9 Middle Grade Books Sure To Change Kids’ Worldview
by Kari Ness Riedel
I love books that provide me with a window into another world. Whether it’s a story set in a country or time different from the ones I’ve lived in, characters dealing with tragedies and challenges I’ve never experienced, or a new point of view, ‘window’ books help us build empathy and grow as humans.
Here are titles from various genres that provide readers with a unique perspective. Each of these books left me — and young Bookopolis readers — feeling differently about the world after we read them.
The Bridge Home
Set in modern-day India, 11-year-old Viji and her sister Rukku, who has developmental disabilities, run away from their abusive father and find themselves free but homeless on the streets of Chennai. This story highlights the harsh reality of life experienced by many in this world and the power of resilience and kindness to find joy in any situation, no matter how stark the conditions.
Discussion Prompt: How does this story make you see homeless families differently in your community? What are 1-2 practical things you could do to help children experiencing homelessness?
Black Boy Joy
This compilation of short stories by beloved Black male and non-binary authors celebrates the experiences of Black boys and teens through fantastical adventures, realistic dramas, humorous antics, and page-turning mysteries. It's refreshing to read stories with well-rounded Black characters that go beyond the important yet more common narrative focused on injustices experienced by Black boys and families.
Discussion Prompt: Which character(s) did you want to read more about? How would you have extended their story?
Brown Girl Dreaming
In this powerful and moving novel-in-verse, the author shares her journey of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in a segregated South Carolina town and a diverse, urban neighborhood in New York City. She reflects on the social and political issues during this time, like the Civil Rights movement and her experiences with racism as a young Black girl. These influences blend with her family’s religious values and her love of stories and writing to shape the adult she became (and continues to grow into.)
Discussion Prompt: What 3-4 experiences or influences shaped who you are today?
Counting by 7s
Despite the tragedy at the center of the plot, hope and optimism are significant themes in this book. As a brilliant child who is likely on the autism spectrum, 12-year-old Willow has always been a bit of a loner who finds an inner calm by counting to seven and researching medical conditions. When her adoptive parents die in a freak car accident, she discovers a new family in the unlikely members of her local community. Reading this story reminded me that we are all complex “oddballs” in our own way and should not be labeled or limited based on preconceived notions.
Discussion Prompt: Describe a time when you have ever felt left out or different. What made you feel more included? Or, what do you wish would have happened?
Ten-year-old Della has always turned to her high school-aged sister Suki for support as they navigated life with an incarcerated and drug-addicted parent, the instability of foster care, poverty, and the threat of sexual abuse. When they move in with a new foster mom, the sisters explore new ways to deal with their traumatic past. The author brilliantly infuses empathy, love, and joy while sharing the tragic story of this family that is, unfortunately, all too common.
Discussion Prompt: How does Della change throughout this story? In what ways can conflict and hardship help us grow? Reflect on a time that you faced difficulty and how you grew from it.
Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Moving from elementary to middle school is hard for a lot of kids. For Merci, it’s even more complicated as a Latina scholarship student in a primarily white school who becomes the target of a school bully. Things at home get rocky as her beloved grandfather’s memory fails, and her family ignores the issue. Merci’s humor, tenacity, and desire to be a good friend help her navigate these highly relatable challenges.
Discussion Prompt: Merci’s family came to the United States from Cuba in this story. Where did your family originally come from? Ask questions from older family members to learn more about your family’s history.
The Night Diary
This compelling, coming-of-age story takes place in 1947 during the partition of British India into New India and Pakistan. 12-year-old Nisha writes letters to her Muslim mother, who died in childbirth. Nisha relates her experiences fleeing their beloved multicultural town with her Hindi father, twin brother, and grandmother to New India out of fear of persecution. Along the way, Nisha discovers more about her family, her unique gifts, and what activities bring her genuine joy.
Discussion Prompt: What were the most challenging parts of Nisha’s journey to her uncle’s home? Put yourselves in Nisha’s shoes and consider how you might act similarly or differently than she did during this trip.
Minni lives with her big brother and hardworking parents in the slums of Mumbai. She is always dreaming and asking questions — especially about water. Why do some people, like her family, have to wait in line for hours for a little water while others have swimming pools full of water in their homes? As she learns more about unequal access to water and the existence of water mafia and water thieves, she discovers anyone can make a difference, even a young girl.
Discussion Prompt: What did you learn about access to water and water shortages from this story? Go deeper by researching this topic on your own and exploring resources like this one recommended by the author.
When Stars Are Scattered
Omar and his younger brother Hassan live in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing their Somalian home without their mother. When Omar gets a chance to go to school, he feels 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, this graphic novel offers a peek into the challenges faced by refugee children and the joy and laughter present in even the hardest situations.
Discussion Prompt: What innate qualities and external influences helped Omar to survive in the refugee camp and make his way out?