Emma’s Favorites for Middle School & Beyond

“The question we need to ask of a story is this: does it illuminate what is true in significant ways? A good book is not problem centered; it is people centered. It reveals how to be a human being and what the possibilities of life are; it offers hope.” – Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart

The definition of middle school varies from state to state and from school to school – some begin as early as 5th grade, others consider it to be 6th-8th, or just 7th and 8th. In terms of reading recommendations, much depends on your individual child and the level at which he or she is reading.

Many of the books recommended for elementary school students – especially the chapter books and novels – remain appropriate during middle school. Children react to books differently depending on their age, and can truly enjoy revisiting an old favorite with the fresh perspective that a few years can provide. Books that were initially enjoyed for story and plot later become intriguing because of character development or identification, and still later for their themes, allegories, and literary devices.

Here are some of our additional family favorites for the middle school years and beyond:

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (Mark Twain) – The classic novel celebrating all that boyhood embraces – adventure (and some mischief) mixed with life lessons and humor along the way. Girls and boys alike will cherish and remember this gem.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – The sequel to Tom Sawyer, also a masterpiece. While it delves into somewhat weightier issues (religion, racism), its portrait of rural life and sympathetic hero is riveting to young readers.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank) – The classic journal recording a young girl’s family struggles during two years of hiding from the Nazis in war-torn Holland.

Anne of Green Gables series (Lucy Maud Montgomery) – One of the most enjoyable series in children’s literature, chronicling the antics of Anne Shirley, a red-headed orphan girl, adopted by a pair of farmers on Prince Edward Island during the early part of the 20th century.

Around the World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne) – The classic favorite, in which Phileas Fogg and his manservant set out to win a bet by traveling around the world in eighty days.

The Black Stallion (Walter Farley) – A powerful story about a boy and his horse, that makes a lifetime impression on readers, whether equestrians or not.

Blue Wolf (Catherine Creedon) – Fourteen-year old Jamie spends the summer with his mysterious aunt in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, and discovers some long-hidden family secrets – including his ability to shape-shift to wolf form.

Chasing Vermeer (Blue Balliett/Brett Helquist) – Two sixth-graders attempt to solve the crime of a stolen Vermeer painting. Fun illustrations offer puzzles in and of themselves.

The City of Ember (“Books of Ember” series) (Jeanne DuPrau) – In a post-apocalyptic society, two twelve year olds set out on a mission to find the light.

The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis) – Four children visit an enchanted world where they transcend being ‘just children’. Timeless themes of good and evil, eloquently told, and brimming with adventure and wonderful characters.

The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander) – Humor, honor, courage, fantasy, a hero’s journey – along with assistant pig keepers, frustrated ex-giants, witches and all manner of other wonderfully eccentric characters, make this series based on the Welsh legend a must.

Crispin, Cross of Lead (Avi) – The prolific Avi tackles the middle ages in this ripping-good yarn about a boy accused of a crime he didn’t commit, who discovers his true identity in the process.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle – an 1832 teenager’s adventures on a sailing vessel crossing the Atlantic.

Fever 1793 – (Laurie Halse Anderson) – Compelling historical fiction about a willful sixteen year-old girl’s coming of age during the yellow fever epidemic of Philadelphia in 1793.

Freaky Friday (Mary Rodgers) – A mother and daughter switch bodies for a day and gain a new appreciation for what it’s like to be the other, as well as for being themselves.

The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman) – The first in Pullman’s epic trilogy, His Dark Materials Trilogy, about a young girl’s quest for truth in a parallel universe in which people have daemons; witches, gypsies and armored bears abound; and ‘dust’ has the power to control destiny and unite worlds. The other titles in this unforgettable series are:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) – The first in the staggeringly successful series about a young boy’s adventures at wizard school that revolutionized the middle-grade reading world.

Hotheads (Gen LeRoy) – Twelve-year old Geneva copes with troubles at school and at home, but remains an indomitable spirit.

  • Cold Feet – The sequel to “Hotheads,” Geneva tries to take charge of her life by dressing as a boy and gets involved in a gambling ring.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick) – An innovative book that blends text and artwork to spin the tale of an orphan boy who lives in, and tends the clocks for, a Paris train station. Though substantial in size, Selznick uses many pages of illustration to further the story before picking up with the text once again.

