Funerals and Flyfishing, by Mary Bartek
Twelve-year-old Brad Stanislawski can't wait for school to be out, if for no other reason than to get away from the kids who tease him about being tall and call him "Stan-is-lousy" all day. He's feeling rather unappreciated! But to add to his troubles, his mom has to go on a business trip and the babysitting arrangement she made for him has fallen through. Now the only option left is for him to spend two weeks with his estranged grandfather, whom he has never met, in a small town in Pennsylvania. And this guy not only runs a funeral home, he lives right above it! What could be worse? But Brad will learn that first impressions don't always mean everything, as he spends his vacation figuring out who he is and what his place is in the world.
Funerals and Flyfishing is a wholesome read that will resonate with young readers who aren't quite feeling comfortable yet in their own skin. Brad is ashamed of his name and his size, and doesn't stand up for himself when the class bullies tease him about it. But once he is able to get past his grandfather's brusque exterior, Brad finds a mentor who teaches him to appreciate his heritage and take pride in who he is. His grandfather also shares some of his own coping strategies for dealing with bullies, which Brad is able to successfully put to use. After a medical emergency, Brad orchestrates a reunion between his mother and her father, who haven't spoken in twelve years. Kids discuss (with their limited understanding) the inner workings of the funeral home, and Brad goes with his grandfather to pick up a dead body in the hospital. All in all, the references to the undertaking industry are entirely age appropriate.
Tangerine, by Edward Bloor
Seventh grader Paul has just moved again, this time to a school in the "rough" part of town. His popular brother, Erik, is a star on the football team, while Paul, who is blind and unpopular, plays goalie on the soccer team. Paul's parents worship Erik, but Paul knows he is a terrible bully. As Paul makes friends with the tough kids on his soccer team, he grows to learn a lot about life, and a terrible secret about his brother.
Deep and thought-provoking, this book examines many themes: racism, classism, acceptance, bullying, assertiveness, environmental issues, and that things are not always how they seem. It is a little slow to start, but becomes gripping as a mystery about Paul's brother unfolds. Paul triumphs over his disability, winning friends and succeeding as a goalie. Paul's parents are well-meaning, but sadly, do not see Erik for who he is: a bully who eventually murders someone.
Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea
It is the beginning of fifth grade, and Mr. Terupt is a brand new teacher. He has his hands full with seven distinctive voices in his class: Jessica is the smart, new girl who isn't quite fitting in. Luke is the brain. Anna has a home life she's embarrassed about, and just wants to disappear. Peter is the class clown, who can't seem to sit down and focus. Lexie is a bully who feels that the best defense is a good offense. Jeffery just hates school, and nobody really knows why. Overweight Danielle can't ever seem to stand up for herself. Only Mr. Terupt seems able to reach his students, and things are beginning to look up for each of them until a fateful winter day where an accident occurs that will change everything and everyone.
Because of Mr. Terupt is a lovely and inspirational story for the tween set. Each of the children in the story takes a turn narrating, which gives the reader insight into their particular situation, even though the characters may not understand each other. One girl is the daughter of a teenaged mother, who is still ostracized by a family that has strict religious beliefs. Another boy lost a brother with special needs, and his family is still grieving. The girl who bullies has a mother who has warned her not to let others take advantage of her. Mr. Terupt has an uncanny ability to understand his student's motivations and is just beginning to make progress with each of them when he is injured in an accident his students each feel responsible for. He spends several months in a coma, during which time the students must forge on without his guidance. They experience a great deal of anxiety visiting their teacher in the hospital when he has brain surgery. One of the best experiences Mr. Terupt's kids have is their surprisingly rewarding interaction with the special needs class in their school. Each student is ultimately able to conquer an important personal demon and recognize the lessons imparted to them. An important over-riding message in this book is that of personal responsibility. Most every reader will find at least one character that they identify with in this book.
How to be Popular, by Meg Cabot
When Steph finds a book called "How To Be Popular," she hatches a plan to finally get in with the "In Crowd." Using the book's step-by-step instructions, she finds it is pretty easy to become popular. But as she rises in the social ranks, Steph finds that popularity isn't what she thought, and not all it is cracked up to be.
This is a fun, engaging book for tween girls about a topic that is sure to be familiar to them -- popularity. There is an underlying positive message about the importance of being true to yourself. Readers will relate to Steph's desire to be in with the cool, rich, and "perfect" kids, and will root for her as she denouces her new found popularity. Many of the popular kids are not very nice, and the queen bee is a bully. There is talk of a party with a keg, and Steph does some age-appropropriate kissing. Language is mild: a-s, b-tch.
Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine
Ten-year-old Caitlin sees her world in black and white. Having Asperger's Syndrome, she finds colors, emotions, and school recess confusing and chaotic, and prefers to deal in facts, by herself. But Caitlin has a lot to work through. Her older brother Devon was the victim of a shooting at his middle school and she is trying to understand her grief and find closure (a word she only knows the dictionary definition of). Devon was the member of her family who best understood her and was able to help navigate her world. With the help of a compassionate school counselor, Caitlin embarks on a journey to find closure not only for herself, but for her community as well. And she might even make a friend or two along the way.
Author Kathryn Erskine wrote this book in response to the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus, in an effort to explore how the world might be different if people understood each other better. This story about empathy is told from Caitlin's point of view, and will hopefully be a mind-opening read for kids who may know of a child with Asperger's Syndrome. Caitlin functions well academically, but because she cannot interpret emotions in other people, has trouble making friends or interacting socially. She sets her sights on achieving closure after the death of her brother, even though she doesn't have a good sense of what it means. In her simple understanding, she interprets it as seeing her dad smile again. The school shooting is the most upsetting aspect of this book, though it occurred before the story begins. It is referred to several times, but not described. There are many references to the classic book To Kill a Mockingbird, which readers will likely be curious about after reading Mockingbird. This book is best for the more emotionally mature readers in the publisher's recommended range of ten and up.
for our full list of books featuring tween characters struggling with bullying.