Updated: Dec 21, 2020
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If there’s one thing I love more than writing STEM, it's reading STEM.
For those who haven’t heard that term before, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It’s a popular term in the education world and in the literary world as more and more books are released with STEM themes. As an engineering teacher, and a writer of books about engineering and robotics, STEM stories are some of my favorites. Even better when you add in art and make them STEAM stories.
Though, it wasn’t always that way.
I remember a year ago, searching desperately for any good robotics and STEM fiction books to use in my classroom. I found many picture books, but not many middle grade books. For awhile, I began to think that STEM middle grade didn’t exist.
Then I found one.
And another. And one more.
Once I found those, it was like a door opened up. I found so many more than I ever dreamed of. It turns out the kidlit world is full of amazing middle grade STEM books.
This is a list I've compiled of all the STEM based fiction I can find in the middle grade category. Many of these books feature STEM and STEAM skills that mirror what we have in our world now, or look at the possibilities of the near future. They feature kids who feel real, kids who are going through all sorts of struggles and challenges, yet find solace in the skills and knowledge they learn through science, technology, engineering, and math. These are books that will add so much to any bookshelf.
Please note: I have not personally read all these books, though it is my goal to one day do so! Also, I know there’s books I have missed. If you know of a STEM book not on this list, please let me know and I can add it. Descriptions of the books were pulled from goodreads.
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
How do you grow a miracle?
For the record, this is not the question Mr. Neely is looking for when he says everyone in class must answer an important question using the scientific method. But Natalie's botanist mother is suffering from depression, so this is The Question that's important to Natalie. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie has hope.
Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.
Natalie has a secret plan for the prize money. She's going to fly her mother to see the Cobalt Blue Orchids--flowers that survive against impossible odds. The magical flowers are sure to inspire her mother to love life again. Because when parents are breakable, it's up to kids to save them, right?
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test — middle school!
Lucy's grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that's not a math textbook!). Lucy's not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy's life has already been solved. Unless there's been a miscalculation?
Mary Underwater by Shannon Doleski
Mary Murphy feels like she’s drowning. Her violent father is home from prison, and the social worker is suspicious of her new bruises. An aunt she’s never met keeps calling. And if she can’t get a good grade on her science project, she’ll fail her favorite class.
But Mary doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. She has a plan: build a real submarine, like the model she’s been making with Kip Dwyer, the secretly sweet class clown.
Gaining courage from her heroine, Joan of Arc, Mary vows to pilot a sub across the Chesapeake Bay, risking her life in a modern crusade to save herself.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L Holm
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer. Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?
The Line Tender by Kate Allen
Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, preparing to swim with a Great White, when she died suddenly. Lucy was eight. Since then Lucy and her father have done OK—thanks in large part to her best friend, Fred, and a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport.
On one steamy day, the tide brings a Great White—and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was “meaningful” but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother’s unfinished research. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she’ll finally be able to look beyond what she’s lost and toward what’s left to be discovered.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting--things don't just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory--even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy's achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe...and the potential for love and hope right next door.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough
Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton—almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday.
Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild.
Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?
Lexi-Magill and the Teleportation Tournament by Kim Long
Twelve-year-old physics whiz Lexi Magill won't let anything stop her from winning Wisconsin's Teleportation Tournament--the annual competition where teams teleport around the world to solve science-based puzzles. She needs the prize money if she wants to re-enroll in the science academy her parents can no longer afford. Added bonus: she'll be able to reconnect with her best friend Haley.
But Lexi's two teammates put a wrench in her plans. When one misreads a clue that lands the team in a castle in Germany, and the other loses her teleportation medallion in Poland, Lexi wonders what she's gotten herself into. Struggling to keep her team under control as the race rages on, Lexi not only has to figure out how to get back on course (literally), but she must decide how far she's willing to go to win, and who her real friends are. With riddles to solve and messages to decode, this interactive read won't disappoint!
