'Real Friends' Book Recommendations

By: Shanleigh Klassen

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing." ― E.B. White

Friendships are the name of the game for our March 2022 theme: REAL FRIENDS. With goodies inspired by the epic friendships from Adventure Time and City of Ghosts to name just a few, this month’s box is all about celebrating all those nearest and dearest to our hearts.

Our March book pick has a little bit of something for everyone: mystery, suspense, real-life commentary, and just a dash of sci-fi for flavor. This is truly an exceptional book that will no doubt spark some intriguing discussions.

Read on for more middle grade book recommendations featuring friendships in all their messy and wonderful forms, and be sure you subscribe for the REAL FRIENDS box available now!

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
Cover for Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. Image shows a young Cuban boy and young Cuban girl  in front of a series of school lockers. The locker between the two is open, revealing a swirling rainbow vortex.

This fast-paced, multiversal story is filled with heart, humor, and heaping plates of delicious food. Sal and Gabi’s first meeting isn’t exactly under the best circumstances, seeing as Sal’s prank on Gabi’s friend can’t really be proven since the raw chicken left in Yasmany’s locker has mysteriously disappeared. However, Gabi’s sharp eyes never miss a trick, which is how she learns that Sal is no innocent magician. As their hijinks start to spiral out of control, they begin to realize that they may actually be putting the entire universe at risk. You will be rooting for Sal and Gabi from page one, so be sure you also pick up the sequel, Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe!

You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P by Alex Gino
Book cover for You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P by Alex Gino. Cover shows a slim side of Black child's face and a White child's face, each focusing on the children's exposed ears. The Black child's ear shows a red hearing aide while the white child's ear shows a blue earring.

Jilly may know everything there is to know about her favorite fantasy series, but when her little sister is born deaf, she realizes there’s much more to learn about the people and dynamics in her own world. On an online support group, Jilly connects with another fantasy fan by the name of Profound, a young Black ASL user who doesn’t appreciate how Jilly’s attempts to “do the right thing” make him feel reduced to a single identity. Over the course of this stunner of a story, Profound challenges Jilly to recognize that people face different realities and how being open to change can lead to a better, more meaningful place.

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
Book cover for The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles. Image shows two young Black children on bicycles, escaping from a running robot with its arms outstretched towards them.

Cousin and sleuth duo Otto and Sheed Alston are just beginning to settle down from their heroic summer at Grandma’s where they earned two keys to the city thanks to their commitment to discipline and deduction. But then their rivals, the Ellison twins, have just earned their third key to the city and no way can their summer end like that! So when a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time, Otto and Sheed team up one last time to save their town — and their summer — from total doom. You are in for such a raucous good time with the Alston boys, the fun doesn’t have to stop here! Check out the full series for more extremely imaginative adventures.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Book cover for Hello, Universe by Erin Entranda Kelly. Image focuses on a young child trapped in a hole, holding a phone and looking up. At the top of the image shows three children of various ages and sizes accompanied by a dog, walking through a forest. A gold Newbery award medal is in the bottom left corner.

An OwlCrate Jr favorite and winner of the 2018 Newbery Award, this story takes place over the course of a single summer day and follows four distinct points of view. When Virgil, Valencia, Gen, and Kaori, start off their day, they are not friends — but the universe has other plans. After an unexpected encounter with a bully leads to Virgil stranded and helpless in the woods, the lives of each kid begin to weave together to form an epic rescue, the likes of which will form a friendship each had been longing for. This is a wonderful, resonant story about how life-changing, or perhaps how fateful, true friendships can be.

A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks
Book cover for A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks. Image shows a young Black child sitting on a blue beanbag chair with headphones on her head. A poster with a rainbow surrounded by purple hand prints is directly behind the child. Surrounding the child is a bookshelf with books and various papers.

Joy’s life plans have been put on hold ever since her father lost his job, prompting Joy and her parents to move into a small, two-bedroom apartment. Then Joy meets her neighbor Nora who introduces her to the Hideout, a secret and cozy refuge that generations of kids have been using when they need a space to retreat. There, Joy also starts exchanging secret messages with another kid in the building who likewise seems to be struggling. As the story progresses, the Hideout remains a constant place of community and support as each kid tries to make a little space for themselves in the world. A heartfelt story that uplifts the need for connection, love, and friendship.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Book cover for The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. Image shows a crest featuring a black swan on the left side and white swan on the right. Below the crest are two White children, the child on the left facing away with black hair and clothing, and the child on the right with long blonde hair. Two castles tower in the distance, a black castle on the left and white castle on the right.

A soon-to-be classic of the middle grade fantasy genre, if you haven’t yet picked up this series, now’s your time to start! Every four years, two children are taken by an unknown force and sent to the schools where fairy tale heroes and villains are made. This year, the two children are best friends Sophie, who dreams of living out a Happily Ever After, and Agatha, Sophie’s complete opposite. Only, the friends are sent to the wrong schools — Agatha has been sent to the School for Good and Sophie to the School for Evil. Challenged for the first time, Agatha and Sophie hope to rectify this error to become who they were meant to be. What follows is the first in an incredibly fun and humorous series that puts true friendship and love to the ultimate test. Keep your eye out for the Netflix film adaptation, to be released later this year!

Let's celebrate the best of literary friendships! Tell us your favorite bookish friendships in the comments below. 

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