The best books about middle school

8 authors have picked their favorite books about middle school and why they recommend each book.

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The Lions of Little Rock

By Kristin Levine,

Book cover of The Lions of Little Rock

I had long been familiar with the events of Little Rock Central High, having read books, articles, and online accounts of the attempt to integrate this Arkansas school. I found The Lions of Little Rock an accurate and compelling novel that provides young adults with a masterful introduction to how attempts to integrate the Jim Crow South impacted its children. Built on the seminal events to integrate Arkansas’s Little Rock High in 1958, the friendship of young Marlee and Liz portrays how segregation damages not just communities, but friendships. Young adults will be pulled in by Levine’s blend of plot, humor, and emotion to make this a memorable work of historical fiction that may inspire young readers to engage in the cause of civil rights. 


Who am I?

I was born in Georgia but grew up in Florida during Jim Crow. My earliest memory of racism was when my mother took me downtown to buy new school shoes. I grew thirsty, so I went to drink from the “colored” water fountain. My young mind may have been attracted to water that might have been blue or pink or green. Quickly my mother whisked me to the “white” fountain, and it was then that I first began to question the racism that was part of my Southern heritage. I wrote Spite Fences to explore the historical barriers erected against equal treatment for African-Americans. All of those prohibitions are fences, limiting opportunity, begging to be torn down. 


I wrote...

Spite Fences

By Trudy Krisher,

Book cover of Spite Fences

What is my book about?

Maggie Pugh has lived all her young life in Kinship, Georgia. In all that time, almost nothing has changed in her racially divided town. If you are poor, you live on the west side. If you are rich, you live in the north. If you are white, you can sit at the counter at Byer's drugs. If you are black, you have to eat outside.

That's just the way things are in the Jim Crow South. Then something horrible happens, and Maggie is the only eyewitness to this scene of racial injustice. As Maggie’s world explodes, she wonders: Who can she tell? Who would care? Can Black Lives Matter in Georgia in 1961? Read this classic, award-winning work of historical fiction to explore Maggie’s struggle for justice and redemption.

Takedown

By Laura Shovan,

Book cover of Takedown

If you thought competitive wrestling was just for boys, then think again, because this book is bound to suplex that idea into submission for you. There’s so much to love about Takedown. Laura Shovan gives us two stories in one with a dual-POV narration by Mikayla and Lev. Both are packed with tension, humor, and their own unique voice. Combine that with the added bonus of a gender-stereotype-busting story and you’ve got all the makings of an amazing book with a very powerful message. 


Who am I?

Truth time. I’ve never been a sporty person. Have I tried sports? Yes. Was I good at them? Goodness gracious no. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for some of the more non-traditional ones. In middle school, I created my own New Kids on the Block tribute dance crew. In high school, I joined a street hockey team. In college, I was a competitive Scottish Highland Games athlete. Just like the characters I write, I enjoy the quirkier side of most things. Does that make me an expert at them? Nope. But I definitely enjoy the occasional venture into the world of wild and weird sports.


I wrote...

My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights

By Brooks Benjamin,

Book cover of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights

What is my book about?

Dance studios are for sell-outs. Or at least that’s what Dillon’s dance crew keeps saying. But when a chance to compete at the biggest dance academy in the state falls in his lap, he has to decide what’s more important: sticking to his crew’s rules or freestyling his way into solo greatness.

Bea Is for Blended

By Lindsey Stoddard,

Book cover of Bea Is for Blended

This heartwarming novel is full of soccer, touching family dynamics, and girl power. It stars a feisty sixth-grader named Bea who has to adjust to a new house, a new school, a new blended family, and a new neighbor who’s gunning for her position on the soccer field. At first, Bea is determined to look out for herself and protect her turf, but then she and her neighbor team up to fight against sexism and form the first-ever all-girls squad. The team dynamics in this book will make any reader cheer. Soccer fans will love the on-field action, but this gem of a novel also has humor, emotional depth, delightful and inspiring characters, and even references to the beloved Katherine Paterson novel Bridge to Terabithia!


Who am I?

