Books for Tweens - Middle School About Adoption, Race, and Family

Baby webstore.jpg Baby
by Patricia Maclachlan

Larkin and her friend Lalo find a baby in a basket with this note: “This is Sophie. She is good…. I love her. I will come back for her one day.” Larkin’s family welcomes Sophie, but her arrival forces them to come to terms with a secret loss. Some are afraid to love Sophie, always wondering if her mother will return for her. In time, though, Larkin learns to make peace with love and loss. This story of a family’s responses to an abandoned baby is told with a child’s voice and focuses on the child’s role.

Pact says: Holding the reader captive from start to finish, BABY is sure to inspire discussion about family building through adoption and foster families.

Cool Salsa webstore.jpg Cool Salsa
by Lori Carlson

Growing up Latino in the United States sometimes means speaking two languages and learning the rules of two cultures. These poems celebrate the trials and triumphs that come with the experience with selections by Sandra Cisneros, Martin Espada, Gary Soto and Ed Vega. Bilingual in Spanish and English.

Pact says: These selections reinforce the bicultural experience of Latinos in general and give adopted Latinos insight into the cultural normalcy of their own experiences.

Day of Tears webstore.jpg Day of Tears: A Novel In Dialogue
by Julius Lester

This powerful and engaging historical novel is told in dialogue and through monologues. It also moves around in time, from the period when the story takes place to "interludes," in which the various characters look back on these events years later. It begins with a factual event-the largest slave auction in United States history that took place in 1859 on Pierce Butler's plantation in Georgia. Each character is well drawn and believable. Both blacks and whites liberally use the word "nigger," which can be jarring. The text itself is easy to read and flows nicely. Different typefaces distinguish the characters' monologues, their dialogues with one another, and their memories.

Pact says: Lester has done an admirable job of portraying the simmering anger and aching sadness that the slaves must have felt. Altogether this novel does a superb job of showing the inhumanity of slavery. It begs to be read aloud.

dreamer.jpg Dreamer, The
by Pam Munoz Ryan, Illustrated by Peter Sís

The Dreamer is a fictionalized biography of the life of Chilean poet, activist and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda. It is a beautifully written book that contains elements of magical realism and poetry. The story is of Neruda’s childhood with a harsh, critical father who belittles his son’s imagination and sensitive nature. He struggles both to understand his father’s criticism and meet his demands and to find a way to be himself. Neruda’s life is changed by a kind uncle who appreciates Neruda’s gifts and provides an example of someone who stands up for his beliefs in the face of threats and adversity.

Pact says: There are many wonderful themes in the book and Ryan’s lyrical prose is a pleasure to read.

Heaven webstore.jpg Heaven
by Angela Johnson

"Last night Momma and Pops kept saying they should have told me what they had to tell me sooner. It's what people who haven't told the truth always say...." At fourteen, Marley is shocked to find out she was adopted. The truth seems to change everything. How could her parents have lied? Is her brother really her brother? Does she belong? As she processes the disclosure, Marley finds peace, realizing that her relationships with her family remain the same. She comes to understand both that they belong to each other as they always have and that it is important to know about her birth family and her birth heritage.

Pact says: A compelling book that expresses some of the fears and uncertainty adopted kids can feel at this age with a positive resolution for all.

How It Feels To Be Adopted
by Jill Krementz

Nineteen kids from diverse backgrounds confide their feelings about being adopted. This book gives readers a diversity of experience and feelings that is both realistic and emotionally honest. Required reading for all touched by adoption.

Pact says: This classic is still the best book we’ve found explaining a variety of children’s perspectives of how it feels to be adopted. The inclusion of photographs brings a greater sense of immediacy and realism to the text and helps children to identify with others who share their experiences.

Kimchi-and-Calamari.jpg Kimchi & Calamari
by Rose Kent

This one is a definite keeper. Joseph is a 14-year-old boy with a great sense of humor, a love of candy and comic books, and some anxiety about asking a girl to the school dance. Joseph was adopted from Korea as an infant by his very Italian parents. They are supportive, loving parents but bad at talking with him about his adoption. Joseph is left in a quandary when he’s assigned an essay at school about his heritage and his parents just assume that writing about their Italian ancestors will suffice. He does some investigating on his own with the help of his best friend and a new boy who recently moved to the area from Korea. And in the end, Joseph’s parents do come through for him.

