 91 middle-grade books to read in 2021. But before we get started, I’d like to mention the obvious: this is not an exhaustive list. When I make these anticipated lists, I only include books that I am particularly interested in. Essentially, a wish list of sorts. As you may already know, I’m not a big fantasy reader, so I’ll leave the fantasy picks for other bloggers (whose lists I’m happy to link to in this post when they’re published). 2021 promises to be an exceptional year in kidlit publishing, although I am disappointed in the relatively small number of books featuring Black, Asian, and Latino protagonists.
As usual, I have organized the books by publication date, and yes, the list includes a whopping 91 books with dates ranging from January 5 to October 26. I hope to publish another anticipated list in the fall, but that is typically a smaller selection. Without further ado, here are the 91 middle-grade books to read in 2021; those releasing in 2021 that are on my radar. A couple of these books have no descriptions from publishers yet. Publishers, please note that I am very open to accepting electronic ARCs of all of the books mentioned on this list (as well as any awesome realistic middle-grade selections).
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91 Middle-Grade Books to Read in 2021
Just Like That
In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school’s traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene’s with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang’s relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance
For centuries, accomplished women–of all races–have fallen out of the historical records. The same is true for gifted, prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance who are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts.
In this poetry collection, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of these groundbreaking women-and to introduce readers to their work.
Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting female African-American illustrators, including: Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cozbi Cabrera, Pat Cummings, Nina Crews, Laura Freeman, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, April Harrison, Ekua Holmes, Keisha Morrison, Daria Peoples-Riley, Andrea Pippins, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.
The Lion of Mars
Bell has spent his whole life – all eleven years of it – on Mars. But he’s still just a regular kid – he loves cats, any kind of cake, and is curious about the secrets the adults in the US colony are keeping. Like, why don’t have contact with anyone on the other Mars colonies? Why are they so isolated? When a virus breaks out and the grown-ups all fall ill, Bell and the other children are the only ones who can help. It’s up to Bell – a regular kid in a very different world – to uncover the truth and save his family … and possibly unite an entire planet.
Mars may be a world far, far away, but in the hands of Jennifer L. Holm, beloved and bestselling author of The Fourteenth Goldfish, it can’t help but feel like home.
Shaking Up the House
Ingrid and Winnie López have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years, but their friends Skylar and Zora Williams—the new first daughters—are about to move into the White House with their mom, the president-elect. What the Williamses don’t know is that incoming presidents’ families are often pranked by the folks they’re replacing, and Ingrid and Winnie take that tradition very seriously.
But when the four girls get wrapped up in an ever-escalating exchange of practical jokes and things spiral out of control, can they avoid an international incident? Or will their battle go down in American history and ruin their friendship forever?
The Sea in Winter
It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.
Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.
But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?
Katie the Catsitter
Katie is dreading the boring summer ahead while her best friends are all away at camp–something that’s way out of Katie and her mom’s budget, UNLESS Katie can figure out a way earn the money for camp herself. But when Katie gets a job catsitting for her mysterious upstairs neighbor, life get interesting. First, Madeline has 217 cats (!) and they’re not exactly . . . normal cats. Also, why is Madeline always out EXACTLY when the city’s most notorious villain commits crimes?! Is it possible that Katie’s upstairs neighbor is really a super villain? Can Katie wrangle a whole lot of wayward cats, save a best friendship (why is Beth barely writing back? And who’s this boy she keeps talking about?!), AND crack the biggest story in the city’s history? Some heroes have capes . . . Katie has cats!
Meow or Never: A Wish Novel
Avery Williams can sing, but that doesn’t mean she can sing in front of people. She likes to stay backstage at her new school, which is where, to her surprise, she finds a cat tucked away into a nook. Avery names the stray Phantom and visits any time she’s feeling stressed (which is a lot these days).
As she sings to Phantom one day, her crush, Nic, overhears her and ropes Avery into auditioning for the school’s musical. Despite her nerves, Avery lands the lead role!
She knows she should be excited, but mostly Avery is terrified. Can Phantom help her through her stage fright? And what will happen if anyone finds out about her secret pet?
Clues to the Universe
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.
The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas
Decades after the Vietnam War and Toby’s life-changing summer with Zachary Beaver, Toby’s daughter Rylee is at a crossroads—her best friend Twig has started pushing her away just as Joe, a new kid from New York, settles into their small town of Antler. Rylee befriends Joe and learns that Joe’s father was a first responder on 9/11. The two unlikely friends soon embark on a project to find Zachary Beaver and hopefully reconnect him with Rylee’s father almost thirty years later.
This beautiful middle grade novel is a tribute to friendships—old and new—and explores the challenges of rebuilding what may seem lost or destroyed.
Many Points of Me
Georgia Rosenbloom’s father was a famous artist. His most well-known paintings were a series of asterisms—patterns of stars—that he created. One represented a bird, one himself, and one Georgia’s mother. There was supposed to be a fourth asterism, but Georgia’s father died before he could paint it. Georgia’s mother and her best friend, Theo, are certain that the last asterism would’ve been of Georgia, but Georgia isn’t so sure. She isn’t sure about anything anymore—including whether Theo is still her best friend.
Then Georgia finds a sketch her father made of her. One with pencil points marked on the back—just like those in the asterism paintings. Could this finally be the proof that the last painting would have been of her?
Georgia’s quest to prove her theory takes her around her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was almost a second home to Georgia, having visited favorite artists and paintings there constantly with her father. But the sketch leads right back to where she’s always belonged—with the people who love her no matter what.
Stella Diaz Dreams Big
Stella is happy as a clam in fourth grade. She’s the president of the Sea Musketeers conservation club, she starts taking swim lessons, and she joins a new art club at school. But as her schedule fills up, school gets harder, too. Suddenly the tides have turned, and she is way too busy!
Stella will be in an ocean of trouble if she can’t keep her head above water. But with her trusty Sea Musketeers by her side, she hops to make her big dreams come true!
Based on the author’s experiences growing up Mexican-American, this infectiously charming character comes to life through relatable storytelling including simple Spanish vocabulary and adorable black-and-white art.
Halfway to Harmony
Walter Tipple is looking for adventure. He keeps having a dream that his big brother, Tank, appears before him and says, “Let’s you and me go see my world, little man.” But Tank went to the army and never came home, and Walter doesn’t know how to see the world without him.
Then he meets Posey, the brash new girl from next door, and an eccentric man named Banjo, who’s off on a bodacious adventure of his own. What follows is a summer of taking chances, becoming braver, and making friends—and maybe Walter can learn who he wants to be without the brother he always wanted to be like.
Halfway to Harmony is an utterly charming story about change and growing up.
When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.
With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.
As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?
The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel
Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however—she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?
Set in Lake Placid, New York, this is a spunky yet stirring middle-grade story that examines racism, female rivalry and friendship, and the enduring and universal necessity of love and support.
