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042. Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers

Middle School Books

042.

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.

This Week’s Freebie:

024. Favorite Books For New Readers

Books for New Readers

024.

Favorite Books For New Readers

This is a special episode for elementary age children that are learning how to read and new readers. We will discuss branching into beginning chapter books and talk about great read-alouds they will love!

Books for New Readers

Scroll Down for this week’s Freebie:
Reading Log with book 5-star rating (pdf)

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Show Notes

In episode 15, We covered how to Teach your child to read– how to know when they are ready, we talked about curricula, and games for learning.  If you haven’t listened, you may want to revisit.

As we said in that episode, reading is fundamental and necessary for learning. And instilling a love of reading at an early age is the key that can unlock the door to lifelong learning. It’s the foundation that helps us learn and make sense of the world around us. Reading builds social and emotional skills and ignites imagination. Reading builds self-confidence, independence, and is a critical foundation for developing logic and problem-solving skills.  

Once you are past that very initial part of beginning to read, you may wonder where to go next and it can be confusing to see all the options and different terms and technical jargon out there describing various stages of reading. We see terms like Emergent, Early, Transitional, and Fluent, when referring to groups of reading levels. These might be where students may have different reading abilities, writing skills, and sight word proficiency. There is a range of terms to describe readers in the different stages of their literacy journeys. 

When we talk about developing and emergent readers, we are really just talking about the same thing.  Technically, anyone who reads could be considered a developing reader, as we are all still strengthening our comprehension and writing skills into adulthood. But when we say that in relation to children, these are kiddos that are learning the basics of reading such as decoding, phonics, the alphabet, and sight words that are essential for long-term literacy. They may be making the transition to longer books with more complicated plotlines and they are just overall evolving into a more skilled and confident reader. They probably recognize high-frequency words, both in books and just things you see in daily life- while driving, in the kitchen, on TV.  Usually they show a strong desire to read and listen to others read

Sometimes we use the term  “Emergent” to emphasize these kids that are developing the foundational skills that will support lifelong literacy, and are truly emerging into a new territory of reading potential.  

When we talk about transitional readers, Transitional is that stage right before moving onto chapter books.  It’s totally ok to let your child decide when this is.  And then also, when we hear the terms Early or Easy readers, this often means the books, not the child.  They are books with age appropriate vocabulary and word usage, simple sentence construction, they can be utilitarian but they should also be rich and vibrant,  keep your interest,  keep the child motivated and able to decode words that are unfamiliar.

Remember how exciting reading was for you and you may rediscover your zest for reading alongside a child- it can be really refreshing for both of you.  Because language used to describe reading development can be complicated, we just encourage you to meet your reader where they are at. 

So when our child first learns to read and they have begun their own unique reading journey, you may ask what kind of books should we be looking for? What books are going to continue to ignite their interest and encourage them to build upon those skills? 

So again, as you go looking for Early Readers or first step readers, sometimes it’s helpful to go to the library and see how they organize different level books- but remember you don’t have to stick to one level or kind. Some kids do like that or like to track their progress.  Some kids may just jump right in to full on chapter books and that’s ok, too.

One of the things we think about as a Charlotte Mason homeschooler is avoiding Twaddle. Twaddle is defined as books with lots of pictures and action but with short snippets of no sentences and little character.  They can sometimes talk down to children, or require little effort.  It doesn’t help to strengthen a child’s imagination. I always use the example of Winnie the Pooh, the original books by A.A. Milne. They are beautiful and deep stories full of adventure, humor, and lovely language.  And they are more than just funny- in fact, I often say to read these aloud to young kids, but also hand them off to older kids, because there are so many silly things in the ways the animals misspell things and use  puns that you almost have to see it rather than just hear it.  Now Disney Winnie the Pooh, is a whole other story- they are animated, and just really dumbed down.  There aren’t puns and deep jokes but surface level funnies and storylines.  Much of the very best things about the story aren’t even in those books/shows.

But also, consider that reading preference can come in many flavors and a reluctant reader may require other currency- graphic novels, for instance. Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side were favorites for our kids and their friends.

