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Tween

10 Middle Grade Stories Featuring Boys Tweens Can Admire

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

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.

  • Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero

    by Kelly J. Baptist

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    This is no typical coming-of-age story. Young Isaiah has just become the man of the house, caring for his little sister and grieving mother while mourning the loss of his father. When it all gets to be too much, he turns to his Daddy's journal, filled with stories about the amazing Isaiah Dunn, a superhero who gets his powers from beans and rice. Loyal, dedicated, and caring, Isaiah is no doubt a hero, but it's his unstoppable spirit that gives this story superpowers.

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  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

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    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.

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  • Dragons in a Bag Series

    by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B

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    In this urban fantasy named an NPR Best Book of the Year, Jaxon agrees to help return three baby dragons to their home in a magical realm. The number one rule is to absolutely, under no circumstances, ever let the dragons out of the bag. Young readers will love following Jax’s brave adventures with best friends Vikram and Kavita.

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  • See You in the Cosmos

    by Jack Cheng

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    “Who are you? What do you look like? Do you have one head or two? More?” So begins 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s narration into his golden iPod, which he hopes to launch into space, a project inspired by his hero, Carl Sagan. Propulsive and irresistible, Alex’s hopeful spirit and surprising journey is completely unforgettable.

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  • The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

    by Pablo Cartaya

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    This award-winning novel follows 13-year-old Arturo in his vibrant Miami community as he washes dishes in his Abuela’s restaurant, crushes on the new girl in his apartment building, and protests his community falling into the hands of an ill-intentioned land developer. Arturo learns the importance of poetry, activism, and family history during one hot summer.

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  • Saint Louis Armstrong Beach

    by Brenda Woods

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    In pre-Katrina New Orleans, young Saint spends his days playing clarinet for tourists alongside a stray dog named Shadow. When Katrina strikes, Saint refuses to evacuate without Shadow, and they end up seeking refuge in a neighbor’s attic while the water quickly rises. Saint is the picture of resilience and hard-earned hope in this essential portrait of an American city.

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  • The Many Worlds of Albie Bright

    by Christopher Edge

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    Stephen Albie Bright — named for his parents’ favorite scientists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein — is determined to find his mother in a parallel universe after she dies of cancer. Smart, hilarious, and heartwarming, young readers are sure to enjoy universe-hopping with precocious Albie in this gem of a book.

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  • Squirm

    by Carl Hiaasen

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    Billy Dickens doesn’t have much control over his life. His father, who disappeared when Billy was four, is a total mystery; his mother moves them from house to house in a perpetual mission to live near a bald eagle nest. But when Billy discovers his father’s Montana address, he sets off on a gritty cross-country quest to get some answers once and for all.

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  • The Space Between Before and After

    by Sue Stauffacher

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    When 10-year-old Thomas’s mother disappears, he has trouble making sense of the grief he’s feeling. His elderly Hungarian neighbor, Mrs. Sharp, who was separated from her father during World War II, encourages Thomas to cope by creating a fantasy story where his mother is safe. The chapters alternate between Thomas’s first-person narration and the fairy tale he’s imagining in this poignant story of navigating loss.

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  • The Boy at the Back of the Class

    by Onjali Q. Raúf

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    The students in Mrs. Khan’s classroom are curious about Ahmet, the boy in the back of the room. He doesn’t talk much, nor smile. When they learn that Ahmet is a Syrian refugee who was separated from his family while fleeing the war, they decide to do whatever it takes to reunite Ahmet with his family. A timely story of empathy and allyship for all readers.

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Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020.