Skip to main content

Culture Children's Books

Making connections

Children’s Books

Making connections

Middle grade books that explore understanding, community, and friendship reviewed

Some Places More Than Others

Renée Watson

Amara grew up in Portland, Ore., far away from the extended family she wished she could meet. She is excited when she gets the chance to go with her father to visit New York City, where he grew up and his parents and siblings still live. While there, Amara learns about the history of her family and African Americans in the United States and discovers how our family history and culture affect us in ways we don’t always recognize. The story explores forgiveness and understanding between generations, the importance of family, and the cultural differences between the East and West Coasts. (Ages 9-13)

Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly

This whimsical and bittersweet book is about loneliness and the importance of connection. Iris’ deafness causes her to feel isolated from her schoolmates and even some of her family members who don’t know how to sign. When she learns about a hybrid whale named Blue 55 whose song is too high for the other whales to hear, she is determined to make a song for him and tell him he is not alone. During her pursuit of the whale, Iris discovers that a healthy life thrives on relationships—with family members, friends, and, sometimes, even with whales. (Ages 9-13)

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

Brenda Woods

A near miss on his bicycle changes 12-year-old Gabriel’s whole summer. A stranger named Meriwether Hunter saves him from an oncoming car, and the two become unlikely but close friends. The story explores the little-understood experience of African American soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War II to hometowns that did not always appreciate their service. It tackles themes of friendship and empathy between people with significant cultural, racial, or religious differences. The author also weaves into the story interesting details about the time period, like the Green Book that African Americans used to travel safely. (Ages 9-13)

The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten

Krista Van Dolzer

This fun mystery focuses on math and codes. When a storm prevents Esther from getting to art camp and instead strands her at math camp, she must team up with the other students to solve a mystery. As she makes friends with the “math nerds” and learns to organize and solve logic puzzles, she discovers her artistic creativity isn’t so different from the talents of the Camp Archimedes students. Although the book seems to take a dark turn, the conclusion is lighthearted and appropriate for middle graders. A great read for kids who are interested in puzzles and codes. (Ages 8-12)



Elizabeth Letts (Handout)


In The Perfect Horse (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2019) Elizabeth Letts tells the true story of how American soldiers undertook a daring mission during World War II to rescue hundreds of purebred horses, including Austria’s famed Lipizzaners, from certain death at the hands of a starving Russian army. The story goes deeper, though, to also chronicle the Nazis’ pursuit of the perfect warhorse, which paralleled their quest for a master human race. 

Although classified as a young readers edition, the book is heavy on historical details, making it better suited for teens. Letts’ afterword about eugenics also necessitates a caution: She heralds Darwinian theory as “a cornerstone of the life sciences, its accuracy demonstrated over and over again,” while overlooking how Darwinists’ devaluation of human life led to a warped worldview that eventually paved the way to genocide of the Jewish people. —Kristin Chapman