Readers of Carl Hiaasen and Katherine Applegate will likely enjoy The Secret Language of Birds by Lynne Kelly. Set in Houston, Texas, Kelly’s novel for middle grade readers features thirteen-year-old Nina whose parents are investment bankers. Nina spends her time immersed in her birding apps, but flounders when it comes to making friends, believing she was absent on the day any instruction manuals were handed out. For example, although she tries to befriend Iris, a hearing impaired classmate, she fails in that attempt. When Nina’s older sister Sage encounters the concept of zugunruhe and its impact on the bird brain, she wonders if something insideRead More →

When they encounter big feelings, young people often feel confused. What do they do with their anger, resentment, jealousy, or love? To help tweens better understand these overwhelming emotions that are capable of causing damage if not handled with care, Aida Salazar pens Ultraviolet. In particular, this novel in verse examines puberty, gender, first crushes, and rites of passage for young boys of color. It encourages a society that provides space to explore emotions, vulnerability, and hormonal confusion rather than burying them behind attitudes of being “macho” or “manning up.” Afraid of bees and plagued by other irrational fears, Elio Solis tries to understand hisRead More →

Thirteen-year-old Autumn Bird loves running, so when Connor Herlihy, an athletic, smart, and popular seventh grade boy, brags that he can beat anyone in a foot race but Autumn beats him, she quits the track team. Trading her shorts and sweats for high-rise jeans and heels and makeup, Autumn is welcomed into the popular crowd. On her way to a weekend party, Autumn encounters Cody Stouffer crouched under a hedge near her home, hiding and in pain. A victim of both physical and emotional violence, Cody has run-away from one of the poorest neighborhoods where “people just like him crammed their whole lives—pots and pans,Read More →

A novel for middle-grade readers, Gigi Shin Is Not a Nerd by Lyla Lee tells the story of a seventh grade mixed race girl, Ji-Young who selected the American name Gigi. Living in Texas, Gigi draws for adventure. Although her parents want her to pursue a career that privileges math and science, Gigi loves art and creating comic characters like Meteor Girl and Choir Boy. When the opportunity to attend Starscape, a prestigious summer art camp, comes along, Gigi is determined to attend. However, when Gigi asks her parents about the camp, they tell her that money is tight. Frustrated by their lack of supportRead More →

Written by Jessixa Bagley and illustrated by Aaron Bagley, Duel is a graphic novel about family relationships as much as it is about fencing. With creative word play and pictures, the pair tell the story of Lucy and Georgia (Gigi) Jones whose passion is fencing, a passion developed by their father and passed on to his two daughters. When Dad unexpectedly dies, the girls and their mother forget how to be a family, and soon, they are in turmoil. Feeling inadequate and unsure of themselves, the two tweens take out their frustrations on one another. Pushed to her limits, Lucy challenges her sister to aRead More →

Set in Minnesota, Just Keep Walking is a middle grade novel written in part to encourage resilience and perseverance in tweens. Erin Soderberg Downing creates twelve-year-old Josephine Conlan, aka Jo, to carry her message about not giving up in the face of adversity and challenge. Jo’s older brother, Jake, is in college now, and her dad side-stepped into a new family despite his promise to take his daughter on the Superior Hiking Trail the summer of her seventh grade year.  With all of her alone time, Jo experiences “too many uncomfortable silences. Too much time to think about the way things used to be. TooRead More →

Set in Colorado, Backcountry by Jenny Goebel tells the story of thirteen-year-old Emily Walker. Daughter of a mom with grit and determination who tells her to play it safe and an athletic dad who tells her to go for it, Em is a lead attacker for the Impalers’ volleyball team. Strong, adventurous, and Identifying as an athlete, Em feels like she has to compete with Dad’s real estate clients for attention. Because a bad appraisal or inspection often takes precedence over Emily and her mother, Emily believes that her dad only pays attention to her life when she is winning tournaments and trophies. When EmilyRead More →

Living in Maryland, Nova and Sparkle Moore are sisters who both love dancing, modeling, and acting. Thanks to their mother’s backdrops, props, and posing techniques, the duo has social media followers and are on their way to being influencers despite being only fifth and sixth graders. Along with her best friends, Taryn Wood—an advanced level ballet and tap dancer—and Rae Ferrell—a true, creative artist, Sparkle attends the Arts Academy whose motto is “dream big; anything is possible.” As the three friends vow to steer clear of bad energy and to explore their true gifts, they also have to navigate peer politics and bullies. Sparkle livesRead More →

Sixth grader Frances Bishop is prone to worry. She wonders how thoughts can be compartmentalized or put into a box when “worry is like water. It leaks” (41). Furthermore, “no one chooses to worry. Worry just is” (99), and it causes Franny to get herself into a tangle. Because her mother is a former drug addict, Franny has had to be the responsible one, making worry a constant for her. As an escape, Franny has math where the problems have clear steps and a solution. Math is her happy place. Franny also has an ally in her mother’s Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Mimi, whoRead More →