The middle grades can be tumultuous for students as they face physical and emotional changes in their bodies, friendships, and families. Providing great literature for independent reading and class discussion can open their eyes to see the larger world around them and help them develop character that will last a lifetime.
It is crucial to provide a variety of books to appeal to different interests, backgrounds, and levels. Try filling your classroom library with some of the titles below and watch as students devour them.
1. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Twenty-three years apart, two children in Sudan face unimaginable hardship. Park weaves their stories together in an inspiring tale that shows how hope can change not just two lives, but the lives of many.
2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Ponyboy knows that life can be tough, but with good friends on his side, he thinks he can deal with most things- even the Socs. But one event changes everything, and he must learn to deal with the consequences.
3. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The first Newberry winner on our list, Barnhill's novel about a kind witch who rescues the children people sacrifice to her will quickly pull in middle schoolers. As one of her rescued children turns thirteen, multiple events line up that will impact the lives of those in and around the forest forever.
4. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Two very different boys share the same problem- because something about them is different, they don't fit in. But when they team up, they find strength and form a bond that helps them overcome all sorts of challenges.
5. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl starts high school and quickly rises in popularity because of her uniqueness and confidence in who she is. But the popularity quickly turns into pressure- the others want her to be just like them. Can she hold on to what made them love her in the first place, or will she conform just to fit in?
6. Restart by Gordon Korman
What if you had to start your life over, but with a past, you couldn't remember? That's what Chase faces when a fall takes all his memories. He goes back to school to a variety of reactions, making him wonder who he was and if he wants to change.
7. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
A group of boys finds themselves locked in a maze with no memory other than their names, trying to escape after a message from the only girl who's ever been inside. New boys are continually added as the group tries to figure out why they're inside and what they must do to survive.
8. Refugee by Alan Gratz
Middle school students will be challenged and forced to think as they read Gratz's inspiring story of three young refugees. They come from different countries at different times, but their stories connect in a way that will remind all students of the power of hope.
9. The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
A coming-of-age story set during the Vietnam War, The Wednesday Wars tells the story of seventh grade Holling Hoodhood as he struggles to understand Shakespeare, his English teacher, family struggles, and the ever-changing political mess around him.
10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The intro to the world-famous Hunger Games trilogy will have even reluctant readers at the edge of their seats as they follow Katniss Everdeen into an arena where she will fight for her life against 23 other teenage Tributes. After saving her sister, can Katniss keep her promise to try and win it all?
11. Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka
Krosoczka's graphic novel memoir about dealing with his mother's addiction, searching for his father, and growing up with his grandparents is a story that will teach middle school readers that it's ok to struggle and to wish things were different, but that joy can be found even in extreme hardship. For students dealing with parents who struggle with addiction, this book offers hope and the promise that someone else understands.
12. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
In a dystopian future, everyone gets to become pretty at age 16, thanks to surgery and a certain idea of what beauty really is. Tally is excited until she meets Shay, who shows her the less beautiful side of being "pretty." Will Tally move forward with the surgery, or find a new path she hadn't considered?
13. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
Zoey has a lot on her plate- younger siblings, helping her friend Fuschia and avoiding the rich kids that surround her. But when a teacher convinces her to join the debate, she learns to see those situations and more in a different way. Will she speak up for herself and those she loves, even if it means risking something she loves?
14. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Eragon is a simple farm boy who finds a spectacular treasure- a dragon! When he decides to raise the dragon himself, he pits himself against the king of the Empire, a cruel and evil leader who wants the dragon for himself. With help from all sorts of magical creatures, can Eragon complete his training and protect his new friend?
15. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Mixing folktales, history, and fantasy, Echo weaves together the stories of 4 children who all have connections to an old harmonica. Despite the massive hardships each of them faces, they find strength and bravery because of the magical instrument and find themselves connected in the end.
16. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
When a bully named Betty moves into Annabelle's peaceful town, not many changes for Annabelle. But when Betty starts mercilessly tormenting a World War I veteran named Toby, Annabelle must stand up for what is right, even if she must do it alone.
17. York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
Mystery surrounds New York City in this thrilling story about a quest to find an unimaginable treasure using a cipher that most people no longer think is real. Theo, Tess, and Jaime know it's real- and they're determined to solve it before the puzzle is destroyed forever.
18. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
Coyote and her dad have been on the road for five years, ever since her mom and sisters passed away. When she finds out that her beloved neighborhood park is going to be destroyed, she concocts a plan to get her dad to drive thousands of miles across the country to save it. She meets a rather interesting collection of characters along the way, making the journey one to remember.
19. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Fans of Marvel will know Squirrel girl from the comic books, but this prequel novel is designed for younger readers. Students will love the connections between this origin story and the Marvel universe as they find out how Doreen learns to use her powers while still being herself.
20. Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl
Any middle school reader will be inspired by this collection of true stories about women who are defying the odds and living lives that challenge norms. Using both historical and modern examples, Schatz and Stahl remind girls that they can accomplish much with grit and determination.
21. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
This is the amazing, true story of a boy from Malawi who invented a windmill to save his family's farm and village during a horrible drought. His ingenuity and creativity are still impacting the village today!
22. Booked by Kwame Alexander
Nick is a soccer fanatic whose love of soccer can't quite cover the struggles he experiences off the field. Nick faces family problems, bullies, and crushes, thankfully with help from his friend Coby and a rapping librarian called The Mac.
23. Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Calliope would really like to hide her Tourette's Syndrome. But no matter how many times she and her mom move, people always find out. When she finally finds a true friend, will he stand up for her? Or will her mother force her to leave just as she's finally settling in?
24. My 7th Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin
Everyone seems to have an opinion about what Dillon should do. All he knows is that he wants to dance. All 7th Graders will identify with Dillon as he tries to navigate the pressures of 7th grade while staying true to himself.
25. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Tris has a secret- she's divergent, meaning she could join several different factions in her community. But there's a deeper meaning...a more dangerous meaning to her if anyone finds out the truth. This begins a trilogy that would provide great discussion for 7th grade book clubs or literacy circles.
26. The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Reminiscent of the beginnings of The Boxcar Children, The Bridge Home is a story of four children who work together to survive after losing their homes and parents. They don't trust grown-ups, and even though life is hard, they are making it work. But when they start getting sick, will they find help or be stuck on their own?
27. Alone by Megan E. Freeman
When Maddie wakes up to find her entire town completely deserted, she must depend on her wits and creativity to help her survive. Not only does she face human and animal enemies, but most importantly she must learn to deal with loneliness as she has never experienced.
28. Fast Break by Mike Lupica
Jayson is on his own, and he likes it that way. But when he gets caught stealing, he ends up with a foster family. He's ready to get out, but they're unwilling to give up on him. Can he earn their trust and prove those who don't believe in him wrong?
29. Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Undefeated is the incredible true story about "the team that invented football." A true underdog story, the book covers themes of racism, determination, and teamwork. Jim Thorpe's story will inspire and motivate middle schoolers to keep going, even against seemingly insurmountable odds.
30. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: a Memoir by Margarita Engle
Engle's memoir about growing up in California as a girl from Cuba during the Cold War showcases the life of a girl caught between two worlds, both of which she loves deeply. Told in verse, the book takes readers into her life as she shares what life was really like then.
31. Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Fans of Little House on the Prairie will love Prairie Lotus! Set in a similar time frame, it tackles the racism and prejudice that would have been very real during those years. Hanna must face discrimination because of how she looks. Middle-grade students will enjoy reading how she overcomes.
32. Legend by Marie Lu
June and Day come from opposite parts of a fractured world. Separated by class and reputation, it's unlikely they would ever meet, until they find themselves entwined in a plot complicated by one's desire for revenge and one's hunger for justice. Will they discover who the real enemy is in time?
33. We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly
Three siblings enter seventh grade together, but share very little, outside of their science teacher. As they work in groups to complete the mission she has given them, the country is waiting for the Challenger space shuttle to launch. As each event draws closer, the siblings may realize they have more in common than they thought.
34. The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren
Before he was an entertainer, Buffalo Bill was a cattleman, a Pony Express rider, a soldier, and a spy. Middle-grade readers will be captivated as they read about his early life and how he overcame challenges to become the man history remembers today.
35. Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
Genesis keeps a list of all the reasons she dislikes herself. Her list is currently at 96 reasons, including being too black and her family's struggles being her fault. Even though she tries to fix things, she can't. But as her story progresses, maybe Genesis can find some reasons to like herself- and maybe that switch will make some of the harder things ok.
36. Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert by Marc Aronson
In 2010, the world watched in awe as 33 miners survived for 69 days underground. Despite horrid conditions and a huge lack of resources, the miners were eventually rescued. Aronson tells this true story in a way that highlights how the world came together to make sure the men were saved.
37. More to the Story by Hena Khan
More to the Story is a modern-day retelling of the classic Little Women. The story centers around Jameela, who dreams of being a journalist despite the lame writing assignments given to her by the school paper's editor-in-chief. But journalism gets pushed to the side as Jameela deals with her father working overseas and a younger sister's serious illness.
38. House Arrest by K. A. Holt
All Timothy wants to do is help take care of his sick brother. But his schemes end him up on probation, only allowed to go to school and therapy. He wants to avoid juvie, but he's also grappling with his family's situation and will go to any lengths to help save them.
