Oh my goodness, how is it already almost back-to-school time? The summer went so fast!
Well, if we’re going to be hitting the books, let’s make some of them books we want to read about kids and school. I think it helps to see what other kids go through and how they deal with it, don’t you? Plus it’s fun to see what goes on at other schools—especially the ones that teach magic!
This isn’t a school assignment so there’s no required reading and no due date, but I think you’ll find something you’ll want to read just for fun. For even more back-to-school book ideas, check out my other posts: 15 Middle Grade Novels for Back to School and Magical Schools for Back to School and my own books: Welcome to Superhero School and Journey to Superhero School.
1. Best Frenemies Forever by Megan McCafferty
We’ll start off with an almost-back-to-school story about bullies, friendship, honesty, and those last few days of summer.
Amazon Description: Sophie Dailey is NOT looking forward to starting middle school. For one thing, she doesn’t look like other kids. Instead of trendy tank tops, she wears high tech shirts that block UV rays. (Sun protection is serious business!) And she definitely doesn’t sound like other kids either. (She can’t say “holla” or “hot take” without making a weird face.) Needless to say, this is probably why her best friend, Ella, ditched her for Queen Bee Morgan.
Sophie is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t want to change. But she’s also pretty lonely without Ella. Even worse, Morgan seems intent on making seventh grade miserable for Sophie, and Ella doesn’t bat an eye at the bullying. Then a new girl moves in next door to Sophie. Kaytee Ray is everything Sophie is not: fashionable and super-confident.
Sophie can’t believe Kaytee wants to spend the last days of summer with her. Determined to keep Kaytee as a friend, Sophie lies about her social status, claiming to be besties with Morgan and Ella. As long as Kaytee attends Villa Academy―a private school on the other side of town―she’ll never find out her first friend in New Jersey is a loser.
But can any friendship built on lies survive seventh grade?
2. Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier
Jillian’s story is for anyone who feels safer blending in than standing out. I love how Jillian’s family supports her as she picks her way out of her comfort zone and shows the world who she truly is.
Amazon Description: Fifth grader Jillian will do just about anything to blend in, including staying quiet even when she has the right answer.
After she loses a classroom competition because she won’t speak up, she sets her mind on winning her school’s biggest competition. But breaking out of her shell is easier said than done, and Jillian has only a month to keep her promise to her grandmother and prove to herself that she can speak up and show everyone her true self.
3. Dear Student by Elly Swartz
Middle school is hard enough, but it’s even harder when your best friend is no longer there. Making new friends can be tricky, too—even when you’re the one people ask for advice.
Amazon Description: When Autumn becomes the secret voice of the advice column in her middle school newspaper she is faced with a dilemma—can she give fair advice to everyone, including her friends, while keeping her identity a secret?
Starting Middle School is rough for Autumn after her one and only BFF moves to California. Uncertain and anxious, she struggles to connect with her new classmates. The two potential friends she meets could not be more different: bold Logan who has big ideas and quiet Cooper who’s a bit mysterious. But Autumn has a dilemma: what do you do when the new friends you make don’t like each other?
When Autumn is picked to be the secret voice of the Dear Student letters in the Hillview newspaper, she finds herself smack in the middle of a problem with Logan and Cooper on opposite sides. But before Autumn can figure out what to do, the unthinkable happens. Her secret identity as Dear Student is threatened. Now, it’s time for Autumn to find her voice, her courage, and follow her heart, even when it’s divided.
4. Confessions of a Class Clown by Arianne Costner
Making friends is one thing…keeping them is something entirely different.
Amazon Description: Meet Jack Reynolds. Making people laugh is his life’s work. Jack’s wacky MyTube channel is really starting to take off. The only problem is, for the truly epic posts, he needs a collaborator. And, well, he doesn’t exactly have any friends. So Jack has to swallow his pride and join the new afterschool club, Speed Friendshipping. But who would make the best partner in comedy?
- Brielle, Miss Perfect candidate for student body president?
- Mario, whose mom won’t even let him have a smart phone?
- Or Tasha, the quiet, mysterious girl with a shaved head and a crocheted hat for every day of the week?
One of these kids could help catapult Jack to internet fame . . . or even become a true friend. But what will it cost him to go viral?
5. Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly
If you moved somewhere no one knew you, who would you be?
Amazon Description: There are twelve kids in the seventh grade at Fawn Creek Middle School. They’ve been together all their lives. And in this small factory town where everyone knows everything about everyone, that’s not necessarily a great thing.
There are thirteen desks in the seventh-grade classroom. That’s because Renni Dean’s father got a promotion, and the family moved to Grand Saintlodge, the nearest big town. Renni’s desk is empty, but Renni still knows their secrets; is still pulling their strings.