Favorite early picture books and readers:

Sandra Boynton

Dr. Suess

Ezra Jack Keats

PD Eastman 

Roxaboxen by  Alice McLerran

Kevin Henkes books: 

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

Chrysanthemum 

Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel

Little bear books by Else Holmelund Minariik 

Henry and Mudge/ Annie and Snowball by Cynthia Rylant

Mr Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant

Zoey and Sassafras by Asia Citro

Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems 

Katie Woo Pedro book series by Fran Manushkin

Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak 

Alexander and the no good very bad day  by  Judith Viorst

Shel Silverstein poetry books

While looking at lists to make sure we didn’t leave things off.  And by the way, we have left a lot off because there’s only so much episode time!  We probably could go on and on forever.  See the complete List of Top 50 beloved titles for new readers

We created our Top 50 books for new readers. We have enjoyed all of these books in our own homes with our own children. They have been beloved favorites throughout the years, and we really wanted to share all of them with you. This collection of early reading books has colorful illustrations, they have shorter lengths, clear formatting, and they’ve been picked with the readers in mind that are going to be bridging the gap between reading board books jumping into lengthier chapter books. 

The one thing that I really love about this list is that we really combined a mix of beloved classics with some newer titles, and I think we did a pretty good job of incorporating diverse voices and characters and things that we enjoyed in our own homeschool. Representation really does matter, and we really want kids to see themselves in the stories that they read so I think that we did a great job on combining that so make sure you check that out on our show notes we will have the entire Top 50 list and we actually wrote a very detailed description for each book so make sure you check that out.

As we’ve both mentioned many times on our podcast, we both love to (and sometimes still) Read aloud to our kids, even though they are high school level now.  But as younger kids this was definitely an every day, several times a day occurrence. And when we weren’t reading, we were often listening to audiobooks while we were driving.

Some favorite read-alouds or early chapter books:

Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osbourne– we’ve mentioned these before, too.  We both really liked them. These books are sometimes predictable and they are definitely formulaic, but it adds to their charm.  These siblings go on lots of adventures and introduce readers to a variety of real historical events and figures.  They are a great stepping stone into deep dives on topics and they even have accompanying reference guides if your kids want more after the story.  They are about 80 pages long.  You can easily read them in a sitting or at least in a day or so.

Ramona series by Beverly Cleary–  These were my favorite as a kid and I could not wait to introduce my kids.  We went through all 8 of the Ramona series and then the spin-off Henry Huggins series (her sister’s best friend). The author also has a series about Ralph S.Mouse that we loved- a mouse that befriends a boy on vacation.  

Geronimo Stilton books are really funny, have impactful illustrations and highlight new words. 

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne-also big favorites that we talked about earlier.  There are 4 books in the series but really two of them are Winnie the Pooh focused, the others are poetry and story collections.   

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame– another in the same vein as Winnie the Pooh.  Animal stories are full of adventure and really, really funny.

Some kids don’t really like books with characters that have a lot of sibling rivalry.  Not that we don’t deal with that in our homes, but there are books where that is the hallmark of the sibling relationship, and we just didn’t like it because they couldn’t always relate to kids that talked to each other like that.  Some kids also don’t like books with constant school settings- especially as homeschoolers.  So, one way we found our way around that was to search out older books.  

Books by Elizabeth Enright- “Gone Away Lake” and “Return to Gone Away Lake”. The Melendy family series that starts with the “Saturdays.”  These are older books that are about siblings or cousins and their adventures.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Warner– These books are a sweet series of about 160 titles and written by a first grade teacher about 4 orphaned children that create a home in an abandoned boxcar and encounter many adventures and mysteries.  There’s other adaptations of these including a version for younger kids even.  

Sometimes adaptations are good- maybe read an adaptation of Shakespeare when you need a better understanding of the story. We definitely recommend reading both though, so you don’t miss out on the language, but start with that so you don’t get caught up in figuring out what is going on. Some things I think lose the beauty of the language when you read an adaptation and some risk that dumbing down and twaddle we are trying to avoid.  

Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransom- another older book about siblings or cousins that spend the summer camping out on an island across from their summer house and have a lot of adventures.  

Modern day versions of these kinds of stories would be “The Penderwicks.” Another sweet family that has their moments of rivalry or jerkiness but are otherwise loving and supportive.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin– this is a fantasy adventure novel inspired by Chinese folklore.  This particular book is about a girl from a poor village seeking good fortune for her people.  There is a sequel, but I haven;t read it.  It’s a beautiful story.

Very Very Far North by Dan Bar-el (series). Kind of Winnie the Pooh-ish and inquisitive bear befriends an array of animals.  This is also a series.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Half Magic series by Edgar Eager

Kate DiCamillo- I think her writing is just absolutely fantastic, people seem mixed on her sometimes.  Some of her stories are dark and dreary, but she always comes through with a happy ending, often a bit of a tear jerker.  The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, One and Only Ivan.

We really could go on and on all day about our favorite books.  We will continue sharing our favorites in a middle school favorite books episode coming in the near future.

This Week’s Freebie:

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