Trying to get your 12-year-olds hooked on reading can be a real challenge! No matter how much you impress upon them that reading can improve everything from their vocabulary to their critical thinking skills to their social-emotional learning, your reluctant readers still dig their heels in! We’ve put together a multi-genre list of books that are perfect for your kids – even the most reluctant of readers! Dive in and find out which ones will turn reading into your class’ new favorite pastime!
1. Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd
Based on 1961’s Anniston, Alabama, Night on Fire tells the story of two maturing children who confront the ugly truth of racism and segregation when the Freedom Riders pass through their town. Beautifully written and emotion-packed, this is a book that will stick with your readers for a long time.
2. Eleven by Tom Rogers
Eleven explores the chilling reality and resulting aftermath of 9/11 through the perspective of a young boy who turns eleven years old on that fateful day. This is an eye-opening read for your students who have grown up in a post-9/11 world.
3. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Award-winning author Linda Sue Park immerses readers in 12th-century Korea in this coming-of-age story about dreams, determination, and overcoming adversity. This historical fiction novel is all the more prevalent with its tale of mentorship and the pursuit of passion.
4. A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Set during the construction of the Berlin Wall, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s A Night Divided features a protagonist with incredible bravery and resilience whose family has been broken apart by the Cold War. This is another book that will stay with your readers long after they read the final page.
5. Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
This book is a poignant exploration of immigration and maturation set in 2001 Afghanistan and San Francisco. While fleeing from the Taliban, a family loses their youngest daughter, and their search for her never ceases. Meanwhile, young Fadi struggles to adapt to a society prejudiced against him and his family.
6. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Your historical fiction readers will love the story of Deza Malone! Readers will follow this strong and smart protagonist as she tries to survive the Great Depression with her family. Deza’s father leaves to find work, while she along with her siblings and her mom must find a way to endure on their own.
7. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Some stories never get old and this is one of them! This classic story is about Anne, a young orphan in the late 19th century, who is accidentally sent to siblings who actually want to adopt a boy to help them on their farm. The siblings must now figure out how to raise the free-spirited and adventurous Anne!
8. Refugee by Alan Gratz
This poignantly written book is perfect for exploring the plight of refugees. It follows three refugee children from different places and time periods as they flee conflict. Your readers will read about Isabel is escaping from Cuba in 1994, Mahmoud is leaving Syria in 2015, and Josef is looking for solace from Nazi Germany during World War II.
9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Another classic, Little Women is sure to hold your kiddos’ attention. This is the story of the four March sisters who live with their mother while their father is away fighting in the Civil War. Follow the trials and tribulations of each sister as they negotiate the difficulties of life.
10. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
History meets adventure in this fun book your kiddies are sure to love! This story takes place in the 18th century and is about a boy named Matt whose father leaves him alone in their Maine cabin. Matt must fend for himself, but soon meets a group of Native Americans who help him survive the winter.
11. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Pavana’s family has to find a way to survive after the Taliban takes control of their home in Afghanistan and her father is taken away. As a girl, Pavana is not allowed to work, so must disguise herself to help her family survive.
12. The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
This novel by award-winner Jerry Spinelli tells the story of a young girl named Cammie who grows up in the prison system as the daughter of the prison warden. As her twelfth birthday approaches, Cammie grapples with her unique family structure with the help of some inmates along the way.
13. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
This is a favorite book among many middle-grade readers. Raymie Nightingale tells the story of three very different girls who form a surprising friendship amidst great tension and high-stakes competition. Your kids will love the themes of found family, trust, and love in this beautifully memorable young adult novel.
14. A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
This charming story of self-discovery and individuality is the perfect read for any of your middle school readers grappling with what makes them different and unique. When animal lover Mia Winchell discovers that she has synesthesia, she embarks on a quest to learn how to transform this apparent defect into a strength.
15. The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
Take your class along for the adventure in this incredible exploration of friendship, greed, and risk-taking. Styx Malone makes Caleb and Bobby an offer they can’t refuse: one big dream in exchange for some worthless junk. Kekla Magoon creates unforgettable characters that you can’t help but root for despite the turmoil they create.
16. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Lynda Mullaly Hunt does it again with this amazing book about found family. The protagonist, Carley Connors, struggles with her new situation after being displaced from her mother and taken in by a new family. As she learns to adapt, she must also confront the darker parts of her past.
17. Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds weaves together ten different stories about the walk home from school. Don’t be deceived by the often funny stories that fill the book- each tale tackles serious and relevant themes facing youth today.
18. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy
The protagonist, Maybelle, goes on a search for her radio-host father whom she never really knew, hoping to win over his heart through a singing contest he is judging. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane is an inspiring story about family and the search for self-packed into a beautifully written YA novel.
19. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
This is a beautiful, true story about grief and hope. Sadako is diagnosed with Leukemia, but through the act of folding paper cranes, she finds solace and acceptance. After she passes away, her classmates fold more paper cranes with the goal of reaching one thousand!
20. How To Steal A Dog by Barbara O’Connor
Your animal lovers will enjoy this read! In this novel, a young girl and her family are evicted from their home and have to find money to survive. In an effort to help her family, the young girl steals a dog and tries to collect reward money. This is a super story for exploring themes of survival and morality.
21. Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger
This is a fun novel for readers of any level! Written in verse, this story follows two kids who go on a camping trip with their family. The poems are simple but weave together an enjoyable adventure with themes of family bonding.
22. Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
This book tackles the #MeToo movement from the perspective of middle schoolers. When Mila starts receiving unwanted attention from boys, she doesn’t know what to do, and her friends and family aren’t much help. She ends up joining a karate class to find her voice and harness her power!
23. Schooled by Gordon Karman
Every middle schooler will relate to this story of trying to fit in! Capricorn Anderson has been homeschooled his entire life, but now he has to go to public school and find a way to fit in. When his classmates vote him in as class president as a prank, he begins a journey of acceptance and finding his own way.
24. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
This tear-jerker weaves heartfelt content with fast-paced action! It tells the story of Mark, a boy with a terminal illness who has a limited amount of time to live. He decides to run away from his family and goes on an adventure to climb Mount Rainier.
25. Unteachables by Gordon Karman
Unteachables is another humorous but touching book by Gordan Korman. This story tells the tale of a group of 8th graders who everyone has decided are unteachable. In his last year before retirement, Mr. Kermit has to take on this difficult class with unexpected results for all involved!
26. Sarah Weeks Save Me a Seat by Gita Varadarajan
This story is perfect to spark class discussions about friendship and bullying. Joe and Ravi are two unlikely friends who share similar struggles; Ravi just moved to the U.S., and Joe is missing his friends, but they find common ground while standing up to the class bully!
27. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
This unique and imaginative book is perfect for your students who love realistic fiction! The story takes place in 1980s Harlem and centers on a girl whose grandfather was one of the first African-American engineers to work for NASA. Now she has to navigate a world with her grandfather no longer in it.
28. Zoe in Wonderland by Brenda Woods
Your readers will cherish this fun adventure story! Zoe feels invisible compared to her popular older sister and smart younger brother. When Zoe’s best friend moves away, she immerses herself in the botanical world of her family’s greenhouse until a mysterious botanist appears to kick off some fantastic adventures!
29. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna
This one is a perfect story for your tech-obsessed students! In this book, the main character drops his video game in the lake and has to find fun in nature! As the story unfolds, he learns about the magic the forest has to offer. The illustrations make this story even more beautiful.
30. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This heartwarming book will get your class talking about acceptance. Auggie looks different from other kids because he was born with a facial deformity. Your students will love following his ups and downs as he goes to school for the first time and navigates both prejudice and curiosity.
31. El Deafo by Cece Bell
This is a great graphic novel that will get your kids talking about the themes of self-acceptance and self-confidence. Cece is a deaf bunny who has to wear a unique type of hearing aid. She feels self-conscious about this device and in order to cope, she creates El Deafo, a superhero alter ego!
32. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This book is good for kids who are ready to explore the complex issue of gun violence. Long Way Down is a story about a 15-year-old boy who lost his brother in a shooting. The story takes place in an elevator and follows this character as he travels to the ground floor while being visited by victims of gun violence.
33. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders is another classic novel that will still be relatable to your 12-year-old readers of today! This dramatic novel explores the concepts of boyhood and stereotypes while following Ponyboy as he navigates friendships and a rival gang.
34. Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
This book is a gripping and heartbreaking read that is perfect for exploring the theme of identity with your kids. It’s an almost true story about a young Iranian boy who moves to Oklahoma. Formerly wealthy and now unable to afford his lunch, this new life is very different from the one he once knew.
35. Starfish by Lisa Fipps
Starfish is a story all about self-acceptance. A Texas girl named Ellie is bullied mercilessly about her weight, but with the help of her therapist, friend, and father she finds a way to love herself and feel confident in her own skin.
36. Linked by Gordon Korman
Another book that shakes up narration is Linked. When Swastikas start appearing in their community, five kids each react differently. The novel is told from each child’s perspective and explores what happens when an individual takes a stand and a community band together for change.
