Middle Grade: Overcoming Adversity

Strength. Resilience. Courage. Tenacity. Tenderness. Vulnerability. Growth. These are all qualities found in stories that focus on overcoming adversity, and these values are inherent to the characters who live in these books.

This book list will explore themes of middle grade characters overcoming internal and external adversity in a way that aligns with their cultural values. These books explore changing family dynamics, dealing with grief, and processing world events, from personal loss to tribal termination.

It’s important to show events that affect the global population as well as those that only affect the Indigenous populations. This encourages empathy in understanding how individuals and groups of people have handled historical events in the past and continue to persevere.

Book cover of The Sea in Winter

The Sea in Winter


Christine Day (Upper Skagit)


Maisie, a Makah and Piscataway middle school ballet dancer, has her life upended by a knee injury. Instead of attending a special ballet school and spending her afternoons in the ballet studio with her friends, she instead finds herself at physical therapy and in public school. A winter break trip to her mom’s homelands brings to the surface all of Maisie’s grief. With the help of her blended family, their cultural history, and open discussions about grief and healing, Maisie may find healing where she least expected it.

Book cover of Mascot



Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation) and Charles Waters


Just outside of Washington D.C., six students grapple with a mascot, tradition, and identity. This novel in verse is told from the perspectives of the six students, as well as including poems from the English teacher who assigns them a persuasive argument and paper on the mascot issue. As the students struggle with understanding one another and grapple with fighting for changing or keeping the mascot, they face opposition from unexpected sources and have friendships tested. Ultimately, their investigations lead them to answering big questions about their own identities and places in the world.

Intersectionality is highlighted within the six narrators, who all come from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

Book cover of Indian No More

Indian No More


Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua, enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) and Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation)


In 1957, ten-year-old Regina’s life is altered when the federal government declares that her tribe is no longer considered a federally recognized tribal nation. Forced from their tribal homelands, Regina and her family are relocated to California through the Indian Relocation Program. Regina finds herself in a new place, meeting new people of different races, and being confronted with their ideas of who an Indian is. Regina and her family encounter racism, poverty, and identity struggles during the Civil Rights era.

Book cover of Rain Is Not My Indian Name

Rain is Not My Indian Name


Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Nation)


After the unexpected and tragic death of her best friend, Rain isolates herself. Her brother encourages her to participate in their aunt’s Indian Camp, but Rain is resistant to return to being social. Instead, she offers to photograph the camp for the local newspaper. As other events in Rain’s life begin to change, she learns how to reconnect with the world in a new way, processing her grief and reconnecting with her intertribal community.


Physical injury, a global pandemic, encountering a racist mascot, U.S. federal policy changing daily life, dealing with grief: these big picture adversities have affected young readers in their own lives. Seeing these struggles on the page validates those real-life experiences while also offering tools and ideas that can be used to overcome adversity.

Young readers cannot choose when adversity will block their path; but seeing characters like them on the page, whether that similarity comes from identity or circumstance, can help readers through their own tough times.

A headshot of Christine Derr

About the Author

Christine Hartman Derr

Christine Hartman Derr is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. A current student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program, she enjoys writing picture books, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction. Her primary goal is to contribute to increasing Native representation and share the Cherokee language through her fiction. She runs the blog Paw Prints in the Sink, is a regular contributor for Knoxville Moms, and has written articles for regional publications. Christine is from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, but currently resides in East Tennessee on ancestral Cherokee land with her spouse, children, and a motley crew of lovable pets. She was honored to be selected for the We Need Diverse Books Native Children’s and YA Writing Intensive in 2022 and 2023. She won the VCFA-WCYA Summer-Fall 2022 Revisionary Award, the VCFA-WCYA Winter 2023 Candlewick Picture Book Award, and was chosen as a recipient for the 2022 Walter Grants for Native creators from We Need Diverse Books. Wado!