• Megan Mariano

Social Issues Books for Middle School


As many know who follow me, I find it to be super important for students to CHOOSE books. I typically plan units in my classroom and I base the units on genres or topics. With my 6th graders, I do a Social Issues Book Clubs unit inspired by Lucy Calkins' Unit of Study for Teaching Middle School.


Instead of me picking books and handing them off to the students, I let them pick their book club members first. I think this important, especially for this topic, because *usually* friends have similar values, so that eases the parent resistance (read about that here). They then look at the list and decide on about 3 books they want to read together. I set them up with library cards early in the school year (more about that here), they request (about a week or two before I want them to start reading), they pick them up and then start reading!


Here are some books on that list!


I base the list on social issues topics.


Racism:

Front Desk


She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.


Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?









All-American Muslim Girl


Allie Abraham has it all going for her--she's a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she's dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells's father is Jack Henderson, America's most famous conservative shock jock...and Allie hasn't told Wells that her family is Muslim. It's not like Allie's religion is a secret, exactly. It's just that her parents don't practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith--studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the "perfect" all-American girl? What does it mean to be a "Good Muslim?"And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?




Ghost Boys


Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.


Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.


Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father's actions.




Immigration:


Before We Were Free


Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her twelfth birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have immigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition to Trujillo’s iron-fisted rule.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.








Cuba in My Pocket

When the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 solidifies Castro’s power in Cuba, twelve-year-old Cumba’s family makes the difficult decision to send him to Florida alone. Faced with the prospect of living in another country by himself, Cumba tries to remember the sound of his father’s clarinet, the smell of his mother’s lavender perfume.


Life in the United States presents a whole new set of challenges. Lost in a sea of English speakers, Cumba has to navigate a new city, a new school, and new freedom all on his own. With each day, Cumba feels more confident in his new surroundings, but he continues to wonder: Will his family ever be whole again? Or will they remain just out of reach, ninety miles across the sea?





Physical and/or Mental Disabilities:


Mia Lee is Wheeling Through Middle School


Hello, sixth grade! Mia Lee is a stop-motion filmmaker with a wheelchair and a lot of sass, trying to survive her new middle school. Which doesn’t seem so easy when she’s running for Video Production Club President against certified Middle School Mean Girl, Angela Vanover. Things get weird when Angela starts being nice to her - well, when other people are around, at least. But when Mia’s campaign posters for VP Club President mysteriously vanish - no tape, no poster, no nothin’ - the presidential race gets real. With the help of her brain files, an awesome aide with keys to the whole school, and her friends, Rory, Daniela, and Caroline, Mia finds herself on a mission to prove Angela isn’t just an ordinary middle school mean girl, she’s a thief!






As Brave as You


Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck, Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he hides it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).


How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.


Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?


Family Issues:


The Thing about Luck


Summer’s family has had a lot of bad luck recently. Her parents were just called back to Japan to help with some elderly relatives which means she and her brother have to help extra hard with the harvest. Summer also just about died from malaria which makes her especially worried about mosquitos Her grandparents, whose occupation is to travel with migrant harvesters, are getting a little old for such back-breaking work. Summer has to help her grandmother with preparing meals for the team of harvesters as they travel farm to farm. Her grandfather drives one of the combines that cuts the wheat, and everyone is working fast and hard to get the wheat in before the dreaded rain comes. Summer is just wishing for a bit of good luck to come their way. Her family has had enough bad luck, that’s for sure, but the thing about luck is, you never know what kind you’re going to get.



Every Shiny Thing


In this beautifully constructed middle-grade novel, told half in prose and half in verse, Lauren prides herself on being a good sister, and Sierra is used to taking care of her mom. When Lauren’s parents send her brother to a therapeutic boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum and Sierra moves to a foster home in Lauren’s wealthy neighborhood, both girls are lost until they find a deep bond with each other. But when Lauren recruits Sierra to help with a Robin Hood scheme to raise money for autistic kids who don’t have her family’s resources, Sierra has a lot to lose if the plan goes wrong.

