image from barnesandnoble.com
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh (1991) is a classic "boy and his dog" tale. This Newbery-winning (see a full list here) book delves into the moral struggles faced by Marty, an 11-year-old boy, when he rescues an abused dog. Because the dog doesn't belong to him, faces the dilemma of having stolen someone else's property and hiding this from his parents (he keeps the dog in a fenced-in area out in the woods).
Naylor does a nice job shaping ethical quandries to which children can relate - and doesn't get preachy about what is right and wrong. Instead, Naylor provides good food-for-thought in contemplating just what are the right courses of action when faced with not-so-easy choices.
In my own writing, I've focused lately on the struggles of pre-teen characters through Abigail's Atlantis. The dual story delves into the lives of Abigail, a 12-year-old girl spending the summer with her grandparents, and Kai, a 12-year-old boy in modern-day Atlantis. While not facing moral dilemmas, both characters struggle with how to fit in with the worlds around them. They end up facing hard decisions about doing what feels right to them.
In that sense, Marty, Abigail, and Kai all face the greatest challenge of all - making hard decisions about what feels right to them. As an adult writer, the greatest challenge in penning middle-grade fiction is to properly capture that dilemma - to accurately tap into that feeling of being too old to still be considered a child, but too young to be considered an adult.