Related: Author E.L. Shen on The Comeback, Ice-Skating, and Supportive Friendships
The Million Dollar Race
Grant Falloon isn’t just good at track; he’s close to breaking the world record 100-meter time for his age group. So when the mega-rich Babblemoney sneaker company announces an international competition to find the fastest kid in the world, he’s desperate to sign up.
But not so fast. Nothing’s ever that easy with the eccentric Falloon family. Turns out, his non-conformist parents never got him a legal birth certificate. He can’t race for the United States, so now if he wants to compete, he may just have to invent his own country.
And even if that crazy plan works, winning gold will mean knocking his best friend—and biggest competitor—Jay, out of the competition. As unexpected hurdles arise, Grant will have to ask not only if winning is possible, but what he’s willing to sacrifice for it.
365 Days to Alaska
Eleven-year-old Rigel Harman loves her life in off-the-grid Alaska. She hunts rabbits, takes correspondence classes through the mail, and plays dominoes with her family in their two-room cabin. She doesn’t mind not having electricity or running water—instead, she’s got tall trees, fresh streams, and endless sky.
But then her parents divorce, and Rigel and her sisters have to move with their mom to the Connecticut suburbs to live with a grandmother they’ve never met. Rigel hates it in Connecticut. It’s noisy, and crowded, and there’s no real nature. Her only hope is a secret pact that she made with her father: If she can stick it out in Connecticut for one year, he’ll bring her back home.
At first, surviving the year feels impossible. Middle school is nothing like the wilderness, and she doesn’t connect with anyone . . . until she befriends a crow living behind her school. And if this wild creature has made a life for itself in the suburbs, then, just maybe, Rigel can too.
365 Days to Alaska is a wise and funny debut novel about finding beauty, hope, and connection in the world no matter where you are—even Connecticut.
Take Back the Block
Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.
But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are suppposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it . . . before it’s too late?
Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong–to a place and a movement–and to fight for what you believe in.
Related: Chrystal Giles on Take Back the Block
While I was Away
When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been her summer vacation, Waka is plucked from her straight-A-student life in rural Kansas and flown across the globe, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime.
In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing in kanji, doesn’t quite mesh with her complicated and distant Obaasama, and gets made fun of by the students in her Japanese public-school classes. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.
If she’s always been the “smart Japanese girl” in America but is now the “dumb foreigner” in Japan, where is home…and who will Waka be when she finds it?
Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic
Yasmina isn’t like the other kids in her city. Maybe it’s the big chef hat she wears. Or the fact that she stuffs her dad’s lunchbox full of spring rolls instead of peanut butter and jelly. She might be an oddball, but no one can deny that Yasmina has a flair for food. All she needs to whip up a gourmet meal is a recipe from her cookbook and fresh vegetable form the community garden.
But everything changes when the garden is bulldozed and replaced with a strange new crop of potatoes. Her neighbors can’t get enough of these spuds! And after just one bite their behavior changes—they slobber, chase cats, and howl at the moon. What’s the secret ingredient in these potatoes that has everyone acting like a bunch of crazed canines? Yasmina needs to find a cure, and fast!
MJ knows what it means to hurt. Bruises from gymnastics heal, but big hurts—like her dad not being around anymore—don’t go away. Now her mom needs to work two jobs, and MJ doesn’t have friends at school to lean on.
There is only one thing MJ loves: the world of professional wrestling. She especially idolizes the luchadores and the stories they tell in the ring. When MJ learns that her neighbor, Mr. Arellano, runs a wrestling school, she has a new mission in life: join the school, train hard, and become a wrestler.
But trouble lies ahead. After wrestling in a showcase event, MJ attracts the attention of Mr. Arellano’s enemy at the State Athletic Commission. There are threats to shut the school down, putting MJ’s new home—and the community that welcomed her—at risk. What can MJ do to save her new family?
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.
Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity’s brain works differently from most people’s because of her autism, but she’s still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she’s invisible?
When Charity’s parents enroll her in a public junior high school, she faces her greatest fears. Will kids make fun of her? Will her behavior get her kicked out? Will her million thoughts stay locked in her head forever? With the support of teachers and newfound friends, Charity will have to fight to be treated like a real student.
Inspired by a true story, Real speaks to all those who’ve ever felt they didn’t belong and reminds readers that all people are worthy of being included.
Fonda, Drew, and Ruthie have been besties forever, but seventh grade is going to be their year! Look out, Poplar Middle School (yup, that’s PMS), here comes the coolest clique around. The three girls can’t wait to do everything together and have an amazing time doing it. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…
On day one:
• Ruthie realizes that being in Talented and Gifted means being in a different part of the school. There go their stuck-together-like-glue dreams.
• Drew’s crush–who seemed so into her like a week ago–suddenly acts like he doesn’t know her. And now he’s all she can think about.
• Fonda’s finally being noticed by The Avas (aka the popular girls, all named, you guessed it: Ava), but can she really hang out with them if Ruthie and Drew aren’t invited?
There’s nothing like seventh grade to test the bonds of friendship. Fonda, Drew, and Ruthie are about to find out how much it stinks to be lied to, to be left out, and to feel like you’re the only one who cares. But they’ll also find out how meaningful female friendships are, and how great it feels to be yourself.
Get ready for the most meaningful, most fun stuff of all: girl stuff!
Red, White, and Whole
Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and holidays. But Reha’s parents don’t understand why she’s conflicted—they only notice when Reha doesn’t meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—but they are a universe apart.
Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick.
Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can’t stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma’s life.
Related: Rajani LaRocca on Red, White and Whole, Family and the 80’s
The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell
In a typical school year, every kid has one or two things go wrong. But for Jordan, there’s A LOT going wrong ALL THE TIME.
Take this year. Here are some of the thing going wrong
:– His teacher hates him. Like, really hates him. Like, is totally out to get him even when he’s trying to be good, and is willing to fail him on the simplest things, like show and tell.
— He has a slight breathing problem because of his asthma. And breathing is never really an optional activity.
— His pet snake has given birth to way, way, way too many baby snakes, all who need a home.
— He is finding that becoming The World’s Best Drummer in no time whatsoever is maybe not the easiest goal.
— There are bullies ready to stomp him when all he has to defend himself with is a lunchbox.
And all this doesn’t even include the freak swing set accident, the fears inside his head, or the funniest class presentation ever.
By keeping his cool (some of the time), banging on the drums (a lot), and keeping his sense of humor (all the time), Jordan’s going to try to make it through the year . . . and grow up to write a book about it!
Crocodile Rescue #1
Twelve-year-old Adrianna Villalobos and her older brother Feye travel the globe with their parents, the hosts of a suspenseful nature show called “Wild Survival!” The show features daring animal rescues and the work the family does at their animal sanctuary. They’ve recently gotten an offer to take the show from YouTube to a TV network, and Adrianna is thrilled. So far, she’s always been behind the scenes, but now she gets to join the rest of her family onscreen. She can’t wait to bring her passion for animals to a wide audience.
