Mental Health: Family Mental Health: Middle Grade

Ann Jacobus and Nan­cy Bo Flood, authors and edu­ca­tors, devel­oped this list of books for mid­dle grade read­ers with fam­i­ly men­tal health as a focus. They are main­tain­ing it, so if you have sug­ges­tions, please let us know in the com­ments. Ann and Nan­cy are avail­able for work­shops on this impor­tant top­ic for librar­i­ans, edu­ca­tors, and men­tal health orga­ni­za­tions. Ann Jacobus. Nan­cy Bo Flood.


Fam­i­ly Men­tal Health

Fight­ing Words 
Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
Dial Books, 2020
(par­ent with men­tal ill­ness, trau­ma, sex­u­al abuse, fos­ter care) 

Ten-year-old Del­la has always had her old­er sis­ter, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Del­la had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Del­la had Suki. When that same boyfriend did some­thing so awful they had to run fast, Del­la had Suki. Suki is Del­la’s own wolf – her pro­tec­tor. But who has been pro­tect­ing Suki? Del­la might get told off for swear­ing at school, but she has always known how to keep qui­et where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill her­self, and Del­la’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shak­ing her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been qui­et about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

In this pow­er­ful nov­el that explodes the stig­ma around child sex­u­al abuse and leav­ens an intense tale with com­pas­sion and humor, Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley tells a sto­ry about two sis­ters, linked by love and trau­ma, who must find their own voic­es before they can find their way back to each other.

Hey, Kid­do: How I Lost My Moth­er, Found My Father and Dealt with Fam­i­ly Addic­tion 
Jar­rett J. Krosocz­ka
Graphix, 2018
(graph­ic nov­el, addiction)

In kinder­garten, Jar­rett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his fam­i­ly, with a mom­my and a dad­dy. But Jar­ret­t’s fam­i­ly is much more com­pli­cat­ed than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jar­ret­t’s life. His father is a mys­tery — Jar­rett does­n’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jar­rett lives with his grand­par­ents — two very loud, very lov­ing, very opin­ion­at­ed peo­ple who had thought they were through with rais­ing chil­dren until Jar­rett came along. Jar­rett goes through his child­hood try­ing to make his non-nor­mal life as nor­mal as pos­si­ble, find­ing a way to express him­self through draw­ing even as so lit­tle is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenag­er can Jar­rett begin to piece togeth­er the truth of his fam­i­ly, reck­on­ing with his moth­er and track­ing down his father. Hey, Kid­do is a pro­found­ly impor­tant mem­oir about grow­ing up in a fam­i­ly grap­pling with addic­tion, and find­ing the art that helps you survive.

Hur­ri­cane Sea­son 
Nicole Melle­by 
Algo­nquin Young Read­ers, 2019
(par­ent with men­tal illness) 

Fig, a sixth grad­er, loves her dad and the home they share in a beach­side town. She does not love the long months of hur­ri­cane sea­son. Her father, a once-renowned piano play­er, some­times goes look­ing for the music in the mid­dle of a storm. Hur­ri­cane months bring unpre­dictable good and bad days. More than any­thing, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to expe­ri­ence life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, con­fused and look­ing for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig clos­er to under­stand­ing him, it brings social ser­vices to their door.
As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s prob­lems and pro­tect her family’s pri­va­cy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a sur­pris­ing­ly kind new neigh­bor, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought … and begins to com­pose her own def­i­n­i­tion of fam­i­ly.
Nicole Melleby’s Hur­ri­cane Sea­son is a radi­ant and ten­der nov­el about tak­ing risks and fac­ing dan­ger, about friend­ship and art, and about grow­ing up and com­ing out. And more than any­thing else, it is a sto­ry about love — both its lim­its and its incred­i­ble heal­ing power.

Esther Ehrlich
Wendy Lamb Books, 2014
(par­ent with men­tal illness) 

A heart­felt and unfor­get­table mid­dle-grade nov­el about an irre­sistible girl and her fam­i­ly, trag­ic change, and the heal­ing pow­er of love and friend­ship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Nao­mi “Chirp” Oren­stein, her old­er sis­ter, Rachel; her psy­chi­a­trist father; and her dancer moth­er. But then Chirp’s mom devel­ops symp­toms of a seri­ous dis­ease, and every­thing changes.

Chirp finds com­fort in watch­ing her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mys­te­ri­ous boy who lives across the street. Togeth­er they cre­ate their own pri­vate world and come up with the per­fect plan: Escape. Adven­ture. Discovery.

One Square Inch 
Clau­dia Mills
Far­rar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
(par­ent with men­tal illness)

Coop­er’s grand­fa­ther gives him and his lit­tle sis­ter, Car­ly, deeds to square inch­es of land in the Yukon. Car­ly uses them to invent her own imag­i­nary king­dom of Inch­land — far away from the silence of their home, where their sin­gle moth­er stays in bed all day. When their mom comes out of her sea­son of sad­ness burst­ing with some­times fright­en­ing ener­gy, Car­ly retreats into Inch­land, while sixth-grad­er Coop­er tries to con­trol the chaos. But can Coop­er real­ly keep Car­ly — and him­self — safe?

Plan­et Earth is Blue 
Nicole Pan­te­leakos 
Wendy Lamb Books, 2019
(severe autism, par­ent with schizophrenia) 

Twelve-year-old Nova is eager­ly await­ing the launch of the space shut­tle Chal­lenger—it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across Amer­i­ca will watch the event on live TV in their class­rooms. Nova and her big sis­ter, Brid­get, share a love of astron­o­my and the space pro­gram. They planned to watch the launch togeth­er. But Brid­get has dis­ap­peared, and Nova is in a new fos­ter home.

While fos­ter fam­i­lies and teach­ers dis­miss Nova as severe­ly autis­tic and non­ver­bal, Brid­get under­stands how intel­li­gent and spe­cial Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws clos­er, Nova’s new fos­ter fam­i­ly and teach­ers begin to see her poten­tial, and for the first time, she is mak­ing friends with­out Brid­get. But every day, she’s count­ing down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Brid­get again. Because Brid­get said, “No mat­ter what, I’ll be there. I promise.”

Small as an Ele­phant 
Jen­nifer Richard Jacob­son
Can­dlewick Press, 2011
(par­ent with men­tal illness) 

Jack’s mom is gone, leav­ing him all alone on a camp­site in Maine. Can he find his way back to Boston before the author­i­ties real­ize what hap­pened?

Ever since Jack can remem­ber, his mom has been unpre­dictable, some­times lov­ing and fun, oth­er times caught in a whirl­wind of ener­gy and “spin­ning” wild­ly until it’s over. But Jack nev­er thought his mom would take off dur­ing the night and leave him at a camp­ground in Aca­dia Nation­al Park, with no way to reach her and bare­ly enough mon­ey for food. Any oth­er kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to fig­ure things out for him­self — start­ing with how to get from the back­woods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catch­es on. With noth­ing but a small toy ele­phant to keep him com­pa­ny, Jack begins the long jour­ney south, a jour­ney that will test his wits and his loy­al­ties — and his trust that he may be part of a larg­er herd after all.

The Illus­trat­ed Mum 
Jacque­line Wil­son (UK)
Dela­corte Books, 2005
(par­ent with men­tal illness) 

Cov­ered from head to toe with one-of-a-kind tat­toos, Marigold is the bright­est, most beau­ti­ful moth­er in the world. At least, that’s what Dol­phin thinks — she just wish­es Marigold wouldn’t stay out quite so late or have mood spells every now and again. Dolphin’s old­er sis­ter, Star, loves Marigold too, but she’s tired of look­ing after her. So when Star’s dad shows up out of the blue and offers to let the girls stay with him, Star jumps at the oppor­tu­ni­ty. But Dol­phin can’t bear to leave Marigold alone. Now it’s just the two of them, and Dol­phin is about to be in over her head…

The Sci­ence of Break­able Things 
Tae Keller
Ran­dom House, 2018
(par­ent with men­tal illness) 

When Natalie’s sci­ence teacher sug­gests that she enter an egg drop com­pe­ti­tion, she thinks it could be the per­fect solu­tion to all of her prob­lems. With the prize mon­ey, she can fly her botanist moth­er to see the mirac­u­lous Cobalt Blue Orchids — flow­ers with the resilience to sur­vive against impos­si­ble odds. Her moth­er has been suf­fer­ing from depres­sion, and Natal­ie is pos­i­tive that the flow­ers’ mag­ic will inspire her mom to fall in love with life again.
But she can’t do it alone. Her friends step up to show her that talk­ing about prob­lems is like tak­ing a plant out of a dark cup­board and expos­ing it to the sun. With their help, Natal­ie begins an unfor­get­table jour­ney to dis­cov­er the sci­ence of hope, love, and miracles.

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