You don’t need to have a tween who loves the spotlight in order for them to love these middle grade books about theater! Even if your children would rather be in the audience than up on the stage, they will get sucked into the comedy and drama of stories about kids who yearn to perform or get involved in backstage antics.
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Books for Tweens about the Theater
I recommend these middle grade books for theater kids ages 8/9 and up.
Surviving the Applewhites
by Stephanie S. Tolan
Jake has gotten kicked out of his last school and is now living with the eccentric, artistic, homeschooling Applewhite family. The father is directing a local production of “The Sound of Music” and no one is more surprised than Jake when he discovers he loves performing. I loved the quirky characters and the boundless energy of this book. When the family has to pull together to get the show up after they are blackballed by a local stage mom, the results are hilariously successful. I really enjoy how the story reinforces the necessity of cooperation when putting on a play and also recommend it as a terrific read aloud.
Better Nate Than Ever
by Tim Federle
13-year-old Nate’s snappy narrative about his adventure in New York City auditioning for E.T. The Musical (yes, you read that right) is marvelous and incredibly funny. The scene in which Nate reads the “sides” during his audition had me laughing so hard I could barely see the words through my tears. The two sequels are just as hilarious as the original.
by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Shirli loves acting and singing. She gets a part in the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, and even though it is not the role she wanted, she throws herself into it. Shirli regularly visits her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. One day, Shirli finds a violin in his attic, which she thinks is odd, as she understands her grandfather never wants to listen music. Slowly, Shirli learns her grandfather’s dark story, and when the musical production loses its director, Shirli’s grandfather takes up his violin once again. The action of this story takes place in the wake of 9/11 and the characters reflect upon the current state of racial and religious prejudice in their community.
A Star Is Born
by Walter Dean Myers
This is book three in award winning author Walter Dean Myers’ The Cruisers series. The Cruisers are a group of middle schoolers who write a newspaper at their school for gifted kids in Harlem. LaShonda gets a chance to receive a scholarship for her work on costumes but it conflicts with her need to take care of her autistic brother. The heart of the book is the way the group of friends come together to help LaShonda. Myers tackles some important subjects about disadvantaged kids, poverty, and tolerance. Interspersed between the chapters are pieces that the kids write for their newspaper.
The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: The Show Must Go On
by Ruth McNally Barshaw
The Ellie books are written in the same highly illustrated format as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Ellie is the stage manager and if you have never worked in the theater, the stage manager is the most under-appreciated job! If you do work in the theater, you know how crucial a good SM is. Ellie has to navigate the pressure of being blamed for everything that goes wrong as well as having to figure out how to fix everything. This is a fun installment in a series which is perfect for so-called “reluctant readers.”
Summer in the City
by Fracaswell Hyman
12-year-old Mango Delight (it’s a little ridiculous how much I love her name) gets the chance to star in a way-off-Broadway musical in New York City. In the first Mango Delight book (which I guess I should have read, but somehow missed that this was a series!), Mango starred in the school play, but an encounter with her drama teacher has her headed off to the big city to deal with all the craziness of professional actors! Hyman’s writing grounds Mango in the real world as her dad tries to make a go of his catering company and her mom works retail while coping with her prosthetic leg. Lots of fun!
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
I loved this book! Julia is short for her age and one summer she lands a role in a local production of The Wizard of Oz. While playing the part of a munchkin, she befriends several adults with dwarfism as well as her artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, who just happens to be a whiz at costuming. Through her new friendships and performing experience, Julia’s world bursts wide open.
Romeo and Juliet Together (And Alive!) at Last
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Don’t tell me you never wished Romeo and Juliet would have a happy ending. Well, here’s your chance. 8th grader, Ed, narrates this quirky story about how he and is friends arrange a school production of the famous tragedy in order to bring two shy friends together. Avi is a stellar storyteller, bringing much humor to this tale. Whatever can go wrong on stage does, and hilariously so. It’s not just a story about putting on a play, however, it’s also a charming story about friendship. It’s a short novel, making it a good choice for older kids (the protagonists are 8th graders) who may balk at long books.
by Raina Telgemeier
This tale is by one of the best loved graphic novelist. Callie wants to be in her school’s latest production but she doesn’t think she can sing so instead she helps out as the set designer and is determined to create a Broadway-worthy show. The “drama” of the book’s title could easily refer to the friendship and romantic entanglements of the middle school crew (when is middle school not melodramatic?) as well what happens on the stage.
by Noel Streatfeild
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What can I say about the awesomeness of Noel Streatfeild? You are likely familiar with her most famous title, Ballet Shoes. Well, the now grown-up stars of Ballet Shoes give drama school scholarships to three promising orphans with a stellar theater pedigree. The Fossil sisters from Ballet Shoes remain in the background as these new children attend Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training in London during World War II.