39. The Prettiest by Brigit Young
When an online list ranks the 8th grade girls by who's the prettiest, Eve, Sophie, and Nessa must decide how they will respond. The 3 girls must work together to prove that they are worth far more than some list says they are.
40. The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming
Middle-grade readers will find out the true story behind the man in the movie The Greatest Showman in this biography of P.T. Barnum. Fleming digs into who Barnum truly was- his flaws and his talents- revealing the man behind the show.
41. I Funny by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
Jamie lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin who constantly mocks his wheelchair. He also harbors the dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. When his chance for stardom comes, will he be himself or just another kid who tries to cover real-life struggles with humor?
42. Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America #4 by Teri Kanefield
Today's women owe much to Susan B. Anthony, one of the pioneers of the suffrage movement. She fought tirelessly not only for women's rights but also for the rights of slaves. This biography tells her life story and gives readers a glimpse of what drove her.
43. The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
Ileana lives in Romania, a Communist country where those whose stories criticize the government are severely punished. Ileana is sent to live with her grandparents, where her parents believe she will be safe. But safety is not guaranteed, and she must tell her story, no matter the consequences.
44. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
Wanteds vs. Unwanteds. All thirteen-year-olds in Quill are put in one of the two categories. Alex and his twin Aaron are separated, and Alex heads to what he believes is his death as an Unwanted. Instead, he enters a magical world where he is taught new skills. Unfortunately, this newfound peace doesn't last; he soon finds himself fighting a battle against the brother he loves and misses.
45. Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
No one understands Nova but her big sister Bridget. But Bridget is gone, and Nova has been placed with a new foster family. Nova believes Bridget will be back before the Challenger launches, but in the meantime, will she find others who truly understand her?
46. I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka
This incredible true story shows how a simple assignment can have long-lasting effects. Caitlin, a girl from Pennsylvania, and Martin, a boy from Zimbabwe, end up as pen pals because of a school project. The first letter turned into years of correspondence and a close friendship that changed them both for the better.
47. The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1) by John Flanagan
In this fantasy adventure story, Will is surprised and a little intimidated when he is chosen to be a Ranger's apprentice. He's always been afraid of them, primarily because he doesn't understand their true motivations. But he will learn to fight alongside them to save the kingdom from something dark and sinister.
48. The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
Natalie's desire to help her mother might be fulfilled in a strange way- entering an egg drop competition. But she needs help. She finds that help in the form of friends who encourage her to share not only her scientific ideas but the struggles she's hidden for so long.
49. Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman
Phineas Gage had an iron rod shot through his head and lived to tell about it. His story is still studied by doctors today. While he survived and lived for many years after his accident, it altered his personality. This true story explores why certain parts of our brain are so important in making us who we are.
50. The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks Dubois
On September 11, 2001, Abbey's military family is thrown into turmoil again as her father goes back on active duty and Abbey and her mother try to make sense of the catastrophic event that shook the nation. Abbey also faces her first period and the struggle of fitting into yet another new place as her world changes again.
51. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Matt's dad leaves him in charge of their new cabin while he goes to get the rest of the family. When Matt runs into trouble, he is rescued by Attean, a Native American who helps Matt see his own culture in a different light.
52. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
Maria Merian did not let anyone's opinions stop her from doing what she was passionate about. Others thought insects were gross, but she studied and drew them so people could see how beautiful they truly are.
53. Serena Says by Tanita S. Davis
Serena is used to living in the shadow of her friend JC and her big sister Fallon. But when JC undergoes a transplant and things start to change between them, Serena must discover her own voice.
54. This Song Will Save Your Life: A Novel by Leila Sales
This book contains some heavier themes, but advanced readers will enjoy the story of Elise, a girl who struggles to fit in until she realizes her true passion- DJing! Filled with compelling secondary characters and hilarious moments, this book will draw readers in quickly and remind them that friendship and music are extremely powerful.
55. A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan
Jamie's end-of-year mistake places her in the library...all. summer. long. But as she becomes more involved in her work, she starts to enjoy meeting new people and realizes the value the library adds to her community. Maybe summer won't be so bad after all.
Again- focus on providing a wide variety of books to meet student interests instead of only focusing on levels. Challenge students to try reading a different style of book, like a graphic novel or novel-in-verse. Use read-alouds to encourage discussion and different ways of thinking. Or dive into some of these yourself- you might be surprised at how much you enjoy them!
Frequently Asked Questions
How fast should a 7th grader read?
On average, a 7th grader should read between 150 and 200 words per minute (wpm). Many districts consider 150 wpm to be the baseline for independent reading.
What books do middle schoolers read?
Much of what a middle schooler reads is dependent on their age, interests, and emotional maturity. While most of the books above would be suitable for any middle grade student, it is important to know what your students can handle. Try to focus on providing books that meet their interests and introduce topics that you can discuss together.