Hey, all! I honestly couldn’t be more excited to share with you a wonderful campaign effort, #MGGetsReal, in which five amazing authors have worked tirelessly to spotlight middle-grade books with tough topics, in hopes that kids who face real issues such as these will be able to see themselves within the pages of a book.

As a personal example, I’ll tell you, I was diagnosed with a hearing loss as a teen. I tried desperately to hide from it and pretend it wasn’t true. I felt ashamed and insecure. I wish more than anything that I could have met another kid like me, or even read about one. It might have kept me from losing so much of my confidence. And yet, I didn’t discover a book with a character like me until CeCe Bell wrote El Deafo. By then, I was an adult with my own family and had burned a lot of bridges along the way because people simply confused my lack of being able to hear them with me being a snob. I should have admitted my problem. I should have been honest. I shouldn’t have been ashamed. But I was.

It’s no surprise then, that this initiative is near and dear to me. I hope you’ll use the extensive list below to discover a book in which you too can see yourself or a child can see themselves. Please feel free to use the comment section below to recommend books for this ongoing list. And/or use the comments to tell us the happiness you may have witnessed when a kid was able to really connect with a book.

Huge shout out to the founding #MGGetsReal girls: Shannon Wiersbitzky (What Flowers Remember, Namelos, 2014; The Summer of Hammers and Angels, Namelos, 2011), Shannon Hitchcock (Ruby Lee and Me, Scholastic, 2016; The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, Namelos, 2013), Joyce Moyer Hostetter (Blue, Boyds Mills Press, 2006; Comfort, Boyds Mills Press, 2009; Aim, Boyds Mills Press, 2016), and Kathleen Burkinshaw (The Last Cherry Blossom, SkyPony Press, 2016) and myself, (Just a Drop of Water, SkyPony Press, 2014).



**Note: Most of the titles below could fit into multiple categories on this list.


survival strategies of higher power of lucky

empty places

hugging the rockbilly creekmore

Love, Aubrey






Snakes and Stones







Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, by Jen White

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

Empty Places, by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Hugging the Rock, by Susan Taylor Brown

Billy Creekmore, by Tracey Porter

Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne LaFleur

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, by Kate Beasley

The Crystal Ribbon, by Celeste Lim


Abuse (Verbal and physical):

call me hope

war that saved my lifeWe Want You to Knowtrue, sort ofthe-missing-pieces-of-me







Call Me Hope, by Gretchen Olsen

The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (disability)

We Want You to Know (Nonfiction), by Deborah Ellis

True (…Sort Of), by Katherine Hannigan

The Missing Pieces of Me, by Jean Van Leeuwen

Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt

Jasper and the Riddle of Ripley’s Mine, by Caroline Starr Rose

What Jamie Saw, by Carolyn Coman



this is not the abby show

Joey Pizga Swallowed the Key

Eliza Bing is not a

cory stories

The Someday Birds







This is Not the Abby Show, by Debbie Reed Fischer (ADHD)

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos (ADD, verbal abuse, parental abandonment)

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big Fat Quitter, by Carmella Van Vleet (ADHD)

Cory Stories, by Jeanne Kraus (ADHD)

The Someday Birds, by Sally J. Pla (Autism)

Bounders (Series), by Monica Tesler (Autism)


Adoption/Foster Care:

one for the murphys

Everything on a waffle

greenglass house

half a world away

dara palmers major drama

pictures of hollis woods






hold fast

a tangle of knots

When Friendship Followed Me Home The PinballsThe Eighth Daypeas-and-carrots





Waiting to Forget






One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (abuse)

Everything on a Waffle, by Polly Horvath

Greenglass House, by Kate Millford

Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama, by Emma Shevah

Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff (Alzheimers)

Hold Fast, by Blue Balliett

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff

When Friendship Followed Me Home, by Paul Griffin (bullying, abuse, cancer, death)

The Pinballs, by Betsy Byars

The Eighth Day, by Dianne K. Salerni

Peas and Carrots, by Tanita S. Davis

Waiting to Forget, by Sheila Kelly Welch


Alcohol and Drugs:

seventh wish

Rules for stealing stars

Sunny Side Up

Sparrow Road

Moon Pie






The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

Rules for Stealing Stars, by Corey Ann Haydu

Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Sparrow Road, by Sheila O’Connor

Moon Pie, by Simon Mason



What Flowers Remember

Hour of the Bees


Half a Chance






What Flowers Remember, by Shannon Wiersbitzky

Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eagar

Trudy, by Jessica Lee Anderson

Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord



The Nest

The World From Up Here

The Liberation of Gabriel King

The It Girl






The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel

The World From Up Here, by Cecilia Galante

The Liberation of Gabriel King, by KL Going

The It Girl, by Katy Birchall



Reinvention of Edison Thomas




Anything But Typical

Marcello in the Real World






Rain Reign





The Reinvention of Edison Thomas, by Jacqueline Houtman

Rogue, by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine

Rules, by Cynthia Lord

Anything but Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork

Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin

A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold 


Blended Families:

Misadventures of the Family Fletcher    The Family Under the Bridge    Kinda Like Brothers    My So-Called Family    


The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, by Dana Alison Levy

The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson

Kinda Like Brothers, by Coe Booth

My So Called Family, by Courtney Sheinmel

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue (Lesbian/gay, multicultural, dementia, adoption)


Body Image:

The Second Life of Abigail Walker


Fat Camp Commandos








The Second Life of Abigail Walker, by Frances O’Roark Dowell

N.E.R.D.S. series, by Michael Buckley

Fat Camp Commandos, by Daniel Pinkwater

Slob, by Ellen Potter

Still a Work in Progress, by Jo Knowles (sibling eating disorder)



The Girl in the Well is Me

Wolf Hollow

Larger-Than-Life Lara

The Hundred DressesuntitledDinosaur Boy







How my Private Journal became a Bestseller






The Girl in the Well is Me, by Karen Rivers

Wolf Hollow, by Lauren Wolk

Larger-Than-Life Lara, by Dandi Daley Mackall

The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

Poison Ivy, by Amy Goldman Koss

Dinosaur Boy, by Cory Putman Oakes

Fetching, by Kiera Stewart (abandonment, mental illness)

How my Private Journal became a Bestseller, by Julia DeVillers (self-acceptance)


Civil Rights/Integration:

Ruby Lee and Me

Glory Be

Lions of Little Rock

Jericho Walls

The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Yankee Girl






The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry







Ruby Lee & Me, by Shannon Hitchock

Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood

The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine

Jericho Walls, by Kristi Collier

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, by Christopher Paul Curtis

Yankee Girl, by Mary Ann Rodman

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry, by Susan Vaught (Alzheimer’s, death)

Yard War, by Taylor Kitchings


Deaf/hearing loss:

Waiting for a SignEl Deafo

Hurt Go Happy

Deaf Child Crossing






Waiting for a Sign, by Esty Schachter

El Deafo, by CeCe Bell

Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby

Deaf Child Crossing, by Marlee Matlin


Death of a parent:

Eight KeysCounting by 7s

Secret Hum of a Daisy

What I Came To Tell You

Haunted House Project

Wild Things













Eight Keys, by Suzanne LaFleur

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Secret Hum of a Daisy, by Tracy Holczer

What I Came to Tell You, by Tommy Hays

The Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen

Wild Things, by Clay Carmichael

Aim, by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Be Light Like a Bird, by Monika Schroder (bullying)

What Happened on Fox Street, by Tricia Springstubb

Dear Poppy, by Ronni Arno


Death of a sibling:

The Only Game

After Eli

See You At Harry's


A Summer To Die

The Distance to Home






Fig Pudding






The Only Game, by Mike Lupica

After Eli, by Rebecca Rupp

See You at Harry’s, by Jo Knowles

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry

The Distance to Home, by Jen Bishop

Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher


Death of a Grandparent:

Genuine Sweet

The First Last Day

Sun and Spoon

Vilonia Beebe Take Charge






Genuine Sweet, by Faith Harkey

The First Last Day, by Dorian Cirrone

Sun and Spoon, by Kevin Henkes

Vilonia BeeBe Takes Charge, by Kristin L. Gray 


Death of a pet:

Seven Day to Goodbye

Maxi's Secrets






Seven Days to Goodbye, by Sheri S. Levy

Maxi’s Secret, by Lynn Plourde (bullying, finding your place in the world, blindness)


Depression and Mental Illness:

Small As An Elephant

Courage for Beginners

Some Kind of Happiness

Watch the Sky

Footer Davis Probably is Crazy

Chasing the Milky Way






Small as an Elephant, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Courage for Beginners, by Karen Harrington

Some Kind of Happiness, by Claire Legrand

Watch the Sky, by Kristen Hubbard

Footer Davis Probably is Crazy, by Susan Vaught

Chasing the Milky Way, by Erin E. Moulton


Discrimination & prejudices (religious, ethnic, etc.):

Just a Drop of Water cover small version










Just a Drop of Water, by Kerry O’Malley Cerra (bullying, social justice)

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer, by Jennifer Gennari

The Sound of Life and Everything, by Krista VanDolzer

The Other Half of My Heart, by Sundee T. Frazier

Something About America, by Maria Testa

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung

It Ain’t so Awful, Falafel, by Firoozeh Dumas

Every Single Second, by Tricia Springstubb

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose

Paper Wishes, by Lois Sepahban



Bigger Than a Breadbox

So Totally Emily Ebers

Dear Mr. Henshaw


Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom






Bigger Than a Bread Box, by Laurel Snyder

So Totally Emily Ebers, by Lisa Yee

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom, by Susin Nielsen


Dyslexia/other learning diabilites:

Fish In A Tree

May B

Hank Zipper

Lightening Theif

Waiting for Normal

The Wild Book





Absolute Value of Mike






Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

May B, by Caroline Starr Rose

The Hank Zipper series, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan

Waiting for Normal, by Leslie Connor

The Wild Book, by Margarita Engle

The Absolute Value of Mike, by Kathryn Erskine



Blackbird Fly

The Warriors

Brown Girl Dreaming

The Road to Paris

The Whole Storyof Half a Girl

The Year of the Dog






soldier sister, fly home   


Blackbird Fly, by Erin Entrada Kelly

The Warriors, by Joseph Bruchac

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

The Road to Paris, by Nikki Grimes

The Whole Story of Half a Girl, by Veera Hiranandani

The Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin

Soldier Sister, Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood (war trauma, finding your place)

The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia



A Blind Guide to StinksvilleA Blind Guide to NormalGranny Torreli Makes Soup






A Blind Guide to Stinksville, by Beth Vrabel  (Albinism)

A Blind Guide to Normal, by Beth Vrabel

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech


Feeling like you’re a bad friend:


Summer of the Gypsy Moths






Extraordinary, by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker


Finding your Place in the World:

Nowhere Girl

Counting Thyme







Nowhere Girl, by A. J. Paquette (incarceration, drugs)

Counting Thyme, by Melanie Conklin

Frazzled, by Booki Vivat (neurosis, self-doubt)

The Charming Life of Izzy Malone, by Jenny Lundquist

The Looney Experiment, by Luke Reynolds


Following your dreams despite odds:

I Am Drums

Ballad of Jessie Pearl

The Dreamer

The Red Pencil






I am Drums, by Mike Grosso

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, by Shannon Hitchock

The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Out of Tune, by Gail Nall



Nerd Camp

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Solving Zoe

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab






Nerd Camp, by Elissa Elissa Brent Weissman

Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee

Solving Zoe, by Barbara Dee

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab, by Bob Pflugfelder



How to Steal a Dog


Death by Toilet Paper

Paper Things







How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O’Connor

Homecoming, by Cynthia Voight

Death by Toilette Paper, by Donna Gephart

Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Heck Superhero, by Martine Leavitt (abandonment, mental illness, suicide)



The Honest Truth

Swing Sideways


Out of my Mind

Reaching for Sun






The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart (terminal cancer)

Swing Sideways, by Nanci Turner Steveson (terminal cancer)

Blue, by Joyce Moyer Hostetter (polio, racial tenstion)

Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper (cerebral palsy)

Reaching for Sun, by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (cerebral palsy)



Home of the Brave

The Red Umbrella

Inside Out and Back Again

A Step from Heaven

Skating with the Statue of Liberty

Kiki and jacques





Enchanted Air






Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate

The Red Umbrella, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai

A Step from Heaven, by An Na

Skating with the Statue of Liberty, by Susan Lynn Meyer

Kiki and Jacques, by Susan Ross

Enchanted Air, by Margarita Engle



Mountain DogHarry Sue

Ruby on the Outside

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook






Mountain Dog, by Margarita Engle

Harry Sue, by Sue Stauffacher

Ruby on the Outside, by Nora Raleigh Baskin

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor



Five, Six, Seven, Nate

Lily and Dunkin

Gracefully Grayson







Five, Six, Seven, Nate, by Tim Federle

Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart (transgender, bi-polar disorder)

Gracefully, Grayson, by Ami Polonsky

George, by Alex Gino


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):



Finding Perfect, by Elly Swartz

The Goldfish Boy, by Lisa Thompson

Parental/Family Separation:

Operation Pucker Up






Operation Pucker Up, by Rachel Alpine

Motley Education, by SA Larsen

Forest World, by Margarita Engle (immigration)


Physical disability/disfiguration:


After Ever After

Freak the Mighty

Fire Girl












Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

After Ever After, by Jordan Sonnenblick

Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick

Fire Girl, by Tony Abbott

Soar, by Joan Bauer (heart issues, abandonment, adoption, death in the community)

Moonpenny Island, by Tricia Springstubb

Braced, by Alyson Gerber (scoliosis)



Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society    Summer of hammers and angels        


The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, by Janet Sumner Johnson

The Summer of Hammers and Angels, by Shannon Wiersbitzky

Boys Without Names, by Kashmira Sheth (homelessness)

Money Hungry by Sharon G Flake (homelessness, anxiety)



The Sweetest Sound

Absolutely Almost

The Paperboy






The Sweetest Sound, by Sherri Winston

Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff

The Paperboy, by Vince Vawter


Sibling Rivalry/Relationships:

The Lemonade War





The Lemonade War, by Jacqueline Davies

Rules for Ghosting, by A.J. Paquette



A Smidgen of Sky

The Thing About Leftovers

Two Naomis







A Smidgen of Sky, by Dianna Dorisi Winget

The Thing About Leftovers, by C.C. Payne

Two Naomi’s by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Lexie, by Audrey Couloumbis



My Brother's Shadow


Avenging the Owl

Wish Girl






My Brother’s Shadow, by Tom Avery

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

Avenging the Owl, by Melissa Hart

Wish Girl, by Nikki Loftin


Survivor’s guilt:

On My Honor

The Thing About Jellyfish

Lost in the Sun

Bridge to Terabithia







On My Honor, by Marion Dane Bauer

The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin

Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

The Ethan I was Before, by Ali Standish


Wanting to fit in:

The Normal Kid

Sticks and Stones






The Normal Kid, by Elizabeth Holmes

Sticks and Stones, by Abby Cooper

Schooled, by Gordon Korman

Ruby Reinvented, by Roni Arno


War Trauma:

Last Cherry Blossom

All the Broken PiecesComfort


Odin's Promise






The Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw

All the Broken Pieces, by Ann E. Burg

Comfort, by Joyce Moyer Hostetter (illness, PTSD)

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

Odin’s Promise, by Sandy Brehl (Death of a pet)



9 thoughts on “#MGGetsReal

  1. I saw this thread on Melanie Conklin’s twitter feed and have to say this is an excellent list! I’ve been doing a lot (A LOT) of reading in the MG realm about human rights-type topics, so I’d love to suggest a few other books that might fit your list well (some are classics and some are recent):

    WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls
    – Death of a pet

    SKELLIG by David Almond
    – Illness

    NOWHERE BOY by Katherine Marsh
    – Discrimination & prejudices (religious, ethnic, etc.)
    – Survivor’s guilt
    – War Trauma

    – Death of a sibling
    – Sibling Rivalry/Relationships

    WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick
    – Deaf/hearing loss

    SHOOTING KABUL by N. H. Senzai
    – Finding your Place in the World
    – Immigration
    – War Trauma

    GHOST BOYS by Jewell Parker Rhodes
    – Discrimination & prejudices (religious, ethnic, etc.)

