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Tween

13 Books With Resilient Role Models for Tweens

by Kari Ness Riedel

Photo credit: Imgorthand, E+ Collection/Getty Images

As a parent, I want to raise kids who are resilient and handle whatever life throws their way with courage and kindness. Research shows that having the skills to cope with hard things is essential for our mental health and overall well-being. An excellent way to reinforce the value of resilience to my kids is by exposing them to a wide range of stories about people who have overcome obstacles. Reading and discussing books where the characters rely on perseverance, creativity, bravery, and humility can be sources of inspiration for their challenges.

Here are 13 middle grade reads spanning multiple genres that offer excellent models of resilience in action. Plus, they are all page-turning stories that readers won’t want to put down!

  • Historical Fiction

  • Echo Mountain

    by Lauren Wolk

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    During the Great Depression, Ellie and her family leave town and settle in the mountains to live off the land. Life in the mountains is challenging, but it becomes even more complicated when Ellie's father ends up in a coma. Ellie’s search for a healing remedy leads her to the mountain “hag,” where she discovers not only new ways to tend to the sick but her true calling. It's a gripping story about creativity, persistence, and the power of friends and family to overcome life’s biggest challenges.

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  • The War That Saved My Life

    by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

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    Ten-year-old Ada was born with a clubfoot and isn't allowed to leave the house. When bombing raids begin in London during World War II, Ada and her younger brother, Jamie, are sent to live with an unknown benefactor in the countryside. Ada experiences a new sense of freedom and realizes she has more value and potential than she thought. This heartfelt story of transformation and redemption spotlights the power of grit and perseverance.

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  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963: 25th Anniversary Edition

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

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    From the perspective of 10-year-old Kenny, this book chronicles his family's journey from their home in Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham, Alabama. Set during the Civil Rights movement and the historic 1963 16th Street Church bombing, this inspirational book explores racial injustice, peer pressure, and family drama. A healthy dose of laughter and love make this Newbery Honor-winning story a favorite for readers of all ages.

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  • Realistic and Contemporary Fiction

  • Amal Unbound

    by Aisha Saeed

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    Amal, a 12-year-old Pakistani girl, is forced to leave her family and become an indentured servant in the home of a wealthy family. With her dreams of becoming a teacher crushed, she struggles to navigate her new world. Despite many setbacks, Amal’s desire for freedom lead her to form unlikely alliances and fight for change. Examples of resilience, loyalty, and tenacity abound in this highly engaging story.

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  • Before the Ever After

    by Jacqueline Woodson

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    As a former professional football player, ZJ’s dad has always been the town hero. But when his brain injuries cause his memory to fade, he becomes depressed and aggressive, and ZJ struggles to hold on to the positive parts of their relationship. A strong mother and a supportive community play a critical role in teaching him how to build the courage and resilience to keep moving forward. This beautiful novel in verse offers a unique perspective on the long-term hardships that athletes and their families often endure.

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  • The Bridge Home

    by Padma Venkatraman

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    When two young sisters, Viji and Rukku, leave their small village to escape their abusive father, they must learn how to survive on the streets of Chennai, India. They befriend two homeless boys and a stray dog, and their makeshift family works together to stay alive. This story is both heartbreaking and hopeful and provides a glimpse into homeless children's struggles in many parts of the world.

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  • Fighting Words

    by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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    Ten-year-old Della and 16-year-old Suki have endured the most challenging things that two sisters could experience. When their mom went to prison, her boyfriend, Clifton, gave them a place to live but extracted a horrible price from Suki. When he crosses a line with Della, the sisters find themselves on the run, thrown into foster care, and placed into new schools. The unbreakable bond of sisterhood and a few caring adults helps both girls develop the coping skills to begin their path to healing. This hope-filled story tackles traumatic issues such as sexual abuse, cutting, and drug addiction in an approachable way to middle-grade readers.

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  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet

    by David Barclay Moore

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    Twelve-year-old Lolly struggles to cope after his older brother gets killed in a gang-related shooting. He finds solace in constructing a fantastical city made of Legos at his local community center but feels pressured to join a local gang to stay safe in his neighborhood. This book provides a compelling look into the challenges faced by young people of color living on the brink of poverty. It celebrates the role art, creativity, and nurturing adults can play in helping kids overcome any obstacle.

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  • The Water Bears

    by Kim Baker

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    This enchanting coming-of-age story centers around 12-year-old Newt, who lives on an island with a history of magical creatures. Newt and his best friend discover a bear statue with a wishbone, and everyone in town starts making wishes that seem to come true. Newt doesn’t believe the bear has any real power but still wishes for a fresh start with his extended family, who live on the mainland. Full of charming and vulnerable characters, this novel reminds readers that life is full of ups and downs, and it’s okay to lean on others in times of need.

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  • Nonfiction

  • Brave. Black. First.

    by Cheryl Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

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    This inspiring nonfiction book celebrates the contributions of Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, Ruby Bridges, and 50 other Black women. Readers get a glimpse into the fearlessness and resilience each woman embodies through one-page biographies, and kids will feel inspired to learn more about these incredible women.

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  • This Is Your Time

    by Ruby Bridges

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    Through a series of letters, Ruby Bridges shares her story of being the first Black child integrated into an all-White school in New Orleans in 1960 at the age of six. She reflects on the adversities she and her family faced and the courage it took to stand up for what they knew was right. This inspirational book is a call to action to break the cycle of systemic racism and injustices in the United States.

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  • We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

    edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

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    This book is gorgeous—inside and out. Fifty beloved authors with diverse backgrounds answer the question, “In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?” You'll find inspiration in the stories and artwork shared by creators such as Jacqueline Woodson, Sharon Draper, and Jason Reynolds. As the foreword says, “This is not a one-time read but a resource for rescue from any pitfalls of the day.”

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  • When Stars Are Scattered

    by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, illustrated by Victoria Jamieson and Iman Geddy

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    Kids will love this moving graphic novel that recounts Omar and his younger brother Hassan's real experiences. They have spent most of their young lives in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing their Somalian home without their mother. When Omar gets a chance to go to school, he is torn between his desire to learn and his responsibility to care for Hassan. From constant hunger and spending hours in line for water to attending school in a cramped classroom with few supplies, readers get a peek into the challenges young refugees face. Despite the hardships, the presence of love, family, and community come through in this heartbreaking yet hopeful story.

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