My 10 and 11-year-old girls and I love getting lost in a good novel together before bed. I always look for stories that we will all enjoy equally. I mostly choose diverse books for our reading list, as it’s important for them to be surrounded by a diversity of influences in their reading and to learn the world doesn’t just look like their experience.
Some of these diverse middle grade books have been hard for me to resist finishing myself after they sleep! Here are 10 of our favorites. Each one of these books is 100% kid-approved.
10 Best Diverse Middle Grade Novels for Kids
1 It Ain’t so Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
Hands down, this was the best middle-grade reader we read last year. It’s a funny and poignant story of an Iranian-California girl’s struggles to fit in as she grows up in the 80s, during which time the Iran Hostage crisis unfolds and Iran is enemy number one of the U.S. I had trouble putting it down when it was time for my kids’ lights out.
2. Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
This is the best recent middle-grade reader my kids and I have read together this year. Shooting in the title refers to photography, not guns, for anyone concerned! The story is historical fiction about a family that flees Taliban-ruled Afghanistan for California and their journey of adapting to their new country while still feeling torn by their attachments to their old country.
3. The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
We loved this true story of a boy from a rural village in Malawi who builds a windmill from junk materials and an old library book to power his home. The story provides many opportunities to talk about poverty, especially when the main character’s family doesn’t have enough food after one poor harvest year. It is also a story of perseverance, accomplishment, dreams, and science.
4. Front Desk by Kelly Yang
This is one of the books that had the greatest impact on my 10-year-old. The protagonist is growing up in a motel and lies to everyone at school and tells them she lives in a big house with a pool, out of embarrassment of her living situation. My daughter could relate to this character as she often yearns for things we don’t have—a pool, a bigger house, a dog, a bedroom she doesn’t have to share with her sister—but at the same time, she has never lived in a car or a motel so learning about this experience was eye-opening.
5. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia
This was a hard book to stop reading each night–we all loved it and were happy to discover there’s a series when we finished. Three young girls travel from Brooklyn to Oakland one summer to get to know their mother who abandoned them. It’s the summer of 1968 in Oakland and the mom doesn’t want much to do with her kids and sends them off to the Black Panther’s day camp where they learn about the civil rights movement and community.
6. Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
This is the only book on the list I didn’t read with my daughters but listening to my youngest and her friend talk about the book, I knew we had to include it.
“I read the book four times,” her friend shared. “It’s just so sad and good.”
“I know, I can’t believe how hard her life is,” my youngest daughter agreed.
7. President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston
This story mixes a smart and relatable main character, Brianna Justice, with friendship dramas, and a cupcake baking competition that many kids will be able to relate to. The sequel President of the whole Sixth grade is equally worth reading. This is a book appropriate for younger readers, starting from age eight.
8. Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai
This story mixes a smart and relatable main character, California-raised Mai, who doesn’t want to go to Vietnam for the summer to visit her grandparents. She barely speaks the language and just wants to hang out with her friends all summer long. She is forced to go and slowly begins to discover some of the pleasures of her parents’ home country. There is another great book by the same author if your child ended up enjoying this one called.
9. Refugee by Alan Gratz
A work of historical fiction, this book follows three refugee families at different points in history: 1938 Berlin, 1994 Cuba, and 2015 Syria. I recommend it for older kids (my daughter was 10 when she read it, which I suggest should be the youngest age) as it deals with the harrowing stories of refugees. Although all are fictional, there is some violence and scary situations in the book.
10. Number The Stars by Cindy Kane
This was the most popular book in my daughter’s fifth-grade class. All the kids were recommending this sad at times but important holocaust story to one another. It features a brave main character who fights for what she believes in.
A few more Honorable mentions
It’s so hard picking just 10 favorite diverse middle-grade books so I wanted to include a few other diverse books my kids have loved.
Leave your thoughts on my list of diverse culture books for kids. If you have any favorite book which isn’t listed here. Feel free to tell us by commenting below.