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Community Building for Tweenagers

7 Middle Grade Books Highlighting Friendship, Inclusion, Collaboration with Elizabeth from The Kid Lit Mama

Building a community is no easy task. It’s a multifaceted thing, involving so many different skills: exploring our individual and collective identities, establishing and maintaining friendships, and learning about how to collaborate and function alongside one another, to name a few.

Reading books together that touch on these ideas is one way to work on developing a community. Here are seven of my favorite middle grade titles that do just that!

1) The Boy at the Back of the Class

Author: Onjali Q. Rauf | Publisher: Delacorte Press

In this book, a boy joins Mrs. Khan’s class, filling the empty chair in the back of the classroom. Ahmed, a Syrian refugee, seems quiet and serious. His new classmates are determined to help Ahmed through The Greatest Plan in the World, in which they aim to reconnect him with his family. This is a moving story about friendship, empathy, perseverance, and the importance of being an ally.

2) Posted

Author: John David Anderson | Publisher: Walden Pond Press

This is a story about a group of middle schoolers who begin communicating via sticky notes when cell phones are banned at their school. This story about navigating social situations, bullying, and friendships is sure to “stick” in readers’ minds long after they finish reading.

3) Harbor Me

Author: Jacqueline Woodson | Publisher: Puffin Books

Six students come together weekly to talk, without adults. In The ARTT room (A Room to Talk), the kids learn to feel comfortable sharing their life experiences with each other. This is a story of children uniting and the strength and healing we can find through sharing our stories.

4) Take Back the Block

Author: Chrystal D. Giles | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

In this title that addresses topics of gentrification, activism, and more, sixth grade protagonist Wes fights to save his inner-city neighborhood. The book also explores concepts including friendship, community, and more.

5) Amina’s Song

Author: Hena Khan | Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The sequel to Amina’s Voice (another must-read), Amina’s Song Amina visits her family in Pakistan, but is discouraged when her classmates don’t seem so interested in or understanding of Pakistani culture. This story highlights the importance of affirming friendships, empathy, and compassion.

6) Samira Surfs

Author: Rukhsanna Guidroz | Publisher: Kokila

Samira, who is a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, joins a local girls surf club. In this group, she finds the friendship and encouragement that she needs to heal and find the strength to continue. This middle grade novel is written in verse!

7) Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year

Author: Nina Hamza | Publisher: Quill Tree Books

In this book, Ahmed and his family move from Hawaii to Minnesota after his dad gets a new job. Originally, Ahmed is not-so-thrilled about the move, but he ends up learning a lot about himself and his family and finding friendship and belonging in his new home.

What are some of your favorite books that can be used to help encourage community building?

About the author:

Elizabeth is a mom to a toddler, a third grade teacher, and children's book fanatic! Her favorite formats are picture books and graphic novels. On her Instagram @thekidlitmama, she enjoys sharing the best in kid lit, especially engaging + inclusive new releases, and how to use different titles at home and/or in the classroom.


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