Their first stop is the lush mangrove forests of Cuba, where they’re going to help rescue an injured crocodile. But things get off to a rocky start when Feye is injured in an accident partially caused by Adrianna. The status of the show is in jeopardy, and Adrianna’s parents want her back behind the scenes, or maybe even back at home.
Adrianna is determined to prove herself, and save the show-whatever it takes. Even if that means confronting the legendary Mega Croc of Cuba that’s rumored to inhabit the murky waters around their base camp.
Based on the author’s real-life wildlife encounters, this middle-grade series will include real animal facts, light illustration of the creatures mentioned in each book, and an Author’s Note from Melissa.
Reckless, Glorious, Girl
Beatrice Miller may have a granny’s name (her granny’s, to be more specific), but she adores her Mamaw and her mom, who give her every bit of wisdom and love they have. But the summer before seventh grade, Bea wants more than she has, aches for what she can’t have, and wonders what the future will bring.
This novel in verse follows Beatrice through the ups and downs of friendships, puberty, and identity as she asks: Who am I? Who will I become? And will my outside ever match the way I feel on the inside?
A gorgeous, inter-generational story of Southern women and a girl’s path blossoming into her sense of self, Reckless, Glorious, Girl explores the important questions we all ask as we race toward growing up.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
Native families from Nations across the continent gather at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In a high school gym full of color and song, people dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. Young protagonists will meet relatives from faraway, mysterious strangers, and sometimes one another (plus one scrappy rez dog).
Life in the Balance
Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. She’s practically been playing the game since she was a baby. She should have this tryout on lock.
Except right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team.
Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.
Is her mom the only one learning balance, or can Veronica find a way to discover what she really wants to do with her life?
The Hedgehog of Oz
Marcel the hedgehog used to live with his beloved owner Dorothy, but since getting hopelessly lost, he’s tried to forget the happy home he left behind. Now, Marcel lives a quiet life in the abandoned balcony of The Emerald City Theater where he subsists on dropped popcorn and the Saturday showings of The Wizard of Oz.
But when he’s discovered, Marcel is taken far away from everything he knows and ends up lost once more. His quest to return to The Emerald City Theater leads him to Mousekinland, where he meets Scamp, a tiny mouse armed with enormous spirit (and a trusty sling-shooter). Before long, they’re joined by an old gray squirrel, Ingot, who suffers from bad memories and a broken heart and Tuffy, a baby raccoon lost and afraid in the forest. And the travelers attract the attention of an owl named Wickedwing, who stalks them as they search for the old theater.
From field to forest, glittering theatre to the gutter, the animals’ road home is a dark and winding journey. But sometimes you need to get a little lost before you can be found.
Power Up – Sam Nisson (Graphic Novel)
Miles and Rhys know each other only as Gryphon and Backslash, and in the video game Mecha Melee they’re an unstoppable team. They’re the best friends they’ve got, online or in the real world, and they don’t even realize they go to the same middle school.
But real-life wrongdoing blasts their duo into a crater the size of Arcticon. With life online and off a complete mess and BattleCon—and the Every Game Ever tournament—just weeks away, can the boys play their way back to each other?
Strong As Fire, Fierce As Flame
Meera’s future has been planned for her for as long as she can remember. As a child, her parents married her to a boy from a neighboring village whom she barely knows. Later, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, she prepares to leave her family to live with her husband’s–just as her strict religion dictates. But that night, Indian soldiers mutiny against their British commanders and destroy the British ammunition depot, burning down parts of Delhi. Riots follow, and Meera’s husband is killed. Upon hearing the news, Meera’s father insists that she follow the dictates of their fringe religious sect: She must end her life by throwing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Risking everything, Meera runs away, escaping into the chaos of the rebellion. But her newfound freedom is short-lived, as she is forced to become a servant in the house of a high-ranking British East India Company captain. Slowly through her work, she gains confidence, new friends, new skills–and sometimes her life even feels peaceful. But one day, Meera stumbles upon the captain’s secret stock of ammunition, destined to be used by the British to continue colonizing India and control its citizens.
Will Meera do her part to take down the British colonists and alert the rebellion of the stockpile? Or will she stay safe and let others make decisions for her? It really comes down to this: how much fire must a girl face to finally write her own destiny?
Trouble with a Tiny t
Twelve-year-old Westin Hopper gets in trouble–a lot. At home, at school, at his grandparents’ house. . . . His ADHD always seems to mess with his brain, making him do impulsive things. So when Westin finds a magic bag that makes his thoughts come alive, he thinks it’s the ticket to fixing his life. Instead, his wandering brain strikes again, conjuring up a mini T. rex, an army of headless plastic men, and a six-inch Thor. Now they all live in his bedroom, eating lunchmeat, wreaking havoc, and growing. And Westin doesn’t know how to make them go away. He enlists his fellow social outcast, Lenora, to help him make things right. Lenora helps Westin realize that his talent for drawing could be the key to solving his problems. If Westin can focus while drawing, maybe he can learn to control the magic and get rid of the creatures in his room. But he’d better learn quickly. Tiny T is growing–and fast.
These Unlucky Stars
Ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has felt like the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother are practical and organized–they just don’t understand the way she thinks, in lines and color. Everywhere she turns, she feels like an outsider, even at school, so she’s been reluctant to get close to anyone.
When a “Ding-Dong-Ditch” attempt goes wrong, Annie finds herself stuck making amends with Gloria, the eccentric elderly lady she disturbed. As she begins to connect with Gloria and her weird little dog, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in, and see how rich life can be when you decide to make your own luck and chart your own path to happiness.
In this heartwarming novel, acclaimed author Gillian McDunn shows us that even the most unexpected friendship has the power to change us forever.
Related: Author Gillian McDunn on Writing About Relationships
Simon B. Rhyming
Eleven-year-old Simon Barnes dreams of becoming a world-famous rapper that everyone calls Notorious D.O.G. But for now, he’s just a Chicago fifth grader who’s small for his age and afraid to use his voice.
Simon prefers to lay low at school and at home, even though he’s constantly spitting rhymes in his head. But when his new teacher assigns the class an oral presentation on something that affects their community, Simon must face his fears.
With some help from an unexpected ally and his neighborhood crew, will Simon gain the confidence to rap his way to an A and prove that one kid can make a difference in his ‘hood?
Peter Lee’s Notes From the Field
Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L.B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.
Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L.B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once — he needs time to sketch out a plan.
Confessions of a Class Clown
Meet Jack Reynolds. Making people laugh is his life’s work. Jack’s wacky MyTube channel is really starting to take off. The only problem is, for the truly epic posts, he needs a collaborator. And, well, he doesn’t exactly have any friends. So Jack has to swallow his pride and join the new afterschool club, Speed Friendshipping. But who would make the best partner in comedy?
