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Books For Middle Schoolers
The middle school years are often when a love (or dread) of reading is developed. Children are generally reading independently by now and parents often don’t feel the need to read aloud to them anymore. If a child of this age gets hooked on a great series of books it can make him, or her, a reader for life. If most of the books the child is exposed to don’t hold his interest, reading can fall by the wayside as other activities, such as video games and TV, become more easily accessible. Kids this age love fantasy and sci-fi, but also want to be able to read about characters they can relate to.
Finding suitable books for middle schoolers
Books are generally classified by age rather than grade level so if a book’s website, cover or review specifies who the book is aimed at, it’s most likely to state that it's a ‘book for 8 to 12 year olds” rather than a “book for middle schoolers”. More often than not there's no clarification from the book’s author or publisher about who the book is aimed at. This is hardly surprising - no author or publisher wants to limit the number of books sold. Many books written for middle schoolers appeal to both older and younger children, depending on their maturity and reading level, and many books for children are enjoyed by adults.
Librarians and book sellers can usually help identify the best books for your child’s age range. In my experience librarians are often better informed than book sellers. It’s worth having a chat with your librarian, even if you’re actually planning on buying the books, rather than borrowing them. Online or printed reviews are really useful too. (Amazon is probably the easiest place to find reviews, and generally they’re honest as they’re posted by customers, not paid reviewers). Reviewers will sometimes give their opinion of what age group the book is suitable for or mention the age of the child they bought the book for. Reviews by children can be more helpful, but are harder to find.
To get you started, the following are all great books for middle schoolers.
The Harry Potter Series
The Harry Potter phenomenon has had an amazing impact on the world of children’s literature. Children who get hooked on Potter tend to read the whole series and considering some of the later books have several hundred pages, that’s a lot of reading going on among the middle schoolers of the world. Books one through three are definitely suitable for 8 -12 year olds (Sorcerer’s Stone, also known as the Philosopher’s Stone outside of the US, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban).
From book four (Goblet of Fire) onwards the books get longer, the plots more complicated, and the themes darker, but my son read all seven books before he turned twelve and my daughter is on-track to do the same. Don’t assume that Harry being male makes this series a bad choice for girls. The Harry Potter books are full of the kind of strong female characters most of us would want our daughters to see as role models, and the books are wildly popular with both genders.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series
Produced for reluctant readers, these books are written as ‘real’ diaries, with a hand writing inspired font and funny illustrations. They are great for reluctant readers, but both my middle school kids read above grade level and still loved them. They’re about real life stuff that middle school kids deal with, but with a really funny twist, and of course the ‘wimpy kid” who narrates them is the underdog we all love to root for.
City of Ember Series
Speculative fiction set at an unspecified time in the future that makes children think about the impact we’re all having on our world. These books also have highly relatable characters, and the two main characters are a boy and a girl, so they tend to work for both genders. The books are called City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold.
An old classic that’s still popular among middle school students, especially fantasy fans, and with the movie coming out this year there’s never been a better time to read it. Technically The Hobbit isn’t a series book, but it’s the prequel to the Lord of The Rings Trilogy and can inspire kids to go on and read the later books as they grow older. It’s definitely an easier read than the Rings trilogy, so a good idea to start a younger child on this one first.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Series
In spite of the depressing title (and plot) there’s something wonderfully upbeat about the writing in this thirteen book series. Plus, you have to love the author’s pen name (Lemony Snickett). Kids love the books, and tend to find them fairly easy to read. There’s also a movie that will appeal to the whole family. The books themselves are titled The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and (logically enough)The End.
The Dark is Rising Series
This fantasy series by Susan Cooper is based on the struggle between forces of good and evil (The Light and The Dark) and weaves together Arthurian legends and ancient Celtic and Norse mythology, in a series just right for middle school kids. The series starts off with Over Sea, Under Stone, and The Dark is Rising is actually the second book, although for some reason, that’s the title most people know the series by. Others in the series are Greenwitch, The Grey King and Silver on the Tree.
If you’re an adult fan of Susan Cooper, and especially if you’re a writer (or aspiring writer) yourself, you might also like Cooper’s book Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children.
Wrinkle in Time Series
This sci-fi-with-a-dose-of-fantasy time travel tale, by Madeleine L'Engle, involves a young girl whose father, a government scientist, has gone missing after working on a mysterious project. Books in the series are A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and An Acceptable Time. The series is sometimes referred to as The Time Quintet. Good for both genders, but tends to appeal to girls more than some of the more male orietated time travel stories.
The Giver by Lois Lowery
A classic tale of wonderfully realistic speculative fiction for older middle schoolers. In spite of the fact that this book has been controversial in the past, with some parents considering it unsuitable for children, The Giver is considered by many to be a classic and is still often set by teachers as assigned reading for middle schoolers. I thought it might be a challenging read, but it’s actually a short, easy read for most older middle school kids and addresses some themes that can really start a train of critical thinking and a surprisingly philosophical discussion.
Holes by Louis Sachar
The story of Stanley Yelnats (yes it’s a palindrome), a boy who is sent to a detention center for a crime he didn’t commit and forced to dig holes. Digging holes is meant to build character, but it’s obvious from the start that the boys aren’t building character, they’re looking for something. A twisting, turning tale about justice, connection and payback - and a quick, compelling read. My copy has bonus materials at the back, including an interview with the author, questions for a book club discussion and some questions to help youngsters draw comparisons between this book and The Giver.
Have your own recommendations of great books for middle schoolers? Please share in the comments. If you’ve read any of these books yourself, vote for your favorite in the poll below.