164 Chapter Books for Difficult Situations: #MGGetsReal

166 Chapter Books for Difficult Situations: #MGGetsReal

Please welcome my guest blogger today, Kerry Cerra. She’s the author of Just a Drop of Water (9/11 and Religious Intolerance), but she’s here today with author friends –Shannon Wiersbitzky of What Flowers Remember (Alzheimer’s),Kathleen Burkinshaw of The Last Cherry Blossom (Hiroshima), Joyce Moyer Hostetter of Comfort (War Trauma), and Shannon Hitchcock of Ruby Lee & Me (School Integration) — to create a comprehensive list of realistic fiction for middle grade (ages 9 and up).

This list of 165 chapter books covers a plethora of topics. Let me know if you need a category that isn’t listed. I hope you find this list as useful and I do!

  • Chapter Books with Abandonment
  • Chapter Books with Verbal or Physical Abuse
  • Chapter Books with ADD/ADHD
  • Chapter Books with Adoption/Foster Care
  • Chapter Books with Substance Abuse
  • Chapter Books with Alzheimer’s/Dementia
  • Chapter Books Covering Anxiety
  • Chapter Books with Autism/Asperger’s
  • Chapter Books with Blended Families
  • Chapter Books with Body Image Issues
  • Chapter Books with Bullying
  • Chapter Books with Civil Rights/Integration
  • Books for Tweens with Deaf/Hearing Loss
  • Chapter Books with Death of a Parent/Grandparent
  • Chapter Books with Death of a Sibling
  • Chapter Books with Depression and Mental Illness
  • Chapter Books with Discrimination & Prejudices (religious, ethnic, etc.)
  • Chapter Books with Divorce
  • Chapter Books with Dyslexia
  • Diverse Chapter Books
  • Chapter Books with Eyesight/Blindness
  • Feeling like You’re a Bad Friend Chapter Books
  • Chapter Books About Following Your Dreams Despite Odds
  • Chapter Books with Gifted Characters
  • Chapter Books on Homelessness
  • Chapter Books Dealing with Illness
  • Chapter Books on Immigration
  • Books with LGBTQ
  • Chapter Books with Physical Disability/Disfiguration
  • Chapter Books with Self-Doubt
  • Chapter Books with Stepfamilies
  • Chapter Books with Suicide
  • Chapter Books with Survivor’s Guilt
  • Chapter Books About Wanting to Fit In
  • Chapter Books with War Trauma


Hands down my favorite thing about visiting schools as an author is the ability to recommend books to readers. Of course I speak about my own novel, but I always bring others with me. Lots of them. Why? Because I wholeheartedly believe it’s important for kids to be able see themselves in a story, and I know my book may not be that book for everyone. So I’m thrilled to be part of an exciting campaign, #MGGetsReal, with four other awesome authors. Our goal is simple: to highlight books which kids can relate to on a personal level—so they don’t feel so alone, afraid, or different.

All most of us have to do is remember back to our pre-teen years to know that kids long to feel one with the masses. To be accepted. To fit in. The recent video of a young girl, Emma, from Texas who wears a prosthetic leg is proof of this. With videotape rolling, Emma’s excitement is palpable as she realizes she’s getting an amazing gift, an American Girl doll. And lucky for myself and the millions (yes, millions) of viewers who have now seen the footage, we witness Emma’s genuine happy-shock reaction when she opens the box to discover that the doll is actually sporting a prosthetic leg just like her own. Seriously? Can you imagine anything better for this girl? Go ahead and view it here, but be careful, for Emma’s tears are infectious!

My own middle-grade novel, Just a Drop of Water, is the story of two thirteen-year-old boys—one Christian, one Muslim—and how their friendship is tested in the wake of September 11, 2001. It has strong themes of friendship, loyalty, bullying, and peace. Every so often at a school visit, I’ll encounter a Muslim student who pulls me aside to say how much the book, particularly the character of Sam, resonates with them and to thank me for writing it.

A handful of times, I’ve had kids tell me they are like the main character Jake. They too only see the world in black and white. With no gray. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. They are Jake! And like Jake, they sometimes get in trouble for it. I feel like the luckiest author in the world when I get to have these important discussions with them about how it’s okay to stand up for what you believe in, but to do so peacefully. And to know that sometimes my book is one that a kid connects to in such a personal way, well, it’s singlehandedly the reason why I write!

But the reasons I read? There are many, with the two biggest being 1. I love learning about people who are different from me. 2. There’s nothing better than discovering that one book (or more if you’re super lucky) in which you finally feel there’s a character out there who is exactly like you. For pre-teens and teens, it’s cool to discover a character that makes them feel normal in the ever-tough landscape of puberty, pimples, and all the awkwardness that comes with teenagerhood.

The second reason is why I’m writing this post. I was diagnosed with a hearing loss at age 16. While my life was still technically okay, it would have been comforting to read about a kid dealing with the same feelings I suddenly had. It would have been nice to feel less alone as I tackled my new challenge. But that book didn’t come until I was 42 years old and the lovely CeCe Bell published El Deafo. No lie, I must have screamed, “Yes!” out loud fifty times. I’d say the only difference between the character of Cece in El Deafo and my teenage self is that Cece is confident. She makes having a hearing problem borderline cool. I mean, she sees herself as a superhero, for crying out loud.

This book showed me that so much of how we handle our own personal challenges comes down to perspective, and I wonder if I’d had El Deafo to read in my teens—when I was struggling to come to terms with my loss and my identity—if I may have ended up being more confident as a human being. Instead, I closed myself off from friends and never, ever told anyone that I couldn’t hear. As a result, many people thought I was a complete snob—one that could rival any of the chicks in Mean Girls. So I feel strongly that we, as caring adults, should do everything we can to help children navigate the challenges of teenagerhood, help them discover books they can relate to during this pivotal time in their lives. It can be a total game-changer.

Because of this, I will forever champion books that highlight diverse characters in not-so-common situations. The awesome campaign #MGGetsReal is one that I’ve wrapped my heart around. Our team of authors—each who write for the middle-grade market—are determined to help kids discover stories in which they can see themselves. It’s a beautiful thing. Kids are beautiful things. Let’s help them discover important books.


Here are some book recommendations to get kids started:

#MGGetsReal campaign books

1. Ruby Lee & Me by Shannon Hitchcock

Growing up can be tough, but it’s even tougher when you feel responsible for a terrible accident and are at odds with your best friend because in a moment of rage you called her something really terrible. Tensions are thick in this small North Carolina town as Sarah Beth and her best friend Ruby Lee navigate what it means to forgive, all while people are talking about the first African American teacher that is coming to the school. With a rich setting and lovable characters, this book is a heart-warmer.

2. What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky

One day Old Red is training Delia as his flower apprentice, and the next he can hardly remember her. As heartbroken as Delia is when Old Red’s memory starts to slip, she turns her sadness into a town-wide effort to preserve Old Red’s best memories in a notebook, so he can pull one out at any time—to remember. This is a beautiful story of a girl on a mission to help her best pal regain the moments from his life that meant so much. Though a flower may wilt and die, its seeds have the power to live on.

3. The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Based on a true story of the author’s mother, this book is beautifully crafted, giving us a glimpse into the life of twelve-year-old Yuriko. Things are changing fast, both in her own family as long-hidden secrets emerge, and with neighbors sent off to fight in WWII never to return. When the atomic bomb lands on Yuriko’s town of Hiroshima, we live the fear and devastation through the eyes of this young girl whose world will never be the same again. A necessary glimpse into the destruction of innocent people in a time of war.

4. Comfort by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Ann Fay finally feels like a normal kid when she’s invited to live among other polio victims at a facility in Warm Springs, Georgia. But she must also come to terms with the fact that her daddy is suffering from war trauma and things at home may never be the same again. This story is exquisitely told, with both beautiful language and heartfelt revelations.

5. Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra

Chapter Books for Difficult Situations: #MGGetsReal

I love it even more when a kid finally discovers the book that was written specifically for them. I hope you’ll join me in this challenge to help them find those books. To get started, here’s a short list I’ve compiled by topic. **Note: Most of the titles below could fit into multiple categories on this list.

Chapter Books with Abandonment

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Empty Places by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown

Billy Creekmore by Tracey Porter

Chapter Books with Verbal or Physical Abuse 

Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olsen

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Catch Rider by Jennifer H. Lyne

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

We Want You to Know (Nonfiction) by Deborah Ellis

True (…Sort Of) by Katherine Hannigan

Chapter Books with ADD/ADHD

This is Not the Abby Show by Debbie Reed Fischer

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet

Cory Stories by Jeanne Kraus

Chapter Books with Adoption/Foster Care**

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Greenglass House by Kate Millford

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

Chapter Books with Substance Abuse

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor

Moon Pie by Simon Mason

Chapter Books with Alzheimer’s/Dementia

What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Trudy by Jessica Lee Anderson

Chapter Books Covering Anxiety

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The World From Up Here by Cecelia Galante

The Liberation of Gabriel King by KL Going

The It Girl by Katy Birchall

Chapter Books with Autism/Asperger’s

 The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Chapter Books with Blended Families

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

My So Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel

Chapter Books with Body Image Issues

The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

N.E.R.D.S. series by Michael Buckley

Fat Camp Commandos by Daniel Pinkwater

Slob by Ellen Potter

Chapter Books with Bullying

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss

Chapter Books with Civil Rights/Integration

Ruby Lee & Me by Shannon Hitchock

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

Yankee Girl by Mary Ann Rodman

Books for Tweens with Deaf/Hearing Loss

Waiting for a Sign by Esty Schachter

El Deafo by CeCe Bell

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

Deaf Child Crossing by Marlee Matlin

Chapter Books with Death of a Parent/Grandparent

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays

Genuine Sweet by Faith Harkey

The Haunted House Project by Tricia Clasen

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Wild Things by Clay Carmichael

Chapter Books with Death of a Sibling

The Only Game by Mike Lupica

After Eli by Rebecca Rupp

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry

Chapter Books with Depression and Mental Illness

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Watch the Sky by Kristen Hubbard

Footer Davis Probably is Crazy by Susan Vaught

Chapter Books with Discrimination & Prejudices (religious, ethnic, etc.)

Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari

The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista VanDolzer

The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier

Something About America by Maria Testa

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung

Chapter Books with Divorce

Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

So Totally Emily Ebers by Lisa Yee

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

Chapter Books with Dyslexia

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

May B by Caroline Starr Rose

The Hank Zipper series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Diverse Chapter Books

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

The Warriors by Joseph Bruchac

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

The Year of the Dog series by Grace Lin

Chapter Books with Eyesight/Blindness

A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

Feeling like You’re a Bad Friend Chapter Books 

Extraordinary by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

Chapter Books About Following Your Dreams Despite Odds

I am Drums by Mike Grosso

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl by Shannon Hitchock

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Chapter Books with Gifted Characters

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Solving Zoe by Barbara Dee

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder

Chapter Books on Homelessness

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor

Homecoming by Cynthia Voight

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Chapter Books Dealing with Illness

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson

Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Out of Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Chapter Books on Immigration

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

A Step from Heaven by An Na

Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer

Books with LGBTQ

Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Gracefully, Grayson by Ami Polonski

George by Alex Gino

Chapter Books with Physical Disability/Disfiguration

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Fire Girl by Tony Abbott

Chapter Books with Self-Doubt

The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone

The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Chapter Books with Stepfamilies

A Smidgen of Sky by Dianna Dorisi Winget

The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne

Two Naomi’s by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Lexie by Audrey Couloumbis

Chapter Books with Suicide

My Brother’s Shadow by Tom Avery

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart

Wish Girl by Nikki Lofton

Chapter Books with Survivor’s Guilt

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Chapter Books About Wanting to Fit In

The Normal Kid by Elizabeth Holmes

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Chapter Books with War Trauma

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Comfort by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

There are many, many more books and I personally challenge you to find a book in which you can fully see yourself. If you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #Ifoundme to let us know. And if you want to spread word about our campaign to help kids find books on real topics, use the hashtag #MGGetsReal. I’d love for you to add more books to my list down in the comment section or over on my own blog.

