Does your middle grade reader like contemporary realism? Kids ages 8-12, or 3rd to 7th grade will enjoy this list of middle grade realistic fiction book.
The wide variety of books tell funny, heartwarming, adventurous tales with diverse main characters and settings. You'll find mysteries, humor, sports stories, tales of friendship, and family sagas. In other words, something for everyone!
(Note: this post contains affiliate links that earn from qualifying purchases.)
Front Desk (series) by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang lives in a motel where her immigrant parents are the managers. Mia wants to be a writer but worries about her English skills. She takes over running the front desk of the motel and makes friends wherever she goes. She dreams of winning a writing contest so her parents can own their own hotel instead of working endlessly for little pay. Yang based the novel on her own experiences growing up in similar circumstances. A winning, funny and heartwarming novel; not to be missed. Ages 9 and up.
Charlie & Frog by Karen Kane
Charlie is residing with his TV-watching grandparents while his parents have set off (again!) to help save the world's rarest animals. Charlie feels ignored and abandoned. Then he meets Francine, aka Frog, who is a student at the local Castle School for the Deaf. The two becomes friends and set out to solve a mystery. I loved the quirky characters and the narrative weaves in loads of information about Deaf culture and etiquette. Ages 8 and up.
The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
I absolutely loved this book, and the story offers a particularly rich array of topics for discussion. Evan, who has an almost supernatural ability to sense when other people are lying, his sister and mother move to a small Virginia town from California. Evan's new class is in the middle of preparing for "Battlefield Day," a field day when students learn about the Civil War. Evan's research leads him to the discovery that Chinese-American soldiers fought in the war. While Evan becomes friends with Max, he also deals with a bully, Brady. But Max's intuition tells him the there is something deeper to Brady than just his outward meanness. Chapters tell the story from different viewpoints of people who live in the town. Ages 9 and up.
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
In her Pakistani village, Amal dreams of becoming a teacher one day, but an unfortunate event results in her being sent to live as an indentured servant in the household of the village's corrupt landlord. Amal is a strong protagonist who takes matters into her own hands. She is determined to achieve her goals, despite her circumstances. Ages 9 and up.
The Takeout by Tracy Badua
Mila has recently moved to a new town, where her father and his business partner operate a food truck that serves up a delicious fusion of Filipino and Indian food. A pair of celebrity chefs are planning to open up a new restaurant nearby and Mila is excited to meet them, until she tastes their food and realizes they stole their recipes from the food truck! She and her friend, Ajay, hatch a plan to prove the chefs are frauds and save the food truck. Ages 8 and up.
Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez
Four very different girls come together to work towards a goal. The Floras is a beauty pageant girls club which uses a crown made of bird feathers to crown the winner. Cat, Aster, Ofelia and Lane team up to get the Floras to stop using the crown. They hit some bumps along the way and form their own club, the Ostentation of Others and Outsiders. This is a wonderfully engaging story of friendship and justice. Ages 9 and up.
Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos
Ana María lives in a tiny New York apartment with her three sisters and another sibling on the way. Ana María is determined to win a scholarship to a private school but that means she will have to practice the piano as much as possible, which seems all but impossible, given the amount of chaos that is going on in her family! Ages 8 and up.
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen
This book is excellent for kids on the younger end of middle grade fiction. Mya has promised her friend Naomi that they will work together to earn VIP tickets to the Fall Festival, but then Mya gets paired for Spirt Week with Mean Connie! I loved the focus on all the different levels of friendship that develop (and sometimes devolve) throughout the book, and Mya is one likable, funny girl! Ages 8 and up.
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
Felix Knutsson lives in Canada with his single mother, but when his grandmother dies and Felix's mother can't keep things together they start living out of their van. Felix, who is bi-racial, has a knack for facts and makes it on to a popular quiz show. In the end, Felix and his mother find the help they need from friends and a refugee couple who understand their plight. Despite the themes of poverty, mental illness and parental inadequacy, Felix's narration is actually quite funny and this was an enjoyable book to read. Ages 9 and up.
A Duet for Home by Karen Yan Glaser
June, her mother, and younger sister move into a homeless shelter in the Bronx. Tyrell has been living in the same shelter for three years. He loves to listen to the neighbor play classical music and when he learns June has a viola that she is not allowed to play inside the shelter he convinces the neighbor to giver her lessons. Unfortunately, new housing policies are threatening to move families out of Huey House before they are ready, but June and Tyrell are hoping to find a way to stop that. The narrative voice alternates between June and Tyrell. Ages 9 and up.
