Diverse books for middle school readers

Diverse Books for students

After blogging about why we need diverse books in an earlier post, I’m back with my current top 10 list of books for middle school audiences. I’m defining diversity broadly, with books written by and about authors and characters who may feature any of the following: people of color, differently abled or LGBTQI. I’m also defining middle school as students who are enrolled in grades 6-8, with a reading level that matches those grades. This list is meant only as an introduction to diverse texts, but should in no way be considered adequate for reading widely and wisely. Instead, this should be enough to get you started. I encourage you to speak to your teachers, local librarians and booksellers for more. Happy reading!

  1. El Deafo by CeCe Bell; this Newbery Honor Book of 2015 is a graphic novel about a girl who has a hearing challenge and how she comes to be defined for her own awesomeness rather than for her disability. Check out these videos of CeCe Bell talking about growing up with her hearing challenges here.
  2. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; another award winner! This book, told in a combination of poems and prose, won the Newbery Medal (the biggest award an author can win) and was a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. If you love basketball, your family and beautiful writing, this is your book.
  3. The Rainbow Serpent and An Army of Frogs by Trevor Pryce; this fantasy series involves some pretty fantastic amphibians who are battling for the good of their worlds. Lots of great illustrations throughout move the action along. Trevor Pryce is a former NFL player, by the way.
  4. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky; Grayson is in middle school, an orphan living with his aunt and uncle, and trying to make everyone around him know what he knows to be true: he is a girl inside a boy’s body. This moving exploration of a tween is a moving, lovely exploration of a young person on the gender identity spectrum, as well as what it means to be an upstander. Perfect for middle school students who often struggle to speak up and be supportive, too.
  5. The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (note: Cynthia is Japanese; the Asian diaspora is large–I encourage you to use this text as a starting point as you do more reading from different authors); National Book Award winner here! 12-year-old Summer has to help her grandparents once her parents are called away. During that time, she struggles with getting along with them and her younger brother (something that Kadohata writes about superbly in this book and in her other books).
  6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award Winner. This book is written in poetry and details Woodson’s coming-of-age in the South and in New York. I love every single thing Woodson has written and think this is her best work yet. Savor it slowly.
  7. Dreaming in Indian: Native American Voices by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale (eds.); This anthology of Native American youth provides a varied, multi-textured collection of perspectives. Helping to confront stereotypes will encouraging us to think about history and the ties that connect us all, this is an important book for young people.
  8. Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices by Mitali Perkins (editor); growing up is hard. When you share more than one culture, navigating the space between can be challenging. Luckily, this collection of stories offers humor, honesty and humanity as young people figure it out.
  9. The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkey; While listening or reading stories about Darfur, it is easy to forget the children who are impacted by war. In this novel, written in verse, 12-year-old Amira is a powerful, hopeful voice about literacy and memory.
  10. The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis; CPC is one of my eternal favorites because he writes about history and often uses humor to help us think about difficult times. In this sequel to Elijah of Buxton, Curtis centers two unlikely friends–one of African descent and one of Irish descent–in an adventure to find the source of a mystery.

Note: Books are not listed in any particular order. Full disclosure: these are books I’m either in the process of reading or have on my To Read list.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Can you recommend more? Leave them in the comments below. Up next: Diverse Books for High School Readers.

Want to learn more?

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Pragmatic Mom’s Best Asian American Children’s Literature

Lambda Literary Awards for Children’s and Young Adult LGBTQI Literature

The Brown Bookshelf, African American Children’s and Young Adult Literature