What Stars are Made Of by Sarah Allen
Twelve-year-old Libby Monroe is great at science, being optimistic, and talking to her famous, accomplished friends (okay, maybe that last one is only in her head). She’s not great at playing piano, sitting still, or figuring out how to say the right thing at the right time in real life. Libby was born with Turner Syndrome, and that makes some things hard. But she has lots of people who love her, and that makes her pretty lucky.
When her big sister Nonny tells her she’s pregnant, Libby is thrilled—but worried. Nonny and her husband are in a financial black hole, and Libby knows that babies aren’t always born healthy. So she strikes a deal with the universe: She’ll enter a contest with a project about Cecelia Payne, the first person to discover what stars are made of. If she wins the grand prize and gives all that money to Nonny’s family, then the baby will be perfect. Does she have what it takes to care for the sister that has always cared for her? And what will it take for the universe to notice?
The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio
Lou Bulosan-Nelson is going to build her dream. She shares a room with her mom in her grandmother's house in San Francisco, and longs for a place of her own where she can escape her lovable but large extended Filipino family. Lou has a talent for woodshop class and creating projects, and plans to build a tiny house, 100 square feet, all her own, on land that she inherited from her dad, who died before she was born. Then Lou discovers it's not so easy to build one, but she won't give up on her dream—and her friends and family won’t either. This heartwarming coming-of-age story explores culture and family, forgiveness and friendship, and what makes a house a true home.
We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the country waits expectantly for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties.
Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.
The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into spacecraft crews and must create and complete a mission. When the fated day finally arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.
Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido
In a new city, at a new school, twelve-year-old Emmy has never felt more out of tune. Things start to look up when she takes her first coding class, unexpectedly connecting with the material—and Abigail, a new friend—through a shared language: music. But when Emmy gets bad news about their computer teacher, and finds out Abigail isn’t being entirely honest about their friendship, she feels like her new life is screeching to a halt. Despite these obstacles, Emmy is determined to prove one thing: that, for the first time ever, she isn’t a wrong note, but a musician in the world’s most beautiful symphony.
Enginerds by Jarrett Lerner
Ken is an EngiNerd: one of a super-smart group of friends—all nerds—who have been close since kindergarten.
They may be brainiacs, but they’re just like everyone else: they fight with one another, watch too much TV, eat Chinese food, and hate walking their dogs. Well, maybe not just like everyone because Ken’s best friend Dan has been building robots. He then secretly sent one to each of the EngiNerds, never letting them know he’s the mastermind.
At first Ken is awed and delighted: what kid hasn’t dreamed of having a robot all their own? Someone who can be their friend, clean their room, walk the dog, answer homework questions…how amazing is that?
But be careful what you wish for: Dan’s robot, Greeeg, may look innocent, but his ravenous consumption of food—comestibles—turns him into a butt-blasting bot. And once the other robots ‘come alive’ it’s up to the motley crew of EngiNerds to not only save the day, but save the planet!
Clues to The Universe by Christina Li
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.
Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.
Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?
The Friendship Code by Stacia Deutsch
Loops, variables, input/output - Lucy can't wait to get started with the new coding club at school. Finally, an after school activity that she's really interested in. But Lucy's excitement turns to disappointment when she's put into a work group with girls she barely knows. All she wanted to do was make an app that she believes will help someone very special to her.
Suddenly, Lucy begins to get cryptic coding messages and needs some help translating them. She soon discovers that coding - and friendship - takes time, dedication, and some laughs!
Shine! By JJ and Chris Grabenstein
Who do you want to be? asks Mr. Van Deusen. And not when you grow up. Right here, right now. Shine on! might be the catchphrase of twelve-year-old Piper's hero--astronaut, astronomer, and television host Nellie Dumont Frisse--but Piper knows the truth: some people are born to shine, and she's just not one of them. That fact has never been clearer than now, since her dad's new job has landed them both at Chumley Prep, a posh private school where everyone seems to be the best at something and where Piper definitely doesn't fit in.