I’ve always loved watching and playing sports, and now I love writing about them, too. As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how sporty books appeal to sporty kids. But after publishing my novel Up for Air, which is about a star swimmer, I’ve been struck by how many readers tell me they connected deeply with the main character even though they don’t like sports at all. That made me think about what makes sports stories resonate, and now I look out for books that capitalize on all the most exciting and relatable things about sports while also offering compelling hooks to readers with all sorts of interests.


I wrote...

Coming Up Short

By Laurie Morrison,

Book cover of Coming Up Short

What is my book about?

Bea’s parents think she can accomplish absolutely anything. But at the end of seventh grade, on the day she makes a play to send her softball team to the league championships and Xander, the boy she likes, makes it clear that he likes her too, a scandal shakes up her world. Bea’s dad took money that belonged to a client. He’s now suspended from practicing law, and another lawyer spread the news online. To make matters worse, that lawyer is Xander’s dad.

The thing she was best at seems to be slipping out of her fingers along with her formerly happy family. She's not sure what's going to be harder—learning to throw again or forgiving her dad. How can she be the best version of herself when everything she loves is falling apart?

Dress Coded

By Carrie Firestone,

Book cover of Dress Coded

For the budding middle-grade activist on your list, this book is my 11-year-old daughter’s favorite, and I loved it too. The eighth-grade main character, Molly, starts a podcast to protest unfair dress code enforcement in her school, and her small rebellion starts a revolution. A great introduction for kids to activism, with a deft treatment of body differences, girl power, and friendships. 


Who am I?

I began as an activist in high school, knocking on doors to enlist support for clean water and air, and more recently, for my favorite candidates for local, state, and federal office. Some of my most meaningful work was as a lawyer and volunteer on land conservation deals for an agricultural land trust. Fiction has an amazing power to recharge us and to shift our perspectives to imagine the world differently. My favorite books are always ones that teach me something interesting. My recent activism has been motivated by my frustration with our political process, including the 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United declaring corporations to be “persons” under the law.


I wrote...

The Third Way

By Aimee Hoben,

Book cover of The Third Way

What is my book about?

After losing her college scholarship, Arden Firth—with the help of Justin Kirish, a law student with a mysterious past—becomes the reluctant leader of a movement to ban corporations. South Dakota Ballot Initiative 99 is Arden’s last hope to save her grandmother’s farm from foreclosure; but as the movement grows, shadowy forces conspire to quash it, and Arden sees “99” begin to spiral out of her control. Charting the intersection between idealism, extremism, and forgiveness, The Third Way is the story of a young woman struggling with her own demons while trying to articulate a vision that could change the world.

Fighting Words

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,

Book cover of Fighting Words

Mental illness can be so serious and depressing, even striking fear in some people’s hearts. Here are five of my favorite titles for young and old readers alike—award winners, all, that use excellent storytelling and beautiful writing, draw freely on humor (or at least irony), and responsibly, hopefully, honestly, sometimes disturbingly, demystify mental illness for readers wishing to walk a mile in these shoes. If you or your teen reader like your novels real and edifying, you’re sincerely welcome.

This story gently exposes the mental health fallout from long-term sexual abuse, including depression and a suicide attempt, but it’s told through the point of view of foster kid ten-year-old Della whose laugh-out-loud humor will have you snorting coffee out your nose. Della only slowly comes to realize what her beloved sixteen-year-old sister Suki has suffered and the novel contains nothing graphic. Best of all, these characters speak up, get help…


Who am I?

I’m an American author of young adult novel Romancing the Dark in the City of Light and other fiction for younger readers as well as a trained suicide prevention counselor and mental health advocate. I have long been pulled by the subject of suicide since struggling with depression as an adolescent. Along with my pal, author and psychologist Nancy Bo Flood, we read and keep track of exceptional, traditionally-published books dealing with mental illness—that of the main character or of someone they love—that avoid tropes and stereotypes, model characters seeking and receiving help and support and ultimately coping, all while pursuing their goals and dreams like any other fictional people. 


I wrote...

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent

By Ann Jacobus Kordahl,

Book cover of The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent

What is my book about?

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent is about 18-year-old Delilah who is finally feeling stable after getting help for her depression, anxiety, and alcohol addiction, and she finds a sense of purpose volunteering at a suicide crisis line. But her world shifts again when her beloved, terminally-ill aunt asks her to help her “die with dignity.”

Smile

By Raina Telgemeier,

Book cover of Smile: A Graphic Novel

This book, a graphic-novel middle-grade memoir based on Telgemeier’s life, is hilarious and awkward and sad, just like much of middle-school life. In the book, Raina has a terrible accident, needs braces and headgear, and has all the typical sibling arguments. What’s great about it is that it lets you tackle all these awkward feelings with your child by reading together…in a way that’s more comfortable than it otherwise might be if your child had to start with their feelings. Even if your child is younger, you can do this as a read-aloud…or get two copies and read together.


Who am I?

As a speech pathologist, as well as a fiction writer and poet, I’ve been fascinated by language ever since I learned how to speak. Once I had kids, I was amazed to listen in on their conversations, which often surprised me in all the ways they were discovering and thinking about the world. I began researching how the adults in their lives could best help them express themselves—and how we can best understand them. Along the way, I realized that having these sorts of conversations can enhance our family lives and let us have more fun. I hope this list starts up some great conversations for you!


I wrote...

The Art of Talking with Children: The Simple Keys to Nurturing Kindness, Creativity, and Confidence in Kids

By Rebecca Rolland,

Book cover of The Art of Talking with Children: The Simple Keys to Nurturing Kindness, Creativity, and Confidence in Kids

What is my book about?

So many of us get so busy taking care of or teaching kids that we forget to focus on one of the most important aspects: how we’re talking with them. Especially if we're harried or stressed, it can feel hard to make room for the conversations that bring us closer or inspire us. We tend to focus on getting from point A to point B. But with a few small shifts, we could do more.

My book brings together stories of my life as a mom and speech pathologist with a review of the latest research to show why having meaningful conversations with kids matters—and how we can do so in ways that are fun for us all.

Revenge of the Red Club

By Kim Harrington,

Book cover of Revenge of the Red Club

The title alone intrigued me. Once I learned the premise of this middle-grade novel, I was hooked: a group of students supporting one another through the ups and downs of navigating their periods is shut down by the school administration after receiving complaints. 

As the investigative reporter of her middle school’s newspaper, Riley’s no stranger at going the distance to uncover a story. Using her fact-finding skills, Riley hunts for the truth on who put an end to their club and why. Filled with humor and heart, this book had me up all night to finish in one sitting, cheering Riley and her friends on as they fight to save their club and stand up for their rights. 


Who am I?

I’m a writer addicted to reading and writing about spunky female characters of all ages. Even though I’m an introvert (who’s no stranger to depression and anxiety), when I have a goal that I’m really passionate about, no matter how hard or how long it takes, I’m stubbornly persistent to make it happen. I believe that books, especially those from my childhood like Ramona Quimby, helped foster this trait. Spunky characters taught me that it’s okay to feel, express, and learn from my emotions, that no matter what life throws at us we can survive it, and to follow your own path with courage and determination.   


I wrote...

Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

By Sonja Thomas,

Book cover of Sir Fig Newton and the Science of Persistence

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Mira’s summer is not off to a great start. Her best friend, Thomas, just moved a billion and one miles away from Florida, to Washington, DC. Her dad has been laid off and is feeling down. And Tamika, Mira’s know-it-all nemesis who’s kept her in second place at the school science fair four years running, just moved into Thomas’s old house. 

Mira’s cat, Sir Fig Newton, now seems off, too. Her diagnosis that he has “the silent cat killer” diabetes is confirmed by the vet. But when her parents can’t afford his treatment, Mira insists she can earn the money needed within a month. Armed with ingenuity, determination, and one surprising ally, can Mira save her best (four-legged) friend before it’s too late?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

By Jeff Kinney,

Book cover of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

My son, who is now eight, despised reading—to the point where he would do anything to avoid it. Seeing him re-read an entire series is beyond exciting for me—not to mention, the stories and characters remind me of the students I teach: Goofy, curious, naive, inquisitive, and caring.

What I like about The Dairy of a Wimpy Kid is that Jeff Kinney mixes in doodles and comic-like drawings to add to the main character’s wild thoughts, concerns, ideas, and accounts.

It’s also very funny. I love hearing my son laugh out loud as he turns each page. He’ll even stop and share some of the hilarious moments with the entire family.

