Middle School Must-Reads

11 BOOKS I READ (and loved) IN MIDDLE SCHOOL- My best classroom recommendations!

Welcome to the blog! If you've been around for a while you'd know that I'm an avid reader who is always on the lookout for the next great read. Selecting books for your middle schoolers can be a daunting task- especially if you have a group of picky readers! To help you out, I've pulled together a list of my personal favourites over the years from a variety of different genres. Don't worry, each one of these novels are great for book clubs, literature circles, and group discussions.

Please note that the following synopses are from Goodreads. My personal comments and annotations are written in italics :)

THE GIVER - Lois Lowry (Science/Dystopian Fiction)

Jonas' world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

THE BOOK THIEF - Markus Zusak (Historical Fiction)

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

SALT TO THE SEA - Ruta Sepetys (Historical Fiction)

A truly inspiring and powerful story about four teenagers aboard the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff. Over 9,000 people died in the Baltic Sea that fateful day- 7,500 more that the RMS Titanic. An excellent opportunity for students to learn about the largest shipwreck in history several decades later.

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

ANIMAL FARM - George Orwell (Allegory/Political Satire)

To fully enjoy the novel, I believe that it is crucial to understand the context behind it, and therefore strongly recommend a classroom lesson about 1930s Russian politics and the Soviet Union prior to reading this book.

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - Harper Lee (Coming-of-Age/Southern Gothic)

Evidently a beloved classic, Lee navigates through several sensitive but important themes, exploring the roots of human behaviour through innocence, prejudice, nobility, and hatred. Personally, I studied TKAM with my grade 8 class and we thoroughly enjoyed reading, discussing, and debating various aspects of the novel. While To Kill a Mockingbird is no doubt a remarkable work, it is, as all novels are, a piece of its time. Nonetheless, Lee's message couldn't be more relevant than it is today.

Growing up in a small Southern town, Jem and Scout Finch think they know their family and neighbours: There's Boo Radley, the neighborhood recluse, whom the children attempt to lure out of hiding; cranky old Mrs Dubose is secretly addicted to morphine; their odd playmate, Dill Harris, comes to stay with his aunt next door eah summer; and then there's Atticus, their father, and their hero. Their life is shattered by rumors of a black man accused of raping a white woman. In 1930s Alabama, her accusation all but proves his guilt. Yet lawyer Atticus questions the charge and defends the accused man in a town steeped in prejudice. Through the eyes of the children, as they try to understand the reactions of the townspeople and make sense of the crumbling world around them, the irrationality of racism is laid bare.

THE OUTSIDERS - S.E. Hinton (Fiction)

Fantastic for group discussions about timeless themes and lessons about life and morality, relatable to everyone at some point in their lives.

The Outsiders is about two weeks in the life of a 14-year-old boy. The novel tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his struggles with right and wrong in a society in which he believes that he is an outsider. According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for "social") has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he's always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers--until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy's skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

ANTHEM - Ayn Rand (Science Fiction)

I was first introduced to Ayn Rand by my eighth grade homeroom teacher. She had gifted me Anthem for Christmas and I found myself deeply enjoying Rand's comments on authority, individualism, and freedom. It has since become one of my favourites.

In Anthem, Rand examines a frightening future in which individuals have no name, no independence, and no values. Equality 7-2521 lives in the dark ages of the future where all decisions are made by committee, all people live in collectives, and all traces of individualism have been wiped out. Despite such a restrictive environment, the spark of individual thought and freedom still burns in him--a passion which he has been taught to call sinful. In a purely egalitarian world, Equality 7-2521 dares to stand apart from the herd--to think and choose for himself, to discover electricity, and to love the woman of his choice. Now he has been marked for death for committing the ultimate sin. In a world where the great "we" reign supreme, he has rediscovered the lost and holy word--"I."

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY - Ruta Sepetys (Historical Fiction)

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.

Lithuania, June 1941: Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer. In the dark of the night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and lives of those around her. But will love be enough to keep her alive?

NIGHT - Elie Wiesel (Memoir)

" Harrowing, heartbreaking, and brutal, this unforgettable memoir of a teenage survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald is essential reading for anyone studying the Holocaust."

- Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media

Born in the town of Sighet, Transylvania, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in 1944 to Auschwitz concentration camp, and then to Buchenwald. Night is the terrifying record of Elie Wiesel's memories of the death of his family, the death of his own innocence, and his despair as a deeply observant Jew confronting the absolute evil of man.

WONDER - R. J. Palacio (Fiction)

A heartwarming story about finding beauty and acceptance in everyone we meet.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS - John Boyne (Historical Drama)

Berlin 1942 - When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Thanks for reading until the end! As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or book recommendations- seriously, I'd love to hear from you! Until next time,


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