3 Great Back-To-School Middle Grade Reads LeUyen Pham has written and illustrated more than 100 books for kids of all ages — so we asked her to give us some solid middle-grade reading recmomendations for kids heading back to school.

These 3 Books Are Perfect For Your Back-To-Middle-Schooler

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A young boy who struggles to fit in at school, two besties who are polar opposites and a middle school kid who learns to be himself through a school presentation - those are just a few of the stories that author LeUyen Pham thinks the middle schooler in your life, or, frankly, just anyone who loves a good book, would enjoy. She's written and illustrated more than 100 children's books and joins us now to talk about some of her favorite reads. Welcome.

LEUYEN PHAM: Thank you, Asma. Thanks for having me on.

KHALID: So, LeUyen, let's just dive right into some of your recommendations. First up is a novel called "High Five For Glenn Burke." It's written by Phil Bildner. What was so special about that story to you?

PHAM: It talks about this really special kid named Silas Wade. And he enters the world through baseball, and he gets the world excited by baseball. And he's a very special kid because of it. And he uses baseball as a way to come out. And specifically, he uses the story of Glenn Burke, who was this amazing player for the Dodgers way back when. And he was the man who was credited as creating the high-five.

All these books that I'm recommending today - they're all about sort of creating empathy and figuring out how to enter back into the school world in such a crazy time right now.

KHALID: You know, we have to talk about "The Breadwinner" by Deborah Ellis. It's a book that feels strangely prescient, even though it was first published more than 20 years ago or roughly about 20 years ago. And it's a story of a young Afghan girl named Parvana whose family lives under Taliban rule. And it's really just the remarkable story of the lengths to which Parvana goes to help her family survive.

PHAM: She's a normal little 11-year-old girl. She's got an older sister who bothers her. She wants to be out in the world, and she can't be. She doesn't understand why she needs to wear this headdress, why she needs to cover herself. She is only allowed out as - at the age of 11 because she's too young to need to be covered up. So she's able to go with her father to the marketplace, and that's where the story takes place. Her father, who was once a professor, once they had this very nice life - one day, he's taken by the Taliban. And so she is forced to cut off her own hair and pretend to be a boy to keep her family alive. She doesn't realize she's being a hero. She doesn't realize she's doing anything special. She just knows she has to do this.

KHALID: So, you know, finally, you also were recommending a book called "New Kid" by Jerry Craft. It's about a seventh-grader named Jordan Banks who loves to draw and dreams of becoming an artist. But instead of art school, his parents decide to send him to this prestigious private school focused on academics, where he frankly just doesn't fit in.

PHAM: It's almost as though in this story, no one's really a bad guy. And what I love about this book is that it does exactly that. This kid, Jordan Bank - he goes through the school, and he doesn't not like anybody. He doesn't hate anyone. He feels empathy for everyone. But what I think was amazing about this book, where I thought he did an amazing job capturing it is the microaggressions that you find in schools, those little things that people say that shouldn't really bother you, but they do. And they build up, and they build up, and they turn into something bigger. Those microaggressions are picked up so clearly in this book that kids reading it are going to recognize immediately whether - whatever side they're on, whether they're ones giving the microaggression or the ones receiving it - are going to recognize, hey, wait. I do that.

KHALID: That's author and illustrator LeUyen Pham. Her new book with Shannon Hale, called "Friends Forever," comes out this week.

PHAM: Yeah. This book was really special to me, as well. It was done during the time of COVID, and it's about empathy and discovering who you are and finding your way through school.

KHALID: That's author and illustrator LeUyen Pham.

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