Simon B Rhymin’ is the story of 11-year-old Simon Barnes (aka Notorious D.O.G.), a shy kid who loves to rap. His best friend Maria (aka Ri-Ri) is a talkative Latina who often has to stand up to Simon’s bullies. His other best friend, C.J. is mostly chill, but also supportive of Simon. Simon’s parents also support his rapping, but he still doesn’t feel confident about rapping in front of strangers.
E.L. Shen’s The Comeback follows 12-year-old figure skater, Maxine Chen. Maxine loves figure skating and is pretty good at it too. Her parents are extra supportive and make financial sacrifices so that Maxine can pursue her passion. Still, they’re balanced and never pressure her to do anything she doesn’t. They also always ensure that she prioritizes school work and is not too hard on herself.
Maxine is a confident skater and feels sure that she’s got at least third place in the bag during her contest, but things start to get complicated when a new skater named Holly shows up. Holly is better trained and more experienced on the ice and Maxine begins to feel jealousy and other negative emotions. Maxine is also struggling with a bully at school who makes racial jokes about Maxine, such as about her monolid.
Cyrus Olson does not think he’s “brave like that.” He’s not brave like his adoptive firefighter father who was also a star football player in his day. Although he plays football for his school team, he does not enjoy it, and would much rather be doing something else, but he’s afraid to let his dad (and the town that knows him to be an Olson) down. But Cyrus gets some motivation to stand up for himself and his desires when a dog is abandoned at the fire station (just like Cyrus was).
In her graphic memoir Smile, Raina is just trying to enjoy being a sixth grader when an accident severely injures her two front teeth. Thus begins an unending series of visits to dentists and different treatment options. Throughout this process, Raina still has middle school to tackle. Her friends are sometimes insensitive toward the things that matter to her and she’s finding herself newly developing crushes on boys, even as she’s too embarrassed to smile, thanks to the braces, head gear, retainer, and other contraptions she has to wear throughout the course of this book.
Smile follows Telgemeier from sixth grade until high school as each attempt to rectify the situation with her teeth is stumped and doctors are forced to try a different route.
In Stick with Me, Izzy and Wren, two very different 12-year-olds are unwittingly brought together at just the right time in their lives. Izzy, a sweet, creative artist with a love for stickers lives in Boston with her parents and older brother Nate. Her best friend, Phoebe is now friends with popular, not-so-nice girl, Daphne, and only hangs out with Izzy because their mothers who are best friends, make them. Wren, on the other hand, is a determined figure skater whose little sister, Hannah has epilepsy.
Fourth grader Mya Tibbs is excited for Spirit Week! She has made plans to partner with her best friend Naomi Jackson. Mya’s life seems pretty good with her brother Nugget, his best friend affectionately known as Fish, and her other friends, identical twins Starr and Skye. The one scary part is Mean Connie Tate, who everyone knows is the biggest fourth-grade bully. So, you can imagine Mya’s terror when she’s partnered with Connie and Connie refuses to trade partners. On top of that, Naomi is mad at Mya for not trying harder to trade partners. Even the twins who agree on everything are getting torn apart because Skye wants to stay friends with Mya, while Starr is on Naomi’s side.
But as Mya works with Connie, she realizes that things aren’t as she’s thought.
Real Friends is Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir of her middle school experience with real friends — and girls who weren’t quite friends. Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends since Shannon came out of her shell in early elementary school. She had earlier been the shy middle child who never felt like she quite fit in anywhere. But with Adrienne, it was like she could finally exhale. But when Adrienne starts hanging out with the popular girl, Jen, Shannon suddenly doesn’t know where she fits in anymore.
In this list, you’ll find books in which bullying is a major subplot. For several of these books, bullying is the plot. I like that in these stories, bullies do not triumph because the bullied party finally speaks up, shuts the bully up by winning them over or finds someone else who will speak up for them. In some of these books, readers will get a peek into the mind of bullies and see how they are often propelled by their own insecurities. Hopefully, overall, your kids find these middle-grade books about bullying to be empowering.
Twig and Turtle are two sisters whose parents have just moved into a tiny house! The family has done some major downsizing — the kids even had to choose just five toys they could keep, and now they have to clean up after playing with their toys. Both girls are also adjusting to a new neighborhood and new school.
Turtle, the younger girl, seems to be adjusting well at school, making friends and having a good time. But for the older girl, Twig, things are a bit harder. She’s self-conscious about having few clothes in rotation and being new in general. Twig is also missing their Great Dane, Bo, whom they had to leave at their Grandma’s because of the tiny house. Twig decides that the she will convince her mother to let Bo move in with them again.
Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s graphic memoir detailing her move from South Korea to Huntsville, Alabama. Robin is 14 when she and her mother leave for one of their regular visits to the US. Except, this time it’s not Hawaii or any other vacation hotspot — it’s Alabama. Robin’s mother has been encouraging her to learn English like she has been doing, but Robin is uninterested, preferring to enjoy her Korean comics and spending time with her friends buying stationery and Korean street food.
When they arrive in Huntsville, Robin realizes that her mother is there to visit a man she has been corresponding with. His family welcomes them, but Robin feels out of place since she can neither speak nor understand English. She dreams of returning to Korea when the vacation is over. However, Robin is in for a shocker as her mom announces that she’s marrying this man, and she and Robin are staying put in America. Her whole life changes forever, as she struggles to assimilate, while handling the ups and downs in her mother’s relationship.
I’ve read that the best books of the year are released during fall and looking through this list, it’s hard to disagree.