See You In the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he'll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.
Ellie, Engineer by Jackson Pearce
Ellie is an engineer. With a tool belt strapped over her favorite skirt (who says you can’t wear a dress and have two kinds of screwdrivers handy, just in case?), she invents and builds amazing creations in her backyard workshop. Together with her best friend Kit, Ellie can make anything. As Kit’s birthday nears, Ellie doesn’t know what gift to make until the girls overhear Kit’s mom talking about her present--the dog Kit always wanted! Ellie plans to make an amazing doghouse, but her plans grow so elaborate that she has to enlist help from the neighbor boys and crafty girls, even though the two groups don’t get along. Will Ellie be able to pull off her biggest project yet, all while keeping a secret from Kit?
The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van Dolzer
Twelve-year-old painter Esther can't wait to attend Camp Vermeer, the most prestigious art camp around. But when her stepdad accidentally drives up the wrong mountain, she lands at Camp Archimedes—a math camp!
Determined to prove herself to the other campers, she tackles a brain-teaser that’s supposed to be impossible—and solves it in a single day. But not everyone is happy about it . . . someone wants her out of camp at any cost, and starts leaving cryptic, threatening notes all over the camp’s grounds. Esther doesn’t know who to trust—will she solve this riddle before it’s too late?
Spin the Golden Lightbulb by Jackie Yeager
It's the year 2071 and eleven year-old Kia Krumpet is determined to build her 67 inventions, but she won't have the opportunity to unless she earns a spot at PIPS, the Piedmont Inventor's Prep School. Kia, who has trouble making friends at school, has dreamed of winning the Piedmont Challenge and attending PIPS ever since she learned that her Grandma Kitty won the very first Piedmont Challenge. After she and four of her classmates are selected to compete for a spot at PIPS, they travel by aero-bus to Camp Piedmont to solve a task against forty-nine other state teams to earn their place at the best inventor's school in the country.
Click’d by Tamara Stone
Allie Navarro can't wait to show her best friends the app she built at CodeGirls summer camp. CLICK'D pairs users based on common interests and sends them on a fun (and occasionally rule-breaking) scavenger hunt to find each other. And it's a hit. By the second day of school, everyone is talking about CLICK'D.
Watching her app go viral is amazing. Leaderboards are filling up! Everyone's making new friends. And with all the data Allie is collecting, she has an even better shot at beating her archenemy, Nathan, at the upcoming youth coding competition. But when Allie discovers a glitch that threatens to expose everyone's secrets, she has to figure out how to make things right, even if that means sharing the computer lab with Nathan. Can Allie fix her app, stop it from doing any more damage, and win back the friends it hurt-all before she steps on stage to present CLICK'D to the judges?
Bees on The Roof by Robbie Shell
Sam needs to find a seventh-grade science fair project and a way to save the restaurant where his father works. When he enrolls three friends in an effort to raise bees on a hotel roof in New York City, the complications multiply. Bee sting allergies, a great bee die-off, a rival team's cheating, a mysteriously reclusive science teacher, and Sam's romantic feelings for a classmate make the bee project anything but simple. This story includes lots of facts about bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.
Solving For M by Jennifer Swender
When Mika starts fifth grade at the middle school, her neat life gets messy. Separated from old friends and starting new classes, Mika is far from her comfort zone. And math class is the most confusing of all, especially when her teacher Mr. Vann assigns math journals. Art in math? Who's ever heard of such a thing?
But when challenges arise at home, Mika realizes there are no easy answers. Maybe, with some help from friends, family, and one unique teacher, a math journal can help her work out problems, and not just the math ones.