• Brielle, Miss Perfect candidate for student body president?
• Mario, whose mom won’t even let him have a smart phone?
• Or Tasha, the quiet, mysterious girl with a shaved head and a crocheted hat for every day of the week?
One of these kids could help catapult Jack to internet fame . . . or even become a true friend. But what will it cost him to go viral?
With an unfailing knack for the middle-grade voice, Arianne Costner, author of My Life as a Potato, explores themes of friendship, belonging, and the ways social media can put pressure on today’s kids.
At home, Maggie is the odd one out. Her parents are preoccupied with getting ready for a new baby, and her younger brothers are twins and always in their own world. Maggie loves animals and thinks a new puppy to call her own is the answer, but when she goes to select one on her birthday, she breaks out in hives and rashes. She’s severely allergic to anything with fur!
Can Maggie outsmart her allergies and find the perfect pet? With illustrations by Michelle Mee Nutter, Megan Wagner Lloyd uses inspiration from her own experiences with allergies to tell a heartfelt story of family, friendship, and finding a place to belong.
Related: Megan Wagner Lloyd & Illustrator Michelle Mee Nutter on ALLERGIC
An uplifting and poignant story about a former service beagle named Stella who must find the courage to overcome her fears and use her special nose to save a girl’s life.
Ever since Stella was a puppy, she was trained to use her powerful beagle nose to sniff out chemicals used in explosives and warn her human handler in order to keep people safe.
But during a routine security inspection, Stella is distracted and misses the scent of an explosive chemical. The sound of the blast is loud and scary. Stella survives but her handler & her best friend in the whole world is gone. Stella blames herself, certain she is a bad dog.
Violet and the Pie of Life
Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math.
#1: Adjust the ratio of Mom’s nagging to her compliments.
#2: Multiply Dad’s funny stories by a factor of three.
#3: Add in romantic stuff wherever possible.
But when her dad walks out, Violet realizes that the odds do not look good. Why can’t her parents get along like popular, perfect Ally’s parents? Would it be better to have no dad at all, like her best friend, McKenzie? Violet is considering the data when she and Ally get cast in the school play, and McKenzie doesn’t–a probability that Violet never calculated. Maybe friendship and family have more variables than she thought.
Filled with warmth, math-y humor, and delicious pie, this heartfelt middle grade read is perfect for fans of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Includes illustrated charts, graphs, and diagrams throughout.
It’s the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family—all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she’s sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale.
After she’s home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen?
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
Abby Tried and True
When Abby Braverman’s best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen. But then her older brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer, and life upends again. Now it’s up to Abby to find a way to navigate seventh grade without her best friend, help keep her brother’s spirits up during difficult treatments, and figure out her surprising new feelings for the boy next door.
After thwarting a notorious villain at an eco-summit in Paris, the City Spies are gearing up for their next mission. Operating out of a base in Scotland, this secret team of young agents working for the British Secret Intelligence Service’s MI6 division have honed their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.
Fourteen-year-old Sydney is a surfer and a rebel from Bondi Beach, Australia. She’s also a field ops specialist for the City Spies. Sydney is excited to learn that she’ll be going undercover on the marine research vessel the Sylvia Earle. But things don’t go exactly as planned, and while Sydney does find herself in the spotlight, it’s not in the way she was hoping.
Meanwhile, there’s been some new intel regarding a potential mole within the organization, offering the spies a lead that takes them to San Francisco, California. But as they investigate a spy who died at the Botanical Gardens, they discover that they are also being investigated. And soon, they’re caught up in an exciting adventure filled with rogue missions and double agents!
This mission is hot! The City Spies are a go!
Across the Pond
Callie can’t wait for her new life to start. After a major friendship breakup in San Diego, moving overseas to Scotland gives her the perfect chance to reinvent herself. On top of that, she’s going to live in a real-life castle!
But as romantic as life in a castle sounds, the reality is a little less comfortable: it’s run-down, freezing, and crawling with critters. Plus, starting off on the wrong foot with the gardener’s granddaughter doesn’t help her nerves about making new friends. So she comes up with the perfect solution: she’ll be homeschooled. Her parents agree, on one condition: she has to participate in a social activity.
Inspired by a journal that she finds hidden in her bedroom, Callie decides to join a birding club. Sure, it sounds unusual, but at least it’s not sports or performing. But when she clashes with the club leader, she risks losing a set of friends all over again. Will she ever be able to find her flock and make this strange new place feel like home?
Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honor those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realizes that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.
Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on August 6, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognize–better than most–the urgent need for peace.
The One Thing You’d Save
When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others come to their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear their classmates’ responses. A lively dialog ignites as the students discover unexpected facets of one another—and themselves. With her ear for authentic dialog and knowledge of tweens’ priorities and emotions, Linda Sue Park brings the varied voices of an inclusive classroom to life through carefully honed, engaging, and instantly accessible verse.
Where We Used to Roam
When Emma starts sixth grade, things finally begin to change. She may still be in the shadow of her older brother, Austin, the popular high school quarterback, but she’s made artsy new friends who get her way more than her bookish best friend, Becca.
But things are changing for Austin, too. After undergoing surgery for a football injury, Austin has become addicted to opioid painkillers. By the end of the school year, everything blows up with Austin—and Becca. When their parents decide to send Austin to rehab and Emma to stay with family friends in Wyoming for the summer, Emma seizes the chance to get away.
Wyoming turns out to be a perfect fresh start, especially after Emma makes friends with Tyler, a kindred spirit who doesn’t judge her—then again, he doesn’t know what she did to Becca. Still, Emma can’t hide forever…or go back to the way things were with Austin or with Becca. But can she find a way to confront the truth and move forward?
Related: Jenn Bishop on Where We Used to Roam
The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family
When twelve-year-old Lara Finkel starts her very own detective agency, FIASCCO (Finkel Investigation Agency Solving Consequential Crimes Only), she does not want her sister, Caroline, involved. She and Caroline don’t have to do everything together! But Caroline won’t give up. When she brings Lara the firm’s first mystery–why did Dad burn the brisket he was making for Shabbat dinner?–Lara relents, and the mysteries start piling up.
But soon, Lara and Caroline’s partnership starts to unravel. Caroline normally uses her tablet to talk, but now she’s mostly using it to text a new friend. Lara can’t figure out what the two of them are up to, but it can’t be good. And Caroline doesn’t like Lara’s snooping–she’s supposed to be solving other people’s mysteries, not spying on Caroline! As FIASCCO and the Finkel family mysteries spin out of control, can Caroline and Lara find a way to be friends again?
Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. Three years ago, before their family moved from California to Tennessee, Olivia and Ruth buried a time capsule on their favorite beach. Now, they’re taking an RV back across the country to uncover the memories they left behind. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way.
All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.
The House That Wasn’t There
Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California. And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood between his house and the one next door. That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts it down.
Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.
As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together. At least not without each other’s help.
All You Knead Is Love
Twelve-year-old Alba doesn’t want to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona. But her mother needs her to be far, far away from their home in New York City. Because this is the year that her mother is going to leave Alba’s abusive father. Hopefully. If she’s strong enough to finally, finally do it. Alba is surprised to find that she loves Barcelona, forming a close relationship with her grandmother, meeting a supportive father figure, and making new friends. Most of all, she discovers a passion and talent for bread baking. When her beloved bakery is threatened with closure, Alba is determined to find a way to save it–and at the same time, she may just come up with a plan to make their family whole again. From the author of How to Make Friends with the Sea comes a heartfelt story of finding one’s chosen family, healing, and baking.
Stella and Luna know that their mama, Elsie, came from the Philippines when she was a child, but they don’t know much else. So one night they ask her to tell them her story. As they get ready for bed, their mama spins two tales: that of her youth as a strong-willed middle child and immigrant; and that of the young life of Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god. Both are tales of sisterhood and motherhood, and of the difficult experience of trying to fit into a new culture, and having to fight for a home and acceptance. Glorious and layered, this is a portrait of family and strength for the ages.
The Math Kids: An Encrypted Clue
When Stephanie Lewis finds secret writing in the margin of an old book in the library, The Math Kids have a new puzzle to solve. But first, they’ll have to learn about codes and ciphers and how they can use their math skills to solve them.
As one clue leads to another, the kids are drawn into the mysterious old house that overlooks the town. Is it really haunted like some of the townspeople say? And who is the man in the long beard who keeps showing up everywhere they go?
But that’s not their only problem. The town they live in is broke. Unless they can find a solution, the math competition they’ve been training so hard for will be cancelled.
Jordan, Stephanie, Justin, and Catherine will need to use all their problem-solving skills to figure out the clues before it’s too late.
The Great Peach Experiment 1: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie
The first book in a new middle grade series about a bumbling family of geniuses on a road trip to reconnect.
The Peaches are a family of real and true geniuses, looking forward to summer – ya know, math, business, geology. But when it’s discovered that one of their mom’s inventions from before she passed away has sold, NOW the Peaches are millionaires, too!
Dad, instead of blowing it on fun stuff, buys a food truck. He’s determined that the Peach family is going to bond, and honor Mom who loved fun and adventure, by traveling around selling peach pies. Which no one knows how to make….
War and Millie McGonigle
Millie McGonigle lives in sunny California, where her days are filled with beach and surf. It should be perfect–but times are tough. Hitler is attacking Europe and it looks like the United States may be going to war. Food is rationed and money is tight. And Millie’s sickly little sister gets all the attention and couldn’t be more of a pain if she tried. It’s all Millie can do to stay calm and feel in control.
Still–there’s sand beneath her feet. A new neighbor from the city, who has a lot to teach Millie. And surfer boy Rocky to admire–even if she doesn’t have the guts to talk to him.
It’s a time of sunshine, siblings, and stress. Will Millie be able to find her way in her family, and keep her balance as the the world around her loses its own?
Magic Olive Poindexter has big shoes to fill. Her mother was a professional cheerleader, her father is a retired NBA legend, her big sister is the new face of the oh-so-glamorous Laker Girls, and her grandmother was the first black cheerleader ever on Valentine Middle School’s HoneyBee cheer squad. Magic wants nothing more than to follow in their footsteps. But first, she has to survive Planet Pom Poms, the summer cheer camp where she’ll audition for a spot on the HoneyBee squad. But with zero athletic ability and a group of mean girls who have her number, Tragic Magic is a long way from becoming the toe-touching cheerleader heroine she dreams of being.
Things start to look up when her best friend Cappie joins her at camp–until Cappie gets bitten by the popularity bug, that is. To make matters worse, Magic’s crushing hard on football star Dallas Chase. Luckily, Magic’s not alone: with the help of a new crew of fabulous fellow misfits and her Grammy Mae’s vintage pom poms by her side, Tragic Magic might just survive–and even thrive–at cheer camp.
Merci Suarez Can’t Dance
Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be a smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.
One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.
It Doesn’t Take a Genius
Emmett and his older brother Luke have always been “Batman and Robin,” though they’re quick to bicker about who’s who. Spending the summer at a historic Black summer camp seems like a wonderful adventure for the two to share, but since Luke is there as a junior counselor, he seems to spend all of his time being everyone else’s big brother, and ignoring Emmett.
As Luke seems to be moving on to new adventures, Emmett struggles in unexpected ways, especially in swim class and the “It Takes A Village” entrepreneurship class. Without his brother to turn to for support, Emmett works to build a new crew of “superfriends,” who’ll help him plan something spectacular for the end-of-camp awards night and celebration. Along the way, Emmett learns that no matter what, there can be many ways to define family
A Thousand Minutes to Sunlight
Cora is constantly counting the minutes. It’s the only thing that stops her brain from rattling with worry, from convincing her that danger is up ahead. Afraid of the unknown, Cora spends her days with her feet tucked into sand, marveling at La Quinta beach’s giant waves and her little sister Sunshine’s boundless energy.
And then danger really does show up at Cora’s doorstep—her absentee uncle, whose sudden presence in the middle of the night makes her parents nervous and secretive. As dawn breaks once more, Cora must piece together her family and herself, one minute at a time.
Rescue at Lake Wild
Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison “Madi” Lewis is not allowed to bring home any more animals. After she’s saved hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a stray tom cat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi’s parents decide that if they find one more stray animal in the house, she won’t be allowed to meet Jane Goodall at an upcoming gala event.
But when Madi and her two best friends, Aaron and Jack, rescue beaver kits whose mother was killed, they find themselves at the center of a local conspiracy that’s putting the beavers and their habitats in danger. As Madi and her friends race to uncover the threat targeting the beavers, Madi must put her animal whisperer skills to the test in both raising the orphaned beaver kits and staying out of trouble long enough.
Glitter Gets Everywhere
Kitty’s mother died on an inappropriately sunny Tuesday. So much has changed in Kitty’s life over the last few months, and she needs the world to stop spinning around her. She needs things to return to normal — or as normal as they’ll ever be.
Normal definitely does not include her family moving from their home in a cozy corner of London all the way to New York City. Moving means leaving behind her friends and neighbors, her grandmother, and all the places and people that help Kitty keep her mother’s memory alive.
New York City is bright and bustling and completely different from everything Kitty has known. As she adjusts to her new school, explores her new city, and befriends a blue-haired boy, Kitty wonders if her memories of her mother don’t need to stay in one place — if there’s a way for them to be with Kitty every day, everywhere.
With her wry, poignant wit, Kitty tells a universal story about the grief of losing a beloved family member, the fears of starting over, and the challenges of how to remake a family in this powerful, heartfelt debut novel.
