Books that celebrate diversity for 7th and 8th graders
The Color of My Words
by: Lynn Joseph - (HarperCollins, 2011) 144 pages.
Twelve-year-old Ana wants to be a writer. She writes stories and poems inspired by the bittersweetness and beauty of her life in the Dominican Republic. Her mother worries for her, and warns her that silence is safer, that writers have died for using words that challenge the government. When tragedy comes to Ana’s family, she learns how powerful words are. This is a wonderful book to read aloud because of the beauty of the language and because there are many opportunities in the book to inspire conversation with your child about growing up, social justice, and the love of family.
Perfect for: Kids with a social conscience.
Find The Color of my Words at your local library.
The Book Thief
by: Markus Zusak - (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006) 560 pages.
This is an unusual novel about the power of words. The Book Thief takes on the seemingly impossible setting of Nazi Germany and the improbability of Death as narrator and weaves together one of the most compelling stories of the year. Winner of the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the author has created what can only be called an instant classic.
Want to see the movie? Check out the faithful 2013 adaptation starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, though parents should note the film contains some violence and intense themes.
Perfect for: Teens who like historical fiction.
Find The Book Thief at your local library.
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
by: Meg Medina - (Candlewick, 2013) 272 pages.
After the floor in her mother’s apartment collapses, Piddy Sanchez is forced to move to another part of Queens and start a new school. There, Piddy learns that a girl named Yaqui Delgado wants to beat her up. Though Piddy and Yaqui have never met, Yaqui doesn’t consider Piddy a fellow Latina: her grades are too good, her skin too light, and her accent not thick enough. Haunted by Yaqui and her gang, Piddy grows increasingly fearful, feeling like she’s prey to Yaqui’s predator. In this gritty, realistic novel, Medina explores coming-of-age in a tinderbox of racial stereotyping and bullying.
Perfect for: Dealing with bullies in a new school environment.
Find Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass at your local library.
by: Susan Kuklin - (Candlewick, 2014) 192 pages.
This book profiles six real transgender teens — three female-to-male and three male-to-female — each telling their stories in their own voices. The teens come from a range of backgrounds — some very violent and troubled, others more conventional — but all must deal with the complications of shifting their identities in a world that is anything but understanding. Kuklin takes pains to portray these teens, in words and photographs, with respect and care.
Perfect for: Teens curious about gender identity issues.
Find Beyond Magenta at your local library.
Girls Like Us
by: Gail Giles - (Candlewick, 2014) 224 pages.
Shortly after graduating from their high school’s special education program, brain-damaged Quincy and intellectually disabled Biddies are placed in a live-work arrangement where they share an apartment at the home of a wealthy widow. Despite being at odds, they bond, forming their own family after a life of abuse. In this heart-wrenching, fast-paced character study, Giles manages to spotlight the lives of teens who all too often remain invisible.
Perfect for: Readers intrigued by life experiences outside the mainstream.
Find Girls Like Us at your local library.
I’ll Give You the Sun
by: Jandy Nelson - (Dial Books, 2014) 384 pages.
Thirteen-year-old twins Jude and Noah are incredibly close. But once they hit puberty, Jude finds herself not only competing with her brother for their parent’s love and a spot at an exclusive art school, but for boys as well. When tragedy hits their family, the twins become further isolated from each other. Shifting voices from one twin to the other, the book uncovers the way each sibling has lost a part of their story by shutting the other out of their life. An exploration of sexuality, grief, and sibling rivalry.
Perfect for: Teens interested in the tensions of sibling struggles amidst coming out and coming-of-age.
Find I’ll Give You the Sun at your local library.
How It Went Down
by: Kekla Magoon - (Henry Holt and Co., 2014) 336 pages.
After the death of 16-year-old Tariq Johnson, the community is in uproar. Tariq was black, and his shooter was white. As the community struggles to figure out what went down, the book unfolds into a modern Rashomon tale that everyone living in America is now familiar with. No two accounts tell the same truth, and as new facts surface each day, uncovering what really happened grows increasingly elusive.