Pact says: A beautifully written and engaging story about learning trust and becoming part of a family that has great appeal..

ninthward.jpg Ninth Ward
by Jewell Parker Rhodes

New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina is the setting for this tense novel that blends the drama of the catastrophic storm with magical realism. Twelve-year-old Lanesha's teenage mother died while giving birth to her, and, because her mother's wealthy uptown family won't have anything to do with her, she is raised in the Ninth Ward by loving Mama Ya-Ya, 82, who feels like her "mother and grandmother both." This book has strong female characters and is well written with engaging characters and has a strong message about facing fear and adversity.

Pact says: There is an adoption theme: at the end, a vision of Lanesha’s birth mother appears to help her survive a crisis after having died in childbirth.

Parents Wanted
by George Harrar

Andy is twelve years old and was removed from his parents several years before. He meets a couple at his 5th adoption party whom he chooses to adopt him and they do. Parents Wanted chronicles Andy’s experience as he moves in with them and becomes their son. It includes very telling passages as he copes with loyalty issues regarding his birth parents, ADD, shame about being adopted and fear of being rejected again.

Pact says: What is wonderful about this book is that it is written from a twelve-year-old’s voice giving kids and parents alike a window into how a kid who has been through several placements and group homes views the world and the actions of the adults who are SUPPOSED to be caring for him. Really insightful.

peace.jpg Peace, Locomotion
by Jacqueline Woodson

Through letters to his little sister, who is in a different foster home, Lonnie, 11 years old, also known as "Locomotion," keeps a record of their lives while they are apart. Jacqueline Woodson is a children's lit goddess who takes incredibly complicated emotions and presses them down to diamonds. An example of some of the heartfelt writing includes: You one of us now; When the relatives stop coming; When you don't know where your sister is anymore; When every sign around you says; Group Home Rules: Don't do this and don't do that until it sinks in one rainy Saturday afternoon; while you're sitting at the Group Home window; reading a beat-up Group Home book; wearing a Group Home hand-me-down shirt; hearing all the Group Home loudness; that you are a Throwaway Boy; And the news just sits in your stomach; hard and heavy as Group Home food.

Pact says: Do yourself a favor and get your hands on this book. Now.

Pinballs, The
by Betsy Byars

Coming to terms with Living in foster care. You can't always decide where life will take you when you're stuck in foster care. Three kids in foster care - Pinballs, as wisecracking Carly dubs them - collide in a warm and caring home and learn to pin their hopes on each other. This books engages these three children in many conversations and also enlightens us about their real feelings as they struggle to feel good about themselves in the face of the loss of their birth family and placement in foster care.

Pact says: A hopeful story that will give all adopted and foster children a vehicle to explore their feelings whether they were placed at older ages or as infants.

returnable-girl.jpg Returnable Girl, The
by Pamela Lowell

Since her mother left two years ago, 13-year-old Veronica has been in a succession of foster families. Now she is living with a new foster mother, a child psychologist who is willing to tackle Ronnie’s lying, stealing, and violent outbursts. Difficult issues–betrayal, depression, emotional abuse–are handled without melodrama or sensationalism.

Pact says: Ultimately, the novel celebrates the resilience of both teens and adults, the bonds formed in healing, and the journeys traveled the physically and emotionally by Ronnie as she seeks to find her place.

Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind
By Suzanne Fischer Staples

Exploring the challenges of a young Muslim girl growing up in Pakistan, Shabanu struggles to find her own identity. Set against the backdrop of desert life in present day Pakistan, this book offers a passionate and deeply personal portrait of a young girlâ019s struggle for identity in a culture that forbids even token expression of independence for women.

Pact says: The first in a triplicate of books that explores life for a middle school-aged girl in a non-Western culture that asks her to choose between family loyalties and personal dreams.

skin i'm in webstore.jpg Skin I'm In, The
by Sharon Flake

Maleeka Madison feels like a freak in her inner-city middle school. The kids pick on her because she is ‘the darkest, worst-dressed thing in school’ and because she gets good grades. Flake is honest about how mean people are. The characters are complex....The gum-smacking, wisecracking dialogue in the hallways, the girls’ bathroom, and the classroom will pull readers into a world too rarely represented in middle-grade fiction.