William’s Midsummer Dreams
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
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Set in the 1930s, this is the sequel to William S. and the Great Escape. You may recognize Snyder as the author of the 1960s book, The Egypt Game. 13-year-old William is living with his Aunt Flora. He auditions for, and gets the role of Puck in Shakespeare’s Midsummer, but in doing so he makes an enemy of the son of dean of the performing arts school. William must deal with a lot of complicated family relationship issues, but the descriptions of his experience coping with stage fright and learning his part ring true.
All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts
by Gretchen Woelfle
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Here’s a fun historical novel in which the great Shakespeare himself plays a role! Twelve-year-old Kit gets caught pickpocketing in the audience during a performance and instead of sending him off to prison, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men decide he will work for them instead. During the course of his employment, Kit becomes enamored with theater life and when the company is threatened with eviction, Kit helps them steal the theater (you will have to read it to see what I mean!) to build The Globe. Lots of fun, especially for Shakespeare fans. This would be great to read in conjunction with learning about The Bard.
by Sharon Creech
Leo the dreamer is the middle child in a large Italian family. One day he finds his father’s diary in the attic. In the diary he learns that as a young teen, his father also dreamed of being a performer. Leo gets a part in a school production and the threads of family life and stage life intertwine throughout the book. The text is crafted around short vignettes. Some of the action is also written out in play script form and the script of the school play is included at the end of the novel, adding another layer of insight to Leo’s character growth. I loved the rehearsal scenes and the description of the acting exercises. The combination of Leo’s excitement and nerves during the performance was spot on.
by Barbara Dee
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In this book, eighth grader Mattie is playing Romeo in the class production of Shakespeare’s classic. During rehearsals she starts to have more-than-friends feelings for her co-star, Gemma. Mattie is confused because just recently she had a crush on a boy. There’s drama on and off stage, of course but in general, this is a positive representation of a pre-teen learning about her own romantic leanings.
The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
Holling Hoodhood always seems to be getting into scrapes, but his father seems to be mostly concerned with how Holling’s antics affects his business reputation. On Wednesday afternoons, most of his classmates head off to Catholic of Jewish religious education classes. However, the Hoodhoods are Presbyterian so Holling stays behind at school where his teacher introduces him to Shakespeare. Holling’s antics at school, his involvement in a Shakespeare production and the general mayhem he creates wherever he goes make for lots of laughs from a master storyteller.
The Swish of the Curtain
by Pamela Brown
I’m including this 1940s children’s book as a bit of an in-house favorite since the plot revolves around the theater. Written when the author was only 14 (!), the book follows the adventures of seven children as they produce and perform in their own stage company. If your children have read and enjoyed Noel Streatfield’s Shoes books, this book should be next on the list.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
by Jessica Kim
Yumi Chung’s family owns a Korean restaurant but times are tough and the only way Yumi can continue her enrollment at her private school is to earn a scholarship. Her parents sign her up with a tutor but Yumi longs to hone her stand-up comedy. When an identity mix up lands Yumi in comedy camp, she gets twisted up in a pretzel of deception (yes, I made that terrible metaphor up myself). This a an entertaining story of a girl learning to speak up for herself, engaging in creative problem solving and figuring out exactly what she wants. Highly recommended!
by Brian Selznick
The first 400 (!) pages of this book tells the tale of multi-generational theater family in gorgeous black and white illustrations. The second half is written as a traditional novel. (This two-part format is Selznick’s signature style.) Young Joseph runs away from a boarding school in search of his uncle, Albert. Albert lives alone in London, in a house that is full of questions and mysteries. The story touches on the loss of Albert’s former love due to AIDS but the heart of the story is a 400 year old family saga. Selznick masterfully weaves connections to the visual half of the book as well as puzzling clues, twists and turns.
More entertaining books for tweens: