044. Hidden Agenda in Homeschool Groups and Organizations

The Hidden Agenda Behind Homeschool groups and Organizations


Hidden Agenda in Homeschool Groups and Organizations

Tune in today as we answer these questions and more!

Episode 044:

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Show Notes

As seasoned homeschoolers, we have noticed that the pandemic and sudden influx of homeschoolers over the last few years has unfortunately attracted some nefarious and predatory companies into the curriculum market.  But we also know that there are a lot of differences in types of homeschoolers, in general- we’re not a homogenous bunch by any stretch, and so it is important to be able to sift through the enormity of the information out there to find just the right fit and path for your family.  At the end of the day, we could all be homeschooling for completely different reasons, but we still don’t want to see anyone fall prey to a scam, or spend money on a program or organization that isn’t going to be a good fit or helpful to their family.

It goes without saying that transparency varies between organizations and online groups and companies, and finding conflicts of interest can be daunting. By honing your critical thinking skills when evaluating, and being mindful of biases, you can navigate the complex landscape of information and make more informed judgments. When looking at homeschool organizations, groups, and curriculum purveyors:

Investigate ownership

Examine the ownership of the organization. Determine if there are any potential conflicts of interest based on the political or corporate affiliations of the owners. Media consolidation or bias can influence the content and presentation of news.

Scrutinize funding sources

Investigate the funding sources for them. Look for any financial ties or affiliations that may influence the information presented. Consider whether the funding sources are vested in a particular outcome or narrative.  Is this a spin-off group that is owned or operated by a different, larger company with a different viewpoint? And don’t just look at who donates or sponsors them, who do they donate to or sponsor?  Do you want your money going to these other groups?

And likewise, what are their connections?

You want to examine any potential affiliations that individuals posting or the organization may have. Does a financial or professional relationship impact their objectivity or bias? Do they feature a review or advertisement from a public figure that has nothing to do with education?

Is it a real person with experience?

Sometimes in these homeschool groups, there are brand new profiles with only a couple of Facebook friends and/or a stock photo. You can easily search in a group if somebody posts repeatedly promoting a certain product. That’s a red flag. It’s also typically against the rules of most groups to post without identifying that you are affiliated or employed by the company that you are promoting.  

Evaluate disclosure statements

If a homeschool organization lacks transparency or has incomplete disclosures, that’s often a red flag. If I can’t even identify what the company’s worldview is, there’s a chance that they aren’t even aligned with your family values. And if they aren’t, you won’t want to purchase their product. 

Cross-check multiple sources

Verify information by seeking diverse sources and experiences. Relying on a single source or outlet increases the risk of biases or conflicts of interest. Use that search bar!  See what other users are saying.  Don’t trust the company or organization to vouch for themselves.

These are simple things you can do to determine whether a company or group is legitimate and worthy of your membership and money.

Do I need to join HSLDA? (6:54)

(Homeschool Legal Defense Association)

So, one of the biggest things you will see on posts and pages about getting started in homeschooling is the advice to immediately join HSLDA (or other state- focused homeschooling associations).

Back in the early 1980s, home education was widely illegal, and still typically fell under truancy laws and statutes—which govern compulsory education—in many states. In response, a batch of lawyers founded the HSLDA and over the decades have pursued the abolishment of homeschooling regulation and oversight. They’ve largely succeeded. Not only is homeschooling legal in every state, in some states parents are not required to notify anyone of their intent to homeschool.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) defines themselves as  a nonprofit organization in the United States that advocates for the rights of homeschooling families and provides legal support to homeschooling parents facing legal challenges. The organization’s stated mission is to preserve and protect the right of parents to educate their children at home. However, some critics and observers have speculated about potential hidden agendas or broader motivations behind the organization’s activities. 

They are primarily a lobbying group

Lobbying involves advocating for specific policies, legislation, or regulations to government officials in order to influence the decisions and actions of lawmakers. HSLDA advocates for laws and regulations that support the rights of homeschooling families and parents who choose to educate their children at home, but their lobbying efforts typically revolve around issues related to homeschooling regulations, parental rights, and educational freedom. This can include advocating against overly restrictive regulations or requirements that could impede parents’ ability to homeschool their children. Often though, there is an underlying agenda to promote conservative Christian values and religious beliefs through homeschooling. They may be more focused on shaping the curriculum and educational content according to these values.

HSLDA’s Homeschool Foundation is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts model conservative legislation for distribution to state legislatures. They are on ALEC’s education taskforce.

Kathryn Brightbill is the policy analyst at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, an organization founded by homeschool alumni who seek sensible homeschooling reforms.  She says this about HSLDA:

“HSLDA has had an outsized role in shaping homeschool culture, including secular homeschool culture. Whatever noble motivations they may have had to help homeschoolers at the organization’s outset, their belief that children don’t have rights — only parents have rights — combined with their decision to take parent’s claims at face value instead of vetting the cases they choose, has made them an organization that enables child abuse and educational neglect.” 

Their focus on policy and legislation also has an impact on public education: There are concerns that a strong homeschooling movement, supported by organizations like HSLDA, might lead to decreased funding and support for public education, potentially weakening the overall quality and accessibility of education for all children. We are already seeing this happening with school choice and voucher legislation and the destabilizing of the public school system. 

They do not serve all families

Unless you are a Christian family there’s a very good chance that HSLDA will not represent you. They will take your money through membership, but they will not represent you. It’s so important for anybody giving money to them to know that your membership dues put them under NO obligation whatsoever to give you any legal aid. There is no guarantee, no policy in place that your membership money entitles you to any legal assistance whatsoever. They can choose to represent you, OR NOT, for any reason they see fit.

In the majority of states, the homeschooling regulations are relatively simple. If you get confused or run into minor trouble, most states have a statewide organization that can help you. It’s very rare for people to really run into trouble with the state over homeschooling, but if you do, it’s likely you’ll have to get your own lawyer anyway. Like here in Texas, CPS is not going to investigate a family JUST because of homeschooling.

They have a particular agenda and a particular view of homeschooling to advance. They have a conservative political agenda and sometimes insert themselves into issues that have absolutely NOTHING to do with homeschooling. In particular, they are anti-gay. They have never been subtle about their dislike of the LGBTQ people or their impassioned advocacy to ensure that LGBTQ communities are denied human rights and education. In 2004, HSLDA promoted a constitutional amendment that would ban gay and lesbian couples from not only the institution of marriage but also civil unions. (view the amendment). We are inclusive homeschoolers, and we embrace the LGBTQ community and it is a slap in the face after so much work has been done in these communities to create equal opportunities for all families. 

They use fear tactics to drive membership

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen posts from or about HSLDA that describe some crazy homeschooling story and how HSLDA had to step in and fix it and then everyone is like, this is why you should join.  Social workers and child protective services are consistently portrayed as “evil” and people who “abuse their power.” HSLDA has used resources like the Court Report and email alerts and Facebook posts to “fuel fear and distrust of government.” They act like you are facing certain doom if you don’t have their “protection,” but the reality is you don’t need them. So long as homeschoolers follow whatever regulations exist in their states (these vary from nothing at all to requiring annual portfolios), they’re almost always fine. 

Parental Rights Extremism: While HSLDA primarily focuses on homeschooling rights, some critics suggest that the organization’s advocacy for homeschooling rights might be part of a broader agenda to expand parental rights, potentially including the right to make medical decisions for children, even in cases where those decisions could have negative health outcomes.

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Minimal Government Oversight: HSLDA is known for advocating against government regulation and oversight of homeschooling. Critics contend that the organization’s push for minimal government involvement might be motivated by a desire to limit the ability of authorities to ensure that homeschooled children are receiving a well-rounded and comprehensive education. This can contribute to abuse.

Isolationism and Control: There are concerns that HSLDA’s support for homeschooling could potentially enable some families to isolate their children from diverse viewpoints and experiences. Critics worry that this isolation could lead to indoctrination and limit children’s exposure to a range of perspectives.

Almost all of the information they provide is also available for FREE

Seriously.  You do not have to pay for a membership when all of the information is available online. HSLDA has developed a brilliant strategy: fear mongering. A fear-based decision is not a logical one. The best way to overcome these fears they have worked so hard to put into our heads is to educate yourself on your state laws. Be proactive and be your family’s advocate. We have a handy guide on our website where we give a summary for each state and a link to each state’s education department. Join homeschool groups in your area, hone those critical thinking skills, and know that knowing your rights is your family’s best defense. 

Look up your state’s homeschool law>>

What does religious, secular, and inclusive really mean? (17:13)

When it comes to homeschooling, the terms “secular,” “inclusive,” and “religious” refer to different approaches and types of educational materials used in the curriculum, homeschool groups, and homeschool social gatherings. Here’s a breakdown of each category:

Secular Materials: Secular homeschooling materials are those that are not tied to any particular religious belief or doctrine. They focus on providing education from a non-religious perspective, emphasizing a neutral and objective approach to academic subjects. Secular materials aim to be inclusive of various beliefs and worldviews, focusing on facts, critical thinking, and a well-rounded education without a religious bias.

  • Secular Materials:
    • Ideal for families who want an education without a religious bias or who have a diverse range of beliefs.
    • Emphasizes critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and a well-rounded education.
    • Generally well-suited for families who want to expose their children to a variety of viewpoints.

Inclusive Materials: Inclusive homeschooling materials take into account the diversity of beliefs, cultures, and backgrounds among students and families. These materials strive to represent a wide range of perspectives, experiences, and identities. Inclusive materials acknowledge and respect differences, fostering an environment where students can learn about and appreciate various viewpoints and cultures.

  • Inclusive Materials:
    • Suited for families who value diversity, cultural awareness, and open-mindedness.
    • Fosters an environment of tolerance and respect for different perspectives.
    • Can help children develop empathy and an understanding of global issues.

Religious Materials: Religious homeschooling materials are rooted in a specific religious faith or belief system. They incorporate religious teachings, values, and perspectives into various subjects across the curriculum. These materials are often used by families who want to provide a religious education that aligns with their faith. Religious homeschooling materials can be tailored to different denominations and belief systems, allowing families to integrate their religious beliefs into their children’s education.

Religious Materials:

  • Chosen by families who wish to integrate their religious beliefs into their children’s education.
  • Provides a foundation for spiritual and moral development aligned with specific religious teachings.
  • Tailored to families who prioritize passing down religious traditions and values.

So to further complicate things though, there are some homeschool curricula or groups that are designated as “neutral.”  While by definition, “Neutral” homeschool materials should refer to educational resources that are free from bias, whether it’s religious, political, or cultural, we often find that instead Neutral materials aim to *avoid* promoting any particular ideology or perspective.  We see this most often in science curricula, where providers are hesitant to promote facts, for example, about evolution, so as to not dissuade people who believe in creation from buying their products, or vice versa.

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But we also see this in religious curriculum companies, who may market a neutral or secular program in order to secure more customers.  It’s important to note that just removing bible quotes or religious content does not make a program secular.  You cannot erase an overall worldview.

This can get really tricky for secular schoolers though, because over the years some secular groups have gotten really strict about these definitions.  You have to understand that when we both started homeschooling, there weren’t a ton of truly secular options out there.  We had to adapt a lot of things and there might still be things we are ok using because we know and like other parts of the program or there is nothing else like it out there. But younger homeschoolers have seen the advance of truly secular programs and may be unwilling to compromise.  And that’s great, we should demand and advocate for the things we want to invest in and get what we want.  But, sometimes those rules can be too strict or rigid and we’ve seen secular providers get deemed not secular, for one small thing. We think we should do our best to fully support secular providers, but still be open to using what works for your family. 

And of course, this disparity isn’t just between religious and non-religious materials.  You also have to be careful when purchasing religious materials as these are not all the same either. The terms “old earth” and “young earth” refer to differing viewpoints on the age of the Earth and the universe within the context of creationism. These viewpoints often come up in discussions related to science education, particularly in the homeschooling community. The differences between old earth and young earth perspectives are primarily centered around the interpretation of scientific evidence, geological processes, and religious beliefs.

Old Earth Perspective:

  • The old earth perspective holds that the Earth and the universe are billions of years old, as determined by scientific evidence such as radiometric dating, geological layers, and astronomical observations. This viewpoint generally aligns with mainstream scientific consensus and the theory of evolution. In an old earth perspective, the creation days described in religious texts may be interpreted as symbolic or metaphorical rather than literal 24-hour periods. In homeschooling materials that incorporate an old earth perspective, you might find references to geological time scales, discussions about fossils, and explanations of the various scientific methods used to estimate the age of the Earth and the universe. These materials typically aim to reconcile scientific understanding with religious beliefs by interpreting religious texts in a way that allows for an ancient Earth.

Young Earth Perspective:

  • The young earth perspective asserts that the Earth and the universe are relatively young, often interpreted as around 6,000 to 10,000 years old, based on a literal reading of certain religious texts. Advocates of this viewpoint reject the scientific consensus on the age of the Earth and often reject evolution in favor of creationism. Young earth proponents may present alternative explanations for geological features and radiometric dating methods, often rooted in a belief in a global flood event. Homeschooling materials that follow a young earth perspective might emphasize a literal interpretation of creation accounts, present counter arguments to mainstream scientific theories, and promote alternative explanations for natural phenomena. These materials typically align with religious organizations or ministries that advocate for young earth creationism.

Ultimately, when selecting homeschooling materials, it’s so important to align your choice with your family’s values, beliefs, and educational goals. It’s sometimes baffling to see people make big purchases without fully researching this simple idea of worldview. Or choose a free curriculum that doesn’t align with their family. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it! No matter what your worldview is, I would think you would want to know what they are purchasing. Consider what type of education you want to provide for your children, and choose materials that support those objectives. It’s also worth noting that some families blend different types of materials to create a well-rounded and personalized curriculum.

Now of course, there is a big difference between not quite grasping the importance of worldview in your choices and downright getting scammed.  So let’s talk about it.

Nefarious homeschool curriculum purveyors and how to avoid them. (25:54)

This is again something that really started to become a problem since Covid. Maybe, before doing our own podcast and so much research, we didn’t notice it as much, but there definitely was a surge because of a sudden awareness in an untapped market.  Especially following the pandemic, when you had a ton of people that were desperate and looking for answers quickly, it was prime time for companies or people to take advantage.

Like we mentioned earlier about using your critical thinking skills to determine the legitimacy of groups and organizations, we recommend taking the following steps before purchasing a curriculum or program:

Website and Online Presence

Check the company’s official website and online presence. Legitimate companies typically have professional websites with clear information about their products or services, contact details, and terms of use. Did their website just go up in the last couple years?  Can you find information about their company prior to that?  Is their name very similar to another popular curriculum that is actually legit, but so close in name that you may accidentally buy the wrong one.  That’s not an accident! 

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Does the company have a website that attracts certain vague key words?  One company we’ve been seeing in particular recently had a web address that read like “online homeschool curriculum” when it’s a company that only provides pdfs.  They recently changed the address when that came up (though you can still route to it through there).  This was and still is a very popular keyword/s that new homeschoolers would search.

Does the company advertise deceptively by putting fake profiles in homeschool groups or even setting up fake homeschool groups themselves in which they can block any negative commentary about their products, or advertise without regard to the rules?  One such company set up a homeschooling group in each state that they run.  They also got mad that they were banned from a popular middle and high school homeschooling group and set up their own with a very similar name.  Not surprisingly, we’ve both been banned from this company’s fake groups for calling them out! 

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Typically homeschool groups have rules about spam and advertising.  It is not considered appropriate on most groups to provide affiliate links or links to groups without indicating it as such or disclosing that it’s your company.  There is a very popular homeschool company that pays people for posts with links.  Several groups have made rules that you cannot mention that group with the clickable web address you have to  say “company name DOT com”, spelled out.  It made me completely wary about the company in general when I found out they market like that.

There is a local husband and wife with a homeschool business in which the husband will come on posts and talk about it vaguely, never mentioning his wife’s business.  They’ve been banned from a couple groups for deceptive marketing practices.

Contact Information

Ensure that the company provides valid contact information, including an email address, phone number, and physical address. Legitimate companies are going to be transparent about their location and how to reach them. Legit companies are also usually pretty open about who the experts writing their programs are, too.  They usually want you to see that their writers are actual people that have some kind of advanced education or relevant experience in the subject that they are writing about.  They probably have an actual photo of the real person, much like an author bio does on any other book.

Reviews and Testimonials

Look for reviews and testimonials from customers who have used the company’s products or services. Online reviews can provide insights into the company’s reputation. Make sure the reviews and awards won are from actual legitimate reviewers and resources.  We’ve mentioned Cathy Duffy before as a great source for curriculum reviews.  One such predatory company lists themselves as award winning, though the only link to their award is from a website that they also own, and all of the other reviewed items are companies with affiliate links that also benefit that particular provider.

Pay attention to the company’s overall professionalism, including the quality of their website, branding, and communications. Legitimate companies tend to invest in a professional image. A couple of these companies are so easy to pick out once you notice them because not only are they not professional, but they have the same style to everything they put out from supporting websites, posts, and even their fake profile pictures.

Business Registration and Customer Support:

Check if the company is registered with relevant authorities in its jurisdiction. Legitimate companies often have official business registrations and licenses. Contact their customer support with any questions or concerns you might have. Prompt and helpful responses are indicative of a legitimate company.  

A very popular homeschool company last year made a big change in how you could use their product, resulting in tons of homeschoolers losing their students’ work and records.  When parents complained online, they were blamed for using the product incorrectly, their posts were deleted by the company, and then the owner came on and doubled down with some very ugly comments about homeschoolers. They lost so much business when this happened. We never looked at them as a resource in the first place considering the owner was in a cult and lacked professional education experience, but a lot of people were willing to overlook that for the bargain monthly fee.  You get what you pay for, folks!

Search for companies in homeschool groups and see the ones that do not provide as promised, and then do not refund when they said they would. Also, when you see a post or recommendation, click on that person who is recommending to see if they are also contributing to the community or are they just promoting this product?

Red Flags

Be cautious of companies that ask for personal or financial information upfront, make unrealistic promises, or pressure you to make quick decisions.  Lifetime memberships?  I would seriously advise against buying anything marketed as a lifetime membership. Kids grow and mature and the things and methods that you want to use to teach your children often shift as you progress in homeschooling. So often people are stuck with a lifetime membership that they can’t use because it doesn’t even work for their family anymore. 

What about a program that is for sale this week only?  Deeply discounted?  Sometimes these programs are actually always for sale, you just happened to pop on right then. It’s like going to a store with your 20% off coupon.  It’s not that you are actually getting 20% off, they just upcharge 20% and you paid the actual price.  But everyone likes to feel like they are getting a deal, right?

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We ultimately decided not to name names in this episode because these are businesses that make money and can probably afford lawyers whereas we are doing this as a passion project and exist to help others.  We’ve already seen how they block and delete comments online. You are totally welcome to message us before buying and verify that that is not the company we are talking about though.  *Wink wink* We’ve got your back!

How do I find out if a group is right for my family? (37:00)

So, what about in person groups or local homeschool co-ops, university model schools, pods?  A lot of states have very loose regulations about how many people a person can homeschool, whether you can homeschool people that aren’t your kids, how many students constitute a school and are then subject to health and other local business and insurance regulations.  Following the pandemic, a lot of options in alternative schooling and social groups popped up.  Determining whether a homeschool group is the right fit for your family involves careful consideration of several factors. 

Research Options:

Start by researching the homeschool groups available in your area. You can use online homeschooling forums, social media groups, local community centers, and homeschool association websites to find potential groups. You may like to search with words like secular or inclusive.  If these are not included, you can assume the group is a religious one as a default.

Activities and Offerings

Look into the activities and offerings provided by the group. Some homeschool groups focus on field trips, social events, co-op classes, and extracurricular activities. Assess whether these align with your family’s interests and needs.

Goals and Philosophy:

Consider your family’s homeschooling goals and educational philosophy. Different homeschool groups might have varying approaches to teaching, curriculum, and learning styles. Ensure that the group’s values align with your family’s educational goals. Remember that homeschoolers are all very different- some families may want to outsource more than others.  Some may want to outsource academics, or some may only want to do extracurriculars.  Make sure you are on the same page with the rest of the group. Make sure the world view is a match.  Don’t sign your child up for a science class that uses Christian content if you want a secular class. Learn more about Finding Your People

Membership Requirements:

Check the membership requirements of the group. Some groups might require a certain level of commitment, participation, or financial contribution. Make sure you are comfortable with the group’s expectations. Some groups have strict rules that you may not have qualms about, things like dress code, for example, even for parents!  Many religious homeschool groups require a statement or faith, and some people are so desperate for a social outlet that they are willing to sign this, even if they don’t believe it.  Many times, these statements are discriminatory against certain people, often there are specific anti-LGBT statements.  These are not the groups for me.

Inclusivity and Diversity:

Check whether the group is inclusive and open to families of different backgrounds, beliefs, and homeschooling styles. A diverse group can enrich your homeschooling experience. Also, carefully look through mission statements.  There is a local university model school here that has a very vague inclusion statement that leaves out significant groups of people.

Size and Composition:

Consider the size of the homeschool group. A larger group might offer more diverse activities and opportunities, but it could also be overwhelming for some families. A smaller group might provide a more intimate setting but with fewer resources. And you don’t have to just be part of one.  We are part of several groups, and they all have a little something different to offer.

Location and Schedule:

Evaluate the location of the group’s activities and events. Consider the distance you need to travel and whether the timing of events fits your family’s schedule. Remember that the myth of socialization!  It can be super easy to over schedule yourself with activities.  While many of us are willing to drive for awesome things in the beginning, that may not be a workable option long term.

Parent Involvement:

Consider the level of parent involvement required in the group. Some groups might expect parents to contribute in various ways, while others may have a more relaxed approach. Many people post looking for drop-off co-ops.  Co-op means co-operative and implies that parent participation is a must.  And don’t be afraid of parent participation- it can be very rewarding.

Trial Participation or Attend a Meeting or Orientation:

f possible, attend a few events or activities hosted by the group as a trial before committing. If the group offers orientation sessions or informational meetings, attend one to learn more about the group’s structure, goals, and expectations. This will give you a firsthand experience of the group’s dynamics and whether it suits your family. Some groups even require this of you before you attend.   Give it more than one chance, too, if the vibe isn’t quite there the first time.  You may meet your new bestie family on the third go! Reach out to current members of the homeschool group and ask about their experiences. Their insights can provide valuable information about the group’s strengths and potential drawbacks.

Trust Your Instincts:

Trust your instincts and how you feel about the group after gathering information and interacting with its members. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to explore other options. Remember that every family is unique, and the right homeschool group for one family might not be the best fit for another. Take your time, gather information, and prioritize what aligns best with your family’s values.

This Week’s FREEBIE:

043. Top 10 Books Every Homeschool Parent Should Read

Top 10 Books Every Homeschool Parent Should Read


Top 10 Books Every Homeschool Parent Should Read

We’ve had a lot of homeschoolers reach out to us asking for our favorite book selections they can read to help them on their homeschool journey so we created this list of our absolute favorites just for you!

Tune in!

Episode 043:

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Show Notes

Whether you are just starting or thinking about starting to homeschool or you have been homeschooling for many years already, there is so much value in reading books about homeschooling.  Even as old-hands, we have a couple favorite books that we often reread every year just to get re-inspired and motivated for the upcoming school year.  

Also, every week we do a “Favorite Book Friday” social media post (Follow us: BTDT Facebook and BTDT Instagram). Oftentimes, these books have something to do with the current episode, but even if it’s a topic that we know a lot about, we like to stay current and keep a fresh list of books that we’ve read ourselves so that we can share them with you. We always feel a little weird about sharing a book we haven’t read so we really do try and read all of them, or at the very least, post books that lots of friends have recommended. The list we are going to present today is a combo of our personal favorites and books that seem to frequent everyone else’s favorite lists.

There’s so many reasons to read and continue reading homeschooling books.  For one, it can really help you to understand all the different homeschooling methods out there. Homeschooling approaches vary widely, from traditional to unschooling, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and more. Books can provide insight into different methods, helping parents identify the one that aligns with their values, teaching style, and their child’s learning needs.  Our homeschool style has changed a lot from when we first started. Just like parenting, we have evolved and grown and we always try to keep an open mind to new ideas and methods as our children’s learning needs have changed. 

We talk in our Getting Started page and in our 7 Steps to Choosing Curriculum episodes how knowing your homeschool method/style is really going to help you narrow down curriculum choices and there are a great many books that offer recommendations for curriculum, teaching materials, and resources.

Homeschooling involves careful planning and organization to ensure a well-rounded education. There are a lot of books that can guide parents on creating schedules, setting goals, and tracking progress. And we especially like the ones that talk about maintaining home and day to day activities, too, because this really is an entire lifestyle. 

So many families have turned to homeschooling because their children have special needs or different abilities that were not being met in traditional school and  benefit from homeschooling one on one. Books can offer guidance on overcoming these challenges specifically in your homeschool.

Some parents worry about socialization and extracurricular activities when trying to make that decision about homeschooling.  A lot of homeschool books talk about the pros and cons of homeschooling/traditional schooling and can really ease your mind and offer ideas and insights into these different concerns. Reading books on homeschooling can really boost your confidence by providing a deeper understanding of the educational process and dispelling some of those myths and misconceptions. Some of these books are also going to provide insights into the long-term outcomes of homeschooling, including college admissions, career paths, and the development of well-rounded kiddos. 

Homeschooling is a huge decision that affects a family’s lifestyle and dynamics. Reading books can help parents make informed decisions by considering various factors and potential outcomes.  This is one of the things we really encourage parents to do while deschooling – which is a vital step to a successful homeschool after withdrawing your child from a school environment. Read, read, read! Learn more in Deschooling 101

Remember that while books are a valuable resource, they should be used alongside other sources of information, such as online forums, local homeschooling groups, and educational websites, and podcasts like this one! Each family’s homeschooling journey is unique, so finding the right resources and support is essential to create a successful experience for you and your kids.

Top 10 Favorite Books (10:31)

1. John Taylor Gatto “Dumbing Us Down”

“Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling” by John Taylor Gatto is such a thought-provoking critique of the modern education system. Drawing from his experience as a long-time teacher in public schools, he argues that compulsory schooling suppresses individuality, creativity, and critical thinking. 

He delves into the hidden agenda of education, revealing how it has become more about social control and conformity rather than fostering true learning and personal growth. Gatto challenges the traditional model of education, suggesting that it stifles students’ curiosity and innate desire to explore the world. Throughout the book, he advocates for a more personalized and student-driven approach to education, emphasizing the importance of self-directed learning and real-life experiences. 

While some may find his ideas radical, “Dumbing Us Down” is really an eye-opening read that can spark important conversations about the purpose and effectiveness of our modern education system. It will make you question the status quo and consider alternative approaches that empower students to become active, engaged, and critical thinkers. It’s an older book- published in 1992.

2. John Holt “How Children Learn” 

3. John Holt “Teach Your Own”

John Holt’s books, “How Children Learn”  and “Teach Your Own,” are timeless classics that have profoundly influenced the homeschooling movement. (And when we say timeless, these were originally written in 1967 and 1981). Holt talks about the natural ways that children absorb knowledge through curiosity, play, and self-discovery. He draws from his observations as an educator and advocates for a child-centered approach that respects the individual pace and interests of each learner. 

In “Teach Your Own,” Holt collaborates with co-author Patrick Farenga to provide practical guidance for parents considering homeschooling as an alternative to traditional schooling. They emphasize the importance of fostering a nurturing and supportive learning environment at home and encourage parents to trust their instincts in facilitating their child’s education. Together, these books present a powerful argument for respecting children as active participants in their own learning journeys and highlight the benefits of a more flexible, self-directed, and personalized education. Holt’s insights and wisdom continue to inspire parents and educators alike, offering valuable perspectives on how children truly learn and the potential rewards of embracing a more natural, child-led approach to education. 

4. Raymond and Dorothy Moore “Better Late Than Early”

“Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education” by Raymond and Dorothy Moore was actually required reading for parents joining our homeschool co-op in North Carolina with younger than school age kids. This book really challenges conventional wisdom by advocating for a later start to formal education. They argue that children’s natural development and readiness should dictate the timing of formal schooling, favoring a more relaxed and child-centered approach. They present compelling research supporting their stance, highlighting potential negative consequences of early formal education on children’s physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being. By emphasizing the significance of hands-on learning, exploration, and play during early childhood, the authors provide a refreshing perspective on education. 

While the book may not appeal to everyone, especially those who prioritize academic rigor from a young age, “Better Late Than Early” offers so many insights into the potential benefits of allowing children to mature naturally before introducing structured schooling. It encourages parents to be attuned to their child’s individual needs and readiness, promoting a more holistic and balanced educational experience. 

5. Julie Bogart “Brave Learner”

The Brave Learner

“Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life” by Julie Bogart is an empowering and heartfelt guide for homeschooling parents seeking to create an enriching and joyful learning experience for their children. With a warm and encouraging tone, Bogart shares her insights as a seasoned homeschooling mother and founder of the Brave Writer. The book explores the concept of “Brave Learning,” where the emphasis is placed on cultivating a love for learning, fostering creativity, and nurturing curiosity. She encourages parents to embrace a more relaxed and flexible approach, tailoring education to each child’s unique strengths and interests. Throughout the book, she offers practical tips and engaging activities that parents can easily incorporate into their homeschooling routine. 

Furthermore, “Brave Learner” delves into the importance of family connection and making learning an integral part of everyday life. This book is not just about homeschooling; it’s about cultivating a family culture that values growth, exploration, and the celebration of each individual’s learning journey. “Brave Learner” is a compelling read that will inspire and support homeschooling families in creating a thriving and authentic educational experience for their children.

6. Rebecca Rupp “Home Learning Year by Year”

“Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School” by Rebecca Rupp is an indispensable guide for homeschooling parents seeking to craft a comprehensive and flexible curriculum tailored to their child’s individual needs. Rupp’s book offers a well-organized and practical approach, covering various age groups from preschool through high school. The book provides valuable insights into age-appropriate learning activities, subject recommendations, and educational milestones for each grade level. 

She emphasizes the importance of nurturing a child’s curiosity and interests while ensuring a solid foundation in core subjects. The suggested resources, reading lists, and project ideas make it easy for parents to plan engaging and well-rounded lessons. Whether new to homeschooling or experienced, “Home Learning Year by Year” serves as an invaluable resource, empowering parents to confidently navigate their child’s education journey and foster a love for learning that extends beyond the traditional classroom setting.

7. Emily Cook “A Literary Education”

We can’t really talk about Emily’s book without starting out by talking about Charlotte Mason’s original book series. Her educational series is a wealth of timeless wisdom and insights into a holistic and child-centered approach to education. It consists of six volumes and this series lays out Mason’s educational philosophy and methodology in a comprehensive and accessible manner. Mason’s ideas revolve around respecting the child’s personhood, fostering a love for learning, and presenting a wide range of living ideas and living books to capture the child’s imagination. She emphasizes the importance of short lessons, outdoor exploration, and cultivating good habits. Through her writings, Mason advocates for a rich and diverse curriculum that includes literature, the arts, nature study, and practical life skills. Her approach places a high value on narration as a means of encouraging children to absorb and assimilate knowledge actively. The series beautifully intertwines philosophy and practical advice, making it a valuable resource not only for homeschooling parents but also for educators seeking to create a nourishing and meaningful learning experience for their students . These are really old- 1886!  But Charlotte Mason’s educational series has stood the test of time and continues to inspire and shape progressive educational practices that honor the unique potential of every child’s mind and spirit.

Now some people really struggle with the old books and there are a lot of adaptations of her ideas. As a homeschooling parent or educator seeking to cultivate a love for literature and a deeper understanding of classic works, “A Literary Education: Adapting Charlotte Mason for Modern Secular Homeschooling” by Emily Cook is a valuable and insightful resource. Drawing inspiration from the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, Cook presents a secular adaptation that resonates with a wide range of homeschooling families. The book offers practical guidance on how to incorporate living books, narration, and other Charlotte Mason-inspired methods into a modern homeschool curriculum. Cook skillfully navigates the complexities of literary analysis and presents practical strategies for fostering critical thinking and meaningful discussions around classic literature. 

The emphasis on cultivating a living relationship with books and allowing children to form their own connections to the stories they read is a refreshing and engaging approach. “A Literary Education” serves as an excellent companion for both novice and experienced homeschoolers and it offers a wealth of ideas and tools to create a rich, literary-focused learning environment. 

8. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise “The Well-Trained Mind”

“The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home” is an essential resource for homeschooling parents seeking to implement a classical education approach. Written by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, the book offers a well-structured and comprehensive guide, providing clear steps and practical advice on designing a rigorous and balanced curriculum at home. The authors emphasize the importance of a classical education’s three stages – the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages and they explain how to tailor the learning process to suit the child’s developmental needs. “The Well-Trained Mind” not only introduces parents to the classical model but also offers a wide range of subject recommendations, teaching techniques, and educational resources. 

While the classical approach may not resonate with every homeschooling family, the book remains a valuable reference for those interested in a time-tested and intellectually stimulating educational philosophy. Its detailed guidance and thoughtful insights make it a valuable addition to any homeschooling parent’s library.  

9. Peter Gray “Free to Learn” 

“Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” by Peter Gray is a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of the innate drive for play and its profound impact on children’s learning and development. Gray, a prominent psychologist, challenges the traditional education system and argues that children learn best when given the freedom to explore, play, and pursue their interests autonomously. Drawing from extensive research and real-life examples, Gray makes a convincing case for the importance of unstructured, self-directed play in cultivating creativity, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence. 

He examines the detrimental effects of overly structured schooling, emphasizing the role of play in fostering resilient, self-reliant, and motivated kids. “Free to Learn” offers a fresh perspective on education and it urges parents and educators to embrace a more natural and child-centered approach that allows children to thrive and flourish as curious and engaged learners.

10. Amber O’Neal JohnstonA Place to Belong”

Amber O’Neal Johnston, a homeschooling mother of four, shows parents of all backgrounds how to create a home environment where children feel secure in their own personhood and culture, enabling them to better understand and appreciate people who are racially and culturally different. A Place to Belong gives parents the tools to empower children to embrace their unique identities while feeling beautifully tethered to their global community. This book is a guide for families of all backgrounds to celebrate cultural heritage and embrace inclusivity in the home and in our communities. Socially conscious parents today are looking for a way to authentically embrace the fullness of their diverse communities. 

A Place to Belong offers a path forward for families to honor their cultural heritage and champion diversity in the context of daily family life by:

    Fostering open dialogue around discrimination, race, gender, disability, and class

   Teaching “hard history” in an age-appropriate way 

   Curating a diverse selection of books and media choices in which children see themselves and people who are different

   Celebrating cultural heritage through art, music, and poetry

   Modeling activism and engaging in community service projects as a family

Additional favorites:

Obviously, it is hard to narrow down books to just one list of 10 because there are so many more great books out there.  As always, we would love to hear from you if you have additions to this list or comments and feedback about any of these books.

“Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross

“The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education” by Ainsley Arment

A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning” by Karen Andreola  (this is actually a favorite of mine- it is not secular, but it is easy to just skip over the bible chapter).

“The Montessori Method” by Maria Montessori

“The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom” by Mary Griffith

“The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling” by Rachel Gathercole

“For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

“The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education” by Grace Llewellyn

“Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners” by Lori McWilliam Pickert

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042. Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers

Middle School Books


Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers

As parents and homeschoolers, we understand the importance of nurturing a lifelong passion for literature and finding the right books can make all the difference. This is especially important during those middle school years as your kids begin to read more hearty chapter books on their own.
Today we’re giving you strategies to ignite a love for reading during this age and share an exciting list of books that helped our kids fall in love with literature.

Tune in this week while we discuss these topics and more!

Episode 042:

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Show Notes

As parents and homeschoolers, we understand the importance of nurturing a lifelong passion for literature and finding the right books can make all the difference. This is especially important during those middle school years as your kids begin to read more hearty chapter books on their own. The fundamental skill of reading serves as a gateway to academic achievement, personal growth, and lifelong learning and by immersing themselves in the world of books, middle schoolers can develop crucial skills, expand their knowledge, and unlock a world of opportunities. 

We talk about Charlotte Mason often on our podcast as we’ve both subscribed to this homeschool method. She was a 19th-century British educator and believed in the power of living books and a more holistic approach to education. Living books are key to a Charlotte Mason education. These are well-written, engaging books that come alive and captivate the reader’s imagination. Facts and other information are often more easily retained when learned in this story form rather than using dry textbooks with no context. 

We encourage you to take your kids and visit libraries and explore bookstores. Create a home library with all your favorites and make it easily accessible. By surrounding them with a wide range of quality literature, you are taking the first step to encouraging a lifelong love of reading. You can create a reading culture within your home by setting aside dedicated time for reading. Designate a cozy reading nook and model the love of reading by reading alongside your children. Let your kids see you reading often, as well!

Reading opens the door to a wealth of information and ideas. It allows students to explore different cultures, historical events, scientific discoveries, and social issues. By immersing themselves in books, middle school students expand their knowledge, broaden their perspectives, and develop a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Middle school marks a pivotal stage for refining reading skills. Regular reading practice helps kids bolster their vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and critical thinking abilities. These skills lay the groundwork for success across various academic subjects and sets the stage for more complex content as they enter high school.

Reading forms the backbone of achievement in all disciplines. Whether it involves deciphering math word problems, analyzing historical texts, or comprehending scientific articles, proficient reading skills are indispensable. Middle school will introduce students to more complex texts and engaging with more complex content, it really empowers kids to navigate and tackle academic challenges with confidence.

The significance of reading extends beyond subject-specific knowledge. It plays a vital role in language development and communication skills. By immersing themselves in diverse genres and styles, students are exposed to a range of sentence structures, vocabulary, and writing techniques and fortifies their overall communication skills. These skills prove invaluable for problem-solving and decision-making in so many aspects of life.

We understand that for some kids in this age bracket, reading may not be a favorite activity. Especially if your child was pulled from a school environment that didn’t foster a love of reading but you can help guide them to discover the joy of reading. It’s also totally ok to do these books as read aloud if you have a kid that isn’t a strong reader. You can also listen to audio books or include graphic novels.  Explore different genres like adventure, mystery, fantasy, or even graphic novels. That’s one reason that we came up with this fantastic list. There’s something for everyone! 

Time can be a challenge too, so try setting aside a specific reading time each day. It could be during a quiet moment before bed or during a cozy weekend afternoon. Make it a habit, and soon you’ll find yourself eagerly anticipating that special reading time. 

Remember, reading is not about speed; take your time to enjoy and savor the story. Also, help them to not be discouraged by the size of a book. Some of those books are really intimidating when you look at how fat they are. So, with those larger novels, you will want to teach them to break it into smaller chunks, reading a few pages at a time, and before you know it, they have finished the whole book. 

Middle school serves as a crucial phase for cultivating a love for reading that extends far beyond the school years. By encouraging regular reading habits and nurturing a passion for books, you can instill a lifelong love for learning and personal growth.  Books are such a wonderful source of inspiration!

Our Favorite Books List: (12:58)

The following books we list have captured the hearts and imaginations of not only our kids, but we love them too. We are including a variety of books from magical worlds to thought-provoking themes. These have become cherished favorites throughout our homeschooling journey. So grab a cozy spot, dive into these captivating books!

“The Penderwicks” by Jeanne Birdsall. 

The series follows the adventures of the Penderwick family, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, along with their father. The books are set in the fictional town of Cameron, Massachusetts and chronicle the Penderwick sisters’ escapades and their interactions with various characters they encounter.

“The Borrowers” by Mary Norton

This is a series of children’s fantasy novels that focuses on a family of tiny people who live secretly in the houses of “human beans” and “borrow” items to survive.

“Gone-Away Lake” by Elizabeth Enright.

This book (and its sequel) tells the story of two cousins, Portia and Julian, who discover an abandoned community called Gone-Away Lake during their summer vacation.

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

This timeless classic introduces young readers to the power of imagination and the joy of following Harry’s incredible journey. 

* J.K. Rowling’s hateful statements have steadily grown more blatant over the years and it caused us to be conflicted on whether we wanted to recommend this book series. But ultimately, we wanted to mention it because these books were cherished for years in our homes and the story is not a hateful one, and worthy of mention. 

“Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. 

It introduces the Walker children—John, Susan, Titty, and Roger—who sail a small boat called Swallow on the fictional lake called Wild Cat. They encounter another group of children, the Blacketts, consisting of Nancy and Peggy, who sail their boat, Amazon. The two groups of children engage in imaginative and exciting adventures, including sailing, camping, treasure hunting, and forming rival pirate crews.

“The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan

 Riordan introduces mythology in a fun and accessible way. All of our kids were obsessed with Greek mythology. This is an epic adventure of mythical proportions! Tag along with Percy Jackson, a half-blood hero, as he battles monsters, uncovers divine secrets, and gets caught up in all sorts of hilarious and dangerous situations. We discussed in our learning disabilities episode how Rick’s own child suffered from dyslexia just like the demigods he depicted in his books.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

Step through the wardrobe and embark on an epic adventure in a land of mythical creatures and epic battles. We adore the way Lewis weaves together fantasy and moral lessons, creating a thrilling read. 

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Follow Katniss Everdeen as she battles it out in a deadly televised competition. This thrilling series will keep your middle schooler on the edge of their seat.

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Introduce your child to the captivating world of Middle-earth with Bilbo Baggins’ thrilling adventure. Tolkien’s rich storytelling and vivid descriptions will transport readers to a land of dwarves, dragons, and daring quests. 

“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

Prepare to have your heart melted! This is such a heartwarming and thought-provoking book that tells the story of Auggie, who is a boy with a facial difference navigating the challenges of middle school. We love how it promotes empathy and acceptance and the power of kindness and friendship.

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

This dystopian novel was one of my personal favorites. Imagine living in a society where everything is controlled, even your emotions. It’s mind-blowing as the main character, Jonas, unravels the truth about his seemingly perfect world. It’ll make you question everything you thought you knew!

“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

Step into the shoes of Anne Frank and experience her remarkable journey during World War II and the holocaust. Through her personal diary entries, you’ll get a glimpse of her fears, hopes, and dreams. It’s a powerful and moving account that will stay with you. This memoir gives a glimpse into a dark period of history while emphasizing the strength of the human spirit. 

“The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stewart

 Meet a group of exceptionally gifted children who are recruited to infiltrate a secret society and save the world from a nefarious villain. Packed with puzzles, wit, and teamwork, this series will keep you guessing until the very end.

