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Updated by Jen Blair on Jun 09, 2021
Headline for Summer Reading - Best of 2021 - Middle School
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Summer Reading - Best of 2021 - Middle School

The following is a list of the top ten [ish] books I've read (so far) this year. I had to cheat because there were too many....

Cat Kid Comic Club by Dav Pilkey

Cat Kid Comic Club - Dav Pilkey

All the joy. All the laughs. I really don’t think I need to say anything else. It’s Dav Pilkey. You should read it.

From the publisher:
Join Li'l Petey, Flippy, and Molly as they introduce comic making to twenty-one funny, rambunctious, and talented frogs. Can the trio help the class unleash their own creativity?

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li

Clues to the Universe - Christina Li

A lovely story of resilience and friendship. Two kids bond over the loss of their fathers. As they work together on their science project building a rocket, they find common ground in standing up to bullies, accepting their own faults, and the importance of dreaming and creativity. I loved Ro and Benji so much.

From the publisher:
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together. Benjamin Burns doesn't like science, but he can't get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he's thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him. Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro.

Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

Finding Junie Kim - Ellen Oh

A middle grade book that is willing to take on young teens with depression, racism, grief, and war head on. We always read books about resilient teens, but Junie is incapable of dealing with the constant barrage of hatred, bullying, and the micro-aggressions in her life. She is harmed. By all of it. And we are all richer for living through it with her.

From the publisher:
A tale based on true events follows the coming-of-age of a girl who is motivated by an act of racism at school to learn about her ancestral heritage and her grandparents' experiences as lost children during the Korean War.

The Girl from the Sea by Molly Ostertag

The Girl from the Sea - Molly Knox Ostertag

Romance! Selkies! Family secrets! Graphic novel! What’s not to love?

From the publisher:
Morgan has a secret: She can't wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. Because really, Morgan's biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl. Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn't seem so stifling anymore. But Keltie has some secrets of her own.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz

Ground Zero - Alan Gratz

A novel that takes you into the World Trade Center on 9/11 as Brandon tries to escape and also transports you to Afghanistan 18 years later and we see the war through a nine year old girl’s eyes. I love how Gratz ties these two stories together.

From the publisher:
Brandon is visiting his dad on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the attack comes; Reshmina is a girl in Afghanistan who has grown up in the aftermath of that attack but dreams of peace, becoming a teacher and escaping her village and the narrow role that the Taliban believes is appropriate for women--both are struggling to survive, both changed forever by the events of 9/11.

Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

Hello Cruel Heart - Maureen Johnson

Who can resist London in the Swinging Sixties? Not I. Estella is an orphan with a talent for revenge. Also, designing high fashion. When she risks everything she knows by opening her heart to love things go really well. Until they don’t.

From the publisher:
Follows the experiences of a talented teen fashion designer whose shattered dreams lead to her life on the streets alongside amateur thieves Jasper and Horace. An origin story of Disney’s Cruella de Vil.

Author interview:

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found by Rucker Moses

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found - Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

A fast paced adventure/mystery that has three friends searching Brooklyn (and other worlds) for Kingston’s father who disappeared in the middle of a magician’s performance four years earlier. Is he alive? Can they get him back?

From the publisher:
Returning to Brooklyn, where his magician-father disappeared years before, twelve-year-old Kingston learns that magic is real and that if he enters the Realm, he might get his father back.

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

The Lion of Mars - Jennifer L. Holm

I love a story where the kids are better at survival than the adults. Kids in space. Solving mysteries. Being smarter than everyone else and saving civilization all at the same time.

From the publisher:
Bell has spent his whole life--all eleven years of it--on Mars. But he's still just a regular kid--he loves cats, any kind of cake, and is curious about the secrets the adults in the US colony are keeping. Like, why don't they have contact with anyone on the other Mars colonies? Why are they so isolated? When a virus breaks out and the grown-ups all fall ill, Bell and the other children are the only ones who can help. It's up to Bell--a regular kid in a very different world--to uncover the truth and save his family--and possibly unite an entire planet.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother)

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother) - David Levithan

Brothers, family, truth, community, and happiness - all themes found in this book. I loved the relationship between the two brothers, Lucas and Aiden.

