Books for middle-grade readers target that stage between early childhood, when adults are typically revered as omnipotent superheroes, and later adolescence, when increasingly autonomous teens begin to recognize their parents for the flawed and entirely mortal human beings that they are. This shift in perception can be a rude awakening for all parties involved.
During the upper elementary and middle school years, children grapple with a growing awareness of the impact of the outside world on their home lives and the precariousness of any feelings of security. So it’s no wonder that family life in all its permutations forms the focus of so much literature for this age range; the power of family bonds is undeniable.
These thoughtful forthcoming releases explore myriad aspects of family life and the ties that hold such sway over our psychological well-being. While the subject matter may seem heavy, these books describe situations many young people experience directly or indirectly, and they are all written in a developmentally appropriate way that offers comfort and hope.
Cookie Monsters by Erika J. Kendrick (Little, Brown, Jan. 17): Since the loss of Brooklyn’s mother, her father, grandmother, and therapist have lovingly supported her. But the upcoming World Scouts Alliance cookie sale competition—in which she ranked second last year—brings home how much has changed. Dad passes on Mom’s cookie binder, a tangible symbol of her mother’s caring involvement and a resource that helps Brooklyn rally.
The Lost Year by Katherine Marsh (Roaring Brook Press, Jan. 17): Being stuck at home during the pandemic gives Matthew time to help GG, his Ukrainian great-grandmother, sort through her possessions—and leads to the discovery of family history connected to the Holodomor, a 1930s famine with lasting repercussions. The insights gained from unearthing these secrets form the foundation for a deep, life-changing bond between Matthew and GG.
World Made of Glass by Ami Polonsky (Little, Brown, Jan. 17): Seventh grader Iris faces the pain both of her beloved Dad’s impending death from AIDS and the realization that many people in 1987 New York City—people she trusted—hold fearful and prejudicial attitudes toward the disease and those who have it. She channels her grief into activism, finding meaning and fellowship in ACT UP meetings.
The In-Between by Katie Van Heidrich (Aladdin, Jan. 17): This memoir in verse relates a challenging time during the author’s seventh grade year, when poverty forced her, her younger siblings, and her mom to live in a motel outside her school district. Housing insecurity, divorced parents, keeping her living situation a secret at school, and other stressors add up, but resilient Katie finds her way through it all.
Lasagna Means I Love You by Kate O’Shaughnessy (Knopf, Feb. 21): The death of Mo’s grandmother, Nan, leaves her without a caretaker. She lands in foster care, and although the foster parents she settles in with are kind, Mo craves a deeper sense of connection. She pours her heart out in letters to Nan and finds solace in creating a website where she features recipes connected to people’s family stories.
When Sea Becomes Sky by Gillian McDunn, illustrated by Yaoyao Ma Van As (Bloomsbury, Feb. 28): Bex and her brother love exploring the natural world of their beautiful island, keenly observing changes to the environment, particularly the recent impact of drought on the salt marshes. This summer, a surprising discovery leads Bex to try to unravel a mystery, and after avoiding a painful truth leaves her stuck, she learns to trust and open up.
Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.