30 Middle-Grade Novels to Add to Your Classroom Library NOW!

Top 30 Classroom Library Starter Pack

Give me a bookstore, a library, or a fellow reader’s bookshelf, and I will browse with wild glee. I love books. The sight of a bag full of books simple makes me happy. Reading has been something that has found its way back to me time and time again. Even when life seems too busy or too full of commitments. I always make my way back to reading.  Using the 10 criteria that I outlined in a previous post about diverse texts, I wanted to write up a blog post about 30 book recommendations I would make right NOW to any middle school English Language Arts teacher to add these middle-grade fictional texts to their classroom library. I use many of these for mentor texts in the teaching of writing, and I have also used many of them for book talks.


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#1: Miles Morales: Spider-Man (A Marvel YA Novel) by Jason Reynolds

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Family

272 pages

710 Lexile

Kids are going to want to read this book just because it is Marvel and just because it has Spider-Man. However, they should also want to write this book due to the amazing storyline and characterization completed by Reynolds. Miles faces relatable challenges in a contemporary setting. Not to mention that the movie just hit theatres in December 2018, so kids will want to connect to what they see on screen.

Amazon summary: “Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He's even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he's Spider-Man.

But lately, Miles's spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren't meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad's advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can't shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher's lectures on the historical "benefits" of slavery and the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It's time for Miles to suit up.”


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#2: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Fiction/Novel-In-Verse

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Family

416 Pages

780 Lexile

This is an amazing prequel to the book The Crossover released after the fact. This book is accessible to kids with “white space” on the pages, and it captivates them with high-interest characters. I am pulled to this book because of how amazing I thought the father character was in The Crossover.

Amazon summary:“Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshiping, basketball star his sons look up to.   

A novel in verse with all the impact and rhythm readers have come to expect from Kwame Alexander, Rebound will go back in time to visit the childhood of Chuck "Da Man" Bell during one pivotal summer when young Charlie is sent to stay with his grandparents where he discovers basketball and learns more about his family's past.”


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#3: All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Income/Family/Age

416 Pages

540 Lexile

Junior Library Guild Selection * Kids’ Indie Next List Pick

Born and raised in jail, this book is full of unexpected twists and turns. Despite heartbreaking circumstances like foster care and homelessness, the main character Perry goes on a quest to figure out who he really is and what crime his mother committed. I have to admit, I read The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle before I read this piece by Connor. However, using simple sentences and strong first-person voices, Connor creates a great mentor text and a great read that you cannot put down.

Amazon summary: “From Connor comes Eleven-year-old Perry was born and raised by his mom at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C, and so far Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. That is until a new district attorney discovers the truth—and Perry is removed from the facility and forced into a foster home.

When Perry moves to the “outside” world, he feels trapped. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest for answers about her past crime. As he gets closer to the truth, he will discover that love makes people resilient no matter where they come from . . . but can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means?”


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#4: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

Non-Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Education/Political Belief

160 Pages

National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature

Newbery Honor Book

A YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist

Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

By combining actual photos with text, this book captures readers’ attention immediately when talking about the Bus Boycotts in the 1960s. While Rosa Parks inspired a movement, Claudette Colvin was an integral figure in the resistance during this time period. Students can relate to the 15-year-old as she gets fed up with injustice, and then decides to act. This book opens a different perspective considering the role of young people in the Civil Rights Movement that students are sure to enjoy discussing in class.

Amazon summary: “On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.

Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history.”


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#5: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Fiction/Novel-In-Verse

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Political Belief/Family/Age/Income

288 Pages

800 Lexile

#1 New York Times Bestseller

Newbery Honor Book

National Book Award

This novel-in-verse depicts one girl’s journey from her home country in Vietnam to the tent cities of America. This relevant and purposeful text will capture readers with intense imagery and relatable inner dialogue. The main character is faced with difficult choices, and the way that Lai commits to her writing style, you feel like you are in on Ha’s choices and have a say in her journey.

Amazon summary: “inspired by the author's childhood experience as a refugee—fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama—this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration.”


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#6: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Track #1 in Series/The entire Track series is recommended)

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Family/Income/Education/Appearance

208 Pages

730 Lexile

A National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

Jason Reynolds excels at picking up the reader and taking them away on a story journey. With a catchy writing style, students will immediately feel wrapped up in a story about Castle (aka Ghost), as he navigates school, home, and identify. Reynolds uses sports as a gateway to lure readers into understanding deep themes and lifelong messages.

Amazon summary: “Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?”


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#7: March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (The entire March series is recommended)

Graphic Novel

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Political Belief/Education

128 Pages

760 Lexile

Winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature

#1 New York Times and Washington Post Bestseller
First graphic novel to receive a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
Winner of the Eisner Award
A Coretta Scott King Honor Book
One of YALSA's Outstanding Books for the College Bound
One of Reader's Digest's Graphic Novels Every Grown-Up Should Read

March: Book One sets the stage for the rest of the series recounting the historic March on Washington in 1963. While the graphic novel tells many personal accounts and interactions about his personal life, it largely addresses the racism and root cause behind the Civil Rights Movement. I often find that this book opens up discussions with students based on the images that they see, and then the inquiry that they do when they want to find out more that is happening in the text.

Amazon summary: “Book One spans John Lewis' youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.”


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#8: Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Family/Income/Age

272 Pages

410 Lexile

Jewell Parker Rhodes creates stories that are accessible and immediately interesting to struggling readers. Bayou Magic is an inspirational tale about finding your own “magic” in the American South. This is a read that can easily connect to other curriculums like Social Studies and Science.

Amazon summary: “A magical coming-of-age story from Coretta Scott King honor author Jewell Parker Rhodes, rich with Southern folklore, friendship, family, fireflies, and mermaids, plus an environmental twist”


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#9: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Political Belief/Age/Education/Communication Skills

224 Pages

HL 360 Lexile

An instant New York Times Bestseller
An instant IndieBound Bestseller
The #1 Kids' Indie Next Pick

Ghost Boys follows the mantra “Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.” This book seems like it would have problems that would be impossible to solve. However, knowing that the world can’t have Jerome back, you finish the book having a sense of direction. You know where to go from here. There were so many times in this book where I had to stop and think. Young activists will be pulled to this book again and again.

Amazon summary: “Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and sociopolitical layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today's world and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.”


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#10: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Fiction/Novel-In-Verse

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Political Belief/Education

237 Pages

750 Lexile

2015 Newbery Medal Winner
2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner
New York Times Bestseller

Kwame Alexander makes words turn into art on the page. Kids will love imitating and figuring out how he tells stories using words in different places. His two main characters, Josh and Jordan, are both natural basketball players. Each of them walks through relatable life experiences with sports, girls, and trying to balance it all. Warning: Heartbreaking ending. I appreciate his use of “rules” to relate to life skills. I like this usage in a novel-in-verse rather than in his other text, The Playbook. The book is broken up into quarters which would benefit pacing in a class. Kwame captures and honors cultural experiences in this text that both insiders and outsiders can learn from. Another great add-on is that many of the poem titles are parts of speech.

Amazon summary: "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.”


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#11: Aru Shah and the End of Time (A Pandava Novel Book 1) (Pandava Series) by Roshai Chokshi

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Education

368 Pages

630 Lexile

Young Aru is a such a relatable character. I find it perfect that Rick Riordan did the introduction to this fantasy novel because I get a very Percy Jackson vibe to this tale. I love that kids will want to read this to be involved in the series, but more so, they are going to become involved in what is at stake for the characters.

Amazon summary: “Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.

But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?”


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#12: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Gender Identity & Expression/Sexual Orientation/Age/Education

240 Pages

320 Lexile

I read Drama in one intense sitting because Raina Telgemeier creates such characters that kids can relate to and feel like they have been there with them in the story. Also, as a former drama club member in high school, I laughed out loud at many parts of the story. Many parts of the story are going to lure kids into the overall plot, but the main investment we have in Callie helps readers know we are rooting for her to win in the end.

Amazon summary: “Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school's production of Moon over Mississippi, she can't really sing. Instead, she's the set designer for the drama department's stage crew, and this year she's determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!”


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#13: Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Political Belief/Education

368 Pages

Lexile Grade Level 4-9

Thirteen-year-old Max, an American, and Ahmed, a fourteen-year-old refugee, become fast friends and show the reader that we all have more in common than what we think. The opening scene immediately grabs your attention as Ahmed’s story of fleeing from Syria is described in detail. Your heart will repeatedly break throughout this tale, but maybe those breaks help leave a little more room for understanding and empathy in our young readers.

