Thursday, April 22, 2021

Ask a Librarian: 10 diverse middle grade reads with a male protagonist


(Disclaimer:  If you purchase a book through the links, I may make a small commission.  
You can also look for these books at your local library!)

Earlier this month I was asked for a list of middle grade books with female protagonists.  That naturally led to the question about books with male protagonists - so here you go!  

First off, I want to define "middle grade" books.  Middle grade books tend to refer to books written for and read by 8-12 year olds.  Many 4th and 5th graders would enjoy these books, and I even have these books in my high school library.  It's a pretty broad category, but they address issues of growing up without the worry of having coarse language or sexual situations that may come with young adult books.  

So, here are 10 diverse middle grade books with male protagonists - recommended for both girls and boys to read!  

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a  MUST READ for everyone.  Boys, girls, teenagers, adults. It is so relevant and so well-written.  It follows the after death experience of a boy who was killed by police and how he is greeted in the after life by Emmett Till.  The story works through his own processing of what happened to him.  It is thought-provoking and probably one of the best middle grades books I have ever read! 

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya is a cute book set in Miami, Florida.  The story surrounds a Cuban-American family who owns a restaurant.  It addresses the issue of gentrification in a way that students can understand and then discuss.  There is a lot of Spanish thrown in, so this would be a great read for dual language students!  

Juba! by Walter Dean Myers is a book of historical fiction based on a real dancer, Master Juba.  This talented young black man, named William Henry Lane, influenced today's tap, jazz, and step dancing.  He lived in the 1800s.  This also is Walter Dean Myer's final novel before he died.  

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds is a series of short stories about the walk home of 10 kids - one story per block.  The stories are related in that all of these middle school kids go to the same school, but they each tell a different story.  This would be a great book for a student hesitant to pick up a big chapter book as each chapter is a story in itself.  Also, you can pretty much know that anything written by Jason Reynolds is a winner.  

I don't read many graphic novels, but I picked this up off of my library shelf and read it in about an hour.  New Kid by Jerry Craft is a great story about a boy going to a new middle school.  It addresses both race and class and how some kids have to "code switch" between two environments.  It also addresses the character's trying new things and meeting new friends.  It is well written and well illustrated.  I highly recommend this book!  

A few years ago, Wonder by R.J. Palacio was all the rage. A movie was made from it, and it seemed that everyone read it.  It is about a boy with a facial difference that makes him stand out.  Auggie just wants to be an ordinary kid.  This book is both heartwarming and a lesson in not judging someone by how they look.  It's one that is popular for a reason! 

Refugee by Alan Gratz is a work of historical fiction that follows the stories of three refugees fleeing a home that has become dangerous - one is a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, one is a Cuban girl in the 1990s, and another is a Syrian boy in the 2010s.  It tells the journey of each person, and the stories tie together in the end.  A very relevant book with a lot of options for discussion!

Restart by Gordan Korman is about a popular kid (who happens to also be a bully) who falls off of a roof, goes into a coma, and wakes up with no memory of who he is.  This story follow him as he relearns who he was, who he is, and who he wants to be.  

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng is a difficult book to explain, but it is a good book.  It follows 11 year old Alex on his quest to launch his iPad into space the same way that Carl Sagan (his hero) launched a record into space.  Along the way, he meets a lot of interesting people who will change his life as he works through his own family "stuff."  It's a great book - especially for a space-loving kid!  

For readers who enjoy the Percy Jackson books, the fun can continue with the Rick Riordan Presents series of books.  They are more diverse stories that pull from mythology.  In the Tristan Strong books (there are currently two with a third book expected this year), the mythology is West African with references to African-American heroes such as John Henry.  These are great ways to introduce the fact that mythology is more than the Greek gods.  

For an even more extensive list of diverse middle grade books, check out my Amazon list - and watch for a printable list coming in my May email newsletter!  

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