Finding Junie Kim
Junie Kim just wants to fit in.
So, she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.
Then Junie’s history teacher assigns an oral history project—and when Junie decides to interview her grandparents, she soon uncovers their unbelievable tales of bravery as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination in protecting her family, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime.
Junie must find the courage to do what is right, just as her grandparents did. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie now knows what she must do.
From We Need Diverse Books cofounder Ellen Oh comes an extraordinary story about a girl who must find her family’s past to embrace her present, finding herself along the way.
Bea is for Blended
Finding her place in her new blended family may be tough, but when Bea finds out her school might not get the all-girls soccer team they’d been promised, she learns that the bigger the team, the stronger the fight—and that for the girls to get what they deserve, they’re going to need a squad behind them.
Bea and her mom have always been a two-person team. But now her mom is marrying Wendell, and their team is growing by three boys, two dogs, and a cat.
Related: Lindsey Stoddard on Bea Is for Blended (+ Giveaway!)
The Shape of Thunder
Cora hasn’t spoken to her best friend Quinn in a year.
Despite living next door to each other, they exist in separate worlds of grief. Cora is still grappling with the death of her beloved sister in a school shooting, and Quinn is carrying the guilt of what her brother did.
On the day of Cora’s twelfth birthday, Quinn leaves a box on her doorstep with a note. She has decided that the only way to fix things is to go back in time to the moment before her brother changed all their lives forever—and stop him.
In spite of herself, Cora wants to believe. And so the two former friends begin working together to open a wormhole in the fabric of the universe. But as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of time travel to save their siblings, they learn that the magic of their friendship may actually be the key to saving themselves.
The Shape of Thunder is a deeply moving story, told with exceptional grace, about friendship and loss–and how believing in impossible things can help us heal.
Related: Jasmine Warga on The Shape of Thunder (+ Giveaway!)
The Road to Wherever
After eleven-year-old June Ball’s dad disappears without so much as a goodbye note, June’s mother sends him on the road with his adult cousins, mechanics Thomas and Cornell Ball. The Balls are “Ford Men”; their calling in life is to restore old Ford cars–and only Ford cars–that no longer run. And so begins a summer traveling the highways and byways of America, encountering busted-up Fairlanes, Thunderbirds, and Rancheros. They also encounter the cars’ owners, who sometimes need fixing up, too.
June doesn’t understand his cousins’ passion for all things Ford. But at every turn, June realizes that this journey is about more than giving neglected classic cars some much-needed TLC–there’s room to care for the broken parts of humans, too.
Mary O’Malley is tired of keeping secrets. Secrets like her older brother, Jonny’s, drug use. Starting seventh grade is tough enough without the upheaval her brother is bringing to their family.
It seems the only person who might understand is Griffen Connolly, whose older sister runs with Jonny in the wrong crowd. Mary thought Griff was too cool, too popular for her. But now he wants to hang out with her, and listen.
When two girls Mary thought were her friends decide to slam another girl online, Mary tries to look the other way. Then the girls turn on Mary, and suddenly, she doesn’t have a safety zone. Her brother is out of control, her family’s energies are all spent on him. There is only one person she can turn to. But can she trust Griff? Or is he one of the bullies?
A stirring, hopeful immigration story of Nurah and her family, who move from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, from Reem Faruqi, ALA Notable author of the award-winning picture book Lailah’s Lunchbox. Powerful and charming, Other Words for Home meets Front Desk in this debut middle grade novel in verse about finding your footing in a new world.
From Pakistan to Peachtree City—Nurah’s stirring story of finding your place. When Nurah’s family moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, all she really wants is to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, and she’s left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. Stahr covers her body when in the water, just like Nurah, but for very different reasons. But in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in: She wants to stand out. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in America—yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.
As Nurah slowly begins to sprout wings in the form of strong swimming arms, she gradually gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.
Thirteen-year-old Ivy Campbell has always been a good kid: She supports her soccer-star brother, bakes with her nana, and puts her friends’ needs before her own. So of course, Ivy is 100 percent supportive when her mom decides to be a gestational surrogate, carrying and giving birth to her friends’ baby. But when Ivy finds out the surrogacy treatment worked and her mom is pregnant—and has been for weeks—she’s shocked that she’s jealous and worried about what others will think. And most of all, she’s ashamed that she isn’t reacting to this news in the right way. The Ivy way. Ivy is determined to prove to herself that she’s just as unselfish as she’s always believed, and she gets the chance to do that when she receives an anonymous email from someone who needs her help. But the more Ivy dives into helping this anonymous person, the further she gets from the people she loves—and from the person who she wants to be.
The Kate in Between
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?
Related: Claire Swinarski on The Kate in Between
An Occasionally Happy Family
There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.
Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.
Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.
Taking Up Space
Sarah loves basketball more than anything. Crushing it on the court makes her feel like she matters. And it’s the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her.
But lately Sarah can’t even play basketball right. She’s slower now and missing shots she should be able to make. Her body doesn’t feel like it’s her own anymore. She’s worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can take control over what’s happening.
When Sarah’s crush asks her to be partners in a cooking competition, she feels pulled in a million directions. She’ll have to dig deep to stand up for what she needs at home, be honest with her best friends, and accept that she doesn’t need to change to feel good about herself.
Booklist described Gerber’s novels in starred reviews as both “highly empathetic” and “truly inspiring.” Taking Up Space promises to be a realistic and compelling story about struggling with body image and learning that true self-esteem comes from within.
Related: Alyson Gerber on Taking Up Space
The Heroes Club
Even though her family moved across the country for a “fresh start” after her little brother’s death, eleven-year-old Zinnia Helinski still feels like she’s stuck waiting for her new life to begin. Then she spots her new neighbor, Kris, climbing down the fire escape of their apartment building. He’s wearing a black eye mask! And Spandex leggings. . . . And a blue body suit?
Soon Zinnia finds herself in a secret club for kids who want to be heroes. The Reality Shifters don’t have superpowers, but they do have the power to make positive change in their neighborhoods. And a change is just what Zinnia is looking for!
At first, she feels invincible. Zinnia finally has friends and is on the kind of real-life adventures her little brother, Wally, would have loved. But when her teammates lose sight of their goals, Zinnia must find the balance between bravery and recklessness, and learn to be a hero without her cape.
Related: Josephine Cameron on Not All Heroes (+ Giveaway!)
Ten Thousand Tries
Twelve-year-old Golden Maroni is determined to channel his hero, soccer superstar Lionel Messi, and become captain of his soccer team and master of his eighth grade universe…especially since his home universe is spiraling out of orbit. Off the field, Golden’s dad, once a pro soccer player himself, is now battling ALS, a disease that attacks his muscles, leaving him less and less physically able to control his body every day. And while Mom says there’s no cure, Golden is convinced that his dad can beat this, just like any opponent, they just have to try.
