Books have a unique ability to show us the lives of others and open our eyes to experiences very different than our own. However, if the images and narratives in children's books portray only the dominate culture, they serve to sideline diverse voices.
Instead we must search out anti-bias books and do the important work of offering our children books that speak about the experiences of a variety of cultures, races, economic classes, gender identities, and disabilities.
This selection of middle grade anti-bias novels for ages 9 and up portray a wide range of voices. On this list you'll find stories about living with a disability, being part of a loving, non-traditional family, how it feels to have undocumented parents, what it means to be a person of color in a society built on systemic racism, and more. I hope you'll also take the time to use these stories to have meaningful conversations about their own experiences and how they can be a force for change.
Pair this list with our list of picture books to foster inclusion and an anti-bias attitude. This isn't a comprehensive list; you will find links to more lists throughout this post. For a great article on selecting anti-bias children's books, check out Teaching for Change.
Note: this post contains affiliate links that may earn commission.
I advocate supporting your local library, but if you purchase books online you can still support your local, independent bookseller if you shop through Bookshop. For your convenience, I curated this anti-bias middle grade book list on Bookshop here.
Anti-Bias Books for Ages 9 and Up
I considered dividing the following anti-bias middle grade books by category but found there was too much cross-over. As in real life, no person fits neatly into a single identity. Happy reading!
Martin McLean Middle School Queen
by Alyssa Zaczek
Seventh grader, Martin McLean, is trying to figure out where he fits in. He loves being on the Mathletes team and he embraces his mixed race, Afro-Cuban and white, identity. He's particularly close with his Tío Billy, who supports Martin's desire to enter a drag queen contest. Now that Martin has found a way to express himself he wants to figure out a way to tell his friends. This is a wonderful, readable story which presents diverse racial, cultural and gender identities in a positive light.
The Usual Suspects
by Maurice Broaddus
Broaddus' tale of false accusation and the tragic way Black boys are unjustly blamed is an important read. Thelonious, the 7th-grade narrator, and his friend Nehemiah are the pranksters of their class. When a gun is found near the school, the administration is quick to suspect the kids in the Special Education classroom, where Thelonious learns. So, Thelonious and Nehemiah set out to determine the origin of the gun. Thelonious' insightful narration about the way he and his friends are treated by schools and society is poignant and hilarious in turns.
Orange for the Sunsets
by Tina Athaide
1972 Uganda is not the typical setting for a children's novel, and yet, readers will draw many parallels between the shocking events in which the Ugandan government expelled ethnic Indians from the country and present-day xenophobic tensions and arguments over national borders. The narration, which alternates between two friends–Indian Asha and Ungandan Yesofu–explores the nature of loyalty, nationality and allows the reader to view the country's chaos through two different lenses. Powerful and moving.
Planet Earth is Blue
by Nicole Panteleakos
Twelve-year-old, Nova, who is autistic and mostly non-verbal narrates her own story in this emotionally moving story. Separated from her big sister, Bridget, she now lives with new foster parents. Nova longs for Bridget, but believes in her sister's promise that she will return in time to watch the launch of the Challenger. Beautifully written, with humor and heart, this book will not soon fade from your memory.
The Only Black Girls in Town
by Brandy Colbert
This was a great book! Alberta and her two dads are one of the few Black families living in their coastal California town and they are delighted to learn that the new owners of the B&B across the street are also Black. Alberta quickly befriends fellow 7th-grader Edie, despite their fashion differences. Meanwhile, Alberta's white best friend, Laramie, appears to be drifting towards the mean girl, causing tension in their relationship. When Alberta and Edie set out to solve the mystery lurking between the pages of a stack of journals from the 1950s and 60s they find in the attic, they uncover a secret life. Colbert expertly creates a story about pre-teen girls, friends, school life as well as how racism plays a part in their daily lives. Marvelous.
