For generations, young people all over the world have taken an interest in social justice and found the courage to fight for their own rights and the rights of others. Here are fifteen inspiring middle grade books that prove you’re never too young to stand up for what you believe in and make a difference. (And if you have younger readers, our list of similarly themed picture books is here!)
Front Desk, by Kelly Yang
This big-hearted novel follows Mia, a young immigrant who lives at a motel where her parents are employed. Mia works at the front desk and uses her new-found writing voice to stand up for herself, her family, and the other immigrants and guests at the motel.
Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
When the Pakistani girl has an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal is forced into indentured servitude to pay off her family’s debts. Amal stands up to the powerful estate in order to change her future and the community she lives in.
Revenge of the Red Club, by Kim Harrington
Riley loves being a member of the Red Club at Hawking Middle School, a supportive club with an emergency stash of supplies for girls who unexpectedly get their periods at school. Then the club gets shut down. Using her investigative reporting skills for the school newspaper, Riley fights back to save the club.
Me and Marvin Gardens, by Amy Sarig King
After Obe Devlin’s family farm is taken over by developers, he meets a plastic-eating animal named Marvin Gardens. Obe must make some hard decisions to save his new friendship in this novel that asks important questions how we treat our planet.
A Good Kind of Trouble, by Lisa Moore Ramée
Trouble-averse Shayla finds herself at a powerful Black Lives Matter protest and decides to wear an armband in support of the movement, a decision that turns controversial at school. This story of a young girl’s social justice awakening demonstrates how small acts can make a big difference.
Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee
In this #MeToo story for young readers, middle schooler, Mila, gets an unwanted hug on the school blacktop, and starts to question the harassment and attention from her classmates. Watching her find the confidence to speak out and fight back is empowering and important for readers of all genders.
The Light in the Lake, by Sarah R. Baughman
When twelve-year-old Addie accepts a Young Scientist position at Maple Lake, where her twin brother drowned months before, she discovers two things: the lake is polluted, and a mysterious lake creature her brother believed in may actually exist. Addie can’t resist the lake’s secrets and also finds herself empowered to stand up to the people polluting the lake.
The Breadwinner Trilogy, by Deborah Ellis
This series follows 11-year-old Parvana, who lives under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. When her father is arrested and her family is left without someone who can work or even shop for food, Parvana, forbidden to earn money as a girl, disguises herself as a boy to help her family survive. The Breadwinner is an empowering tale with a sharp and brave heroine.
Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper
Stella lives in the segregated south in 1932. Out, late one night, wandering around, Stella and her brother witness a Klu Klux Klan activity, starting an unwelcome chain of events in her otherwise sleepy town. With a compelling and courageous voice, Stella tells the story of how she and her community ban together against racism and injustice.
A Little Piece of Ground, by Elizabeth Laird
Living in occupied Palestine, twelve-year-old Karim is trapped in his home by a strict curfew. Wanting to play football with his friends, he decides to clear a rocky plot of land for a soccer field. When Karim is found outside during the next curfew, tensions rise, and his survival is at stake.
One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams Garcia
Set against the backdrop of the Black Panther movement, Delphine and her sisters visit their estranged mother in California, attend a Black Panther day camp, and discover their mother’s dedication to social justice issues. A moving, funny novel with a captivating voice, the sisters learn about their family and their country during one truly crazy summer.
Sylvia & Aki, by Winifred Conkling
Sylvia and Aki never expected to know one another, until their lives intersect on a Southern California farm and change the country forever. Based on true events, this book reveals the remarkable story of Mendez vs. Westminster School District, the California court case that desegregated schools for Latino children.
Operation Redwood, by S. Terrell French
When Julian is sent to stay with his disinterested aunt and uncle for four months, he discovers that his Uncle’s corporation plans to cut down a group of redwood trees at Big Tree Grove and decides to take a stand to save the trees. Perfect for the young environmentalists in your life, Operation Redwood is an adventurous and gripping tale as Julian and his friends hatch scheme after scheme to save these giants of nature.
I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Dephine Mainoui
For more mature readers, this unforgettable autobiography tells the true story of Nujood Ali, a ten-year-old Yemeni girl married off at a young age, who decides to resist her abusive husband and get a divorce. A moving tale of tragedy, triumph, and courage, Nujood’s brave defiance has inspired generations of women and young girls.
Return to Sender, by Julia Alverez
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family hires migrant workers from Mexico to save his Vermont farm. Tyler bonds with one of the worker’s daughters and navigates complicated moral choices in this award-winning novel about friendship, cooperation, and understanding.
What empowering middle grade novels about social justice would you recommend?