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Middle School List

March 12, 2013

A List of the Last Books You May Be Able to Encourage Your Curious and Inquisitive Children To Read
(Middle School age–grades 6-8, ages 12-15)
After this, it’s almost impossible to influence their reading choices.

This is the last of a series of recommended books for especially curious and inquisitive children (the previous ones are available at The Estella Society)

I have chosen these books because they’re the ones my own children (one male, one female) liked and responded to best, the books that I credit for helping make them into the interesting young adults they are now. Although this list does contain realistic fiction, it’s heavy on fantasy; I think middle-schoolers need a lot of fantasy to help them get through these difficult years.

Like all lists, this one is necessarily incomplete. Feel free to add your own must-read titles in the comments.

The list is presented alphabetically, by the title of the first book in a series.

Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three
First in the Prydain series.

Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls
Anderson excels at characterization; this one casts light on anorexia. You might also consider her novel Speak, a he said/she said situation with a twist, which is that she can’t say.

M.T. Anderson, Feed
What happens when the internet is wired directly into our brains?

Holly Black, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale
Teens are caught in a fight between the Seelie and Unseelie Court.

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
Despite the fact that I hate Card’s financial support of homophobic political action groups, I cannot deny that his story of how a young boy saves the whole world and thereby loses part of his soul is a masterpiece of our time. Highly recommended and available in libraries.

Michael Chabon, Summerland
Young teens find themselves in a world full of Native American and Norse Mythology, Sasquatch, and baseball.

Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl
Artemis is a young and extremely clever criminal with a heart of gold.

Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone
First in The Dark Is Rising Series.

Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons
13-year-old Sal goes on a road trip with her grandparents to find out the truth about her mother.

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother
After a domestic terrorist attack, innocent American teens defend themselves against Homeland Security.

Elizabeth Janet Gray, Adam of the Road
A 13th-century minstrel travels with a knight.

John Green, An Abundance of Katherines
Colin tries to find an equation to explain/predict love.

Robert Heinlein, The Menace from Earth
In the title story, a girl who lives on the moon teaches an older woman how to fly in low gravity and learns more about her own feelings.

Michael de Larrabeiti, The Borribles
When runaways find their ears have become pointed, they have become Borribles, who are chased by the “woolies” (police) and take on the “Rumbles,” rat-like creatures.

Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea
First in the Earthsea Cycle.

C.S. Lewis The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
The first of his books about Narnia.

Lauren Mclaughlin, Cycler
Four days a month, Jill cycles into a boy named Jack.

China Mieville, UnLunDun
In a mirror version of London, an ordinary girl takes up the ungun to save this world from sentient smog.

David R. Palmer, Emergence
Candy travels across the country looking to see if she is the only survivor of a sudden biological war.

Susan Beth Pfeffer, Life As We Knew It
When an asteroid moves the moon closer to earth, a family must learn to survive the effects.

Adam Rex, The True Meaning of Smekday
Eleven-year-old Tip must cooperate with the alien Boov invaders.

Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
First in his Percy Jackson and The Olympians Series.

Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now
15-year-old anorexic Daisy is sent from Manhattan to live with cousins in an English village. WWIII breaks out while her aunt is in London, and they have to learn to survive on their own.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Is there a middle-school-age kid who hasn’t heard of this one? Let’s be sure.

Louis Sachar, Holes
A boy accused of a crime discovers secrets of the past and atones for a family curse while sentenced to hole-digging at Camp Green Lake.

Neal Shusterman, The Schwa Was Here
The Schwa is a boy no one notices. Eleanor and I prefer Unwind by this author, but Walker argues in favor of The Schwa.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Perhaps the gateway book to The Lord of the Rings? Many people read LOTR first and then go back to read The Hobbit, which is written in a very different style, not necessarily easier.

Scott Westerfeld, Uglies
In a world where everybody gets cosmetic surgery at the age of 16, a young girl finds out what’s involved about in the process of becoming a pretty.

Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
The first of the Chronicles of Amber

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2013 1:23 pm

    This is quite a good list of some very good literature for older children! My daughter isn’t quite there yet – she’s 10 – though I hope soon to be introducing her to some of these. My eldest son wasn’t much of a reader, though he did get to Ender’s Game around age 17 and loved it, as well as Harry Potter, the Wizard of Earthsea, already on your list. You don’t have Diana Wynne Jone’s Christomanci series – and I highly recommend those for reluctant readers, they got my son reading at last!

