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.
From left to right: Shannon Wierbitzky, Shannon Hitchock, Joyce Moyer Hosteter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Kerry O’Malley Cerra.
- 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.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
19 thoughts on “166 Chapter Books for Difficult Situations: #MGGetsReal”
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.
I’m so glad you find this list useful too Renee! I wish I had it a few years ago for my middle daughter who loved reading these type of realistic fiction middle grade books.
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.
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.
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.
I’ll move it right now to the Wanting-To-Fit-In category. Thanks so much for your help!!!
Thanks so much! I just moved Flipped and that’s a perfect spot for it. I feel better now!
Thanks Robyn. I just switched it and it feels much better! Whew!
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.
Feel free to add your additions in the comment section! They made such a useful list! I can’t take credit for any of it.
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!
Thank you so much for your kind note Melissa! It’s so nice to meet you! I’m grateful for this great list too!
It’s such a great list! I’m glad Foster Care has it’s own category.
What an incredible book list!
This will keep a kid reading for a long time! Especially kids who like realistic fiction like my middle daughter!
This is a list to print out and hand round libraries!
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!
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.
Thanks so much for your support Gayle. This is such a great list but I can’t take credit for any of it.