Perfect for: Understanding the racial issues that plague American communities today.
Find How It Went Down at your local library.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
by: Isabel Quintero - (Cinco Puntos Press, 2014) 208 pages.
High school senior Gabi Hernandez has a lot going on in her senior year, all captured in this let-no-issue-go-unexplored page-turner. From romance, religion, teen pregnancy, and drug-addicted parents to coming out, body shame, sexually aggressive boys, and the politics of feeling like an outsider in both your town and your family, the story offers a whirlwind tour of the interior of one young Latina via her own Spanglish-inflected diary.
Perfect for: Youth juggling school, peer, and parent pressure.
Find Gabi, a Girl in Pieces at your local library.
by: Nic Sheff - (Philomel Books, 2014) 272 pages.
During a family visit to the beach, high school junior Miles experiences his first schizophrenic episode. It’s also the same day his little brother, Teddy, goes missing. Determined to find Teddy, Miles persists even as his visions and questionable actions suggest he is spiraling deeper into mental illness.
Perfect for: Teens grappling with ideas about mental illness and the darkened corners of our minds.
Find Schizo at your local library.
This One Summer
by: Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by: Jillian Tamaki - (First Second, 2014) 320 pages.
Every summer, Rose and her family take a trip to their lake house in Awago Beach. At the lake house, Rose and her friend Wendy reunite and enjoy the joys of childhood: collecting rocks and digging giant holes in the sand. But this summer is different: her parents won’t stop fighting, and Rose chooses the drama of the local teen bullies over childhood play. The monochromatic illustrations in this graphic novel capture this difficult and contemplative period in Rose’s life.
Perfect for: Graphic novel fans who want to read about that awkward transition from childhood to young adulthood.
Find This One Summer at your local library.
The Shadow Hero
by: Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by: Sonny Liew - (First Second, 2014) 176 pages.
This graphic novel tells the story of the Green Turtle, the pioneering Asian American superhero first introduced in the 1940s. Gene Luen Yang brings him back to life with this origin story that Batman and Superman fans will love. Hank Chu, the 19-year-old son of Chinese immigrant grocers, is exposed to toxic radiation and eventually lives up to his fate of becoming a World War II superhero by defending China, America’s ally, against the Japanese army.
Perfect for: Comic book fans who love a good origin story.
Find The Shadow Hero at your local library.
Yes! We Are Latinos
by: Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy, illustrated by: David Diaz - (Charlesbridge, 2013) 96 pages.
This collection of poems introduces 13 young Latinos of various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Michiko in Los Angeles is Peruvian and Japanese; Felipe in Chicago is Panamanian, Venezuelan, and black; and Juanita in New York is Mexican. Embodying the underrepresented diversity of the Latino community, the poems are matched with factual explanations of events like the Spanish Civil War and Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. Caldecott Gold Medalist David Diaz’s accompanying hand-cut illustrations evoke Latino folk art.
Perfect for: Young history buffs who are as curious about the world as they are about themselves.
Find Yes! We Are Latinos at your local library.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by: John Boyne - (David Fickling Books, 2007) 215 pages.
It’s 1942. Bruno is a naive 9-year-old raised in a privileged Berlin household. Bruno’s father is a commandant in Hitler’s army. When the family moves within 50 feet of Auschwitz, Bruno is curious about the fence he can see from his bedroom window. He doesn’t know what horrors are happening on the other side of the fence, or what his father’s role is. In his explorations, he befriends Shmuel, a boy in the camp, and their friendship comes to a tragic end. For sixth graders who are familiar with the historical details of the Holocaust, this book is a powerful addition to Holocaust fiction, and an example of the multiple perspectives a narrative can take — in this case, the perspective of a young bystander.
Want to see the movie? The 2008 adaptation merits its PG-13 rating for the mature content depicting life in a concentration camp.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find The Boy in the Striped Pajamas at your local library.