Last week a visitor to our middle school asked what, in my opinion, are the books every middle school student should read. A tough question. Middle school is such a short time, and there are lots of good books for those in-between years. But there are certain stories that reflect this particular time in a kid’s life – and provide thoughtful and supportive passage to young adult reading.
Knowing that hundreds of memorable books (fiction and nonfiction) for middle school readers are painfully not included, here is a “desert island” list of ten:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (The moving and funny story of Junior, a Native American boy who leaves his reservation to attend a public school. One of the most powerful coming-of-age novels ever written.)
Feed by M.T. Anderson (A satire about our media-dominated lives for the mature middle school reader. Given the dominant place of devices in teenager’s lives, this story about kids with chips in their brain sparks questions about consumer culture.)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Published in 1967, the classic story about the socioeconomic barriers between two groups of teenagers – the Greasers and the Socs)
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jimenez (Autobiographical short stories about the life of a Mexican family working in the fields of California)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (so many reasons – cultural literacy, humanizing complex and challenging topics, an introduction to discussions about race and gender and class, a good story…)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (The classic Newbery-winning novel that inspired Katniss and many others.)
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (I included this because over many years of working with middle school students, this is a novel that kids continue to read and talk about. At a time in their lives when they are struggling with the idea of “groups,” this is a story about the power and challenges of nonconformity.)
Countdown by Deborah Wiles (a “documentary novel” that takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It’s got everything – a coming-of-age story, pop culture, the beginning of political awareness, changing relationships with family and friends….)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (A memoir in verse. Woodson tells the story of growing up as an African American in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s. A combination of poetry and inspiration, this is a book for your nightstand table.)
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (I selected this book for two reasons: first, because it honestly conveys the impact of war on young lives today. As much as I believe kids can learn from the atrocities of past wars, The Red Pencil is set in an overcrowded Sudanese refugee camp – and contains a hopeful message for kids who live in conflict. Secondly, it’s about the power of education. Amira, the protagonist, dreams of going to school and knows that learning and books and her red pencil are literal tickets to opportunities and possibilities.)
There are lists everywhere we look – on Buzzfeed and blogs and on our phones and in our pockets. If we were making a list of famous list makers, we would certainly include Peter Mark Roget, the creator of Roget’s Thesaurus. If you know a child who loves words and lists, you need to introduce them to Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s new picture book biography – The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. I loved their earlier collaborations, especially A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, but this is literally one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve ever seen. A mix of words and images that tell the story of a boy who was passionate about words and lists, The Right Word will appeal to children (and adults) who love to play with language and write lists. After reading this book, you will be forever grateful for the thesaurus – which, to be honest, I have taken for granted for far too long! One of the most interesting facts I learned/discovered/ascertained is that Thesaurus is “a word that means ‘treasure house’ in Greek.”
Two final pictures….
First, I saw this in The Believer and loved it so much that I cut it out and laminated it! This is my life story in graphic form….
And, a Halloween note….my sister sent me a copy of A Halloween Scare in Ohio for our library. As you can see, I am working with our students to be sure they can name each of the 251 cities in the Buckeye State….