Courageous Girls: Books for Middle Grades

Front Desk

These girls show what true courage looks like in all kinds of ways, from standing up to bullies to facing fears to starting over in a new place. Readers are sure to make some new friends in these middle grade titles.

For picture books featuring strong girls, see Courageous Girls: Diverse Stories for Young Readers.

Amina's Song

Amina's Song
By: Hena Khan
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

It's the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family — all of it holds a special place in Amina's heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she's sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale. After she's home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story.

Amina's Voice

By: Hena Khan
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Now that Amina is in middle school, everything feels different. Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized. Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani-American and highlights the many ways in which one girl's voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

Birchbark House

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Opening in the summer of 1847, this story follows an Ojibwe family through four seasons; it focuses on young Omakayas, who turns "eight winters old" during the course of the novel. In fascinating, nearly step-by-step details, the author describes how they build a summer home out of birchbark, gather with extended family to harvest rice in the autumn, treat an attack of smallpox during the winter and make maple syrup in the spring to stock their own larder and to sell to others. — Publishers Weekly

Blackbird Fly

Blackbird Fly
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show her how special she really is.

Echo: A Novel

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Product Description: Pam Muñoz Ryan weaves together three stories of young people living through a tumultuous period in the 20th century: 12-year-old Friedrich Schmidt in 1933 Germany, as the Nazi Party gains momentum; orphaned 11-year-old Mike Flannery in 1935 Philadelphia during the Depression; and Ivy Maria Lopez living in Southern California in 1942 as World War II rages. Their stories revolve around a single Hohner Marine Band harmonica and are framed by a tale of a lost boy, three sisters, and a witch's curse. Newbery Honor Book.

Escape from Aleppo

Escape from Aleppo
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Farewell to Manzanar

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

This is the true story of one spirited Japanese-American family's attempt to survive the indignities of forced detention as seen through the eyes of Jeannie, the youngest daughter of the Wakatsuki family. The family was detained for four years at the Manzanar Internment Camp during World War II.

Fatty Legs: A True Story

Illustrated by: Liz Amini-Holmes
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

At the age of eight, Margaret Pokiak set her sights on learning to read — even though it meant leaving her Arctic village. Upon her arrival at school, Margaret encountered the Raven, a black-cloaked nun who immediately disliked the plucky girl and frequently humiliated her. In spite of the Raven's cruelty, however Margaret refused to be intimidated and gave the nun a lesson in the power of human dignity. Complemented by archival photos, this inspiring first-person account of a girl's determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.

Front Desk

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English

Mia Tang has a secret. Actually, a lot of secrets. She doesn't live in a house like her friends. She doesn't have a dog. And her parents are hiding an even bigger secret, one that could get them all in trouble. It will take all of Mia's courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams? Winner of the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children's Literature.

I Lived on Butterfly Hill

Illustrated by: Lee White
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Product Description: Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile — until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can't deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country and is eventually sent by her parents to Maine. Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet's catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events, this multicultural ode to the power of revolution, words, and love is both indelibly brave and heartwrenchingly graceful.

Indian No More

girl with brains standing in front of a city and a mountain
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Regina Petit's family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. Her biggest worry is that Sasquatch may actually exist out in the forest.

Inside Out and Back Again

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Shortly before the fall of Saigon in 1975, Hà's family flees war-torn Vietnam. When they arrive in Alabama more than 3 months later as refugees, they struggle to adapt to a new life. Yet slowly Hà and her family begin to find their way, making friends in unexpected places and helping each other survive. Based on the childhood experiences of the author, this compelling novel won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

Lalani of the Distant Sea

Lalani of the Distant Sea
Illustrated by: Lian Cho
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

When Lalani Sarita’s mother falls gravely ill, twelve-year-old Lalani faces an impossible task — she must leave Sanlagita and find the riches of the legendary Mount Isa, which towers on an island to the north. But generations of men and boys have died on the same quest — how can an ordinary girl survive the epic tests of the archipelago? And how will she manage without Veyda, her best friend?

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family. Winner 2019 Newbery Medal.