Golden knows that if you want to perfect a skill you have to put ten thousand tries in, so he’s convinced if he can put that much effort in, on and off the field, he can stop everything from changing. But when his dad continues to decline and his constant pushing starts to alienate his friends and team, Golden is forced to confront the idea that being master of your universe might not mean being in control of everything. What if it means letting go of the things you can’t control so you can do the most good for the things you can?
Related: Amy Makechnie on Ten Thousand Tries (+ Giveaway!)
That Thing About Bollywood
Bollywood takes over in this contemporary, magical middle grade novel about an Indian American girl whose world turns upside down when she involuntarily starts bursting into glamorous song-and-dance routines during everyday life.
You know how in Bollywood when people are in love, they sing and dance from the mountaintops? Eleven-year-old Sonali wonders if they do the same when they’re breaking up. The truth is, Sonali’s parents don’t get along, and it looks like they might be separating.
Sonali’s little brother, Ronak, is not taking the news well, constantly crying. Sonali would never do that. It’s embarrassing to let out so many feelings, to show the world how not okay you are. But then something strange happens, something magical, maybe. When Sonali gets upset during a field trip, she can’t bury her feelings like usual—instead, she suddenly bursts into a Bollywood song-and-dance routine about why she’s upset!
The next morning, much to her dismay, Sonali’s reality has shifted. Things seem brighter, almost too bright. Her parents have had Bollywood makeovers. Her friends are also breaking out into song and dance. And somehow, everyone is acting as if this is totally normal.
Sonali knows something has gone wrong, and she suspects it has something to do with her own mismanaged emotions. Can she figure it out before it’s too late?
Forever This Summer
Georgie has no idea what to expect when she, Mama, and Peaches are plopped down in the middle of small town USA–aka Bogalusa, Louisiana–where Mama grew up and Great Aunt Vie needs constant care.
Georgie wants to help out at the once famous family diner that served celebrities like the Jackson 5 and the Supremes, but everyone is too busy to show her the ropes and Mama is treating her like a baby, not letting her leave her sight. When she finally gets permission to leave on her own, Georgie makes friends with Markie–a foster kid who’d been under Aunt Elvie’s care–who has a limb difference and a huge attitude.
Then Markie asks Georgie to help her find her mom, and suddenly summer has a real purpose. But as Georgie and Markie’s histories begin to entwine, Georgie becomes more desperate to find the truth. But words spoken cannot be taken back and once Georgie knows the truth, she may even find a way to right past wrongs and help Aunt Vie and Markie out after all.
Sisters of the Neversea
Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?
Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile.
A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.
The Magical Imperfect
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?
Related: Chris Baron on The Magical Imperfect (+ Giveaway!)
The Best Worst Summer
This is going to be the worst summer ever for Peyton. Her family just moved, and she had to leave her best friend behind. She’s lonely. She’s bored. Until . . . she comes across a box buried in her backyard, with a message: I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Things are about to get interesting.
Back in 1989, it’s going to be the best summer ever for Melissa and Jessica. They have two whole months to goof around and explore, and they’re even going to bury a time capsule! But when one girl’s family secret starts to unravel, it’s clear things may not go exactly as planned.
In alternating chapters, from Peyton in present day to Melissa three decades earlier (a time with no cell phones, no social media, and camera film that took days to develop, but also a whole lot of freedom), beloved author Elizabeth Eulberg tells the story of a mystery that two sets of memorable characters will never forget.
Summer of Brave
Twelve-year-old Lilla Baxter-Willoughby doesn’t lie. She’s just a little bit…selective. To keep her parents happy, Lilla hides how much she hates moving back and forth between their houses, and she stomps down her doubts about that elite high school they’re pushing her toward. To keep peace with her best friend Vivi, Lilla doesn’t share that she got the junior camp counselor job that Vivi wanted. And even though—no, especially because—he seems into it, Lilla does not tell the boy she grew up with about all the little sparks that flared up inside her the day she noticed his Suddenly Adorable Freckles. So when Vivi dares Lilla to start telling the truth as part of their Summer of Brave, Lilla hesitates. Because if she says out loud what she really wants, her whole life might crash down around her. And she doesn’t need that. Except maybe she does.
ET meets Harriet the Spy in Greg van Eekhout’s stand-out middle grade adventure about a boy trying to find his place in the world—even though he’s an alien from a distant planet.
Strange things are happening in Cedar Creek View, Arizona: Sinkholes. An unidentified Hum. People behaving . . . oddly. No one knows the reason, but Jake thinks it might have something to do with him.
Jake is no ordinary twelve-year-old. He’s weird—alien weird. Up until now, Jake and his parents have been able to keep his real identity under wraps. This year, something’s changed. Jake’s having more and more trouble hiding the truth, and now Agnes Oakes has seen what he can do.
But instead of spilling his secret, Agnes wants to team up and figure out what’s really going on—and before they know it, Jake and Agnes are waist deep in a conspiracy that’s totally out of this world.
Grasping Mysteries – Girls Who Loved Math
After a childhood spent looking up at the stars, Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet and to earn a salary for scientific research. Florence Nightingale was a trailblazing nurse whose work reformed hospitals and one of the founders of the field of medical statistics. The first female electrical engineer, Hertha Marks Ayrton registered twenty-six patents for her inventions.
Marie Tharp helped create the first map of the entire ocean floor, which helped scientists understand our subaquatic world and suggested how the continents shifted. A mathematical prodigy, Katherine Johnson calculated trajectories and launch windows for many NASA projects including the Apollo 11 mission. Edna Lee Paisano, a citizen of the Nez Perce Nation, was the first Native American to work full time for the Census Bureau, overseeing a large increase in American Indian and Alaskan Native representation. And Vera Rubin studied more than two hundred galaxies and found the first strong evidence for dark matter.
Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates seven remarkable women who used math as their key to explore the mysteries of the universe and grew up to do innovative work that changed the world.
Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai!
“Heartbreak is for suckers.”
When Jenna Sakai gets dumped over winter break, it confirms what she learned from her parents’ messy divorce: Relationships are risky and only lead to disappointment. So even though she still has to see her ex-boyfriend Elliott at newspaper club, Jenna is going to be totally heartless this semester — no boys, just books.
But keeping her cool isn’t always easy. Jenna’s chief competition for a big journalism scholarship is none other than Elliott. Her best friend Keiko always seems busy with her own boyfriend. And cute-but-incredibly-annoying Rin Watanabe keeps stealing her booth at the diner she’s been hiding at every day after school. Rin is every bit as stubborn and detached as Jenna. And the more Jenna gets to know him, the more intriguing a mystery he seems. Soon Jenna is starting to realize that being a loner is kind of, well, lonely. And letting people in might just be a risk worth taking.
