12 Books About Friendship for Middle Grade Readers
by Liz Lesnick
One of the biggest challenges of being a parent is figuring out how to help your child learn how to navigate sticky situations. When my daughter started having trouble with a good friend in her fourth grade class, I wasn’t sure how to fix the problem, or, more importantly, how to give my daughter the tools to figure out how to handle it herself. A wise friend suggested reading 11 Birthdays together; it turned out to be the perfect entrée into a conversation with my daughter about her situation.
Don’t worry, these twelve books aren’t instruction manuals on friendship or social skills, they’re engrossing stories in their own right that masterfully address important issues for older kids like friendship, empathy, and the value of difference.
It's Amanda's eleventh birthday, and she is super excited. But from the start, everything goes wrong. The worst part is that she and her best friend, Leo — with whom she's shared every birthday — are on the outs and this will be the first birthday they have spent apart. Wendy Mass entertainingly addresses themes of growing up, growing apart, and figuring out friendship in this “Groundhog Day” for tweens.
Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan’s beautiful novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family will move readers of all ages. My 12-year-old raved, “It was intense, sad, and really good.”
Harriet the Spy
I couldn’t wait for my daughter to read Harriet the Spy — a childhood favorite. After a failed start on her own, we read it together, and boy, am I glad we did. I had forgotten how tough this book can be. Harriet is one of the icons of children’s literature, but she is no saint. She’s smart, observant, and honest to a fault. And when her secret notebook falls into her friends’ hands, she finds herself ostracized at school and facing challenges at home. Thanks to Harriet, my daughter and I had many conversations about the challenges of growing up, maintaining friendships, and navigating life as a tween.
This Newbery Medal and National Book Award winner features Stanley Yelnats, a kid who has been unjustly sent to a boys' detention center. Stanley quickly realizes there's more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment — and redemption. My daughter paid Holes the ultimate compliment, “It’s one of my favorite stories, even though it’s a 'boy book.'”
Liar & Spy
Liar & Spy has the essential ingredients of a great read: spies, games, friendship, and an unusual hero. Seventh-grader Georges moves into a new apartment building and meets Safer, a 12-year-old self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer's first spy recruit. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: what is a lie, and what is a game? How far is too far to go for your only friend?
My Last Best Friend
Losing a friend is hard at any age. After her best friend moves away, fourth-grader Ida May is determined not to make another best friend, despite the efforts of a new girl in her class. Author Julie Bowe tackles the challenges of making new friends, coping with bullying, and being shy with humor and grace.
Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans's Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house like her uptown family or many friends at school. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker who can predict the future. And when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show Hurricane Katrina fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm. Readers will be inspired and moved by this tale of resilience and resourcefulness in the eye of the storm.
The One and Only Ivan
This winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself. My middle grade reader declared, “Every human can learn something about friendship from Ivan!”
Out of My Mind
With Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper pulls off a dazzling feat: writing a compelling novel featuring an appealing, three-dimensional heroine with physical limitations. Melody has cerebral palsy, and she has a photographic memory. Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it … somehow. This breakthrough story will forever change how readers look at anyone with a disability.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths
After their caregiver’s death, the summer turns stressful for two parentless girls as they figure out how to fend for themselves. Sara Pennypacker, author of the beloved Clementine series for younger readers, tells the story of two opposites who must find a way to work together to survive. While the situation may be extreme, young readers will relate to the challenges of having to work with people completely different from you.
Before I read Wonder, I heard a lot about it. Everyone was raving about this debut novel about Auggie, a boy born with facial deformity who is going to school for the first time after years of being homeschooled. I figured this would be another “good-for-you” book that means well, but would be heavy-handed with its “choose kind” message. I couldn’t have been more wrong. By telling Auggie’s story from several characters’ points of view, R. J. Palacio helps readers experience the challenges and triumphs of Auggie’s situation as they might themselves. My daughter has read and re-read Wonder several times — the ultimate compliment!
The Year of the Dog
It's the Chinese Year of the Dog, and as Pacy celebrates with her family, she finds out that this is the year she is supposed to "find herself." Well, that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to fit in at school and please your immigrant parents. Universal themes of friendship, family, and finding one's passion in life make this novel appealing to readers of all backgrounds.