When Orchid Mason arrives and slips gracefully into Renni’s chair, the other seventh graders don’t know what to think. Orchid—who was born in New York City but just moved to Fawn Creek from Paris—seems to float. Her dress skims the floor. She’s wearing a flower behind her ear.
Fawn Creek Middle might be small, but it has its tightly knit groups—the self-proclaimed “God Squad,” the jocks, the outsiders—just like anyplace else. Who will claim Orchid Mason? Who will save Orchid Mason? Or will Orchid Mason save them?
6. Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao
Winnie studied hard to find a way to survive middle school, but apparently the best way to do that is to have magical powers. Which she doesn’t. Or…does she?
Amazon Description: Winnie Zeng has two goals: survive her first year of middle school and outdo her stuck-up archnemesis, David Zuo. It won’t be easy, since, according to her older sister, middle school is the pits. Luckily, Winnie studied middle school survival tactics in comic books and anime, and nothing will stop her from being the very best student.
But none of Winnie’s research has prepared her to face the mother of all hurdles: evil spirits. When she makes mooncakes for a class bake sale, she awakens the stuff of legends from her grandmother’s old cookbook, spilling otherworldly chaos into her sleepy town.
Suddenly Winnie finds herself in a race against time, vanquishing demons instead of group projects. Armed with a magic cookbook and a talking white rabbit, she must embrace her new powers and legacy of her ancestors. Because if she doesn’t, her town—and rest of the world—may fall to chaos forever.
7. The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
I love a magical school! All you fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson really need to read this one.
Amazon Description: Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, a magic school in the clouds where Marvellers from around the world practice their cultural arts, like brewing Indian spice elixirs and bartering with pesky Irish pixies.
Despite her excitement, Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy―some Marvellers mistrust her magic, which they deem “bad and unnatural.” But eventually, she finds friends in elixirs teacher, Masterji Thakur, and fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, a boy with a fondness for magical creatures.
When a dangerous criminal known as the Ace of Anarchy escapes prison, supposedly with a Conjuror’s aid, tensions grow in the Marvellian world and Ella becomes the target of suspicion. Worse, Masterji Thakur mysteriously disappears while away on a research trip. With the help of her friends and her own growing powers, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her mentor before it’s too late.
8. Honestly Elliott by Gillian McDunn
I’m always excited to see a new book with a character who struggles with ADHD. Elliott feels like a new friend. Plus, he’s a friend who brings recipes (at the back of the book). Win-win!
Amazon Description: Elliott has been struggling since his closest friend moved away, and he’s not too sure where he fits into his own family, especially since his newly remarried dad and stepmom are expecting a baby. His grades aren’t too great, he’s always forgetting things, and he doesn’t really like sports. All together, the result is someone the complete opposite of his dad–a fact they’re both very aware of. Elliott’s only solace is cooking, where he can control the outcome, testing exciting recipes and watching his favorite cooking shows.
When he’s paired with the super smart and popular Maribel for a school-wide project, Elliott worries they won’t see eye to eye. But Maribel is also looking for a new way to show others her true self and this project could be the chance they’ve both been waiting for. Sometimes the least likely friends help you see a new side to things . . . and sometimes you have to make a few mistakes before you figure out what’s right.
9. Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a real problem but it’s one Drew is determined to solve. Can she do that without losing all her friends along the way?
Amazon Description: Drew Leclair knows what it takes to be a great detective. She’s pored over the cases solved by her hero, criminal profiler Lita Miyamoto. She tracked down the graffiti artist at school, and even solved the mystery of her neighbor’s missing rabbit. But when her mother runs off to Hawaii with the school guidance counselor, Drew is shocked. How did she miss all of the clues?
Drew is determined to keep her family life a secret, even from her best friend. But when a cyberbully starts posting embarrassing rumors about other students at school, it’s only a matter of time before Drew’s secret is out.
Armed with her notebooks full of observations about her classmates, Drew knows what she has to do: profile all of the bullies in her grade to find the culprit. But being a detective is more complicated when the suspects can be your friends. Will Drew crack the case if it means losing the people she cares about most?
10. Join the Club, Maggie Diaz by Nina Moreno
Some people seem to be born knowing who they are and who they’re meant to be. Then there are people like Maggie…
Amazon Description: Everyone in Maggie Diaz’s life seems to be finding their true passion. The one thing that defines them as a person. Her best friends Zoey and Julian are too busy to hang out after school thanks to band and comics club. Mom is finishing her last semester in college. And Maggie’s perfect older sister Caro is perfectly-perfect at sports and tutoring.
So Maggie cooks up a plan to join every club she can! But trying to fit in with type-A future leaders, gardening whizzes, and the fearless kids in woodshop is intimidating, exhausting, and seriously confusing. And juggling homework, friends, and all of her after-school activities is way harder than it looks.
Seventh grade is all about figuring out who you are—good thing Maggie Diaz has the perfect plan!
11. Dream, Annie, Dream by Waka T. Brown
I love Annie’s positive attitude and big aspirations, even in the face of racism and limited opportunities.
Amazon Description: As the daughter of immigrants who came to America for a better life, Annie Inoue was raised to dream big. And at the start of seventh grade, she’s channeling that irrepressible hope into becoming the lead in her school play.
So when Annie lands an impressive role in the production of The King and I, she’s thrilled . . . until she starts to hear grumbles from her mostly white classmates that she only got the part because it’s an Asian play with Asian characters. Is this all people see when they see her? Is this the only kind of success they’ll let her have—one that they can tear down or use race to belittle?
Disheartened but determined, Annie channels her hurt into a new dream: showing everyone what she’s made of.
12. The School For Whatnots by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Max and Josie’s story offers twists and turns and plenty of thrills. Remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? This is kind of like that…only different.
Amazon Description: No matter what anyone tells you, I’m real.
That’s what the note says that Max finds under his keyboard.
He knows that his best friend, Josie, wrote it. He’d know her handwriting anywhere. But why she wrote it—and what it means—remains a mystery.
Ever since they met in kindergarten, Max and Josie have been inseparable. Until the summer after fifth grade, when Josie disappears, leaving only a note, and whispering something about “whatnot rules. But why would Max ever think that Josie wasn’t real? And what are whatnots?
As Max sets to uncover what happened to Josie—and what she is or isn’t—little does he know that she’s fighting to find him again, too. But there are forces trying to keep Max and Josie from ever seeing each other again. Because Josie wasn’t supposed to be real.
13. Katie the Catsitter: Best Friends for Never by Colleen AF Venable
Friend drama, superhero drama and some seriously amazing cats. This sequel to Katie the Catsitter has it all!
Amazon description: Katie loves skating with the Wheelas and the fact that she’s officially a superhero sidekick. But now that school’s starting, everything’s changing. The Mousetress is getting blamed for things Katie knows she didn’t do. Sidekick training is NOT as exciting as she’d hoped. Katie’s best friend Beth is back in town and Beth’s new boyfriend is always hanging around (ugh!). Not to mention that all of Katie’s friends are mad at her. Fixing this will be harder than any skateboarding trick. But with the help of 217 slightly out of the ordinary cats, Katie’s going to try!
Can she clear the Mousestress’s name, uncover the real supervillain, and become the sidekick (and the friend) she’s always dreamed of being?
14. In Honor of Broken Things by Paul Acampora
Friends don’t have to be alike to be able to relate to each other. While this book has some sadness to it, it ends with hope.
Amazon Description: At West Beacon Middle School, eighth graders Oscar Villanueva, Riley Baptiste, and Noah Wright become unlikely friends during Introduction to Clay class. Oscar, a football star, just lost his little sister to cancer. Riley’s been dragged away from Philadelphia by her single mom to a new life in West Beacon, a tiny Pennsylvania coal town that’s smaller than Riley’s old school. Noah’s spent his whole life as a homeschooler and just started West Beacon Middle School as a result of his parents’ train wreck of a divorce.
Through art, football, failure, faith, and trust, the friends help one another to piece things back together again. In true friendship, they also discover that some injuries may never heal, some things can never be unbroken—and that’s okay too.
15. Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed
Go on a journey to Pakistan and off to school with Omar. It’s an amazing opportunity for him…or is it? To say that school is tough for Omar is an understatement, but he doesn’t let that stop him.
Amazon Description: Omar knows his scholarship to Ghalib Academy Boarding School is a game changer, providing him—the son of a servant—with an opportunity to improve his station in life. He can’t wait to experience all the school has to offer, especially science club and hopefully the soccer team; but when he arrives, his hopes are dashed. First-year scholarship students aren’t allowed to join clubs or teams—and not only that, they have to earn their keep doing menial chores.
At first Omar is dejected—but then he gets angry when he learns something even worse—the school deliberately “weeds out” kids like him by requiring them to get significantly higher grades than kids who can pay tuition, making it nearly impossible for scholarship students to graduate. It’s a good thing that in his favorite class, he’s learned the importance of being stubbornly optimistic. So with the help of his tightknit new group of friends—and with the threat of expulsion looming over him—he sets out to do what seems impossible: change a rigged system.
16. Valentina Salazar is not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Cordova
I’d love to be a monster protector! Even though it sounds like a pretty tough job, if Valentina’s story is anything to go by.
Amazon Description It takes a special person to end up in detention on the last day of school. It takes a REALLY special person to accidentally burn down the school yard while chasing a fire-breathing chipmunk.
But nothing about Valentina Salazar has ever been “normal.” The Salazars are protectors, tasked with rescuing the magical creatures who sometimes wander into our world, from grumpy unicorns to chupacabras . . . to the occasional fire-breathing chipmunk.
When Val’s father is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong, her mother decides it’s time to retire from their life on the road. She moves the family to a boring little town in upstate New York and enrolls Val and her siblings in real school for the first time.
But Val is a protector at heart and she can’t give up her calling. So when a mythical egg surfaces in a viral video, Val convinces her reluctant siblings to help her find the egg before it hatches and wreaks havoc. But she has some competition: the dreaded monster hunters who’ll stop at nothing to destroy the creature . . . and the Salazar family.
17. The School Between Winter and Fairyland by Heather Fawcett
Monsters and mysteries at a boarding school for magicians with plenty of twists and turns to keep things even more interesting. Hmmm, maybe I’d rather be a beastkeeper than a monster protector…
Amazon Description: Twelve-year-old Autumn Malog is a servant at the enchanting Inglenook School, where young magicians study to become the king’s future monster-hunters. Along with her Gran and three too many older brothers, she works as a beastkeeper, tending to Inglenook’s menagerie of terrifying monsters.
But when she isn’t mucking out the wyvern stalls or coaxing the resident boggart to behave, Autumn searches for clues about her twin brother’s mysterious disappearance. Everyone else thinks he was devoured by the feared Hollow Dragon, but Autumn is convinced she’s heard—and glimpsed—him calling to her from within the castle walls. But who will believe a lowly servant?
So when Cai Morrigan, the “Chosen One” prophesied to one day destroy the Hollow Dragon, comes to her for help, Autumn agrees on one condition: Together, they’ll search for her brother and uncover the dark truth at the heart of enchanting Inglenook School once and for all.
18. The Zee Files by Tina Wells
This is a two-fer recommendation, because Zee’s story is a spin-off from the Mackenzie Blue series, which is totally worth a look. But you can feel free to start with Zee’s adventures in an English boarding school. It’s the first of a series, too.
Amazon Description: Mackenzie (“Zee”) Blue Carmichael has never eaten fish ‘n’ chips, never slept away from home longer than a few nights, and knows nothing about London. But after her family relocates for her dad’s new job, 13-year-old Zee leaves her old life in California behind for a new one in England.
Zee lands in London and at her new boarding school, The Hollows, hoping to find new friends and jump-start her music career. All of that proves difficult between a chilly roommate, a BFF who’s gone MIA, and distractions from the poshest—and cutest—student in her grade. Will Zee thrive in her new environment, and will London end up not being so bad after all?
19. Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by Sylvia Liu
Have you ever read a book that reads like a movie? This is one of those. It’s fast-paced, smart and exciting, kind of like Hana herself.
Amazon Description: Hana Hsu can’t wait to be meshed.
If she can beat out half her classmates at Start-Up, a tech school for the city’s most talented twelve-year-olds, she’ll be meshed to the multiweb through a neural implant like her mom and sister. But the competition is fierce, and when her passion for tinkering with bots gets her mixed up with dangerous junkyard rebels, she knows her future in the program is at risk.
Even scarier, she starts to notice that something’s not right at Start-Up—some of her friends are getting sick, and no matter what she does, her tech never seems to work right. With an ominous warning from her grandmother about being meshed, Hana begins to wonder if getting the implant early is really a good idea.
Desperate to figure out what’s going on, Hana and her friends find themselves spying on one of the most powerful corporations in the country—and the answers about the mystery at Start-Up could be closer to home than Hana’s willing to accept. Will she be able to save her friends—and herself— from a conspiracy that threatens everything she knows?
20. Wishing Upon the Same Stars by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman
It’s hard to start a new school and even harder when you don’t fit in. This book offers a really interesting perspective on friendship, family, racism and peace.
Amazon Description: When twelve-year-old Yasmeen Khoury moves with her family to San Antonio, all she wants to do is fit in. But her classmates in Texas are nothing like her friends in the predominantly Arab neighborhood back in Detroit where she grew up. Almost immediately, Yasmeen feels like the odd girl out, and as she faces middle school mean girls and tries to make new friends, she feels more alone than ever before.
Then Yasmeen meets her neighbor, Ayelet Cohen, a first-generation Israeli American. As the two girls grow closer, Yasmeen is grateful to know someone who understands what it feels like when your parents’ idea of home is half a world away.
But when Yasmeen’s grandmother moves in after her home in Jerusalem is destroyed, Yasmeen and Ayelet must grapple with how much closer the events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are than they’d realized. As Yasmeen begins to develop her own understandings of home, heritage, and most importantly, herself, can the two girls learn there’s more that brings them together than might tear them apart . . . and that peace begins with them?
What do you think? Did I get an A for this list or would you mark it up with a red pen? What back-to-school books would you add to it? Come over to my Instagram and let me know!