Tweens need books written just for them, too

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Still, a precocious 12-year-old is not the same reader as a 15-year-old, and certainly different from a 17-year-old, though they all may read YA books. Meanwhile, middle school students go through enormous changes in a few short years. – Katy Hershberger for SLJ

There is a gap in books for tween readers. The MG and YA markets are thriving and great titles come out every year, but there are fewer books written just for ages 11 to 14. Writing for this age group is hard to pull off. There’s such a big range in maturity and reading levels. However, I think these authors did a great job!

The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney is great for fans of Pen15! It’s about all the awkwardness and changing friendships of middle school. I think there is a lack of books truly written for tween and I hope more books about middle school come out. I like revisiting that age (as an adult reader), but I think I would also like reading about experiences like mine at that age. (And to be real, middle school can be very inappropriate because that’s when boundaries are being explored…)

I hadn’t read Little Women, but I love More to the Story by Hena Khan. I love that Jo is a features editor of her school newspaper, and it touched upon microaggressions as well. I relate to Jameela a lot and over the course of the book, I fell in love with her sisters too.

  • Jo / Jameela: The aspiring journalist of her middle school paper
  • Meg / Maryam: The beautiful older sister who’s like a mom
  • Beth / Bisma: The younger sister who gets sick and is a good helper
  • Amy / Aleeza: The tomboyish younger sister who annoys Jameela

I really love that Salaam Reads exists. I have really enjoyed reading books for young readers by Muslim American authors and I’m so looking forward to reading more.

PET by Akwaeke Emezi was a really unique book. The only thing that I would like better about it is if it was more contextualized. It reminds me of fables like “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. Place and time are really important to me, and this book feels a little bit like it exists in the ether, so it didn’t totally draw me in. Nonetheless, I think it makes a great point about evil being everywhere and hard to identify. Evil is not necessarily ugly, and it’s doesn’t wear a badge or uniform. But it’s all around us.

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling is a sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. It chronicles Aven’s life as a high school freshman and OMG is it painful sometimes. In YA, we are used to reading these characters that are very evolved and have very adult lives, so to read about a protagonist that is actually struggling – but not with BIG struggles like police brutality or death – is a nice change.

Strange Birds by Celia C. Perez is another hit from the author of “The First Rule of Punk”! It’s great for fans of Kate DiCamillo and Wes Anderson. I think my favorite part about this book, besides the writing, is that it’s totally centered on girls, and boys and technology don’t get in the way of that.

  • Aster: The home-schooled foodie who is helping her grandfather research the origins of the winter sun orange
  • Lane: The orange grove heiress whose parents are divorced and is living in her grandmother’s mansion
  • Ofelia: The aspiring journalist who is on the hunt for a good story and has the most relatable parents
  • Cat: The former Floras troop member who has a passion for bird welfare and has parents with high expectations

I honestly love all four girls and that’s very hard to do! It’s so easy to write one girl as the protagonist and maybe make the others a little less likable, but Perez did a great job of showing their flaws. Lane’s privilege does get come up, and so do the other characters’ flaws.

Imperfect characters dealing with daily life and small-to-medium struggles is my favorite! What other books for tweens do you recommend? 😀

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