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Amazing Middle-Grade Books Celebrating Strong Female Characters and Relationships

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

We loved sharing some recent favorite middle-grade recommendations in episode 178, and Jen shared some great historical fiction middle-grade picks in her bookish fave last week. This past Wednesday's episode focused on the screen adaptation of Jennifer Matthieu's Moxie, which has a strong message supporting feminism and the empowerment of young womxn. A fun discovery that was shared in our buddy read group related to that book and adaptation is this video highlighting the amazing middle-school band featured in the film! While it was sad to hear some of the struggles the band members have been experiencing, it's awesome to see them channel those experiences into such creative music.

Today I'm sharing some of my favorite middle-grade reads that center strong female protagonists and strong relationships between the girls and womxn in the books. I'm also sharing a couple that are currently on my TBR stack that Jen recommends!

Hena Khan's Amina's Voice (Amazon | and Amina's Song (Amazon | - Hena Khan is definitely one of my favorite go-to middle grade authors. I've shared about these two amazing books multiple times. I absolutely love Hena Khan's work, and what I love about Amina's character is the way that she reflects on her own actions and the world around her. She is a good friend, a conscientious thinker, and a strong young woman. Her relationships with her friends are at the center of both books, and the first book especially explores how relationships between girls can be complex but are worth the challenge. I particularly love the way that Amina explores sharing about Pakistan with her American classmates in Amina's Song. Check out my review of Amina's Voice here, and see Jen's review of the series here.

Kelly Yang's Front Desk (Amazon | - This book was a Global Read Aloud pick in 2019, and we all thoroughly enjoyed this story. Mia Tang, the protagonist, is hard working, kind, and determined to help others. She strives to find solutions and to use her words to bring about change. We discussed our thoughts in episode 85; you cannot go wrong with this one! I look forward to reading the other books in the series.

Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Amazon | - This is one of my all-time favorites. This fantasy book features Luna, a curious and happy child who was spared as a baby by the witch of the woods, Xan, and then raised as her adopted daughter. I love the way that this story shows that things are not always what they seem and that it's good to question why traditions are the way they are, and the relationship between Xan and Luna is so amazing.

Aisha Saeed's Amal Unbound (Amazon | - We shared about Amal Unbound way back in episode 39. This story features the courageous Amal, who finds herself forced into indentured servitude after an altercation with a powerful local landlord. Through her perseverance and determination, she finds a way to fight against the landlord and to bring about positive change.

BONUS RECS! Check out these reviews featuring middle-grade recommendations from Jen (@jen.loves.books). I'll be reading both of these soon!

Joan Bauer's Tell Me (Amazon | - "I picked up Joan Bauer's middle-grade novel Tell Me after hearing about it from @definitelyra. What a powerful novel. Twelve-year-old Anna, an aspiring actress, is trying to weather her parents' horrible arguments and potential separation. To give them some space to work things out (and to remove her from the source of great anxiety), her parents send her to stay with her grandmother, Mim, just in time for her small town's Flower Festival. Early in her stay, Anna witnesses a strange interaction between a girl her age in a van and the adults she's with. Worried for the girl's safety, Anna takes action to draw attention to her plight.

"Tell Me is the first book I've read by Bauer, and it is such a strong read for this age group. The narrative is honest and real--Anna is a believable protagonist whose decision to speak up about what she saw provides an excellent model for readers this age. Through the book, we see how hard it can be to speak up, particularly when others dismiss our concerns, but also how important it is to move past their dismissal to take the actions that we can. The book is realistic, as well, about what Anna can do: she can't single-handedly rescue the girl. Instead, her voice and her confidence are the weapons she can wield against something wrong in her world."

Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer's To Night Owl, from Dogfish (Amazon | - "I absolutely loved To Night Owl from Dogfish, an epistolary, middle-grade novel from Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer. Told entirely through emails and letters, the book is about the friendship between Averly and Bett. When their fathers' romance culminates in a plot to make the girls friends by sending them to the CIGI camp for the summer. When the girls uncover the plot, a flurry of emails begin, and the girls team up in an attempt to defy their fathers' plans. The unexpected, of course, ensues.

"Sloan and Wolitzer broaden the girls' correspondence with accents from their dads, Bett's grandma Gaga, Avery's biological mother, and a sprinkling of other characters. We come to understand Avery's anxiety, Bett's commitment to adventure, and the ways that relationships can rise and fall. Gorgeous, resonant, and emotional novel."

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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