Ghost (series) by Jason Reynolds
Ghost is the first book in a series of sports-themed novels. Castle Crenshaw, nicknamed "Ghost" because of his talent for running away, is drawn onto the local track team. Ghost, who lives with his hard-working single mother, isn't sure he fits in with the team. He's not the only one on the team that struggles, however, but with the help of supportive adults, the kids find their way. I enjoyed this book and appreciated the way Reynolds created complex individuals who struggle with difficult choices, even when they make the wrong decisions. Ages 9 and up.
Honey and Me by Meira Drazen
Best friends Milla and Honey will finally be attending the same school. Milla is very excited but the year gets off to a rocky start and Milla worries she and Honey are drifting apart. Each girl is busy preparing for her bat mitzvah as well as working on their speech for a school competition. Honey and Me is a classic coming of age story about friends who are going through all the familiar pangs of growing up and finding their own voice. Ages 8 and up.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (series) by Dana Alison Levy
This book made me laugh out loud. A family of 2 dads and 4 adopted sons (all together they san several ethnicities and religions) lead a rather disordered and hilarious lifestyle. The boys all have different personalities, which could lend themselves to stereotypes, but thankfully do not. After finishing this book I wanted to move right in to the Fletcher household, if only to try out their DIY hockey rink. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Funny middle grade books
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Sweet Pea's divorced parents live next door to each other in an effort to co-parent their daughter. While Sweet Pea's friendships are undergoing a transition, a neighbor asks her to look after her mail. The neighbor is an advice columnist and Sweet Pea can't resist answering a few of the letters. Understandably, she gets into a bit of a pickle! Funny and heartwarming. Ages 9 and up.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
After her parents' divorce, Candace and her mother move from Atlanta to spend the summer in South Carolina, where her grandmother used to live. Candace is lonely and misses Atlanta. She makes friends with Brandon, a shy neighbor and the two of them set out to solve a historical mystery involving Candace's grandmother. Along the way they uncover a history of racial tension in the small town and an intriguing story of identity and fortune. Ages 9 and up.
The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
Caleb and his brother, Bobby Gene, live in a small town. Caleb wants to get out and see the world, but their father insists everything they need is right where they live. But this summer, Caleb and Bobby Gene meet Styx Malone, a super cool teenager whose magnetic personality draws them in, and takes them on adventures. The three boys begin Styx's "Great Escalator Trade" in which they barter up a series of items in hopes of finally getting a moped. Most of the story takes place outdoors without phones or televisions, where relationships are paramount. Ages 9 and up.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
13-year-old Arturo works part-time in his family’s Cuban restaurant. But then a sketchy land developer, Pipo, wants to buy the lot next door and convince the city to let him develop a huge project with no room for the restaurant. Arturo, with the help of his friend Carmen, who he's starting to have feelings for, work to undermine Pipo’s plot. The plot is primarily focused on Arturo's journey to save the restaurant. Also available in Spanish. Ages 9 and up.
Mascot by Charles Waters & Traci Sorrell
Callie, who is African-American and a Cherokee citizen, is paired with classmate Franklin, who is Black, to work on an assignment that debates the “Pros and Cons of Indigenous Peoples as Mascots.” Callie is deeply disgusted by the school's racist mascot, but Franklin feels differently. The story is told from seven different perspectives, written in verse and free of judgement, allowing readers to consider all points. This would be an excellent book for use in a classroom. Ages 10 and up.
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
The boys in Mila's seventh grade class are harassing her, making unwanted comments and touching her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable. Some of her peers think she is overreacting, and Mila doesn't know what to do. With the help of a karate class and a new friend, she gains the confidence she needs to address the situation head on. Few children's books address the subject of sexual harassment, but most girls have experienced in one form or another. Maybe He Just Likes You should be required reading for both girls and boys. Ages 9 and up.
Soar by Joan Bauer
I loved this book. Jeremiah has a weak heart which keeps him on the sidelines. His adopted father moves a lot, and when they move to a new town with a demoralized baseball team embroiled in scandal, Jeremiah becomes the motivating coach they need to lift them up. Wonderful writing makes this a book for everyone, not just for baseball fans. Ages 9 and up.
