Looking for more great summer reading for your kids? Here are some wonderful middle grade books we’ve discovered this summer. And big bonus! They are all by diverse authors! Some address race and culture directly, while for others it is more part of the background. Either way, I can promise that your child will not want to put these books down, plus you will enjoy reading them yourself!
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Awesome Middle Grade Books by Diverse Authors
My son read New Kid four times before I was able to wrestle it away from him to read it myself. This graphic novel from award-winning author and illustrator Jerry Craft centers on a seventh grader just starting at a new school. Jordan finds himself at a prestigious private school where suddenly he is one of only a few students of color in his entire grade. This book brilliantly captures the ways that Jordan must learn to navigate his new school, dealing with both the wealth of most of his peers, and the many small ways that racism seeps into school culture. For example, he is often mistaken for other students of color, even if they are otherwise nothing alike – and teachers are often some of the worst offenders. Beyond just highlighting these microaggressions, the book shows – often through use of Jordan’s own artwork – how hurtful they can be. Highly readable book that manages to tackle the big issues in a nuanced way and still end on a high note.
I was already a big fan of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (see my full review), so I was excited to find Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, a new book from author Pablo Cartaya. Marcus Vega is often misunderstood. He’s big, he’s tall, and he already has the start of a mustache. So people assume that he is a bully, just like they assume because of his name that he speaks Spanish. But the truth is that Marcus barely remembers Spanish or his Puerto Rican father, who left years ago. The only time Marcus gets aggressive is when someone insults his younger brother, who has Down Syndrome. When just such an insult leads to a fight and a possible suspension from school, Marcus’s mother decides it’s time for a family vacation to Puerto Rico. To Marcus this means the chance to finally find his father, yet he ends up discovering much more, like the true meaning of family, and when it is time to let go of someone. He even learns a little bit of Spanish!
This book is incredibly funny and poignant, and its characters are wonderfully complex but very relatable at the same time. Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish is a beautiful tribute to Puerto Rico and its people. It is set before the Hurricane Maria, and Cartaya wrote that it is meant to honor the memory of the lives lost.
We are currently in the midst of reading The Last Last-Day-of-Summer. You couldn’t get more contemporary, as it is set in August 2019 – hopefully we’ll finish well before the story actually takes place! The legendary Alston cousins are just looking for one more adventure before school starts, when a mysterious stranger shows up to offer them a gift of a camera. Yet this gift has a sinister side, as it has the effect of freezing time! Now Otto and Sheed must find a way to save their town, before it’s too late! A great read for anyone who likes science fiction or adventure. I love having kids of color front and center in a genre where they are often overlooked. This isn’t a “gritty” urban drama about escaping poverty or gang life, it’s just a clever, funny story about some amazingly heroic kids – who are about to save their small town from extinction!
NewsPrints and its sequel EndGames follow the adventures of Blue, a newsboy with a big secret – he’s actually a newsgirl. Fearing rejection (and losing her job), Blue disguises herself as a boy, which also lets her have many more adventures than she would be allowed as a girl. Indeed, much of the plot of the book focuses on going deeper than the surface, as Blue discovers that many of those around her are hiding secrets, including her own government. In the midst of an ongoing war, Blue and her new friend Crow must learn to trust each other with their true identities in order to save themselves.
A great adventure story that challenges young readers not to judge by appearance but to find out the truth for themselves and trust their instincts, particularly when it comes to knowing whom to trust.