The 2020 Nerdies: Middle Grade Fiction Announced by Colby Sharp
Middle grade fiction is my jam. Each and every year it is the bulk of what I read. I can’t get enough of the unforgettable characters, the captivating stories, and the way that these books tug at my heart strings. In 2020, I didn’t just love middle grade fiction, I needed it. Many of the books you will find below, helped me get through a very challenging year. This list is filled with books that I have loved, and books that I need to add to my to-read list. I’m thankful that the Nerdy Book Club community has created this beautiful list of books.
*Book descriptions taken from Goodreads*
A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
When sixth grader Silas Wade does a school presentation on former Major Leaguer Glenn Burke, it’s more than just a report about the irrepressible inventor of the high five. Burke was a gay baseball player in the 1970s–and for Silas, the presentation is his own first baby step toward revealing a truth about himself he’s tired of hiding. Soon he tells his best friend, Zoey, but the longer he keeps his secret from his baseball teammates, the more he suspects they know something’s up–especially when he stages one big cover-up with terrible consequences.
A High Five for Glenn Burke is Phil Bildner’s most personal novel yet–a powerful story about the challenge of being true to yourself, especially when not everyone feels you belong on the field.
A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan
Sixth-graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl meet when they take a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.
Sixth-graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is huge and completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners … but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends?
A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him.
All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.
Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, and inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewel Parker Rhodes
Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, he feels as if he is constantly swimming in whiteness. Most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbed the “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter skinned brother, Trey. Quiet, obedient.
When an incident with “King” Alan leads to Donte’s arrest and suspension, he knows the only way to get even is to beat the king of the school at his own game: fencing. With the help of a former Olympic fencer, Donte embarks on a journey to carve out a spot on Middlefield Prep’s fencing team and maybe learn something about himself along the way.
Chirp by Kate Messner
When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.
Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?
In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
From New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone comes a middle grade road-trip story through American race relations past and present perfect for fans of Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds.
How to Go on an Unplanned Road Trip with Your Grandma:
* Grab a Suitcase: Prepacked from the big spring break trip that got CANCELLED.
* Fasten Your Seatbelt: G’ma’s never conventional, so this trip won’t be either.
* Use the Green Book: G’ma’s most treasured possession. It holds history, memories, and, most important, the way home.
What Not to Bring:
* A Cell Phone: Avoid contact with Dad at all costs. Even when G’ma starts acting stranger than usual.
Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with New York Times bestselling Nic Stone and an eleven-year-old boy who is about to discover the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem–his G’ma included.
Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
A young heroine in Depression-era Maine is navigating the rocky terrain of her new life on Echo Mountain.
After the financial crash, Ellie and her family have lost nearly everything–including their home in town. They have started over, carving out a new life in the unforgiving terrain of Echo Mountain. Though her sister Esther, especially, resents everything about the mountain, Ellie has found more freedom, a new strength, and a love of the natural world that now surrounds them. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as they all struggle with the sorrow and aftermath of an accident that left her father in a coma. An accident for which Ellie has accepted the unearned weight of blame.
Urgent for a cure to bring her father back, Ellie is determined to try anything. Following her heart, and the lead of a scruffy mutt, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain, in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as “the hag.” But the mountain still has many untold stories left to reveal to Ellie, as she finds her way forward among a complex constellation of strong women spanning generations.
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros
Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman – or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.
But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.
Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.
Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf — her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.
In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?
A crime he says he never committed.
Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.
But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar
Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.
It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”
But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera
Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.
Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.
Not since Millicent Min, Girl Genius has a debut novel introduced a character so memorably, with such humor and emotional insight. Even square dancing fans will agree…
Once Upon an Eid by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
Once Upon an Eid is a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid!
Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift-giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy. The anthology will also include a poem, graphic-novel chapter, and spot illustrations.
The full list of Once Upon an Eid contributors include: G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen, Ms. Marvel), Hena Khan (Amina’s Voice, Under My Hijab), N. H. Senzai (Shooting Kabul, Escape from Aleppo), Hanna Alkaf (The Weight of Our Sky), Rukhsana Khan (Big Red Lollipop), Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?), Ashley Franklin (Not Quite Snow White), Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Mommy’s Khimar), Candice Montgomery (Home and Away, By Any Means Necessary), Huda Al-Marashi (First Comes Marriage), Ayesha Mattu, Asmaa Hussein, and Sara Alfageeh.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Prairie Lotus is a book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend. Hanna, a half-Asian girl in a small town in America’s heartland, lives in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, and the townspeople’s prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
Deaf author and librarian Ann Clare LeZotte weaves an Own Voices story inspired by the true history of a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th century.
Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there – including Mary – are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage.
But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this novel.
The Barren Grounds by David Alexander Robertson
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them.
The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.
When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”
As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy.
The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate
Bob sets out on a dangerous journey in search of his long-lost sister with the help of his two best friends, Ivan and Ruby. As a hurricane approaches and time is running out, Bob finds courage he never knew he had and learns the true meaning of friendship and family.
The Only Black Girls in Town Brandy Colbert
Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.
Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.
When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.
The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser
When autumn arrives on 141st Street, the Vanderbeekers are busy helping Mr. Beiderman get ready for the New York City Marathon and making sure the mysterious person sleeping in the community garden gets enough to eat. But when they discover the true identity of the person making a home in the community garden’s shed, their world turns upside down as they learn what it means to care for someone in an impossible situation.
Three Keys by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang thinks she’s going to have the best year ever.
She and her parents are the proud owners of the Calivista Motel, Mia gets to run the front desk with her best friend, Lupe, and she’s finally getting somewhere with her writing! But as it turns out, sixth grade is no picnic…
1. Mia’s new teacher doesn’t think her writing is all that great.
2. The motel is struggling, and Mia has to answer to the Calivista’s many, many worried investors.
3. A new immigration law is looming and if it passes, it will threaten everything—and everyone—in Mia’s life.
It’s a roller coaster of challenges, and Mia needs all of her determination to hang on tight. But if anyone can find the key to getting through turbulent times, it’s Mia Tang!
We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
It’s January 1986. The launch of the Challenger is just weeks away, and Cash, Fitch, and Bird Nelson Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware.
Cash loves basketball, Dr. J, and a girl named Penny; he’s also in danger of failing seventh grade for a second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.
The Nelson Thomas siblings exist in their own orbits, circling a tense, crowded, and unpredictable household, dreaming of escape, dreaming of the future, dreaming of space. They have little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga—a failed applicant to the Teacher in Space program—who encourages her students to live vicariously through the launch. Cash and Fitch take a passive interest, but Bird builds her dreams around it.
When the fated day arrives, it changes everything.
What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado
“STAY IN YOUR LANE.” Stephen doesn’t want to hear that–he wants to have no lane.
Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn’t think it’s his lane, but he goes. Here’s the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he’s not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he’s living in two worlds with different rules–and he’s been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends . . .
So what’ll he do? Hold on tight as Stephen swerves in and out of lanes to find out which are his–and who should be with him.
Torrey Maldonado, author of the highly acclaimed Tight, does a masterful job showing a young boy coming of age in a racially split world, trying to blaze a way to be his best self.
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now, the tigers want it back. And when one of those tigers offers Lily a deal–return what Halmoni stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health–Lily is tempted to accept. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice… and the courage to face a tiger.
A Home For Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor
Lydia knows more about death than most thirteen-year-olds. Her mother was already sick when her father left them six years ago. Then when her mother died, it was Lydia who sat by her side.
Fully orphaned now, Lydia follows the plan her mother made with her. She uproots to rural Connecticut to live with her “last of kin.” Aunt Brat; her jovial wife, Eileen; and their ancient live-in landlord, Elloroy, welcome Lydia. Only days after her arrival the women adopt a big yellow dog.
Lydia is not a dog person—and this one is trouble! He pees in the house, escapes into the woods, and barks at things unseen. His new owners begin to guess about his unknown past.
Lydia doesn’t want to cause trouble for her new family—and she does not mean to keep secrets—but there are things she’s not telling . . .
Like why the box of “paper stuff” she keeps under her bed is so important . . .
And why that hole in the wall behind the poster in her room is getting bigger . . .
And why something she took from the big yellow dog just might be the key to unraveling his mysterious past—but at what cost?
Congratulations to all of the 2020 Nerdy Book Club award winners for best middle grade fiction!
Colby Sharp is a husband and father of five. He teaches fifth grade in Parma, Michigan. Colby is the co-founder of Nerdy Book Club. He co-hosts The Yarn podcast with Travis Jonker. Colby currently serves as the president of the Michigan Reading Association. He co-authored Game Changer! Book Access for All Kid with Donalyn Miller, and he is the editor of The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection.