Over the last few months I’ve received a stack of advance review novels that’s now literally taller than I am. But from the pile of books, three great middle-grade novels in particular have caught my attention. Each explores themes of justice, activism, empowerment and goodness — hmmm… all issues that have been on my mind a lot this past year.

If your older tweens or teens — or you (we love YA books too!) — are looking for something inspiring to read, these are three books you should definitely take a look at.

My guess is, all of these will be in the movie theaters soon, so go ahead and read them now. Because the book is almost always better.

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Related: The 2017 National Book Award finalists that YA lovers will want to get their hands on now

Great middle-grade novels: The Wonderling by Mira Bartók

There is a Dickensian-meets-steampunk vibe to to The Wonderling by Mira Bartók. The story revolves around a good 11-year-old fox with just one ear who has lived his whole life in terrible conditions under a harsh governess. Eventually he makes a friend and escapes The Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures to find his true destiny.

The manuscript of The Wonderling was optioned by a big production company before it was even published, so read this one now before the movie comes out. I predict it’s going to be a huge hit.

Great middle-grade novels: My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson

Reading Katherine Paterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia was a heart-breaking, coming-of-age milestone for me — it was the first time a book made me cry. So when I received her newest work, My Brigadista Year, I dove right in. (Tissues nearby.)

The story is set in Cuba, where a 13-year-old girl decides to leave her family for a year to work on a literacy project in the impoverished countryside. She promises to come home if life gets too hard, but that line in the sand isn’t as clear as she thought it would be. The fact that this story is based on true events makes it even more compelling.

Related: 11 inspiring children’s and YA books about historic women for our girls — and especially, our boys


Great middle-grade novels your kids should read: The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

Set in Nazi-occupied England, 2014, The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew is the next read for more advanced readers who enjoy The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series. Jessika is a good girl, obedient to the controlling Nazi regime. Her best friend, Clementine, is..not. Jessika must make a tough choice, and what follows is intense and haunting.

I haven’t finished it yet, but I can hardly put it down.

Fair warning: there’s some strong language (the f-word is on page 1) and characters explore sexuality; but there are also powerful examples of feminism, revolution and protest that older kids can learn from. This is definitely one to read along with your kids for some important weekly discussions.