Related: Debbi Michiko Florence on Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai
Manatee’s Best Friend
Becca Wong Walker may be so shy that most people at school think she doesn’t speak at all, but why should she care? She has more important things to worry about. Missy, the manatee who visits the dock in Becca’s backyard, and Becca’s only friend, hasn’t been seen for a long time. When Missy finally does return, she has a new baby with her! Becca wants to be excited, but more than ever inconsiderate boaters are speeding through the river, putting the lives of Missy and her baby in terrible danger.
One day, Becca spots a dolphin in the river too! By bonding over the dolphin and manatees, Becca finally starts to make friends at school. But when Becca takes a video that goes viral, it seems like it will be harder than ever to save the manatees… and trying might just tear Becca’s new friendships apart.
Erik vs. Everything
Meet Erik Sheepflattener. Each member of his modern-day Viking-heritage family has a motto to live by. His parents have Family and Pride. His sisters have Conquer and Win. His grandfather has Turnip. But Erik is developing a motto he can truly believe in: Avoid Stuff.
Mostly, Erik’s fierce family ignores or discounts him, especially when he tries to say no. But while spending the summer with his rough-and-tumble cousins and older sister Brunhilde in Minnesota, axe-wielding Bru gets the idea to name and Conquer all of Erik’s fears. Will anyone hear him say no before it’s too late? And will Erik end up defined by his fears, or by his fearless family?
Erik vs. Everything is an adventurous, humorous, and heartfelt romp about finding your place, speaking up for yourself, and pursuing what you love . . . even when it scares you.
Kingdom of Secrets
In the kingdom of Oren, Prismena longs to fly hot-air balloons, but her father insists she keep her feet on the ground. When he’s arrested for a crime he didn’t commit–and one that Prismena did–she must decide between following the rules and following her heart.
Her decision will catapult her on an adventure that challenges everything she knows about her identity, her kingdom, and even her beloved balloons.
Related: Christyne Morrell on Writing Kingdom Of Secrets + Giveaway!
Eleven-year-old Jubilee Johnson is an expert at three things: crafting, moving, and avoiding goodbyes. On the search for the “perfect place,” she and her Nan live by their Number One Relocation Rule—just the two of them is all they need. But Jubilee’s starting to feel like just two is a little too close to alone.
Desperate to settle down, Jubilee plans their next move, Hope Springs, Texas—home of her TV crafting idol, Arletta Paisley. Here she meets a girl set on winning the local fishing tournament and a boy who says exactly the right thing, by hardly speaking at all. Soon, Jubilee wonders if Hope Springs might just be the place to call home after all.
But when the town is threatened by a mega-chain superstore fronted by Arletta Paisley, Jubilee is faced with her toughest decision yet, skip town again or stand up to her one-time hero. With the help of her new friends and the one person she never thought she’d need—her Momma—will Jubilee find a way to save the town she’s come to love and convince Nan that it’s finally time to settle down?
Related: Jaime Berry on Hope Springs
The Renegade Reporters
When Ash gets kicked off her school’s news show, she becomes a renegade reporter–and makes a big discovery about technology and her fellow students’ privacy.
Ash and her friends are reporters. They were ready to lead their school news show, The News at Nine, sponsored by Van Ness Media, when an unfortunate incident involving a dancing teacher, an irresponsibly reported story, and a viral video got them kicked off the crew. So Ash, Maya, and Brielle decide to start their own news show, The Underground News. And soon they stumble on a big lead: Van Ness Media, the educational company that provides their school’s software, has been gathering data from all the kids at school. Their drawings, their journals, even their movements are being recorded and cataloged by Van Ness Media. But why? Ash and her friends are determined to learn the truth and report it.
Say It Out Loud
Charlotte Andrews is perfectly fine being quiet–in fact, she prefers it. When she doesn’t speak, people can’t make fun of her stutter. But when she witnesses bullying on the school bus and doesn’t say anything, her silence comes between her and her best friend.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, her parents signed her up for musical theater. Charlotte doesn’t want to speak onstage, but at least she doesn’t stutter when she sings. Then, just as she starts to find her voice, the arts program is cut. Charlotte can’t stay silent anymore.
So she begins to write. Anonymous encouraging notes to her classmates. Letters to the school board to save the school musical. And an essay about the end of her best friendship–and her hope that she can still save it.
Words could save Charlotte Andrews and everything she believes in . . . if she just believes in herself enough to speak up.
Carry Me Home
Twelve-year-old Lulu and her younger sister, Serena, have a secret. As Daddy always says, “it’s best if we keep it to ourselves,” and so they have. But hiding your past is one thing. Hiding where you live—and that your Daddy has gone missing—is harder.
At first Lulu isn’t worried. Daddy has gone away once before and he came back. But as the days add up, with no sign of Daddy, Lulu struggles to take care of all the responsibilities they used to manage as a family.
Lulu knows that all it takes is one slip-up for their secret to come spilling out, for Lulu and Serena to be separated, and for all the good things that have been happening in school to be lost.
But family is all around us, and Lulu must learn to trust her new friends and community to save those she loves and to finally find her true home.
Recipe for Disaster
In this heartfelt middle school drama, Hannah’s schemes for throwing her own bat mitzvah will unleash family secrets, create rivalries with best friends and ultimately teach Hannah what being Jewish is all about.
Cuba in My Pocket
In 1961 Cuba, with the threat of military service for children looming, twelve-year-old Cumba’s parents send him to Miami, where he lives with a new family and misses his homeland.
Yep, that’s my TBR for 2021, plus some backlist love here and there of course. If you missed this year’s list, I shared 52 books to read in 2020 and then 33 more to read in the fall. Other lists to anticipate are:
- 2021 YA books to read
- My list of 2021 picture books and chapter books for beginning readers
Which of these 2021 middle-grade books are you especially looking forward to reading? I know I missed a ton of titles. Please share some of your favorites so far (if you’ve read ARCs) as well as any others you’re looking forward to reading.
I think I will just list middle grade books I love (which all come out before 2020):
1. Harry Potter
2. Land of Stories
4. Sister’s Grimm
Those are just the ones that automatically came to mind.
Well- I am motivated to try out a new series, and its 3rd book came out this year. That would be the Nevermoor series- was told HP fans will love it.
I hope my MG fantasy gets read in a few year- not on final draft yet, but close
Afoma Umesi says
Hi Meg! All the best with your book!
Tale of the Cattail Forest- thinking of self-publishing. Hope to sell it at Park Road Books and somehow have followers buy it.
That book is so close- after I get some current edits back, I will work on it some more. My family happens to know a professional proofreader- hoping that she will help
What an ambitious and tempting list! Great covers, too! It will be fun to read the next Merci Suarez and the next one from Hena Kahn!
Afoma Umesi says
Thanks so much, Carol! Really looking forward to the next Merci Suarez too!
Thank you for this great 2021 list! So many to look forward to!
Afoma Umesi says
My pleasure. Ellen 🙂
Thank you for such a broad list of choices. I am thrilled as I just received many of these books in a recent book order.