Pact says: Funny and clever, A thoughtful novel about the impact of skin tone in how African American’s see themselves and their beauty.

slant-book-cover.png Slant
by Laura Williams

Williams, a Korean adoptee herself, tells the story of thirteen-year-old Lauren Wallace, a Korean adoptee who is the only Asian-American in her suburban Connecticut middle school. Taunted by a pair of classmates who call her "gook," "chink," and "slant," Lauren is saving her money to pay for eye surgery. Anyone who has been thirteen will relate to Lauren's everyday problems and concerns. During the course of the novel, she gets her ears pierced, buys her first bra, argues with her emotionally distant father, and longs to be asked to the school dance. Ultimately, Lauren does decide against the eye surgery.

Pact says: We commend Williams for dealing with difficult issues in Slant. We hope that more "tween" novels will take on transracial adoption, racism, and belonging.

Stanford-Wong-Flunks-Big-Time.jpg Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time
by Lisa Yee

Stanford Wong is a middle school basketball star who has just found out that he’ll need to go to summer school if he wants to pass 6th grade. He spends the summer sneaking to school so that his friends don’t find out and trying to connect to his distant and disappointed father. Along the way, he finds out who his friends are and learns a lot about himself. This is a very entertaining, well-written book with an interesting cast of characters.

Pact Says: An excellent book that looks at peer pressure and stereotypes of Asian American kids. Yee is a talented writer who has given us a very engaging, fun book with good messages about the power of persistence and believing in one’s self..

Tequila Worm, The
by Viola Canales

This story of family and community is an affectionate picture of the life of a Mexican American family. The book is rich with details about celebrating el dia de los Muertos, preparing for a quinceanera, rejoicing in the Christmas nacimiento, and the lore of the tequila worm. Sofia celebrates festivals and rituals with her family throughout the year as she grows into a young woman, and faces a decision about how to leave home to attend a private boarding school that will open the world to her, but take her away from her family.

Pact says: The novel describes not only how these traditions are celebrated, but also their role in tying together the Mexican American family and community. Sofia's struggle with how to hold onto the values of her heritage and family while becoming her own person is sure to resonate with teens exploring identity.

voices-in-first.jpg Voices in First Person: Reflections on Latino Identity
by Lori Marie Carelson, Photos by Manuel Rivera-Ortiz, Illustrated by Flavio Morais

Carlson has drawn from both established and new writers, focusing on finding Latino voices that speak to contemporary readers. Collected here are poems and short stories whose subjects range from finding God in the clouds to a lust for eating chicken, from someone’s fingers on the hole in your jeans in a crowded café to someone asking, once again, “So, where are you from?” This collection sparkles

Pact says: The entire package encourages endless browsing, flipping, and double-dipping. Great reading and resources for all readers.

Walk Two Moons
by Sharon Creech

Sal, trying to deal with the fact that her mother left her, tells the story of her friend Pheobe whose own mother is gone. While dealing with the painfully realistic reactions children have to such departures, it also gives us glimpses into families that are rock solid in their love and devotion. Creech is able to repeatedly bring up the motif of “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins”, without ever becoming preachy or didactic. A Newberry Book Award winner.

Pact says: This great read gets straight to the heart of how children find resolution to the loss of connections.

Wanderer, The
by Sharon Creech

Much to the concern of her adoptive parents, Sophie joins her grandfather, uncles and male cousins on a voyage across the Atlantic to England on a 45-foot sailboat. Proving her bravery and competence to the all-male crew; she keeps a journal. as her past reveals itself. This is a deep wrenching suspenseful novel that you will think about long after you finish reading it.

Pact says: Because Sophie is adopted, this book feeds into the secret wonderings of every adoptee.

What's Going On Down There
by Karen Gravelle

This book is forthright without being sober or scary. Facts about puberty, sex, and sexually transmitted diseases, and also what happens to girls during puberty are presented clearly and completely, along with answers to an assortment of related questions. The authors also manage to slip in some counsel about wise decision making, though the emphasis is on information, not values. Illustrations are multicultural.

Pact says: Part manual, part trusted friend, this book takes a straight forward approach to sexual development for boys. This down to earth, practical and positive book provides comprehensive information in a friendly and supportive way and will provide a broad overview inclusive of both father and son’s questions and experiences. Extremely useful!

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