Amazon summary: “Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Aleppo, Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Now Ahmed’s struggling to get by on his own, but with no one left to trust and nowhere to go, he’s starting to lose hope.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy from Washington, D.C. Lonely and homesick, Max is struggling at his new school and just can’t seem to do anything right. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Together, Max and Ahmed will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Set against the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis, award-winning author of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars Katherine Marsh delivers a gripping, heartwarming story of resilience, friendship and everyday heroes. Barbara O'Connor, author of Wish and Wonderland, says "Move Nowhere Boy to the top of your to-be-read pile immediately."


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#14: George by Alex Gino

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Gender Identity & Expression/Gender/Sexual Orientation/Age

224 Pages

790 Lexile

I always keep a copy of George in my room, and kids often have to create a waitlist for wanting to read this book. The inner thoughtshots in this book provide a unique perspective that immediately helps young readers that are unfamiliar with gender identity issues have questions and want to understand the world around them. This is a much-needed book for a time in education when many books that focus on gender identity are not seen in classrooms or on shelves.

Amazon summary: “When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.

George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.”


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#15: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Age/Political Belief/Education/Income/Family

288 Pages

760 Lexile

National Book Award Longlist

New York Times Bestseller

An Amazon Best Book of the Year

I adore this book for the fox, and I am a fan of this book for the messages that come up on all of the pages. I found myself nodding and marking many of these lines. I love that the perspective rotates from the fox back to his boy and that the reader feels a sense of rushing to a shared big event that makes all the difference. If you love animals, this is your book. If you have ever struggled with your identity with family, this is your book. My favorite line? “Sometimes the apple falls very far from the tree.”

Amazon summary: “From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes a beautifully wrought, utterly compelling novel about the powerful relationship between a boy and his fox. Pax is destined to become a classic, beloved for generations to come.

Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter's dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

At his grandfather's house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn't where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own.”


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#16: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Family/Age

320 Pages

1120 Lexile

I love that these are video recording/journal entries. With having an almost podcast feel, the reader gets to know Alex in a way that you become his family. And there are many messages about a family in his tale. There may be times of laughter and tears in this book, but you will walk away thinking about how big the galaxy is and how important you are in the universe.  

Amazon summary: “11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.

Jack Cheng’s debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time.”


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#17: The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Fiction/Novel-in-Verse

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Education/Political Belief/Family

336 Pages

620 Lexile

Amira is a character that you want to see when she is all grown up after the book ends. She is funny and courageous and caring. You don’t notice this book is told in verse format because you get swept up in the story. I love the part where Amira talks about “What else is possible?” because she sees the optimism in life...even though life is ridiculously hard in her refugee camp.

Amazon summary: “Life in Amira's peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when Janjaweed attackers arrive, unleashing unspeakable horrors. After losing nearly everything, Amira needs to find the strength to make the long journey on foot to safety at a refugee camp. She begins to lose hope, until the gift of a simple red pencil opens her mind -- and all kinds of possibilities.”


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#18: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Family

336 Pages

670 Lexile

A 2018 Pura Belpré Author Honor Book
A 2018 ALSC Notable Children’s Book

A Kids’ Indie Next List Pick

A Junior Library Guild Selection

School Library Journal Best Books of 2017

I have a book club in one of my class hours that is reading this out loud together during reading time. They laugh, they talk about it, and they want to know more. I love watching them read this book. Told in a strong first-person point of view, readers want to know the female protagonist better and they become invested in her journey. The school interactions are realistic, and if you are any fan of music or have ever been bullied, you will find yourself represented in these pages.

Amazon summary: “There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.

The real Malú loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malú finally begins to feel at home. She'll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!”


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#19: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Mental & Physical Ability/Age/Education

288 Pages

550 Lexile

A New York Times Bestseller

If students loved Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, or The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor, I steer them in the direction of this book. This book reminds you how important having a good teacher is in the scheme of life, and also how important it is to open up to others about what bothers us the most.

Amazon summary: “Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the troublemaker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in. This paperback edition includes The Sketchbook of Impossible Things and discussion questions.”


