10 Middle Grade Stories Featuring Boys Tweens Can Admire

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Image credits: Warp Speed by Lisa Yee; The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire; The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis; Masterpiece by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick

Today’s kid lit features so many rich and varied portrayals of boys being, thinking, or doing all kinds of good things — gloriously large and beautifully small. Here are some boys that young readers, male and female, can celebrate for many reasons:

  • The Real Boy

    by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire

    Eleven-year-old Oscar has lived a structured, contained life as the assistant to a magician on the island of Aletheia, but now Oscar must literally and figuratively leave the familiar behind to help save the day. Ursu has said that Oscar is "a character who is rich and complicated and his autism informs his personality but does not define it." The things that make Oscar a bit “odd” also make him a vital member of his community. The Real Boy a mysterious and moving fantasy for tween readers.

  • Screaming at the Ump

    by Audrey Vernick

    Casey feels like a friend right away, and his friendship with reality-show loving Zeke is just one of the plotlines that make this story a home run. Vernick has a gift for employing humor as she explores serious subjects like divorce and ethics in sports and journalism within the unique setting of an umpire school.

  • No 1. Car Spotter

    by Atinuke, illustrated by Warwick Johnson Cadwell

    Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is "the Number 1 car spotter in his village." He's also quick-witted, inventive, and cares deeply about his small, tight-knit community. Atinuke's warmhearted and funny chapter book series features an extended family and everyday situations, set in modern Africa.

  • Warp Speed

    by Lisa Yee

    Marley Sandelski was a bit player in Yee's previous portrayals of Rancho Rosetta Middle School, but he shines in his own story here. Yee's trademark humor anchors this heartbreakingly realistic depiction of bullying that ultimately celebrates finding strength in what makes one unique.

  • A Dog for Life

    by L.S. Matthews

    This is no typical 'boy and his dog' story. John and his canine friend Mouse can read each other's thoughts — a big help when they set out on an adventure in order to help John's older, sick brother Tom. John is a natural hero in the classic sense: saving a child, rescuing horses, and more, but it's his bond with Mouse that gives this story superpowers.

  • Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities

    by Mike Jung, illustrated by Mike Maihack

    When Vincent Wu discovers the new secret identity of his favorite superhero, Captain Stupendous, he's … surprised, to say the least. But as the Captain's #1 Fan, he's uniquely positioned to help the Captain save Copperplate City — and perhaps get himself a date, too. This funny, full-bodied, and subversive novel features a wonderfully diverse cast of characters alongside action for days. Geeks is a thoughtful, moving work of art.

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

    Fourth-grader Kenny's vibrant and often hilarious voice brings incredible heart to this award-winning story set against the backdrop of a heartbreaking moment in American history — the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Family bonds provide a foundation for him and anyone processing the pain of a challenging world.

  • A Long Walk To Water

    by Linda Sue Park

    This slim novel, based on a true story and told from two points of view, tells Salva Dut's story of survival and resilience. His harrowing journey — from Sudan, to an Ethiopian refugee camp, the United States, and then back home (where he starts the nonprofit Water for Southern Sudan) — is powerfully told by Park. It's a remarkable and inspiring story and a shining example for kids who want to make a difference in their communities.

  • The Turtle of Oman

    by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Readers everywhere will identify with Aref's desire to remain home (Oman) with all that he loves, rather than move to a strange land (Ann Arbor, Michigan). Naomi Shihab Nye's lyrical novel is a tribute to the power of memory, memento, and the home in our hearts.

  • Dragon Rider

    by Cornelia Funke

    Dragon Firedrake, thoughtful Ben (the 'dragon rider' of the title), and Sorrell (a sharp-tongued Brownie), are a courageous trio on a mission to find the place where dragons can live in peace. As one reviewer notes, "It's a fantasy, it's long, and it's got dragons in it." What more do you need? (Note: The audiobook, read by actor Brendan Fraser, is a treat.)