My daughter, Margaux, reads like crazy! She loves a good story, and we often spend time searching for interesting children’s books to add to her inclusive middle grade reading list together.
For kiddos and adults alike, reading is so much more than just a hobby. It’s an opportunity to sharpen your language and communication skills, learn something new, and empathize with different characters from all walks of life.
Especially now, it’s more important than ever that we make an active effort to teach our kids about empathy, acceptance, and the many social issues that affect people all over the world everyday. They’re at an impressionable age where everything they see or hear can have an impact. Getting those lessons and messages across to someone who hasn’t even reached their pre-teens yet can be challenging, but thankfully, there are plenty of children’s books out there that can help!
If you’re looking for entertaining yet thoughtful books for your little ones, check out Margaux’s inclusive middle grade reading list (along with her reviews) below!
Please note that the age ranges were set by Margaux, and I’d advise to double check with Common Sense Media or your local librarian for actual age recommendations.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds is a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and was nominated as one of America’s Best-Loved Novels by PBS.
Four kids with very different personalities are all chosen to join their elite middle school track team. Ghost is one of them and the book addresses his difficult past and upbringing, his tendency to cause (and run away from) problems, and the impact of a coach who sees his potential and believes in him.
“This book is interesting for kids who kind of have a similar life or who are interested in books about sports and team spirit. I liked how the main character was telling the story himself. I like books like that because it seems like he’s actually talking to you. This is definitely for older kids because there is some violence in it, but it’s important for the story.”
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson is a Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor winner.
This short novel tells the story of a young girl who finds a letter belonging to her grandmother that unravels a mystery full of secrets about her family and the town where they live. This children’s book addresses themes like dignity, justice, friendship, and racism, as the letter belonged to an African-American woman growing up in South Carolina in the 1950s.
“It’s interesting because there’s a lot of mystery in it and there’s another timeline in the story that helps you figure out the mystery. The characters are very interesting, if they were real-life people I would try to be their friend. They are also book nerds like me, which I liked.”
A very relevant story for the times. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee follows a 12-year-old girl finding her way during the Black Lives Matter movement. It combines complex social issues and typical middle school problems in a way that’s both powerful and accessible for older children.
“This book was a little more of a grown up book. It dealt with people being shot and racism. There was a lot of protesting in the book and friendship disruption. I thought that was interesting because it reminded me of real life, and real life can be scary! I liked that the friends made up after, and it made me think a lot about how people are mistreated in this world.”
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks has been on the Amazon Best Book of the Month List, #1 Kids Indie Next List, and is a Junior Library Guild Selection.
Another children’s book that tackles tough content, this story is about a girl who is trying to solve the mystery of her imprisoned father’s innocence. It tackles themes like justice, family, and racism in a thoughtful and sensitive way.
“This book has kind of extreme circumstances: be warned! Zoe’s dad is in jail for murder, and she’s trying to get him released because he’s innocent! Her mom is really mad at him but he sends Zoe letters and she answers. She works with her friend to find evidence to prove him innocent. It was an interesting story because I like a mystery and searching for evidence. I also liked the ending because it was a happy one but I don’t want to give too many details so you read it yourself.”
Front Desk by Kelly Yang won the Asian / Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature and several other awards.
Front Desk is another great example of how children’s books can address big, important issues. The lead character, Mia Tang, is a young student whose family emigrated from China. The story speaks to Mia’s struggles having secrets and being seen as ‘different’. It addresses some serious themes, including racism, extortion, and bullying—but in a way that older children can understand and empathize with.
“This book is about a family that emigrated from China, and their boss who hired them to be managers to take care of a hotel. He took away a lot of their money and only gave them $150 a day. In the story, the daughter goes to a new school and the hotel owner’s son was really mean to her and stole something from her. It was awkward because they were in the same class. She got him back by playing a prank on him! They eventually became friends. I liked this book so much I read it three times in a row!”
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higgenbotham was named one of the School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018 and was a White Raven 2019 Selection.
While the title may sound a bit heavy, this story is actually a picture book! It explains the ideas and understanding behind white privilege and anti-racism in a way that’s accessible to children. If you’re struggling with how to talk to your kids about whiteness and racism (don’t worry, you’re not alone!), this is a great place to start.
“This book was interesting because it was about racism and it’s a book about how people are being mistreated. That makes me feel mad at the world because I hate seeing people mistreated. The book says it’s ok to be mad because we can help change the way people are acting by standing up for others. I like the book because the pictures are collaged and it looks cool. I think it’s a good book for everyone to read.”
The Storm Runner by JC Cervantes is a page turner! It’s a popular children’s book filled with adventure, inspiration, and comedy. Because the main character, Zane, only has one good leg, one of the main themes is to believe in yourself despite having different abilities from those around you.
“This book is REALLY GOOD. There are demons and monsters so I’d recommend it to ages 7 and up. I like this book because it is so interesting and it has mythology and I love mythology. This book is about Mayan mythology so it is cool to learn about other kinds of mythology.”
Looking for more inspiring children’s book ideas? Here’s what’s next on Margaux’s list!
If you want to pick up any of the children’s books mentioned in this blog, you can visit my Bookshop here!
I hope you find these recommendations useful when choosing books for your kiddos this summer!
Disclaimer: this blog contains affiliate links, but rest assured that all recommendations are entirely genuine.