Lauren must learn that having good intentions isn’t all that matters when you battle injustice, and Sierra needs to realize that sometimes the person you need to take care of is yourself.




Bullying:


Stargirl


Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’ s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.


Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.






The Misfits


Skeezie, Addie, Joe, and Bobby call themselves the Gang of Five. Wonder why? Their name is a welcoming to any other kid out there who may find him/herself to be a misfit.


Together, they want to survive the seventh grade and the one-word jokes their classmates have tried to reduce them to. By the end of the school year, they have survived, and also, learned to see themselves as the full, complicated human beings they truly are.








Loss:


The Boy in the Black Suit


Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. Crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy stuff than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.





Fast Break


Forced to live on his own after his mom dies and her boyfriend abandons him, 12-year-old Jayson does whatever it takes to get by. He will do anything to avoid the foster care system. He manages to get away with his deception until the day he gets caught stealing a new pair of basketball sneakers. Game over. Within a day a social worker places him with a family from the other side of town, the Lawtons. New home, new school, new teammates.

Jayson, at first, is combatative, testing the Lawtons' patience at every turn. He wants out, yet the Lawtons refuse to take the bait. But not everyone in Jayson's new life is so ready to trust him. It's on Jayson to believe that he deserves a better life than the one he once had. The ultimate prize if he can? A trip to play in the state finals at Cameron Indoor Stadium–home to the Duke Blue Devils and launching pad to his dream of playing bigtime college ball. Getting there will be a journey that reaches far beyond the basketball court.



Body/Image Issues:


Deenie


Deenie’s mother wants her to be a model, with her face on magazine covers—maybe even in the movies—but Deenie wants to spend Saturdays with her friends Janet and Midge, tracking Harvey Grabowsky, the captain of the football team, around Woolworth’s. She wants to be a cheerleader, too, and go to the seventh-grade mixer to hear Buddy Brader play his drums.


Instead, Deenie is diagnosed with scoliosis. And that means body stockings to squeeze into, a roomful of strangers to face, and a terrifying brace that she’ll need to wear for years that goes from her neck to her hips. Suddenly Deenie has to cope with a kind of specialness that’s frightening—and might be hers forever.






Slob


Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school. But he also invents cool contraptions--like a TV that can show the past--because there is something that happened two years ago which he needs to see if he ever hopes to unravel a dreadful mystery.


But inventor or not, there is a lot Owen can't figure out. Like how his Oreos keep disappearing from his lunch. Or why his sister suddenly wants to be called by a boy's name. Or why a diabolical, scar-faced bully at school seems to be on a mission to destroy him. He's sure that if only he can get the TV to work, things will start to make sense. But it will take a revelation, not a cool invention, for Owen to see that the answer is not in the past, but the present. That no matter how large he is on the outside, he doesn't have to feel small on the inside.


With her trademark humor, Ellen Potter has created a larger-than-life character and story whose weight is immense when measured in heart.



LGBTQ:


George


When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.


George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.


With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.







To Night Owl from Dogfish


Avery Bloom, who's bookish, intense, and afraid of many things, particularly deep water, lives in New York City. Bett Devlin, who's fearless, outgoing, and loves all animals as well as the ocean, lives in California. What they have in common is that they are both twelve years old, and are both being raised by single, gay dads.


When their dads fall in love, Bett and Avery are sent, against their will, to the same sleepaway camp. Their dads hope that they will find common ground and become friends--and possibly, one day, even sisters.


But things soon go off the rails for the girls (and for their dads too), and they find themselves on a summer adventure that neither of them could have predicted. Now that they can't imagine life without each other, will Bett and Avery (who sometimes call themselves Night Owl and Dogfish) figure out a way to be a family?



Bottom Line:


This is just a short list of books recommended for this topic. Click below to get a much more in-depth list! It's so important to have diverse texts available to your students!


***Want a CUSTOM BUNDLE from me? Click below!***



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