The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi
Jason was born in America, but he learns that his single mother is in the country on an overstayed visa from Afghanistan. When he sees is mother being led away, he panics and an accident lands him in the hospital where he meets Max, a girl with epilepsy. The two team up to escape and find Jason's aunt, which takes them on a nail-biting journey around New York City. This is not just an engrossing story, it is an important one. Ages 9 and up.
We Still Belong by Christine Day
In this fantastic coming-of-age story, seventh grader, Wesley, is searching for a way to make her voice heard. She is a descendant of Upper Skagit tribal members but unable to enroll herself. She and her mother live with her grandfather, and at school she is hoping to go to the dance with her crush. When her poem about Indigenous People's day is rejected by her teacher, she experiences a wave of doubt, but her connection with family and friends support her journey toward finding her place in the community. Ages 9 and up.
Karma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Karmajeet Khullar is going to be starting middle school soon, but she is worried about the 17 new dark hairs on her upper lip. She is anxious to get help and advice from her best friend, but she has been acting so different lately and Karma feels lost. Karma's Indian father is learning how to be a stay at home dad, and her white mother is very busy with work. The book addresses themes of middle school friendships and bullying and I love how Karma's interfaith Sikh-Methodist household plays an integral role in her journey. Ages 9 and up.
Braced by Alyson Gerber
Braced is based on Gerber's own experience growing up with scoliosis. Seventh grader, Rachel, is an enthusiastic soccer player but this year her doctor tells her she must wear a corrective brace for her scoliosis for 23 hours a day. Understandably, she is devastated by this. Rachel's journey to acceptance of her condition is touching and relatable as she works through relationships with her classmates and mother. An excellent read. Ages 9 and up.
All of Me by Chris Baron
Written in verse, All of Me is the story of Ari, a Jewish boy struggling with body image. He is also preparing for his bar mitzvah and dealing with his parents' difficult relationship. Baron's book digs deep into Ari's frustrations, fears and negative self-image as he must come to terms with how he sees himself and his place in the world. Incredibly moving. Ages 9 and up.
Roll with It by Jamie Sumner
Ellie loves to bake! Her cerebral palsy means her mom is a bit overprotective, and that she has to spend more time than she would like with doctors. Ellie's grandfather has Alzheimer’s disease and so Ellie and her mom move in with her grandparents to help out. Starting a new school means Ellie finally finds some good friends and feels like she fits in somewhere. Roll With It is a marvelous book, tackling so many themes with good humor and likable characters. Ages 9 and up.
The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia
Aliya’s family is Muslim and Indian-American. Aliya, entering the beginning stages of adolescence, wonders about how to navigate being old enough to fast during Ramadan, if she wants to wear a headscarf, and what it might mean to draw attention to her identity as a Muslim. A new acquaintance from Morocco seems so secure in her choices to display the outward symbols of her faith. This is a great book to discuss the different ways families may practice the same religion. Ages 9 and up.
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. Ages 9 and up.
The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy
I adored this book about an Indian-American boy, Rahul Kapoor, who is trying to discover what he is best at and who he wants to be. He decides to try out for Mathletes and finds a welcome home, but struggles with an invitation to the Sadie Hawkins dance. This is an intensely engaging and funny story about a boy dealing with identity, OCD and anxiety. A must read! Ages 9 and up.
MORE: LGBTQ books for tweens
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla
I found myself giggling quite a bit while reading this book. Stanley Fortinbras (love that name!) struggles with anxiety and sensory processing disorder. He even sometimes faints–how embarrassing! However, he loves comics trivia and pushes back against his worries to join in a a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt with his quirky new neighbor. Trivia Quest takes the pair all over the town, and Stanley works hard to overcome his difficulties to win the day. Ages 8 and up.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington (series) by Janae Marks
I adored this book about Zoe, a 12-year-old girl who, after starting a correspondence with her incarcerated father, Marcus, sets out to prove his innocence. Zoe's mother always kept Zoe from having a relationship with her father, who was serving time for murder. One day, Zoe discovers a letter addressed to her from him and decides to write back. Zoe and her friend, Trevor, start to investigate Marcus' trial conviction, learning about systemic racism in the justice system. While the subject is certainly very serious, Janae Marks has written a marvelously accessible story with likable, nuanced characters. Ages 9 and up.
Don't forget to visit the index of all our book lists.