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15 Amazing Middle Grade Books to Read for Empathy

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Nothing Ever Happens HereNothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Haggar Holt

Izzy thinks she’s got a pretty normal, boring family. That is until her father announces that he’s transitioning into a woman. Izzy’s sister is appalled, the town seems to turn against them, and she starts to receive horrible bullying at school. Important read with a lot of great moments. 

Ghost BoysGhost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Jerome is a boy who is a ghost. No, it’s not a fantasy story, it’s based on real life events. Jerome is playing with a toy gun when he’s murdered by a policeman. His ghost emerges and meets other ghosts, namely Emmett Till. As he watches his family grieve, the judicial system crumble, and his own spirit rise, we the reader are hit with the stark reality that this is something that happens too many times in America. 

White BirdWhite Bird by RJ Palacio

Heart wrenching graphic novel from the author of Wonder. It follows the plight of a young girl who is forced to hide in a hay barn after the Nazis overrun her small French village. Separated from her parents, she must try to learn to trust those who claim they want to help. 

Roll With ItRoll With It by Jamie Sumner

Lots of hope, empathy and triumph in this tale of a girl with cerebral palsy who won’t be held down. Her dream is to one day become a professional baker, wheelchair be damned. When she moves to a new town, her life changes forever. 

GhostGhost by Jason Reynolds

Castle Cranshaw has a temper, but he has a good reason for it. His father’s not around, he can’t stop getting into trouble at school, and his basketball dreams seem to be taking a side track. When he’s scouted for the school track and field team, he finds hope in the coach, a father figure that he sorely needs. 

Harriet Versus the GalaxyHarriet Versus the Galaxy by Samantha Baines

Hilarious debut from comedian Samantha Baines. Harriet is surprised when she discovers that her hearing aid has helped her track an alien in her room. To top it off, her family are MIB-esque spies working for an outer space agency! Harriet soon becomes the Earth’s only hope, great, rollicking fun with a super protagonist.

A Good Kind of TroubleA Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee

When 12-year-old Shayla enters junior high, she soon finds out that being a rule follower isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her older sister gets involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and Shayla can’t help but be drawn to the need to have a voice. Still, she’s scared to do the wrong thing, but knows she must face her fears if she’s going to stand up to bullies and wrong-minded teachers. 

The Star Outside My WindowThe Star Outside My Window by Onjali Q. Raúf

Told through the eyes of 10-year-old Aniyah, this is the story of children in foster care and the confusion, fear and anxiety that they can sometimes deal with constantly. Determined to pay tribute to her mother, Aniyah, her sibling and her friends embark on an adventure to get a star named after her. Heartbreaking and thrilling, a huge hit. 

I Am Alfonso JonesI Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

A powerful graphic novel about a boy who is shot to death by an off duty policeman while shopping for new clothes. It’s a rallying cry for justice to those who never receive it and it’s a history lesson. I was really impacted by this story, I think it should be read by classes everywhere as it’s crucial for building empathy. 

IllegalIllegal by Eoin Colfer

A timely story about a boy’s perilous journey from Africa to Europe in a desperate attempt to stay alive. This story has beautiful artwork, a powerful message, and an important topic on the refugee crisis, tolerance and acceptance. You’ll fall in love with Ebo and he will break your heart.

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