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by kate Messner
In the mountains of rural Vermont, fall is a season of beauty and transformation . . . but not for Gianna Z. With less than one week to collect twenty-five leaves for a science project, her spot at cross-country sectionals is in serious peril. Plus with a dad who runs a funeral parlor out of the basement, a grandma who keeps losing her teeth, and a rival trying to steal her spot on the team, Gee just wishes life could leave her alone to finish her project. But when Nonna disappears one afternoon, suddenly some things seem more important than projects and races.
The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner
Kirby "Zig" Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people--especially his father, who he hasn't seen in over a year. When his dad's latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo--a garage sale GPS unit--for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren't always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there's more than one set of coordinates for home.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.
As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.
The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic
Wishes, magic, and dares abound when a tween math whiz tries to fit in at her new school by wishing on a magical cat clock only to suffer catastrophic consequences! Perfect for fans of Sarah Mlynowski, Wendy Mass, and Ingrid Law.
Megan Meyers has a foolproof plan to reinvent herself at her new middle school. But when she’s dared to make something exciting happen by the end of her first day, Megan gets stuck in the middle of an epic rivalry between the two most popular girls in the seventh grade. And totally panics! Megan’s reputation has always been more science-geek-meets-Humane-Society-volunteer than party-planner-fun-maker. So, with nothing to lose as her classroom’s strange cat clock chimes 11:11 a.m., Megan makes a wish. And it comes true! In the form of an enchanted teen magazine that promises back-to-school makeovers and the secrets to winning over friends and crushes.
But each wish comes with its own Pinocchio-esque side effects, and soon Megan finds herself coughing up hairballs as she makes bigger and bigger promises to her new friends. Now, if she can’t impress the school with the most spectacular kickoff event for Spirit Week they’ve ever seen—without using magic—her social life will be doomed and Megan may remain feline and friendless forever.
Parker Bell and The Science of Friendship by Cynthia Platt
Budding scientist Parker Bell really wants to win the school Science Triathlon and follow in the footsteps of her idols, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and astronaut Mae Jemison. She’s sure that if she teams up with her trivia whiz BFF, Cassie, they will dominate the Science Bee, Egg Drop, and Animal Adaptation Presentation. When Cassie invites her new friend, Theo, to join their team, Parker is worried—that Theo won't help them win and might steal her best friend. As the three work together, Parker learns that you don’t have to be the best to be a real scientist and a good friend.
What Happens Next by Claire Swinarski
Astronomy-obsessed Abby McCourt should be thrilled about the solar eclipse her small town of Moose Junction is about to witness, but she’s not. After her older sister Blair was sent away for an eating disorder, Abby has been in a funk.
Desperate to dull the pain her sister’s absence has left, she teams up with a visiting astronomer to help track down his long-lost telescope. Though this is supposed to take Abby’s mind off the distance between her and Blair, what she finds may bring her closer to her sister than she ever thought possible.
Summer Set in Motion by Tracy Borgmeyer
Science camp is all about learning the laws of motion but someone wants to put the brakes on Camp Eureka for good. Can 9 year old science whiz Halley Harper find the culprit by using her knack of turning ordinary into the extraordinary? Will she find out who is sabotaging the experiments before anyone else gets hurt and camp closes forever?
The Secret Notebook by D.A. D’Aurelio
Riley Green is certain her lie detector pen will improve her status in a school full of kids from the most powerful families of Washington, D.C. But her plan collapses when her invention idea is stolen, her favorite teacher goes missing, and mysterious threats begin to appear around capital. Before vanishing, Riley's teacher entrusts her with her most prized possession, the lost notebook of Nikola Tesla, legendary inventor and scientist. Now Riley and her friends must protect the notebook from thieves who want to steal the details it holds about a dangerous invention. When Riley discovers another secret, she must decode a mysterious message before it's too late. Her teacher's life depends on it.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
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."
There you have it. These are all the MG STEM books I’ve found so far. I KNOW there are more out there, and as I find more, I plan to edit and add to this post. Know of a good STEM book I missed? Send me a message or comment to let me know!