Kids Need Feel-Good Middle Grades Books

A MiddleWeb Blog

Our students are returning to school in a variety of ways this fall: in-person, online, or a hybrid of the two.

No matter how they are resuming their academic lives, they all have something in common: they have been through a lot this year.

One of our tasks as teachers is to care for their mental health. In 2009 researchers found that thirty minutes of reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and stress in students.

Knowing this, I want to share with my students some books that will make them feel good and give them respite from their stress. Here are some of the inspiring books that I’ll be recommending to students.

Graphic Novels

Netflix’s “The Baby-Sitters Club” was one of the hot series of the summer. Younger readers will enjoy the graphic novel series by Raina Telgemeier and Gale Galligan, or may do a deep dive into the hundreds of original “classic” titles by Ann M. Martin. Other feel-good graphic novels are Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and the Explorer series by Kazu Kibuichi.

from Boy-Crazy Stacey

Older graphic novel readers will be swept up by the lighthearted Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, as well as The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Short Stories

Many of us feel that our attention spans have been shortened during the pandemic, and our students are no exception. A collection of short stories might be the right fit for those readers. My favorite collection is Flying Lessons, edited by Ellen Oh, the cofounder of the “We Need Diverse Books” movement. The stories range in topic and are an excellent opportunity for students to get a taste of different writers’ styles.

Both Funny Girl, edited by Betsy Bird, and Guys Read: Funny Business, edited by Jon Sciezka, will make younger readers laugh. Sciezka’s memoir Knucklehead is also a popular quick read with students who prefer vignettes. Mature young adult readers will swoon for the two collections of romance stories edited by Stephanie Perkins, My True Love Gave to Me and Summer Days and Summer Nights.

Humorous Books

Tom Angleberger writes such relatable, funny characters that younger readers love. His novel Fuzzy and Origami Yoda series are my go-to recommendations for readers who want to giggle. Jack Ganto’s Joey Pigza series and anything he writes about the Pagoda brothers feature beautiful writing and memorable moments. Gordon Korman’s Ungifted is also popular among my students who just want to kick back and laugh.

Capers and Mysteries

Some readers will want to get caught up in a mystery, and there are a few that are consistently popular with my students. Loot by Jude Watson features strong male and female leads, and the many twists keep the reader guessing. One of my favorite recommendations, Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s Moving Target, is full of European adventures and cliffhangers. The Double Cross by Jackson Pearce is a humorous story about a boy who comes from a generation of spies but doesn’t quite fit the mold.

Realistic Fiction

While some students may want to escape into a mystery, others will want to see examples of hope in everyday life. The characters in Padma Venkatraman’s The Bridge Home have difficult lives living on the streets of India, but they persevere and overcome obstacles, providing inspiration to readers.

Dusti Bowling’s Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is completely charming and the title is all about finding perspective in one’s life. I love the idea of readers being inspired to make zines by Malú, the creative and gutsy protagonist in The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez.

When students look back at this time, I want them to remember finding refuge in books. I am on a mission to add more titles to my “Feel Good Books” list. Please add any of your recommendations in the comments!

Megan Kelly

Megan Kelly has been teaching English and History internationally since 2003, most recently in Singapore. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching and is passionate about literacy and learning through play. She tweets at @33megan33. See all her ELA and history teaching tips for MiddleWeb here.

4 Responses

  1. One of my favorite books this year is Wink by Rob Harrell. It’s a very touching book about a middle school boy who has to confront cancer, but still has plenty of humor.

    • Megan Kelly says:

      Hi Susie,
      Thank you for this suggestion! I’ve never heard of Wink, but will add it to my list of books to read.
      I appreciate it,

  2. Sheila Lavey says:

    My students adored New Kid by Jerry Craft. I am excited to have them read the sequel, due out in October.

    • Megan Kelly says:

      Oh yes, this is such a good one! I had no idea a sequel was coming. My students will be excited.

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