Every single one of our students deserve to see themselves in the books we choose to read aloud, which is why it is important to select stories with diverse characters, cultures, and experiences. Reading diverse novels provides opportunities for students to gain a better understanding of their world and helps to bring a voice to marginalized individuals. Our world contains more than just a singular story. Here are ten great middle grade read alouds that will empower students to think critically about their world.
An * is placed next to titles I received as advanced galleys from Netgalley or Edelweiss. After reading the galleys, I purchased copies for my library because I had to get them into the hands of my teen readers.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
(Scholastic ~ July 25, 2017)
Three different kids. Three different periods in history. All with one mission in common: escape.
Alan Gratz masterfully weaves together three refugee stories in this engaging and important historical fiction novel. Josef is escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Isabel is leaving Fidel Casto’s Cuba in 1994, and Mahmoud is fleeing Syria’s civil war in 2015. Although these characters are separated by time and place, surprising connections tie their stories together.
Refugee is an honest and eye-opening account of the plight of refugees that needs to be read, discussed, and shared. It is important for students to learn about their struggles for freedom, their dangerous journeys to safety, and their strength and determination to persevere. This book is also a great opportunity for students to have a global impact. The author provides information on how individuals can get involved to help refugee children worldwide.
You can even use this book trailer to introduce the novel to your students.
wishtree by Katherine Applegate*
(Feiwel & Friends ~ September 26, 2017)
Katherine Applegate has written another gripping and moving story. wishtree is a beautiful reminder of the power of words and the importance of hope and friendship. Even when it might seem impossible or scary to speak, one must find the courage to use your voice for good. After all, words are our greatest weapon of change. This book has much to teach students about the importance of their actions or inactions.
When I read this book aloud with my students, we also created our own wishtree filled with our wishes for the world. It was a powerful and moving experience for all.
Here are a few of the many wishes that really stood out.
- I wish my dad would be sober so I could be with him.
- I wish I had money to help support my parents.
- I wish my 3 year old brother could talk. I just want to be able to talk with him.
- I wish I had a family that loved me.
- I wish more people like me could feel safe in this country.
- I wish all the people of this world were nicer and that there was only peace.
Another beautiful book trailer to introduce this novel.
Patina by Jason Reynolds*
(Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books ~ August 29, 2017)
Patina is book number two in the Track series by Jason Reynolds. It picks up right where Ghost left off, at the start line of Ghost’s race. If you haven’t read Ghost with your students, then I suggest you start with that one first and then read Patina. Patty (Patina), another one of the newbies on the Defenders track team, is narrator of this story. Like the other members on the track team, she is running from the complications in her life: the sudden death of her father, her mother’s battle with diabetes, living in a different house with her aunt and uncle, attending a new school filled with rich kids, and being a good example for her younger sister. But when the stress of it all starts to pile up, Patty attitude lashes out and causes even more problems for her teammates.
This is a wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, learning to face your problems, and trusting your teammates. Simon and Schuster offers a reading guide that provides discussion questions and extension activities for this text. You can find it here:
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
(Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers ~ March 14, 2017)
Amina has just entered middle school and everything is so different. She’s in jeopardy of losing her best friend, she feels pressured to live up to her parents’ expectations, and she’s struggling to stay true to her culture. If only she could go back to elementary school, to when life was easier. But when a tragedy strikes the mosque her family attends, Amina must overcome her anxieties and use her voice to bring people together.
Amina’s Voice is a powerful witness of how compassion and tolerance can transform our world. This is such an important story to read and discuss with students because it provides a beautiful picture of how the world can overcome prejudice and celebrate what makes us all so unique. The reading guide provided by the publisher offers extensions for students to explore the culturally diverse characters as well as provides an opportunity to create a more welcoming and compassionate classroom community. You can access the reading guide here:
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
(Viking ~ 2017)
Arturo Zamora lives in a tight-knit community in Miami. But when a land developer comes to remodel the town, all that Arturo loves about his community is about to change. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight. The incorporation of Spanish and English vocabulary as well as poetry from Cuban revolutionary José Martí illuminates the role Arturo’s heritage plays in his everyday life and circumstances. This is a beautiful and soulful story about family, community, love, poetry, and the fight against gentrification. Use it as a text to teach about the injustices of gentrification or as a way to celebrate the unique cultural differences that make your classroom a loving and tight-knit community.
Hear from author Pablo Cartaya on the places that inspired the story.
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
(Feiwel & Friends ~ March 14, 2017)
Told in two narratives, this novel tells the story of Calliope June, an astronomy-loving seventh grader who is about to start her tenth school. Her mother is always on the move trying to find the perfect life for them, often neglecting to ask what Calli thinks about uprooting yet again. Calli has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes make faces, sounds, and other movements that she doesn’t mean to, which makes it even harder to find friends each time they move. This #ownvoices story is a heartfelt book that explores the misconceptions of Tourette syndrome, shares the important message to choose kindness, and explores the real and harsh challenges of middle school. Students will be able to connect to the realistic characters and see the impact choosing kindness can have on someone’s life.
You can’t help but feel for Calli and want to help her find a friend.
by Rita Williams-Garcia
(Amistad ~ May 9, 2017)
Music is the heart and soul of Clayton Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. This moving story follows Clayton Byrd’s journey of grief over losing his beloved grandpa. Within these pages readers explore the complexities of how to express what you feel when there is so much going on inside. A great book for 5th and 6th grade.
Hear Rita Williams-Garcia bring Clayton’s story to life as she reads the first chapter aloud.
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ~ September 19, 2017)
After returning from summer in Taiwan with her family, Bea finds herself friendless and feeling as invisible as the secret poems she creates. Navigating life at school is tough but things at home aren’t much better. With her parents so focused on their art and a new baby sister on the way, Bea feels just as invisible at home. As she tries to figure out where she belongs, Bea discovers how important it is to be true to yourself.
The Way to Bea is a must read for middle schoolers. The struggles Bea faces are real and relatable. Many students will be able to see themselves in this character. Bea’s journey towards embracing herself is one that many students need to hear. This book provides many opportunities for rich and meaningful discussions on self-discovery, overcoming changes, and learning to navigate the harsh experiences of middle school.
(HMH Books for Young Readers ~ October 3, 2017)
The Vanderbeekers are in jeopardy of losing their home when their curmudgeonly landlord refuses to renew their lease. Determined to not let this happen, the five Vanderbeeker siblings must work together to help convince their landlord just how important it is for them to stay.
This heartwarming story teaches students the importance of community and the sense of family we can find with our neighbors. This is a great text to use to discuss who’s my neighbor and how we can better connect to the people around us.
(Lee & Low/Tu Books ~ October 1, 2017)
Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi in the 1940s, Kelkar shines an important light on the Indian freedom movement. After Anjali’s mother is jailed for her part in the nonviolent resistance, Anjail must step outside her comfort zone and continue her mother’s work.
This eye-opening novel should be read in every classroom! It give readers a look at the true meaning of ahimsa, social justice, and equality. Even though it is set in 1940s India, the messages the author conveys ring loud and true for present day.
Rachel Mainero is a maker, learner, innovator, and Information Literacy Specialist who is passionate about empowering students to think critically and shape their world. She believes books create opportunities for students to experience the diverse and beautiful world around them. This past summer she started 5by5books with the goal to recommend diverse middle grade and YA novels for teen readers. You can follow along at www.5by5books.wordpress.com or on Instagram @5by5books. She lives in Rochester, MI, with her husband and son. She can be found on Twitter @MrsMainero.