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#20: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Graphic Novel

Diversity Wheel Categories: Mental & Physical Ability/Age/Education/Family

248 Pages

Lexile Grade Level 3-7

New York Times Bestseller
A 2015 Newbery Honor Book

What a beautiful story told in such an amazing format! This story will pull you in, and it doesn’t matter that the real-life characters are animals, you find yourself understanding what it means to not have full hearing abilities in a new way. In a superhero way, readers start to admire Cece and root for her to feel some sense of belonging at school and in life.

Amazon summary: “Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.

The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.”


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#21: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Political Belief/Age/Appearance/Religion

208 Pages

800 Lexile

A Washington Post Best Children’s Book of 2017

Fitting into the box that society gives us is problematic at any age. If you have ever thought about changing yourself to “fit into” another category, you will find yourself pulled into this story. Amina struggles with realistic middle school issues, but also larger political issues that cause her to question who she is as a person and how she can help her community.

Amazon summary: “A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this “compassionate, timely novel” (Booklist, starred review) from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani-American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.”


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#22: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Political Belief/Age

192 Pages

630 Lexile

A New York Times Bestseller

Focusing on issues of immigration that are so prevalent in today’s current media, young readers will feel compelled to research more information and question why things are the way they are. Woodson writes in a relatable way that lures you into the story and using specific thoughtshots she takes you inside the minds of kids who are working on a sense of trying to find belonging. Short chapters make you turn the pages faster and faster to see what happens in the story. This is a timely written book that celebrates students questioning where they stand socially and politically in the world.

Amazon summary: “It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat--by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for "A Room to Talk"), they discover it's safe to talk about what's bothering them--everything from Esteban's father's deportation and Haley's father's incarceration to Amari's fears of racial profiling and Ashton's adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.”


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#23: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Income/Age/Family/Appearance/Communication Skills

227 Pages

630 Lexile

I read this book over the course of a couple of days because I couldn't put it down. You feel like you know Louisiana when you read this book. There are times of undeniable heartbreak when she struggles to figure out who she is and if anybody is worth trusting in a world that has let her down repeatedly. The characters’ conversations create images in your mind that not only seem realistic but cause you to want to root for Louisiana in her quest to find out her place in the world. You will want to scream, “HELP HER!” But, the beauty in this book is the way that Louisiana helps herself.

Amazon summary: “When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana's and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.”


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#24: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Political Belief/Gender

272 Pages

700 Lexile

This book was first described as a cross between Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley….and I immediately bought it. Both of those books are on my bookshelf classified “impacted my reading worldview” in a powerful way. Both are mentor texts that I use often in my classroom. Told through letter writing to her mother who passed away, the reader comes along on the journey of a refugee and a young girl trying to find herself amidst war.

Amazon summary: “It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

Told through Nisha's letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl's search for home, for her own identity...and for a hopeful future.”


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#25: The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson (Author) and Eugene Yelchin (Illustrator)

Fiction/Graphic Novel Hybrid

Diversity Wheel Categories: Political Belief/Age/Appearance

544 Pages

760 Lexile

What a beautiful book! This reminds of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, as it is a hybrid of graphic novel images that tell story sequence events, and chapter entries. Classified in the genre of fantasy, you get caught up in the goblins, elves, and spies, that cross different boundaries to relate to a very real reader.

Amazon summary: “Uptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission: survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom — from which no elf has returned alive in more than a hundred years. Brangwain’s host, the goblin archivist Werfel, is delighted to show Brangwain around. They should be the best of friends, but a series of extraordinary double crosses, blunders, and cultural misunderstandings throws these two bumbling scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them — and war for their nations. Witty mixed-media illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the elf kingdom, while Werfel’s determinedly unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story. A hilarious and biting social commentary that could only come from the likes of National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson and Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin, this tale is rife with thrilling action and visual humor . . . and a comic disparity that suggests the ultimate victor in a war is perhaps not who won the battles, but who gets to write the history.”


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#26: Blended by Sharon Draper

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Appearance/Age/Political Belief/Family

308 Pages

610 Lexile

I love Sharon Draper’s writing style because she immediately has the ability to get in your head and make you feel a part of the story. Isabella has moments where you come to relate to the “kid caught in the middle of a divorce” narrative in a very real way. She points out things that parents may be afraid to admit for their children and some things that kids may be too scared to say. Family matters-this is clear in this book- it can change and grow into different definitions that look different to people. Spoken in a clear 11-year-old voice and with shorter chapters, kids are going to find themselves turning these pages to get to know Isabella and her family better.

