Eight Superhero-Inspired Titles for Spider-Man-Loving #MiddleGradeManiacs

Have you heard? There’s a new Spider-Man movie!

If your eyes are rolling back into your head, I get it. This is the wall-crawler’s seventh big-screen feature of the twenty-first century (not counting various appearances with the Avengers), but trust me: if you love middle grade, you must see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Forget the nearly universal acclaim (97% on the tyrannical Tomatometer). Forget the award season domination. Forget that it revitalizes a stagnating franchise and revolutionizes animated film. There are two reasons you should see it:

  1. It’s just great storytelling.
  2. It’s important.

In this golden age of children’s literature, there is no shortage of quality middle-grade books, but it’s also a time of expansion, of broadening horizons, of the diversification of what stories we tell and, more importantly, whose stories we tell.

Miles Morales
Miles Morales, awkward teen

Spider-Verse tells the story of Miles Morales. Miles is a modern Brooklyn teenager. His dad is an African American police officer, and his mom is a Puerto Rican nurse. Like his predecessor, Peter Parker, Miles is an awkward, introspective nerd—but he isn’t just a black Peter Parker. While his family and biracial identity are core to his character, they also don’t define him. He’s a nuanced kid with complex relationships and the capacity to change—a kid who just happens to get bitten by a radioactive spider.

Spider-Man in Nikes

How many big-screen superheroes have brown skin? How many are talented street artists who go out tagging with a beloved uncle? How many have two loving parents still at home? How many Spider-Men (or Women) swing into action wearing Nikes and a hoodie, soaring through New York City to the thumping bass and fervent rhymes of a rap song?

Thanks to Spider-Verse, kids are associating all of that with heroism, and that stems from Miles’ character. This is positive representation that, until recently, has been largely missing from our pop culture. Spider-Man has long-held wide appeal because anyone can imagine themselves behind the shrouding mask and onesie. But now black and Latinx children can actually see themselves behind the mask.

As Peter tells Miles, “What makes you different is what makes you Spider-Man.” That’s important. But that’s not all of what makes the story great. In the tradition of middle grade, this movie is about taking that first step into a bigger world, about discovering the strain of family ties, coming of age, and learning how to face your problems and be a hero. The themes are universal, plus it’s got a slew of heroes, villains, sidesplitting comedy, heart-wrenching tragedy, a collapsing space-time continuum, and a vibrant depiction of New York City.

It’s middle grade at its best, superhero cinema at its finest, and it just happens to feature Miles Morales.

For those who enjoyed Spider-Verse, here are some middle-grade books that strike some of the same chords, linked to their Booklist reviews when available.

Titles with Superheroes

Miles Morales, by Jason Reynolds

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man: Revival, by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by David Marquez

Ms. Marvel: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF, by Amy Reeder and illustrated by Natacha Bustos

Titles without Superheroes

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez

Mercy Watson to the Rescue, by Kate DiCamillo

About the Author:

Ronny Khuri is an associate editor for Books for Youth at Booklist. He has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. His dæmon is a Siamese cat named Tiger Lily.

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