Middle Grade Self Discovery

The Elephant's Girl

The Elephant's Girl By Celesta Rimington

A magical adventure about a girl with a mysterious connection with the elephant who saved her life, for fans of Katherine Applegate and Jennifer Holm.

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can't remember what happened before a tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she's twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind's protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah's message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is--and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago.

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Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero By Kelly J. Baptist

A coming-of-age tale about a boy who discovers a love of poetry after finding his late father's journal. Adapted from a story that first appeared in Flying Lessons & Other Stories and perfect for fans of The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson.

Isaiah is now the big man of the house. But it's a lot harder than his dad made it look. His little sister, Charlie, asks too many questions, and Mama's gone totally silent.

Good thing Isaiah can count on his best friend, Sneaky, who always has a scheme for getting around the rules. Plus, his classmate Angel has a few good ideas of her own--once she stops hassling Isaiah.

And when things get really tough, there's Daddy's journal, filled with stories about the amazing Isaiah Dunn, a superhero who gets his powers from beans and rice. Isaiah wishes his dad's tales were real. He could use those powers right about now!

Kelly J. Baptist's debut novel explores the indomitable spirit of a ten-year-old boy and the superhero strength it takes to grow up.

"Isaiah's optimism, drive, and loyalty to friends and family make him a hero to cheer for." -Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

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The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane By Kate O'Shaughnessy

This sparkling middle-grade debut is a classic-in-the-making!

Maybelle Lane is looking for her father, but on the road to Nashville she finds so much more: courage, brains, heart--and true friends.


Eleven-year-old Maybelle Lane collects sounds. She records the Louisiana crickets chirping, Momma strumming her guitar, their broken trailer door squeaking. But the crown jewel of her collection is a sound she didn't collect herself: an old recording of her daddy's warm-sunshine laugh, saved on an old phone's voicemail. It's the only thing she has of his, and the only thing she knows about him.

Until the day she hears that laugh--his laugh--pouring out of the car radio. Going against Momma's wishes, Maybelle starts listening to her radio DJ daddy's new show, drinking in every word like a plant leaning toward the sun. When he announces he'll be the judge of a singing contest in Nashville, she signs up. What better way to meet than to stand before him and sing with all her heart?

But the road to Nashville is bumpy. Her starch-stiff neighbor Mrs. Boggs offers to drive her in her RV. And a bully of a boy from the trailer park hitches a ride, too. These are not the people May would have chosen to help her, but it turns out they're searching for things as well. And the journey will mold them into the best kind of family--the kind you choose for yourself.

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Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones By Lucy Knisley

This contemporary middle-grade graphic novel about family and belonging from New York Times bestselling author Lucy Knisley is a perfect read for fans of Awkward and Be Prepared.

Jen is used to not getting what she wants. So suddenly moving the country and getting new stepsisters shouldn't be too much of a surprise.


Jen did not want to leave the city. She did not want to move to a farm with her mom and her mom's new boyfriend, Walter. She did not want to leave her friends and her dad.

Most of all, Jen did not want to get new "sisters," Andy and Reese.

As if learning new chores on Peapod Farm wasn't hard enough, having to deal with perfect-at-everything Andy might be the last straw for Jen. Besides cleaning the chicken coop, trying to keep up with the customers at the local farmers' market, and missing her old life, Jen has to deal with her own insecurities about this new family . . . and where she fits in.

New York Times bestselling author Lucy Knisley brings to life a story inspired from her own childhood in an amazing journey of unlikely friends, sisters, and home.

"Funny, sweet, and real." -Jennifer & Matthew Holm, co-creators of the bestselling Babymouse series

"This book is gorgeous. Highly recommended." -Kristen Gudsnuk, creator of Making Friends

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Turtle Boy

Turtle Boy By M. Evan Wolkenstein

This middle-grade debut, which will surely appeal to fans of Wonder, explores self-image, friendship, and grief, while highlighting the importance of taking chances. It will make you laugh and cry, and you will be eager to share it with someone you love.

Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. His science teacher finds out about the turtles he spent his summer collecting from the marsh behind school and orders him to release them back into the wild. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he has to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. Unfortunately, Will hates hospitals.

At first, the boys don't get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster, go to a concert and a school dance, and swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with his turtles. But as RJ's disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend's behalf before it's too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will's comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ's guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.

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In the Middle of It All Guide

About the Books
Middle-grade stories follow characters at the most transformative times in their lives. From navigating changes like a divorce in the family to learning about the world in which their parents or grandparents grew up to making an unlikely friend at recess, middle-grade stories can be universal, and have the ability to expand readers’ perspectives, instill empathy, and promote understanding of the human experience.

In the Classroom
This guide provides discussion questions, prompts, and activity suggestions to facilitate insightful conversations about these books and their theme of self-discovery.