Happy discovering, everyone!

From left to right: Shannon Wierbitzky, Shannon Hitchock, Joyce Moyer Hosteter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Kerry O’Malley Cerra.

#MGGetsReal are:

  • Shannon Wiersbitzky—WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER (Alzheimer’s)
  • Kathleen Burkinshaw – THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, (Hiroshima)
  • Joyce Moyer Hostetter—COMFORT, (War Trauma)
  • Kerry O’Malley Cerra—JUST A DROP OF WATER, (9/11 and Religious Intolerance)
  • Shannon Hitchcock—RUBY LEE & ME, (School Integration)


p.s. This is from Mia at PragmaticMom

* I personally love Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech for the category of adoption/foster care.

 To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

164 Chapter Books for Difficult Situations: #MGGetsReal

I am an Amazon affiliate which means if you buy anything through my blog, I get a very small kickback at no cost to you. I use this money to pay for postage and handling for my giveaways.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Renee Alam

    Wowzers! I love this list! I would’ve never known what each book focused on without this list so now I can write them down for my older daughters to read….and myself,when I get a chance to read. 😉 This type of list needs to be at school libraries everywhere so kids know what to look for.

  2. Robyn Johnson

    I saw your list and was surprised to see Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen listed under verbal and physical abuse so I went and pulled it from my library shelf. I just finished rereading it and cannot figure out how you decided to place it in your list. There is no abuse in this book.

    • Hi Robyn,
      I agree with you. There’s the father slapping the daughter across the face at the end of the book and being an awful person in general which is why it made the list. I had put an annotation next to it as well that it wasn’t high on the abuse list but I liked the book so much — I just finished reading it with my son — and I couldn’t find another slot of it, so I just kept it there. It’s not my list, of course, but I didn’t want to remove the book altogether. Do you think it fits another slot on this list? I’ll move it.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…166 Chapter Books for Difficult Situations: #MGGetsRealMy Profile

      • Robyn Johnson

        Possibly in the wanting-to-fit-in category. A smaller possibility for the prejudiced category. The notion that a child being slapped once (because it is obvious neither Bryce nor Lynette are struck by their father daily) is tantamount to abuse really lessens the reality that some children are living through.
        People make mistakes. Dad made a mistake. He had a knee jerk reaction to being called out. We don’t get to see if he apologized to his daughter. Maybe he didn’t. But this isn’t a story about abuse. (I know you said it isn’t your list.) It’s a story about self-realization.

  3. Have read and reviewed some of what you’ve listed, and am currently reading/reviewing some of the books you mentioned. Fabulous list for parents. Love how you broke down the categories.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia LiuMy Profile

  4. As the mother of a middle-grader adopted from foster care, I’m grateful for this list, and thank you for including my own novel, Avenging the Owl!

  5. What an incredible book list!
    MaryAnne recently posted…How Cardboard Boxes Will Make You More CreativeMy Profile

  6. This is a list to print out and hand round libraries!
    Marjorie (MWD) recently posted…IBBY Review: Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale, Alexandra Strick and Ros AsquithMy Profile

    • Hi Marjorie,
      Yes! And to give to tweens who seek this kind of realistic fiction out. My middle daughter, now 14, likes these kinds of books and while she has gravitates to dystopian YA, this list will pull her back to MG! She just asked to read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day when I’m done with it. She’ll love it too!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Cover Reveal: THE NIAN MONSTERMy Profile

  7. This is an amazing collection. I appreciate the category groupings. I’ve read several of these gems already but you’ve includede many additional ones for me to enjoy and share.
    Gayle H Swift recently posted…Boxes: Springboard Creativity and ConnectionMy Profile

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