My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Before becoming a successful actress and landing a spot on the megahit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, Diane Guerrero was a young girl living in Boston. One day, while Guerrero was at school, her undocumented immigrant parents were taken from their home, detained, and deported to their native country, Colombia. Guerrero's life, which had been full of the support of a loving family, was turned upside down.

Other Words for Home

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English

Jude never thought she'd be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives. At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven't quite prepared her for starting school in the US — and her new label of "Middle Eastern," an identity she's never known before.

Red Glass

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Product Description: One night Sophie and her parents are called to a hospital where Pedro, a six-year-old Mexican boy, is recovering from his trip across the border. Pedro comes to live with Sophie, her parents, and Sophie's Aunt Dika, a refugee of the war in Bosnia. Sophie loves Pedro — her Principito, or Little Prince. But after a year, Pedro's surviving family in Mexico makes contact, and Sophie must travel with Pedro to his hometown so that he can make a heartwrenching decision. An Américas Award Honor Book.

Seesaw Girl

Seesaw Girl
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Jade longs to see the world beyond the walls of her family's household. But Jade lives in 17th century Korea, where girls and women are restricted. When she figures out a way to get to the outside world, Jade's observations and experiences reveal a different time and place, but also dreams and wishes that contemporary readers will recognize.

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English

Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls' team forming in Yuba City, California. It's the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Miss Newman, Maria's teacher, is inspired by Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls' League to start a girls' softball team at their school. Meanwhile, Maria's parents - Papi from India and Mama from Mexico - can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land.

Sylvia & Aki

Sylvia & Aki
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Product Description: Sylvia Mendez never expected to be at the center of a landmark legal battle; all she wanted was to enroll in school. Aki Munemitsu never expected to be relocated to a Japanese internment camp in the Arizona desert; all she wanted was to stay on her family farm and finish the school year. The two girls certainly never expected to know each other, until their lives intersected in Southern California during a time when their country changed forever. Based on a true story.

The Jumbies, Book 1: The Jumbies

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Corinne La Mer claims she isn't afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They're just tricksters made up by parents to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest, and shining yellow eyes follow her to the edge of the trees. They couldn't belong to a jumbie. Or could they? Based on the stories she heard as a child growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Tracey Baptiste weaves folklore from the Caribbean throughout this spooky tale.

The Night Diary

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)
Language: English

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders. Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. 2019 Newbery Honor Book and Walter Honor Book, Younger Readers Category.

The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil
Illustrated by: Shane Evans
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Finally, Amira is twelve. Old enough to wear a toob, old enough for new responsibilities. And maybe old enough to go to school in Nyala — Amira's one true dream. But life in her peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when the Janjaweed arrive. The terrifying attackers ravage the town and unleash unspeakable horrors. After she loses nearly everything, Amira needs to dig deep within herself to find the strength to make the long journey on foot to safety at a refugee camp.

The Red Umbrella

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Product Description: In 1961, two years after the Communist revolution, Lucía Álvarez still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her sleepy Cuban town, everything begins to change. As the revolution's impact becomes more oppressive, Lucía's parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States — on their own. Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucía struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language, and a new way of life.

Tortilla Sun

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Product Description: When twelve-year-old Izzy discovers a beat-up baseball marked with the words "Becausemagic" while unpacking in yet another new apartment, she is determined to figure out what it means. What secrets does this old ball have to tell? Her mom certainly isn't sharing anyespecially when it comes to Izzy's father, who died before Izzy was born. But when she spends the summer in her Nana's remote New Mexico village, Izzy discovers long-buried secrets that come alive in an enchanted landscape of watermelon mountains, whispering winds, and tortilla suns.

Weedflower

Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Sumiko and her family are shipped to a Japanese internment camp in one of the hottest places in California after the events of Pearl Harbor. She was raised in California on a flower farm and now instead of flowers, she must endure dust storms regularly. In her old life she was accustomed to being the only Japanese girl in her class. Now they find themselves on an Indian reservation and are as unwelcome there as anywhere. She finally finds a friend in one Mohave boy. There they do their best to rebuild their lives and create a community.