24 Jan Diverse Books for Tween Readers
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
Diversity: Jewish author and main character, characters with disabilities
Recommended Ages: 10 and up
“Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he’s forced to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease.
At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster; go to a school dance; swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with the turtles he collects. But as RJ’s disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will’s comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.” (Random House Children’s Books, Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein)
Middle school is a tough time during most of our lives. Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein reminds us that even in the hardest of circumstances, our friends are what make it possible to power through. This book provided insights into the struggles of school-age kids who have chronic illnesses and/or birth defects. These significant disabilities, whether visible or not, are hardly uncommon but will resonate with young readers who are often overlooked in books.
Turtle Boy allows readers to delve into the lives of two friends who, despite their disabilities, help each other navigate through the wild world that is middle school. The insights provided through Will and RJ’s experiences demonstrates what it means to be a true friend while forcing the reader to cheer them on toward their seemingly impossible goals. Turtle Boy is recommended for fans of R.J. Polacio’s Wonder.
The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao
Diversity: Chinese author and multi-racial main character
Recommended Ages: 8 and up
“As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.
Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon–and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year.
With Alex and other unlikely allies at her side, Faryn sets off on a daring quest across Chinatowns. But becoming the Heaven Breaker will require more sacrifices than she first realized. . . What will Faryn be willing to give up to claim her destiny?
This richly woven contemporary middle-grade fantasy debut, full of humor, magic, and heart, will appeal to readers who love Roshani Chokshi and Sayantani DasGupta.” (Bloomsbury, The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao)
Steeped in Chinese culture, Katie Zhao’s The Dragon Warrior is the first installment of her debut fantasy series for those who are warriors at heart. Faryn, our main character, is multi-racial with a Chinese cultural upbringing. Faryn’s mixed identity while living in the western world is a sentiment that many young readers can relate to and understand.
The Dragon Warrior forges an immersive story that places importance on values, identity, culture, and relationships while staying true to the fantasy genre with dragons, magic, and adventure. The Dragon Warrior is recommended for fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians.
Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood
Diversity: Black author and main character
Recommended Ages: 8 and up
“G-baby and her younger sister, Peaches, are still getting used to their “blended-up” family. They live with Mama and Frank out in the suburbs, and they haven’t seen their real daddy much since he married Millicent. G-baby misses her best friend back in Atlanta, and is crushed that her glamorous new stepsister, Tangie, wants nothing to do with her.
G-baby is so preoccupied with earning Tangie’s approval that she isn’t there for her own little sister when she needs her most. Peaches gets sick – really sick. Suddenly, Mama and Daddy are arguing like they did before the divorce, and even the doctors at the hospital don’t know how to help Peaches get better.
It’s up to G-baby to put things right. She knows Peaches can be strong again if she can only see that their family’s love for her really is like sky.” (Little, Brown and Company, Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood)
Love Like Sky tells a story about an 11-year-old girl, Georgiana or “G-Baby” as she adjusts to major life transitions. G-Baby has moved into a new home in Atlanta Georgia. Her mother remarried, she started a new school. She even has a new step-sister, Tangie, who is dealing with difficult lifestyle adjustments of her own. When things seem like they can’t get more challenging, G-Baby’s little sister Peaches becomes very ill.
This story goes to the heart of a blended Black family. Touching on modern themes of racism, injustice, and culture, Love Like Sky uses a lens through G-Baby’s experiences that current young readers can reflect on and identify with. Many of the life transitions that take place in this story can help middle grade readers adjust to changes in their own lives. Love Like Sky is recommended for readers interested in tackling matters of race, divorce, blended/sick families, and complex relationships.
Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez
Diversity: Hispanic/Latinx/Chinese/Navajo/Egyptian and mixed-ethnicity characters
Recommended Ages: 8 and up
“Four girls at a southwestern boarding school discover they have amazing feline powers and must unite to stop an ancient evil in this riveting adventure.
Ana’s average, suburban life is turned upside down when she’s offered a place at the exclusive boarding school in New Mexico that both of her late parents attended. As she struggles to navigate the wealthy cliques of her new school, mysterious things begin to occur: sudden power failures, terrible storms, and even an earthquake!
Ana soon learns that she and three other girls—with Chinese, Navajo, and Egyptian heritages—harbor connections to priceless objects in the school’s museum, and the museum’s curator, Ms. Benitez, is adamant that the girls understand their ancestry, and it’s importance.
It turns out that the school sits on top of a mysterious temple, the ancient meeting place of the dangerous Brotherhood of Chaos. And when one of the priceless museum objects is shattered, the girls find out exactly why their heritage is so important: they have the power to turn into wildcats! Now in their powerful forms of jaguar, tiger, puma, and lion they must work together to fight the chaos spirits unleashed in the ensuing battle…and uncover the terrifying plans of those who want to resurrect the Brotherhood of Chaos.” (Simon & Schuster, Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez)
Hunters of Chaos is the beginning of a culturally inspired fantasy series by Crystal Velasquez. Bringing familiar school-aged tropes and blending in a diverse cast of characters establishes a strong foundation for Ana to unlock her true potential as a magic user and friend.
In this entry to the series, Ana deals with conflicts that many middle grade readers can understand including bullying, cliques, and crushes. As a Mexican-American girl, Ana, befriends Lin, Shani, and Doli who each bring varied experiences and cultural dynamics to this story. Meanwhile, the fantasy elements in this book are recognizable yet refreshing. Velasquez constructs a compelling story through the use of her characters’ shape-shifting abilities along with ancient mythology and folklore. Hunters of Chaos is recommended for fans of Warrior Cats, Animorphs, and even Harry Potter.
Courage by Barbara Binns
Diversity: Black author and main character
Ages: 10 and up
“Ever since T’Shawn’s dad died, his mother has been struggling to keep the family afloat. So when he’s offered a spot on a prestigious diving team at the local private swim club, he knows that joining would only add another bill to the pile.
But T studies hard and never gets into trouble, so he thinks his mom might be willing to bear the cost… until he finds out that his older brother, Lamont, is getting released early from prison.
Luckily, T’Shawn is given a scholarship, and he can put all his frustration into diving practices. But when criminal activity increases in the neighborhood and people begin to suspect Lamont, T’Shawn begins to worry that maybe his brother hasn’t left his criminal past behind after all. Can they put the broken pieces of their relationship back together?” (Harper Collins, Courage by Barbara Binns)
Courage by Barbara Binns dives deep, both literally and figuratively, with her main character, T’Shawn. Dealing with tremendous loss at the age of 13 after the passing of his father and his older brother’s prison sentence, T’Shawn finds himself struggling to navigate life as a young Black teenager.
T’Shawn’s ambitions of turning his passion of diving into something more is in jeopardy when things outside of his control disrupt his goals. Courage provides a moving and eye-opening experience for readers as it tackles the struggles of class, race, and health. Barbara Binns crafts a story that will challenge readers’ perceptions and grip their emotions as they join T’Shawn on his journey of extraordinary bravery and resilience. Courage is recommended for fans of sport stories or works from authors such as Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds.