In anticipation of the new movie, I recently handed my 12 year old a copy of Judy Blume's beloved Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Not only did she love it just as much as I did when I was 12, but she also said, "Find me more books like that!".
When I asked my daughter what she loved about the book, she cited the following:
- Deals with issues important to tweens (puberty, friendship, crushes, etc.)
So, my daughters and I read our way through a stack of books like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and put together a list of our 17 favorite books for kids (girls and boys!) between the ages of 10 and 14.
These books tackle big issues, with humor and honesty, and they're refreshingly realistic so kids can find comfort and camaraderie in all the awkwardness of growing up.
Note: I've included older books from the 1970's, 80's, and 90's as well as contemporary coming of age books. Because of the sensitive nature of some of the topics in these books, especially the older books, parents/teachers may want to preview them or check for content concerns on Common Sense Media.
Books Like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
The Agony of Alice
By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor | 1985 | 144 pages
This is a delightful series for pre-teens about a young girl who is being raised by her father and her 19-year-old brother after the death of her mother. She's desperate to find a female role model and settles on Miss Cole, a beautiful sixth-grade teacher, to fill the role. The only problem is that she's not in Miss Cole's class and her teacher, an older and decidedly less glamorous woman named Mrs. Plotkin, is not at all what Alice had in mind (but she may be exactly what Alice needs).
A laugh-out-loud funny coming of age series that kids will love!
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel
By Firoozeh Dumas | 2017 | 384 pages
We listened to this one on audiobook and LOVED it! It's a hilarious coming of age novel about an Iranian girl growing up in California in the 1970s.
By Beverly Cleary | 1951 | 192 pages
This one was written for a younger audience (ages 6 to 11) but is one of my favorite books that deals with the complexities of friendship. I've had so many good conversations with my kids about this book over the years. Plus, it is so charming!
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
By Paula Danziger | 1974 | 147 pages
Note: this one deals with fat shaming and teenagers in the book drink beer.
13 year old Marcy feels invisible at school and has to tiptoe around her father at home to avoid his temper. She hates PE and doesn't speak up often, even in the classes she does enjoy. But everything changes when she gets a new English teacher who encourages her to be herself.
I loved the author's writing style and humor!
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
By Judy Blume | 1972 | 160 pages
Sheila Tubman is one of my favorite Judy Blume characters! She's anxious, afraid of so many things, and feels babyish among her friends. But, rather than admit any of these weaknesses, she acts bossy and bends the truth to fit in. She's insufferable sometimes, but she's also a very realistic character struggling with very normal feelings and situations.
This book, about a summer vacation trip that changes Sheila's life for the better, has been one of my favorites since I was a kid.
Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush?
By Jerry Spinelli | 1984 | 225 pages
I read this book when I was 12 or 13 and loved it. I was delighted to reread it as an adult and discover that it's just as good now as it was then. And, it's still hilarious!
Megin (megamouth) and her brother Greg (grosso) just can't get along with each other. Both are dealing with growing-up issues like crushes and friendship, but at home it's sibling rivalry 24/7. The reader gets to see things from both sibling's perspectives and it's fun to watch how they eventually make it past the rivalry to appreciate the importance of healthy family relationships.
By Shannon Hale | 2017 | 224 pages
This 3 book graphic novel series is a favorite at my house! Based on the author's actual experiences, it's a realistic account of the roller coaster of middle school friendships. Highly recommend this whole series!
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
By Judy Blume | 1977 | 296 pages
Set just after the end of WWII, Sally is a Jewish girl who has to move from New York to Florida for her brother's health. She thinks she sees Hitler everywhere, she's trying to fit in at a new school, and she's hoping she grows up to be glamorous like Esther Williams. It's a perfect coming of age story in Judy Blume's delightful style. If you like Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, you'll fall in love with Sally too!
Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life
By Stephanie Greene | 2015 | 144 pages
Sophie Hartley, age 10, does not ever want to be a teenager and she really does not want to watch the puberty video at school. I have a daughter who is going kicking and screaming into her teenage years, so this book was very relatable at our house.
Absolutely Normal Chaos
By Sharon Creech | 2012 | 230 pages
This is a coming of age story told through the journal entries of 13-year-old Mary Lou Finney who wants to be absolutely normal. It's funny and perfectly relatable for the middle school crowd.
Okay for Now
By Gary D. Schmidt | 2011 | 360 pages
Schmidt is a true genius when it comes to writing realistic books for kids, and this one is a masterpiece. Set in 1968, the book tackles poverty, prejudice, abuse, and friendship. It sounds like a lot, but it's presented with humor and grace and it's absolutely brilliant!
The Amazing Life of Birds: The Twenty-Day Puberty Journal of Duane Homer Leech
By Gary Paulsen | 2008 | 96 pages
This is a short book that follows Duane through 20 days of his life as a boy going through puberty. It's awkward, hilarious, and even poignant. I'm always a Gary Paulsen fan!
Karma Khullar's Mustache
By Kristi Wientge | 2018 | 288 pages
Karma Khullar is about to start middle school and in addition to all the common fears about friends and school, she's also just discovered seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip!
This is such a funny, sweet book that really captures the struggles of adolescence. We loved it!
Smile: A Graphic Novel
By Raina Telgemeier | 2009 | 224 pages
I think my kids have read this graphic novel memoir series AT LEAST five times! When Raina was a kid she didn't just get braces, she went through a long journey of braces, surgeries, headgear, and retainers, after a fall that injured her two front teeth. Middle school is already hard, but not being able to smile normally makes it even tougher.
There's A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom
By Louis Sachar | 1988 | 224 pages
After being held back a year, Bradley Chalkers is the oldest kid in fifth grade. Nobody likes him and he's determined to make sure he remains unlikeable. He both a bully and bullied, at home and at school. Luckily, a sensitive new school counselor can see just what Bradley needs to be able to make friends and gain confidence in himself.
It's a touching book with a lot of funny moments and memorable characters.
By Kelly Yang | 2019 | 320 pages
This is a phenomenal coming of age story about a 10 year old girl with immigrant parents who she helps manage a hotel in California. Not only does she have normal adolescent concerns like making friends and wearing the "right" jeans, but she also has to deal with racism. This is one of the best middle grade books I've read in recent years and I highly recommend it!
By Eileen Spinelli | 2019 | 208 pages
We loved this novel in verse about 12-year-old Birdie who loves birds. Her father, a firefighter, was killed in the line of duty and it's been hard for Birdie. But when her best friends, Nina and Martin, start "dating," and her grandmother gets a boyfriend, and her mom starts seeing a police officer, Birdie struggles to accept all the changes in her life. It's a lighthearted book that tackles some big themes of adolescence with humor and wisdom.
If you’d like a PRINTABLE COPY of this list of books like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret that you can take to your library or screenshot on your phone, just enter your email address below!
What humorous, realistic, coming of age books would you add to this list? I'd love to find more!
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