Children’s Book Week Spotlight: Books for Kids in Middle School

Happy Children’s Book Week! The 2015 edition of Children’s Book Week launched on Saturday on Free Comic Book Day, and now that kids around the country have gotten a taste of comics, we want to recommend a few more! In this edition of CBLDF’s week-long feature, we have some suggestions for readers in Grades 7-8.

The age groups here are suggested by the publishers of the books, but they can be enjoyed by readers of all ages! Keep in mind that every reader is an individual, so parents are best suited to make decisions about what is appropriate for their own children. Just because a book is labeled with specific ages, that doesn’t mean a younger reader—or even grown up kids!—won’t find something to enjoy.

Let’s take a look…

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

First Second • Suggested for ages 12-18

Boxers and Saints’ double volumes revisit the Chinese Boxer Rebellionboxersaints (1899-1900), sensitively and evenhandedly relating Chinese peasants’ perspectives from each side of the conflict. Boxers tells the story of the illiterate peasants tired of being hungry, tired of failing farms, and tired of Chinese Christian ruffians who would steal, cheat and beat them while under Western protection. It is young Bao who leads them as they turn into vengeful warrior gods, supporting fellow villagers and ridding China of the “white devil’s” influence. Saints tells the story of Four-Girl a peasant girl, who shunned by her family finds compassion and belonging with Christian converts. Both Four-Girl (who later assumes the Christian name Vibiana) and Bao believe it is their life’s mission to fight their foes and unite their divided and beloved China.

Boxers & Saints (First Second Books, 2013) was placed on the short list for the 2013 National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature — the second time a graphic novel has been nominated. (The first American Born Chinese, also by Gene Yang and the following listing, was nominated in 2006.)

• Using Graphic Novels in Education: Boxers & Saints

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Square Fish • Suggested for ages 12-18GeneYang-AmericanBornChinese-cover

In an effort to show and tell the effects of racial stereotyping and assimilation, Yang presents one particularly egregious Chinese character, Chin-Kee, who has just arrived from China to visit his cousin Danny. Chin-Kee embraces all the negative Chinese stereotypes into one monstrous exaggerated whole.

Ironically, it is these exaggerations that empower readers to feel the shame of racial stereotyping from all sides — those who embrace the stereotypes, those who abuse and make fun of them, and those who are stuck in the middle, uncomfortable with these actions and reactions, and often uncertain how to respond.

American Born Chinese is a 2006 National Book Award Honor Book for Young People’s literature, the 2007 winner of the Michael L. Printz Award honoring literary excellence in Young Adult literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, and a 2007 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. In this work, Yang skillfully weaves three seemingly independent stories of Chinese folklore, a teenager’s need to fit in, and adolescents’ balancing of their Chinese American heritage.

• Using Graphic Novel in Education: American Born Chinese

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age Edited by Ariel Schrag

Viking Juvenile • Suggested for ages 12+

Stuck in the Middle is an anthology of comics by critically acclaimed cartoonists who stuckinthemiddletake a bitingly honest look back at their “awkward” middle-school years, reflecting upon them with sensitivity and some humor. Many of the pieces, however lack resolution, making them unsettling — much like those teenage years themselves. While some may find this format haunting and less kid-friendly, the stories serve as outstanding opportunities to brainstorm and problem solve.

The themes covered in this collection are about the awkwardness of coming-of-age, budding issues of sexuality, bullying, friendship (rife with loyalty and betrayal), loneliness, balancing one’s burgeoning sense of identity with the need of fitting in, and finding the courage to pursue passions when they may not make you popular. The book doesn’t pander to its audience and is frank in its depiction of middle school, which has resulted in library challenges.

With contribution from Daniel Clowes, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, Lauren Weinstein, and more, the book has received praise from Booklist, New York Times, and Publishers Weekly, and it was selected for New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” list in 2008.

• Using Graphic Novels in Education: Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age

• Case Study: Stuck in the Middle

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks

First Second • Suggested for ages 12+Nothing-cover

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a graphic novel adapted and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks from the young adult novel Voted Most Likely by Prudence Shen. It’s full of unlikely friendships and nicely nuanced characters who bend and shatter stereotypes and expectations.

Aside from the interesting story weaving high school basketball, cheerleading, and robot rumbles, it’s the nuanced characters that really make Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong fun and different. And these characters are developed both in the text and in the way they’re drawn, dressed, and artfully designed. Each and every one of them is full of contradictions that empower them to bend and break their stereotypical roles along with the reader’s expectations. 

• Using Graphic Novels in Education: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

by Mathew Loux

Oni Press • Suggested for ages 13+ sidescrollers

SideScrollers’ three protagonists are Matt, Brian, and Brad — three good guys who have just graduated from high school with no direction or prospects and who love playing video games and eating junk food. What gets them off their couch is a trip for more junk food and finding out that Amber, a new girl in town whom Matt has a crush on, is going to the concert of the century that night with Dick, the captain of the football team and high school bully. 

SideScrollers is one of those books that are well written but that are not appropriate for all classrooms. And while named one of the Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008 by the American Library Association, the book was pulled from a ninth grade summer reading list in Connecticut based on a compliant by a person who was not even a parent of a child in the school for “profanity and sexual references.” CBLDF sent a letter to Enfield Connecticut School District Superintendent, Dr. Jeffrey Schumann asking that it be returned to the summer reading list and “restore freedom of choice to the parents and children in their school

• Using Graphic Novels in Education: SideScrollers

• Case Study: SideScrollers

This list represents just a few of the amazing kids comics waiting to be discovered by younger readers. We’ll be featuring more throughout the week, so keep returning to for more! If you can’t wait, visit your local library or view the latest edition of Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read! for additional resources.

Children’s Book Week (May 4 – 10, 2015), the annual celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading, was established in 1919 and is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year commemorative events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes, and now comic book stores! On May 2, Free Comic Book Day led off the celebration of Children’s Book Week at more than 2,000 comic book specialty stores, which will be giving away millions of free kids comics! To learn more about Children’s Book Week, and how you can join the fun, please visit Check out official events from coast to coast at For a list of comic book shops participating in Children’s Book Week events, visit CBLDF’s website here. To learn more about Free Comic Book Day, please visit

Celebrate the freedom to read comics for all ages and CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

Book descriptions courtesy of CBLDF contributor Meryl Jaffe. All images (c) their respective creators.