“The Maze Runner” by James Dashner

This is a dystopian novel where Thomas wakes up in a mysterious maze with no memory of his past. It’s an entire series and fantastic.

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

Prepare to laugh, cry, and be moved by the touching story of Hazel and Gus, two teenagers living with cancer. 

“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

Rival gangs and teenage struggles in this timeless coming-of-age novel set in the 60s. Friendship, loyalty, and social class Lucan resonate with young readers today. 

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Enter the magical world of an abandoned garden and witness the transformative power of nature. This timeless classic celebrates the beauty of friendship, resilience, and the wonders of the natural world. 

“Holes” by Louis Sachar

 This is a hilarious and twisted adventure! The main character gets sent to a camp where he has to dig holes every day. But there’s more to it than just digging—there are secrets to uncover, friendships to be made, and unexpected surprises that’ll totally keep your kid reading!

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

This science fiction classic tackles themes of love, courage, and the power of individuality. 

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

This book is set in the future where child prodigies are trained to save humanity, Ender emerges as a brilliant strategist. 

“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery

Follow the delightful and imaginative Anne Shirley as she finds her place in the world of Avonlea. Montgomery’s vivid descriptions and Anne’s infectious spirit make this classic a joy to read. 

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

This is a moving story set in Nazi Germany follows Liesel Meminger as she steals books and finds solace in the power of words. Appropriately for the times, Death is our narrator and a major character. It’s really such a good book and makes you realize that there really are good people in the world.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Experience the transformational journey of Scout Finch as she learns about racial injustice and the power of empathy. Lee’s masterpiece tackles profound themes with grace, making it an essential read for every young mind. 

“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill

This is a fantasy tale about a young girl named Luna, a witch, and a magical forest. Such an enchanting story. explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the power of stories. It’s a bit dark in the beginning but the story is beautifully written and great for all ages. This would be a good read aloud for those who aren’t quite reading yet too. 

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket

Join the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, as they navigate a series of unfortunate events after their parents’ tragic death. This darkly humorous series is filled with quirky characters, clever wordplay, and mysterious plots. Also a movie and a show.

“The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate

Such a heartfelt story of Ivan, a gorilla who lives in captivity in a shopping mall. The book is written from Ivan’s perspective. Your kids will learn about friendship, freedom, and the importance of compassion. This story was written simply enough for young readers to read on their own. Yet, well written enough to enable meaningful discussions around whether humans are good or bad.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s has big ideas and a suitcase full of special things! The book is such a heartwarming story and shows life in the 1930’s through the eyes of a young boy. It shows the tragedy and the joyfulness of this era. You will fall in love with Bud.

The Secret Lake: A Children’s Mystery Adventure by Kanen Inglis

I love time travel books. The Secret Lake follows Stella and Tom on an amazing journey as they begin a new life after moving from Hong Kong to London. Living in a townhome community with a large garden the two overcome summer boredom and homesickness by following the comings and goings of their neighbor’s disappearing and reappearing dog, Harry. Little did they know their furry friend would lead them on a wild journey through time tunnels and across a secret lake to friendships unimagined, intrigues and heroic rescue missions.

Additional books that promote inclusivity and diversity in literature: (29:55)

Books, especially those with diverse characters and narratives, are powerful tools for fostering empathy and understanding. Promoting diversity and inclusivity in literature is essential to ensure that all young readers can see themselves reflected in the stories they read. 

Here are some exceptional books for middle schoolers written by people of color or featuring diverse characters:

  1. “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson: This memoir in verse shares the author’s experiences growing up as an African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s. It addresses meaningful topics like identity and the power of words.
  2. “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds: The first book in the “Track” series, it follows Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw, a talented runner dealing with his troubled past while discovering the potential within himself.
  1. “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros: This oat a coming-of-age story of Esperanza, a young Latina girl living in Chicago, as she tries to find her place in the world.
  2. “Inside Out & Back Again” by Thanhha Lai: This award-winning novel in verse chronicles the experiences of a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl named Hà as she and her family flee Saigon during the Vietnam War and settle in Alabama.
  3. “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander: Wow! This book is awesome! It’s filled with slick wordplay type poetry and clever font techniques. It follows twin brothers Josh and Jordan as they face challenges on and off the basketball court. Sibling rivalry and identity- it’s so good! Seriously, don’t discount it because it’s written in poetry word style. 
  4. “The Gauntlet” by Karuna Riazi: This middle-grade fantasy adventure draws inspiration from Arabian folklore and follows a Bangladeshi-American protagonist named Farah as she embarks on a treacherous board game-based quest to save her brother.
  5. “One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia: Set in the 1960s, it follows three African American sisters who travel to Oakland, California, to spend the summer with their estranged mother and become involved in the Black Panther movement. It’s so good and is one of the readers in Byl
  6. “Stella by Starlight” by Sharon M. Draper: Set in the segregated South during the Great Depression, the story revolves around 11-year-old Stella as she grapples with racial injustice and finds the courage to speak up.
  7. “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang: This empowering novel explores the life of Mia Tang, a 10-year-old Chinese American girl who helps her parents manage a motel and faces challenges while fighting for justice and equality.
  8. “We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide” by Carol Anderson and Tonya Bolden: This nonfiction book examines the history of systemic racism in the United States, providing crucial context and fostering conversations about race, justice, and equality.

These books offer authentic voices, diverse perspectives, and stories that resonate with young readers from various backgrounds. They celebrate diversity and provide windows into different cultures and experiences, fostering empathy, understanding, and a sense of belonging.

Amber O’Neal Johnston of “A Place to Belong” also maintains a large list of diverse titles at her website

A Place to Belong >>

Reading stands as a cornerstone of middle school education, unlocking the potential for academic success, personal growth, and lifelong learning. By embracing the written word, students develop critical skills, expand their knowledge, sharpen their minds, and cultivate empathy.

As we empower middle schoolers on their literary adventures, we equip them with the tools they need to navigate life, both academically and socially.  Hopefully you’ll find some new favorites on this list or are nodding your head in agreement over books that are already on your shelf at home. 

There’s no way we can cover all our favorites in one podcast episode so we will be creating an entire page listing. All our favorites with a short synopsis to find just the right one for your middle schooler, Please feel free to add titles in our comment section on social media.  We’d love to keep adding to this list.

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