From the publisher:
Aidan disappeared for six days. Six agonizing days of searches and police and questions and constant vigils. Then, just as suddenly as he vanished, Aidan reappears. Where has he been? The story he tells is simply. . . impossible. But it's the story Aidan is sticking to. His brother, Lucas, wants to believe him. But Lucas is aware of what other people, including their parents, are saying: that Aidan is making it all up to disguise the fact that he ran away. When the kids in school hear Aidan's story, they taunt him. But still Aidan clings to his story. And as he becomes more of an outcast, Lucas becomes more and more concerned. Being on Aidan's side would mean believing in the impossible. But how can you believe in the impossible when everything and everybody is telling you not to?

Paper Heart by Cat Patrick

Paper Heart - Cat Patrick

A companion to the brilliant (and heart-breaking) Tornado Brain, told from the perspective of Frankie’s twin sister, Tess. She is dealing with a LOT and just wants to be seen and loved and heard, but feels selfish asking for those things.

From the publisher:
Mere months after her best friend's death, thirteen-year-old Tess spends a summer with family in Wyoming, making friends at art camp while being haunted by Colette and her own anxieties.

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

Red White and Whole - Rajani LaRocca

Reha is a child of immigrants trying to find her place in the world as she feels split between her life and friends at school, and her separate existence with her Indian American community. This is a story about finding your true home, friendship, identity, and unconditional love. I cried so hard. Just astounding.

From the publisher:
Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she's the only Indian American student, and home, with her family's traditions and holidays. But Reha's parents don't understand why she's conflicted--they only notice when Reha doesn't meet their strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, although their names are linked--Reha means 'star' and Punam means 'moon'--but they are a universe apart. Then Reha finds out that her Amma is sick. Really sick. Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor even though she can't stomach the sight of blood, is determined to make her Amma well again. She'll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving her Amma's life.

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

The Sea in Winter - Christine Day

A beautiful story of resilience when a young ballerina must fight her way back from an injury, even though she might never dance again.

From the publisher:
After an injury sidelines her dreams of becoming a ballet star, Maisie is not excited for her blended family's midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

The Shape of Thunder - Jasmine Warga

This book shows the power of kids to make change, to make their voices heard, and to heal. Quinn and Cora were best friends until Quinn’s brother kills four people at his high school, including Cora’s beloved older sister. Now they both need to find a way to overcome their own guilt for that day’s events and grapple with how to move forward. I love that Ms. Warga gave space in a middle grade book for this unspeakable truth of gun violence in American schools. If kids are old enough to survive a school shooting, they are old enough to talk about it.

From the publisher:
Estranged from the best friend whose brother killed her sister in a school shooting, a grieving Cora receives a message on her twelfth birthday from her friend, asking for her help with creating a time portal to prevent the tragedy.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Starfish - Lisa Fipps

Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery-Hofstein needs to learn to take up and own her space. As much space as it takes to write out her name. But what happens when the person who is supposed to love you the most and defend you, doesn’t? How can you defend yourself against bullying behavior without harming others? This is Ellie’s story of how to use her words to express herself and own her rightful space in this world.

From the publisher:
Bullied and shamed her whole life for being fat, twelve-year-old Ellie finally gains the confidence to stand up for herself, with the help of some wonderful new allies.

Tokyo Ever After (Tokyo Ever After, #1) by Emiko Jean

Tokyo Ever After - Emiko Jean

Like The Princess Diaries, set in Japan. The perfect Summer Read. Izumi seems to be a silly, shallow, carefree girl, but scratch the surface and you will find a fiercely loyal, good-hearted, caring feminist who is willing to take on centuries of tradition in order to remain true to herself. Also? There will be a SEQUEL.

From the publisher:
After learning that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan, Izumi travels to Tokyo, where she discovers that Japanese imperial life--complete with designer clothes, court intrigue, paparazzi scandals, and a forbidden romance with her handsome but stoic bodyguard--is a tough fit for the outspoken and irreverent eighteen-year-old from northern California.