Amazon summary: “Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.”


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#27: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusty Bowling

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Mental & Physical Ability/Age/Family/Appearance

272 Pages

700 Lexile

Chosen for the Autumn 2017 Kids’ Indie Next List!
Winner of 2017 Reading the West Book Award for Children’s Books!

Kids will want to read this book because the main character has no arms, but they will always remember this book for the thematic messages and big plot events that offer unique understandings to tough situations. In an unexpected setting, this book helps provide some empathy to those that struggle with often taken for granted abilities. I love the voice in this book because it is clear and poignant in my head while reading.

Amazon summary: “Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.”


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#28: Swing by Kwame Alexander

Fiction/Novel-In-Verse

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Age/Family/Political Belief

448 Pages

610 Lexile

The end of this book shook me. You find yourself getting caught up in a story told through poetry and music. The main characters are relatable because there is a bit of a love story with a girl who may or may not like the leading man. However, Alexander weaves some important messages into the book that you may not see if you aren’t paying attention. And then all of the sudden the ending will cause you to go back and start the book again.

Amazon summary: “New York Times bestselling authors Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess (Solo) tell this lyrical story about hope, courage, and love that speaks to anyone who’s struggled to find their voice. And the surprise ending shines a spotlight on the issues related to our current social divide, challenging perspectives and inspiring everyone to make their voice heard.

When America is not so beautiful, or right, or just, it can be hard to know what to do. Best friends Walt and Noah decide to use their voices to grow more good in the world, but first they’ve got to find cool.

Walt is convinced junior year is their year, and he has a plan to help them woo the girls of their dreams and become amazing athletes. Never mind that he and Noah failed to make the high school baseball team yet again, and Noah’s love interest since third grade, Sam, has him firmly in the friend zone. Noah soon finds himself navigating the worlds of jazz, batting cages, the strange advice of Walt’s Dairy Queen-employed cousin, as well as Walt’s “Hug Life” mentality. Status quo seems inevitable until Noah stumbles on a stash of old love letters. Each page contains the words he’s always wanted to say to Sam, and he begins secretly creating artwork using the lines that speak his heart. But when his private artwork becomes public, Noah has a decision to make: continue his life in the dugout and possibly lose the girl forever, or take a swing and finally speak out?

At the same time, numerous American flags are being left around town. While some think it’s a harmless prank and others see it as a form of peaceful protest, Noah can’t shake the feeling something bigger is happening to his community. Especially after he witnesses events that hint divides and prejudices run deeper than he realized.

As the personal and social tensions increase around them, Noah and Walt must decide what is really true when it comes to love, friendship, sacrifice, and fate.”


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#29: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Race/Ethnicity/Gender/Political Belief/Family/Education

240 Pages

600 Lexile

As a teacher, I picked the book up and fell in love with the idea that Amal wants to be a teacher. She excels in school and is driven, but she is faced with many challenges that are out of her own control. However, she is an icon for showing the power of self-determination,  and her voice resonates in your mind long after the covers are closed.

Amazon summary: “Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal's Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she's busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when--as the eldest daughter--she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn't lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens--after an accidental run-in with the son of her village's corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family's servant to pay off her own family's debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal--especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal's growing awareness of the Khans' nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.”


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#30: The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Fiction

Diversity Wheel Categories: Mental & Physical Ability/Appearance/Family/Income

328 Pages

310 Lexile

National Book Award Finalist

Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2018

2019-2020 Nebraska Golden Sower Award

Amazon Best Books of 2018

Kirkus Best of Children's 2018

New York Public Library Best Books 2018

Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books 2018

I literally hugged this book after finishing the last page. Connor creates characters that matter. She can make you hate a character with all of your soul and love a character with all of your heart. With unexpected plot twists and an authentic voice, you will find yourself wanting to know what happens next. Mason’s everyday life seems particularly ordinary, but it is in the big moments where you find out what matters. This book puts the importance of relationships and trust first…and in the ability to see the beauty in the potential of people.

Amazon summary: “Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny.

But will anyone believe him?”


Writing Mindset Reflection: What mentor texts are on top of your list? What books are you not able to put down or are constantly recommending to kids?