A Song Called Home is YA author Sara Zarr’s middle grade debut. It follows Lou as her mom remarries a man named Steve. Lou and her sister Casey have to move from the city to the suburbs to live with Steve, leaving behind their old schools and Lou’s best friend Beth Tsai. Forming this new family is hard on Lou and Casey for different reasons. Lou feels like she’s leaving their alcoholic father behind and Casey worries that Steve is being too nice and the “real Steve” will show up soon. On the day before their move (which is also Lou’s birthday) Lou finds a guitar right outside their old apartment addressed to her. Convinced it’s from her dad, she starts learning to play guitar to maintain that bond with him. As they all navigate the blending of their families, Lou learns about herself and what family truly means.
When Nimra joins public school after years in Islamic school, she’s not expecting to become 1/4th of Barakah Beats, a popular boy band in her school. But that’s what happens. When her BFF (at least to Nimra) stops acting so BFF-y after Nimra decides to wear her hijab to public school, Nimra is desperate to keep their friendship. Even if it means joining a boy band when it conflicts with her Islamic beliefs. Can Nimra find a way to use her voice without going against her values or hurting her new friends and bandmates?
The Magical Imperfect is a middle grade verse novel about a boy named Etan. Etan develops selective mutism after his mom has to go to a treatment facility for a mental disorder in 1980’s San Francisco. Around that time, mini-earthquakes are frequent and Etan tries to keep up his daily schedule, which is basically school and then time with his grandfather. Sometimes, he helps an older shopkeeper in the neighborhood walk her dog and run errands. It is while he is on one of those errands that he meets Malia, a Filipina-American girl with severe eczema.
Fourth-grader Trixy’s gran died in a car accident (Trixy was in the back seat and survived) and since then things at home have not been the same. Her parents don’t want to talk about Gran and her mom isn’t eating well and is exercising a bit too much. Trixy’s only solace is her gran’s stories. However, only Trixy seems to believe Gran’s stories about her childhood and she promised Gran that she would keep some of the stories to herself. But when Trixy NEEDS to write stories to pass fourth grade, the only stories she can think to write are Gran’s.
When Madrigal’s (Maddie) older brother, Strum, goes missing from his college campus, her musical family loses its harmony. Her French mother is distraught — broken for the first time as Maddie has never seen her. Her piano playing father doesn’t even touch his instrument, and her fiery sister retreats into a rebellious funk, drinking and partying, even though she’s only 16. Maddie tries to keep everything together: focus on her oboe lessons and compulsive counting that calms her mind. But when her parents leave to look for Strum and Maddie is left with Aria, things seem hopeless.
I’m pleased that this list has a range of characters of different races and social backgrounds. These stories also have a variety of themes besides music. You’ll find among these middle-grade music books, stories about race, homelessness, immigration, sexual harassment, anxiety, neurodiversity, and much more.
Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon has the chance to fly when she stumbles upon a group of kids putting on a production of Wicked, the musical. Nat has been paralyzed from the waist down since an accident when she was two. She’s also a wheelchair athlete whose parents have moved from California to New Jersey for her mother’s new job. Nat is obsessed with Broadway and Hamilton although she has never actually been in a musical.
Amina’s Song is the sequel to Hena Khan’s Amina’s Voice. The book opens with Amina in Pakistan visiting family over the summer. She bonds with her cousin Zohra and her Thaya Jaan who had visited them in the States in Amina’s Voice. Amina falls in love with Pakistan, the culture, and of course, her people — and is sad when they have to return to the States. She promises her uncle that she’ll tell other people how wonderful Pakistan is.
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.
Veronica’s life seemed like it was on track until her parents announced that her mom is going to rehab for alcoholism. Her mom who was a softball player when she was young, her mom the lawyer, her mom who was supposed to help her and her friends practice for softball tryouts.
In Tune It Out, Lou and her mother live in their truck. Her mom believes Lou has a gift (her voice) and is determined to make it big with her. So she makes Lou sing everywhere from cafes to karaoke bars to street corners. This is extra challenging for Lou because she hates the bright lights and the sound of applause is physically painful. She also hates physical contact and is bothered by the texture of certain clothes on her skin.
Lou gets some respite from the malnutrition and homelessness when an accident leads to her being taken in by Child Protective Services. Fortunately, she is sent off to live with her aunt and her husband in Nashville, Tennessee where she begins a new life until her mother can get her back.
In Broken Strings, Shirli Berman has her eyes set on a role in her school’s play. It’s 2002 and just after the Twin Towers and the death of Shirli’s grandmother. Even though she doesn’t eventually score her desired role, she ends up playing another one of the key roles anyway. To add to it, her stage husband is Ben Morgan, the most popular boy in school. At the same time, Shirli is also learning about her family’s history from her grandfather (Zayde) who has been silent on the matter his entire adult life.