Diverse Tween Reads
for Your School Library
by Melissa Taylor
As educators, we want books that open windows for our students; windows into the lives of other people, cultures, experiences, and lifestyles. It is by broadening our students’ worlds that we help them build bridges of empathy for all kind of human experiences, as well as better know themselves. These must-have middle-grade books for classroom bookshelves and school libraries will open new windows.
After she offends a regional Pakistani overlord, Amal loses her freedom and is forced into indentured servanthood for the Khan family. After she adjusts to her new situation, she finds the strength to fight back by exposing a hidden murder. Readers will feel fully immersed in Amal’s world and cheer her on as she fights against injustice.
Planet Earth is Blue
Nonverbal and autistic, Nova narrates settling into her latest foster home while missing her runaway big sister Bridget — who is supposed to return for the Challenger launch. But Bridget doesn’t show up, and Nova must face the heartbreaking truth. Deftly and compassionately written, this is a powerful story that provides a window into one girl’s experience with abuse, autism, foster care, and family.
No Fixed Address
Felix hopes to win a TV game show so he and his mom can finally move out of the van where they’ve been living for months. Then, he can both stop lying to his friends and longing for an actual bathroom. This insightful story shows that homelessness is often beyond a child’s control, no matter how hard they try. Because despite his mother’s inability to hold down a job or tell the truth, he really loves her and is not able to fix things on his own.
The Night Diary
When the British rule of India ends, the country splits into two: Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Nisha, a half-Muslim, half-Hindu girl, writes letters to her deceased Muslim mother about the confusing persecution that her Hindu side of the family faces in the north, and shares the harrowing journey they must take to safety in the south. Not only is this a historically significant story, but the themes of prejudice, immigration, and violence feel relevant in today’s world, too.
The Loser’s Club
Alec decides to take the name other kids call him – a loser – and make it cool. So he starts a “loser” book club for book nerds like him. Surprisingly, the book club grows in popularity with all sorts of kids. As it does, Alec’s awareness of life outside of books grows, too. Book lovers won’t want to miss this genuine story about a reader growing up and into himself.
The Bridge Home
Don’t miss this powerful story of poverty, family, courage, and resilience set in India! Sisters Viji and Rukku live under a bridge in a large Indian city with their two new brother-friends, all of them scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. When they’re forced to move to a bug-infested cemetery, the younger sister and one of the brothers grow very ill. Despite her mistrust of adults, Viji risks asking a stranger for help. Her story shows readers how faith and hope can coexist with hardship and pain.
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish
After a suspension at school, Marcus’s mom takes his brother who has down syndrome and him to visit his father’s relatives in Puerto Rico. While visiting, Marcus desperately hopes to find and reconnect with his father who left the family years before. He embarks on a coming-of-age search that takes him all over the island. This journey helps him see the heartbreaking truth about his dad and the loving family that he already has.
Growing up is especially difficult when you’re keeping the nightmare of living with an alcoholic mom a secret. That changes when Sophie’s mom goes to rehab and her aunt moves in. Her aunt gives Sophie roots, history, and confidence in who she is — a beautiful, strong, biracial young woman. When her mom returns, Sophie finally has the strength to make a hard decision about the future.
Shouting at the Rain
It’s a pivotal summer of changes for Delsie. Not only does Delsie desperately want to know about the mother who abandoned her to her grandmother’s care, but she’s also feeling confused by her summer friend’s mean behavior. She befriends a new boy in town named Ronan who is experiencing family pain of his own. Together, they share summer adventures around Cape Cod and learn that families can look different than you might expect.