A Long Way from Chicago (Richard Peck) – Joey and Mary Alice spend a week ‘downstate’ with Grandma Dowdel every summer – and are continuously astounded by her outlandish behavior and hilarious antics, in this series of stories satirizing small town life. The equally delightful sequel is A Year Down Yonder.

The Little Grey Men (B.B.) – The last three gnomes in Britain set off down-stream to find their missing brother. Brimming with the joys of nature and adventure.

The Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder) – The classic series chronicling Laura Ingalls Wilder’s youth on the prairie during Pioneer times.

The Midwife’s Apprentice (Karen Cushman) – A coming-of-age tale set during the Middle Ages about a feisty, homeless orphan girl who apprentices the local midwife.

My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell) – The delightful account of Durrell’s childhood growing up on the Greek island of Corfu with his eccentric English family and a host of visitors, both human and animal.

My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) – When young Sam runs away to the Catskills and takes up residence in a hollowed tree, he learns a lot about living off the land – and even more about growing up.

  • Julie of the Wolves – A young orphan with Eskimo roots runs away and finds her new family amongst the wolves of the Alaskan tundra.

The 101 Dalmatians (Dodie Smith) – The delightful original book that inspired the classic Disney film, in which two Dalmatians set out to rescue their puppies from the wicked Cruella DeVille.

  • The Starlight Barking – The surprisingly good and gently philosophical sequel to “The 101 Dalmatians,” in which the Dalmatian family – and all dogs in England – awaken one day to find everyone on earth but dogs asleep.

The Palace of Laughter (“The Wednesday Tales” series) (Jon Berkeley) – The first in a hilarious trilogy chronicling the adventures of orphan Miles Wednesday, his friend Little – a fallen song angel – and an eccentric circus. The further adventures are

The Penderwicks series (Jeanne Birdsall) – Four sisters, their absent-minded widower father, a dog – and a good deal of hilarious hi-jinks.

The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster) – The classic tale of Milo, a bored child who drives his toy car through a toy tollbooth and ends up in a magical world of letters and numbers.

The Pushcart War (Jean Merrill) – New York City pushcart peddlers take on big business and corrupt government when they go to ‘war’ with the big trucks that clog the streets of the city. A funny and shrewd satire that, though written over fifty years ago, remains powerfully resonant.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Mildred D. Taylor) – The bittersweet and deeply moving story of the Logan family and their fight against racial injustice, poverty and betrayal in Depression-era Mississippi.

Saffy’s Angel (Hilary McKay) – A young girl growing up in an eccentric English family learns she is actually an adopted cousin, and sets out in search of a stone angel that may contain answers to her questions. The first in a lively series about the Casson family.

A Single Shard (Linda Sue Park) – The Newbery Award-winning tale of a 12th century Korean orphan who finds himself through his interest in pottery. The book gracefully tackles timeless issues, like the nature of home, and art, and the ownership of creative ideas.

The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White) – The extraordinary tale of young Prince Arthur, his tutor Merlin, the wise magician, and the adventures leading up to Arthur’s legendary extraction of the sword from the stone.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – The heart-wrenching, Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a young girl coming of age in the deep south, and her lawyer-father, who risks everything to defend a black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

The Twenty-One Balloons (William Pene DuBois) – A professor intending to fly across the ocean lands on Krakatoa and encounters a host of eccentric wonders.

Watership Down (Richard Adams) – An extraordinary, allegorical novel about freedom, ethics and human nature – told from the perspective of wild rabbits. Written for adults, but equally enjoyed and appreciated by older kids.

The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) – The classic adventure story, set in early twentieth-century Britain, featuring the lovable characters Rat, Toad, Mole, and Badger. A must.

The Wish (Gail Carson Levine) – An eighth grader is granted one wish – to be the most popular girl at her school – and ultimately learns the meaning and value of true friendship.

  • Ella EnchantedA delightfully fresh, imaginative and award-winning take on Cinderella.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken) – Two Victorian girls, a wicked governess, wolves, a cruel orphanage, adventure and romance make this, the first book in Aiken’s wonderful series of Gothic thrillers, “The Wolves Chronicles,” a delicious read.

A Wrinkle in Time series (Madeleine L’Engle) – A coming of age fantasy in which Meg, her younger brother and her friend travel through time and space searching for Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while researching a ‘wrinkle in time.’