In Alpaca My Bags, Amelia is relieved when her parents decide to pause their life on the road for a short while so they can work and earn more money to continue their adventures. She’s trying hard to think about her family’s next daredevil adventure plans which involve skiing a black diamond slope. Amelia has been homeschooled most of her life and has major anxiety, so adjusting back to public school is not as easy as she expects. She’s also struggling with being the most scared person in her family of adventurers and feeling like she’s holding them back. But when she finds a farm with a herd of alpacas (animals known for their anxious, fearful tendency), Amelia discovers that being brave goes beyond physically challenging adventures.
Middle-grade books about anxiety are becoming more and more important, thanks to the anxious times we’re living in. More people (parents, teachers, and children) struggle with clinical anxiety. While many manage their symptoms with therapy and medication, it doesn’t hurt to see their stories reflected in the books they read. In the past, I made a list of middle-grade books about mental illness which included some of the books on this list. For today’s list though, I’m focusing on the best middle-grade books about anxiety disorders.
Four girls from different backgrounds are selected to become “The Flyers” for Spread Your Wings Magazine. Elena is a shy Latina who lives in her best friend’s shadow and is uncomfortable about the pubescent changes in her body. Harlow is a Japanese-American wannabe journalist, Cailin, a young influencer, and Whitney, a Black fashionista who secretly has panic attacks. The girls spend a week in New York City together than bonds them as friends and gives them the courage to find their voices.
Elfie Oster is ready to leave Cottonwood Elementary. She doesn’t have any friends at the school and she’s tired of having to do group projects all by herself. It doesn’t help that her super popular cousin, Jenna, whom everyone likes, is also in Cottonwood — and also not Elfie’s friend. Thankfully, she’s been admitted at Hampshire Academy, a swanky private school where she knows everything will be different. Unfortunately, after a misunderstanding, Elfie is swiftly expelled from Hampshire and has to return to Cottonwood.
Maddy Gaines is an anxious girl still coping with the grief of her father’s death — and also adjusting to her new stepfather. Home conditions are good: her mother is patient and reassuring, and she and her stepdad go on regular outings together by themselves. One day, Maddy sees on the news that a boy named Billy Holcomb has gone missing. Then several weeks after, she runs into another boy who looks a lot like Billy, except his hair is different and he’s taller than Billy was, and oh — his name is Eric.
Meg and Riley’s lives change when the two girls meet at the nurse’s office and bond over jelly beans. But the road to friendship isn’t without bumps. Meg’s mom has not been herself since Meg’s father died. She hardly gets out of bed and can’t hold a job or do food shopping. Meg wears slippers to school and a ratty t-shirt. Riley on the other hand has Type 1 Diabetes and has an insulin pump. She also has to check her sugar and track how much sugar she’s consuming so that her pump can supply enough insulin for her needs.
One Last Shot follows 12-year-old Malcolm who has an anxious streak and never feels good enough, especially for his dad. It doesn’t help that his parents are always arguing, and Malcolm is typically caught in the middle. Malcolm’s father loves competitive sports (especially baseball) and is disappointed when Malcolm decides to stop playing because he isn’t good at it and does not enjoy it. But he finds some respite when Malcolm becomes interested in miniature golf — and actually enjoys it.
As usual, Malcolm’s father goes overboard, hiring a coach called Frank and signs Malcolm up for a tournament. The book alternates between the events of the tournament day and past events leading up to the tournament as Malcolm and Frank forge a sweet friendship, Malcolm befriends a smart girl named Lex, and his parents relationship deteriorates.
It’s My Party and I Don’t Want to Go is quite the mouthful, but the quirky title encapsulates this book’s nature. 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.
Guts is based on Telegmeier’s experience with anxiety as a tween. After a case of the stomach flu in their family, Raina becomes terrified of vomit and vomiting. Her anxiety manifests physically as a stomachache which further exacerbates her fear of vomiting and intensifies her anxiety. Her parents take her to see a doctor who after multiple tests assures them that Raina is “healthy as a horse.” Unsure what to do next, they take her to see a therapist.
Kat Greene lives in New York City with her mom and attends an unconventional middle-school (where no one gets disciplined). Since her parents’ divorce and her mom’s job loss, Kat’s mom has been cleaning and washing her hands a bit too often. Her hands are red and chapped, and she has to wipe down cans at the grocery store before she can buy them — no matter how long it takes.
In Center of Gravity, Tessa has become more anxious after losing her mother to breast cancer. This middle-grade novel is set in 1985, which I guess would make it historical fiction. To soothe her anxiety, Tessa cuts pictures of missing kids out of milk cartons. For her, it is crucial that every next milk carton bear the face of a child not already in her collection. So, at lunch, she has to take time sifting through milk cartons to find a new face.
Pablo is used to moving around and feeling unmoored. His mama has been packing up and moving every few months since she and his father got separated. Now, they’re in the Philippines where mama is working with an animal sanctuary Pablo is struggling to cope with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Things take a somewhat positive turn when “Chiqui,” an orphaned Filipino girl with a cleft lip is thrust upon mama.