    Some of these books I’m still trying to read, the YA literature has exploded in recent years, hasn’t it?

    • March 13, 2013 8:55 am

      I read the Chrestomanci books as an adult, and so wasn’t as enchanted by them as I would have been if I’d discovered them as a child. It’s too bad, because now that I’m reading more DWJ I can see that my kids probably should have read these books.

  2. March 12, 2013 1:35 pm

    I’m so cranky. I would choose Speak a thousand times over Wintergirls; The Fault in Our Stars one hundred times over An Abundance of Katherines; and if I hadn’t read The Dark Is Rising first, I never would have progressed past Over Sea, Under Stone. But lots of the other books are awesome.

    • March 13, 2013 8:57 am

      I did try to stick to the first book in a series, because I think it’s more fun to start with An Abundance of Katherines and work up to The Fault in Our Stars than the other way around. My list assumes that if you like the first one, you’ll go on to devour the rest.
      I confess a visceral preference for Wintergirls over all her other books, and that’s because of my own preoccupations.

  3. drgeek permalink
    March 12, 2013 3:39 pm

    Any thought for Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”?

    • March 13, 2013 9:00 am

      Didn’t think about it for middle schoolers; I’d say it’s more fun for high school age kids. You need to have read a few more books to really get the fun of things like, say, the protagonist’s name. And the style is a bit complicated, although totally worth the trouble. It’s full of secrets and in-jokes that high schoolers can love.

  4. March 12, 2013 4:53 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed all your lists, thanks!

    • March 13, 2013 9:02 am

      My pleasure. I’m hoping to help mold a few more young adults into college-age people who are as much fun to talk to about books as my own two…

  5. March 12, 2013 7:39 pm

    I agree with NWK that The Dark is Rising is a better book than Over Sea, Under Stone. Someone gave it to me and told me to read it first and then go back and read the series. I’m glad she did, because I might not have otherwise. While AJ, who is in 6th grade, has read some of these (and some quite a while ago, like Harry Potter, which he first read in kindergarten but still enjoys reading, and The Lightning Thief, which I think he picked up in second or third grade), a lot of these are too science fictiony for him (who despite the fact that Smekday is his favorite book and who loves the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, really just likes books that are funny. He would add The Hunger Games, which he’s read several times. I’d add Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl and something by Konigsberg. My personal favorite is A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver.

    • March 13, 2013 9:05 am

      Konigsberg was on my middle school list; I chose the one where the girl hides in the Met even though I obviously like A Proud Taste because I read all books about Eleanor of Acquitaine!
      The Hunger Games is so popular I don’t know that it needs my help (like Harry Potter, but with a more repellent plot).
      We did like Stargirl. It should probably be on this list.

  6. March 12, 2013 8:25 pm

    Hahahaha, I was also going to say that Wintergirls wasn’t the one. Reading Wintergirls felt like a punishment. If it had been my copy I’d have abandoned it at a store somewhere so I wouldn’t have to finish it (but it was Mumsy’s).

    • March 13, 2013 9:05 am

      Huh. Must be my own preoccupations with eating issues that made me like that one of hers the best.

  7. Matthew permalink
    March 12, 2013 8:36 pm

    I came to leave a comment, after reading in Google Reader, only to be delighted that both NWK & Harriet beat me to suggesting that _The Dark Is Rising_ is an easier and more delicious entry point to the series. I’d also echo Susan’s praise of Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, and add to it _The Ogre Downstairs_.
    Robin McKinley’s books don’t seem to be well known these days, it seems, but her _The Blue Sword_ and _The Hero and the Crown_ went well for me in that age with so many others on this list.

    • March 13, 2013 9:06 am

      I don’t think I’ve read Robin McKinley. I will have to remedy that.

  8. March 12, 2013 9:02 pm

    Oh, and another to add: MVP by Douglas Evans (nothing to do with sports).

    • March 13, 2013 9:08 am

      Another book I don’t know. It sounds like it might be another male-oriented book? I briefly considered including Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk on the list, because it’s one that Walker and I discovered at a good time during his middle school career.

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