So, why am I making note of this? Because one thing I haven’t focused on in my writing is humor—something I want to try in my future works.


Who am I?

Somehow, I’ve always been drawn to stories with elements of the paranormal. From children’s picture books, chapter books, middle-grade, to young adult, I feel compelled to include hints of a supernatural world mixed in with everyday life. I’ve always connected with stories with realistic content—content I can relate to—content that, in my mind, could really happen. However, I can’t help but wonder what else is out there, beyond what we can see, hear, feel, taste, and touch. This ‘wonderment’ excites me, and I want to find ways to share this curious buzz with my readers. 


I wrote...

Screaming Ridge: Remembering Kaylee Cooper

By Christopher Francis,

Book cover of Screaming Ridge: Remembering Kaylee Cooper

What is my book about?

Kaylee Cooper is certain that Alex will become friends with a ghost this year. But he doesn’t care.

He simply wants her to leave him alone and stop jeopardizing his important sixth-grade social life. But Kaylee Cooper won’t stop. She doesn’t care either. Fed up, Alex develops a strategic plan to ultimately get rid of Kaylee Cooper for good. However, Alex soon learns about the mysterious legend of Screaming Ridge that pulls an unlikely group of friends together, including the girl of his dreams, and the school’s meanest bully. When the group discovers Kaylee Cooper is at the core of the mystery, Alex stares death in the face and helps save her from an eternal life of misery and confusion.

Clues to the Universe

By Christina Li,

Book cover of Clues to the Universe

I finished this novel in a day, simply because of its incredible portrayal of emotion. Clues to the Universe follows Ro and Benji, two kids who couldn’t be more different. And yet, through circumstances of loss (and a class partnership), they find solace in a new friendship. Although it’s set firmly on the ground—based in the 1980s, on the heels of the Space Race—this book would appeal to the dreamers everywhere, the scientists and artists alike. Ro and Benji have a great dynamic, and while they lost their dads in very different ways, the grief is shared. A truly wonderful read!   


Who am I?

As a children’s novelist, I believe there’s nothing more important than showing kids it’s okay to experience emotion. Nothing is more powerful than watching someone rise to the occasion, and showing vulnerability in the process. Plus, middle-grade books are just fun—they let us create these fantastical ways to show very grounded, human needs. Rockets become friendships? Jellyfish offer understanding? Sign me up! It’s my pleasure to recommend these novels to kids everywhere (even the adult ones)!


I wrote...

The Secrets of Star Whales

By Rebecca Thorne,

Book cover of The Secrets of Star Whales

What is my book about?

On the small space station Azura, Maxion Belmont is constantly torn between his two passions—engineering and music. Both are hobbies handed down from his father, who died two years ago. While his hydrodriver is great for repairing starship parts, every chord played on his father’s old instrument tugs at the latent grief Max hides from his mom and classmates. When a foreign starship appears on the horizon, Azura welcomes its first tourist in years. But there’s something weird about Mr. Hames, the stranger-turned-substitute-teacher. As Max and the rest of Mr. Hames’s class-turned-starship-crew begin to uncover the mysteries of the star whales, they discover they aren’t the only ones looking for the elusive creatures—and not every whaler has good intentions.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

By Jessica Kim,

Book cover of Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Yumi is a girl trying to both please her Korean parents and live her own dream – that of attending comedy camp and becoming a stand-up comedian. I thought it was a fresh and funny take on the balancing act that many children of immigrants feel they must undertake. It made me think of the unspoken pressure I felt to study Science at university and how years later I was finally able to go back and study what interested me (creative writing!).


Who am I?

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, a child of immigrant parents, and I’ve always been curious about other cultures and far-off places. Moving to Hong Kong gave me the chance to explore my Chinese cultural roots and learn the language. I spent 14 very happy years in Hong Kong and my experiences there were the inspiration for my middle-grade debut, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei. Like the character Holly-Mei, I love dumplings, bubble tea, and field hockey. The books I chose are ones that reflect my experience of being born and raised in a new world.


I wrote...

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

By Christina Matula,

Book cover of The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

What is my book about?

Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s new job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect... right?

Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Taiwanese grandmother, Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right. It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!

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