To Night Owl From Dogfish
by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
This page-turner is an epistolary novel. Avery and Bett's fathers are sending them to the same summer camp in hopes that they will become friends. The dads are dating and thinking about getting married. At first, Avery and Bett are determined to dislike each other, but instead end up the best of friends. The book deals with the meaning of friendship and family. Avery and Bett discuss their origin stories, so readers hear about blended families, adoption, surrogates and learn that families come in all combinations. I absolutely adored this book and even though it ends with a wedding, its not the one you were expecting!
Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
by Irene Latham and Charles Waters
Poems in two voices tell the story of a white girl and a black boy becoming friends at school while working on a class poetry project. The poems (written by a white woman and a black man) dive into topics of race, family life, friendship and school experiences in a very accessible way. The illustrations are a great accompaniment. I really loved this collection and highly recommend it for ages 8 and up.
by Torrey Maldonado
I really enjoyed Maldonado's previous book, Tight, and What Lane? lives up to its predecessor. Stephen is mixed race but he knows the world sees him as Black. He is becoming more and more aware of how his is treated differently than his white best friend, Dan. Stephen increasingly wonders if he should be friends only with black and brown kids. In this short novel, Maldonado reaches out and grabs the reader, drawing them into to Stephen's personal journey which plays out against the background of larger social movements.
by Ernesto Cisneros
12-year-old Efrén loves to watch his Ama make milagras for him and his twin siblings every morning. It seems like she is always making a miracle breakfast out of nothing. After his Ama is deported in a surprise raid, Efrén must look after the household, including his sibling who has a cognitive disability, while his Apa works hard to earn the money needed to bring Ama back to the family. Efrén's secret almost costs him his best friend, a white boy who lives with his grandmother, as well as his academic success. Readers will empathize with the struggles of living with immigration difficulties and the emotional chaos of being forcibly separated from a parent.
Show Me A Sign
by Ann Clare Lezotte
I cannot recommend this book enough! I absolutely loved this historical novel set on Martha's Vineyard in the early 19th century. Lezotte, who is herself deaf, has written a fiercely strong heroine, Mary Lambert, who lives in community where everyone speaks sign language and a quarter of the population is deaf. One day, a young man arrives in the village hoping to research the reason for the high rate of deafness. Mary narrates the story and her observations of the interactions between the English, Black, Irish, and Wampanoag peoples, as well as on racism, prejudice and ableism are perceptive and thought-provoking. The author's endnote gives historical background on the town of Chilmark and Martha's Vineyard are fascinating.
Other Words for Home
by Jasmine Warga
This free-verse novel begins in Syria around the start of the Arab Spring. Jude and her pregnant mother decide to emigrate to live with her uncle in America. Her older brother, caught up in the protests against the government, stays behind with their father. In America, Jude meets new friends and discovers an interest in theater. With unflinching honesty and a keen perception, Jude describes the transition from Syria to her experiences adjusting to living in America. A splendid book.
This is Just a Test
by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
I loved this book. It's the early 1980s and David is prepping for his bar mitzvah. His two grandmothers, one Jewish and one Chinese, are not making things easy for him with their constant bickering over whether David's Jewish or Chinese heritage should take precedence. On top of that, David and his friend are secretly building a fallout shelter, inspired by the movie, The Day After. Kids will love the humor, David's character and the 1980s setting adds an interesting layer without becoming too remote for a contemporary audience.
I Can Make this Promise
by Christine Day
This was a terrific read! Edie lives in a loving family, but she knows her mother doesn't like to talk much about her own ancestry. Her mother, of mixed Native American heritage, was adopted by white parents. One day, Edie discovers a box of letters signed "Edith" and wonders who her mysterious namesake is. The story follows Edie's journey as she learns the truth and reconnects with her Suquamish/Duwamish heritage. I can't recommend this book enough! Be sure to talk with your kids about how important it is to read stories which counteract the harmful stereotypes of American Indians that are too often taught in school.
Even more books to promote and anti-bias viewpoint: