You may know that I learn differently. I also struggle with anxiety. Maybe you or someone you know does too?
I want you to know that it is okay to learn and process the world differently. You are not alone!
Embrace your differences. They make you special, and you ARE special, just as you are.
I love reading about people who are completely different than me (hello, superheroes!), and about magical worlds and exciting adventures. But I also love reading about people who experience some of the same things I do. It is a good reminder that we all have things we struggle with, and that there are ways to manage our problems and people out there who want to help.
That’s why I pulled together this great list of middle grade books with main characters who have anxiety.
If you like this list, you may also want to check out my blog posts with book recommendations with characters who learn differently.
Remember, you’ve got this – whatever it is! I believe in you. Believe in yourself, and I know you will accomplish great things!
1. Better with Butter by Victoria Piontek
There are so many things to love about this book. Marvel is so brave even though she’s so scared; I was cheering her on every step of the way. Also: Fainting goats! I can’t help but think that having a baby goat around might just help make everything better. I wonder if my pups would like a goat sister?
Amazon description: Twelve-year-old Marvel is afraid of absolutely everything—amusement park rides, food poisoning, earthquakes, and that big island of plastic floating through the ocean. She also obsesses about smaller worries like making friends, getting called on by the teacher, and walking home alone. Her parents and the school therapist call her worries an anxiety disorder, but Marvel calls them armor. If something can happen, it will. She needs to be prepared.
But when Marvel stumbles on a group of older kids teasing a baby goat that has mysteriously shown up on the soccer field, she momentarily forgets to be afraid and rescues the frightened animal. Only Butter isn’t any old goat. She’s a fainting goat. When Butter feels panic, she freezes up and falls over. Marvel knows exactly how Butter feels and precisely what Butter needs—her.
Soon, the two are inseparable, and Butter thrives under Marvel’s support. But Butter also helps Marvel. Everything is better with Butter by her side, and Marvel starts to imagine a life in which she doesn’t have to be so afraid . . . until she’s told she might have to give up Butter forever. Will Marvel find a way to fight for her friend? Or will she revert back to the anxious, lonely person she used to be?
2. Growing Pangs by Kathryn Ormsbee
Growing pangs is partly based on the author’s own life and experience as a teen with anxiety and OCD. The struggle is real, and this story feels real, too. No wonder it was named one of the best books of the year by NPR.
Amazon description: Katie’s always felt different. She’s homeschooled, she has freckles, and her teeth are really crooked. But none of these things matter to Kacey. They’re best friends forever—just like their necklaces say.
But when they go to summer camp, Kacey starts acting weird. What happened to the “forever”? And when Katie gets home, she can’t stop worrying. About getting braces. About 6th grade. About friends. She knows tapping three times or opening and closing a drawer won’t make everything better . . . but sometimes it helps stop the worrying. Is something wrong with her?
3. Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher
Joseph’s adventures are laugh-out-loud funny but they also show what it’s like to be afraid…of everything. I also enjoyed watching the friendship grow between Joseph and Heather.
Amazon description: If middle school were a race, Joseph Friedman wouldn’t even be in last place—he’d be on the sidelines. With an overactive mind and phobias of everything from hard-boiled eggs to gargoyles, he struggles to understand his classes, let alone his fellow classmates. So he spends most of his time avoiding school bully Charlie Kastner and hiding out in the Resource Room, a safe place for misfit kids like him.
But then, on the first day of seventh grade, two important things happen. First, his Resource Room teacher encourages (i.e., practically forces) him to join the school track team, and second, he meets Heather, a crazy-fast runner who isn’t going to be pushed around by Charlie Kastner or anybody else.
With a new friend and a new team, Joseph finds himself off the sidelines and in the race (quite literally) for the first time. Is he a good runner? Well, no, he’s terrible. But the funny thing about running is, once you’re in the race, anything can happen.
4. Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna
It’s always interesting to learn about another culture’s stories, like the ones that inspired this book. It’s even better when you can learn in a funny, magical adventure with a strong heroine with plenty of heart and a magic pencil.
Amazon description: Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years.
One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds—the real and the imagined—from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?
5. Quintessence by Jess Redman
One of my favorite things about this fairy tale of a book is the description of how trying to deal with her anxiety makes Alma feel “the stuff that she imagined made her herself—her Alma-ess—grow dimmer and dimmer and dimmer.” Fortunately, we get to watch Alma grow brighter with every page.
Amazon description: Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped―even though she’s told her parents that they have. She’s homesick and friendless and every day she feels less and less like herself.
But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star―a star that looks like a child―fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to be lost and afraid, to long for home, and she knows that it’s up to her to save the star. And so, with the help of some unlikely new friends from Astronomy Club, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self.
6. Lemon Drop Falls by Heather Clark
This book takes the reader on an emotional journey. The story alternates between before and after Morgan’s mom’s death, which really paints the picture of how much change Morgan has to deal with. No wonder she has anxiety. Keep going to the end…you’ll never look at lemon drops the same way again.
Amazon description: Brave the sour to taste the sweet. Morgan is devastated by her mother’s sudden death. Before, Mom’s amazing organizational skills kept the family on track, and her bowl of lemon drops was always on hand to make difficult conversations easy, turning life’s sour into sweet. After, there’s no one to help Morgan navigate her new role caring for her younger siblings, her worries about starting junior high, and her increasingly confusing friendships. All she can do is try to fulfill her mother’s final request: Keep them safe, Morgan. Be brave for them. Help them be happy.
When Dad insists on taking the family on their regular summer camping trip, and Morgan’s efforts to keep her promise to Mom seem doomed to fail, Morgan’s anxiety spirals into a panic attack, and Dad treats her like she’s impossibly broken. Unable to share her fears and needs with Dad, and desperate to prove she’s got the strength to hold the family together, Morgan sets off alone to hike a flooding canyon trail. But somewhere on that lonely and dangerous journey, Morgan will encounter the truth about the final words her mother left her, the power in finding her own voice, and the possibility of new beginnings.
7. The Sky Beneath the Stone by Alex Mullarky
I love highlighting new authors, especially when their first book is as interesting as this one. This fantasy adventure is a tribute to the power of family and friendship.
Amazon description: Thirteen-year-old Ivy North is an adventurer. She can pitch a tent in four minutes flat, knows the local landscape like the back of her hand, and she’s an expert map reader. There’s just one problem. She’s afraid to go outside. But when her little brother is transformed into a kestrel by a powerful sorcerer, Ivy is the only one who can rescue him.
Following him through a mysterious hole in the garden wall, she emerges in Underfell—an enchanted realm that seems like the Lake District she knows, but is dangerously different. Battling her dread of being out in the open, Ivy must gather all her courage to navigate a path across this extraordinary world, where powerful fairies with birds’ wings fly through purple skies and a ghostly spectre haunts her every step. With the help of an unexpected new friend, can Ivy break the spell—before her brother becomes a bird forever?
8. Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker
This book is so new it isn’t even out yet—its release date is October 18—but the advance reviews are glowing.
Amazon description: Anxiety has always made Ava avoid the slightest risk, but plunging headfirst into danger might be just what she needs.
Dad hasn’t even been dating his new girlfriend that long, so Ava is sure that nothing has to change in her life. That is, until the day after sixth grade ends, when Dad whisks her away on vacation to meet The Girlfriend and her daughter in terrifying Colorado, where even the squirrels can kill you! Managing her anxiety, avoiding altitude sickness, and surviving the mountains might take all of Ava’s strength, but at least this trip will only last two weeks. Right?
9. Unseen Magic by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Another great read from a debut author! A magic town, a mysterious twin, and the power of memory all combine to make a delightful story about what it means to face your fear.
Amazon description: Aldermere is a town with its own set of rules: there’s a tea shop that vanishes if you try to force your way in, crows that must be fed or they’ll go through your trash, and a bridge that has a toll that no one knows the cost of. Some say that there may even be bigfoots wandering through the woods.
For Fin, Aldermere is her new home. But she’s worried that she’ll do something to mess it up—that she was the reason she and her mother have constantly moved from place to place for so long. When an upcoming presentation at her school’s science fair gives her increasing anxiety, Fin turns to magic to ease her fears. The cost is a memory, but there are things from her past Fin doesn’t mind forgetting. This will be the last time she relies on magic anyway, she’s sure.
Except things don’t go exactly as planned. And instead of easing her anxiety, Fin accidentally unleashes an evil doppelganger. Suddenly Aldermere is overrun with unusual occurrences—and Fin is the only one who knows why. She will have to face her fears—literally—to stop it.
10. Zia Erases the World by Bree Barton
As someone who loves words, I can’t resist the idea of a magic dictionary. This light-hearted book tackles a heavy subject and helps readers who feel like Zia know that they’re not alone.
Amazon description: Zia remembers the exact night the Shadoom arrived. One moment she was laughing with her best friends, and the next a dark room of shadows had crept into her chest. Zia has always loved words, but she can’t find a real one for the fear growing inside her. How can you defeat something if you don’t know its name?
After Zia’s mom announces that her grouchy Greek yiayia is moving into their tiny apartment, the Shadoom seems here to stay. Until Zia discovers an old family heirloom: the C. Scuro Dictionary, 13th Edition.
This is no ordinary dictionary. Hidden within its magical pages is a mysterious blue eraser shaped like an evil eye. When Zia starts to erase words that remind her of the Shadoom, they disappear one by one from the world around her. She finally has the confidence to befriend Alice, the new girl in sixth grade, and to perform at the Story Jamboree. But things quickly dissolve into chaos, as the words she erases turn out to be more vital than Zia knew.
If you or someone you know struggles with anxiety, I hope these books help. For more information on how to help a kid with anxiety, see this article from NPR on How to help a child struggling with anxiety.