    – Illness

    RUNNING ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD by Jess Butterworth
    – Parental/Family Separation
    – War Trauma

    THE EXPLORER by Katherine Rundell
    – Finding your Place in the World

    – Parental/Family Separation
    – War Trauma

    THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare
    – Finding your Place in the World

    WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate
    – Discrimination & prejudices (religious, ethnic, etc.)

    AMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed
    – Abuse
    – Parental/Family Separation

    THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU by Jennifer Maschari
    – Depression and Mental Illness
    – Sibling Rivalry/Relationships

    LUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar
    – Illness
    – Following your dreams despite odds

    – Finding your Place in the World

    THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani
    – War Trauma

    THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Peterson
    – Abandonment
    – Adoption/Foster Care

    STORMY SEAS by Mary Beth Leatherdale
    – War Trauma

    THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio
    – Death of a parent

    NIGHT SHIFT by Debi Gliori
    – Depression and Mental Illness

    – Depression and Mental Illness

    – Death of a parent

    LITTLE BRITCHES by Ralph Moody
    – Death of a parent

    SIDETRACKED by Diana Harmon Asher
    – ADD/ADHD

    A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park
    – War Trauma

    And here are some I haven’t read personally (yet) but have heard promsing things about:
    THE ONLY ROAD by Alexandra Diaz
    THE TURTLE OF OMAN by Naomi Shihab Nye
    THE DOLLAR KIDS by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
    EARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer
    THE SOUND OF FREEDOM by Kathy Kacer
    OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga
    THE SKY AT OUR FEET by Nadia Hashimi
    FRONT DESK by Kelly Yang
    ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL by Leah Henderson
    AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Khan

    And, last, if I may be so bold to suggest my debut? THE ELEVENTH TRADE would fit well under War Trauma.

    Thank you for compiling this list! It rocks!

    1. Alyssa, this is fantastic. I’ll be checking each one out and see which fit the list. We strive to make sure the book’s MC is the one dealing with the situation/issue and not a secondary character–otherwise the list would be way too long. I hope to be able to update it in January.

      Huge congratulations on your debut. I’ll be sure to read it!

  2. Hello!
    I realize this is an old thread, but it appears to be open, so I’m sending a few remarks. First, I’m happy to see my novel, Waiting to Forget, included in the list of books about adoption and foster care. I’ve only had a few adult readers who have felt the book was depressing, which — I’m guessing — means “too” realistic. Some adults are hoping to protect children from the harsh aspects of the real world. But children who’ve never been exposed to adversity might become more empathetic through reading about characters with problems in their lives. On the other hand, here’s a quote that I think states the case for middle-grade books to continue to include real issues. Josh Westbrook, a librarian says, “Kids are living stories every day that we wouldn’t let them read.”

  3. An excellent list – well done. I’d like to suggest “Save me a seat” By Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan on the theme of relocation, culture and bullying

  4. Hi, Kerry. An amazing book just came out yesterday about a child with Tourettes which touches on OCD and anxiety, as well as moving, inattentive parenting, bullying and friendship. It’s called FORGET ME NOT, written by Ellie Terry and it’s beautiful. It would be a great addition to your list.

  5. Thank you for including Snakes and Stones in your list. It’s quite an honor to be “lumped in” with such a great group of middle grade books and extremely talented authors.

  6. SUMMERLOST by Allie Condie could be added to this list as it powerfully talks about the death of a parent and death of a sibling.

  7. Thank you for sharing this incredibly important resource guide. I am grateful and honored that my story, Finding Perfect, was included in the list. While my book doesn’t officially come out until Oct. 18, there were many who read the arc and shared that they wished this story or similar stories had been around when they or their kids were younger as they had OCD and felt very isolated from their peers. Any time a child can see themselves on the page, they are one step closer to feeling connected. Thank you!

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