37. Real Friends by Shannon Hale
Your pre-teen readers are sure to relate to this graphic novel! Best friends Shannon and Adrienne have to navigate the new course of their friendship in this realistic depiction of life in middle school. Have your readers explore themes of friendship, bullying, anxiety, and the desire to fit in with this read.
38. The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga
This story is perfect for your more mature readers. In this tale of grief, survival, and perseverance, Cora has to cope with the death of her sister who was killed by her best friend’s brother. Cora is grief-stricken and wants to time travel in an attempt to go back and stop this from ever happening.
39. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
This book will get your kids talking about social justice issues! Shayla Willows is a seventh grader who witnesses and experiences racial injustice in her town. It tells the story of a white police officer who is found not guilty in the shooting of a Black man, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.
40. Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Okay For Now grapples with some pretty tough issues. It tells the story of hardships faced by Doug and his family. when his dad loses his job, forcing the family to move. Doug must fit into his new community and cope with his father’s abusive and alcoholic behavior.
41. A High Five For Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner
Get your sports enthusiasts hooked on reading with this next pick! Silas is in sixth grade and is absolutely baseball-mad! He decides to give his class presentation on Glenn Burke, a professional baseball player who invented the high five and who was also gay. Soon, Silas’ presentation begins his own journey to self-discovery.
42. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
You can’t beat a book by the talented author, Sharon Creech! Walk Two Moons is a beautifully written novel about two characters who both lose their mothers. Sal and Phoebe must cope with this loss but as they reconstruct the events in their minds, neither of them can accept what really happened.
Mystery and Fantasy
43. The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence
This book is the first in Lorien Lawrence’s series Fright Watch and is perfect for the new generation of readers in your class looking for mysteries and thrillers. When Quinn and Mike decide to investigate their mysterious neighbors across the street, they have no idea what kind of haunting story they are unraveling.
44. This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews
When Ben and Nathaniel make a pact, they mean business. These two boys set out on a journey to travel from their backyard to the Milky Way. This is the perfect read for any of your 12-year-olds who enjoy stories of friendship and adventure with a healthy dose of magic.
45. The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta
The Serpent’s Secret is the first book of the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series. Not only is this book packed with action and magic, but it will immerse your kiddos in a story inspired by traditional Indian folklore- sure to keep them on the edge of their seats!
46. Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar
When mysterious mud leads to nationwide panic, Tamaya and Marshall are helplessly caught in the crossfires. Brimming with suspense and chills, Fuzzy Mud is an excellent choice for any lover of mystery and spooky reads. Beneath the science fiction, however, is a tale about bravery and, surprisingly, environmentalism!
47. The Witches of Willow Cove by Josh Roberts
Witchcraft, mystery, and secrets combine to create a positively spooky and captivating read in The Witches of Willows Cove. Better yet, a sequel is in the works, giving your readers another title to add to their to-read list!
48. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
This is a cozy story about a house of misfits learning to grow and manage their various gifts and powers. Quickly becoming a classic, this book is the perfect read for nearly any reader with its genius combination of humor, drama, mystery, and kindness.
49. True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle tells the harrowing story of a young woman trapped aboard a ship with a murderer on the loose. Reading this book feels like watching an old-fashioned thriller with all the chills! Avi will have your kiddies at the edge of their seats from the very first sentence.
50. The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan
This book series is a Gen Z classic, and the next generation will love it just as much! This series is similar to The Lord of the Rings series with heroes, villains, and a healthy dose of fantasy adventure. Your tweens will love this trilogy.
51. The Bad Guys Series by Aaron Blabey
This is a graphic novel with fun drawings and humorous narration that your kiddos will love. Society views the main characters of this book – a fox, shark, and snake – as criminals, but they are determined to prove everyone wrong by performing some good deeds.
52. The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith
The Great Cake Mystery is a fun and emerging detective story that’s sure to hook your readers. It is the story of Precious Ramotswe, a young investigator from Botswana who, in her first ever case, has to figure out who’s stealing cake from her school; but it won’t be easy!
53. Bloom by Kenneth Oppel
When mysterious seeds rain down on Earth and sprout into toxic, human-eating plants, there’s no question about it; planet Earth has been invaded! The fate of the planet lies in the hands of three children who seem to be immune. Can they figure it out before it’s too late?
54. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
This unique story is told from the perspective of an old tree named Red. Red is beloved by everyone in the neighborhood and they tie their wishes to its trunk – that is, until a new unwelcoming family moves in. Red’s experiences become more valuable now than ever!
55. Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
This graphic novel series is sure to be a hit with your kiddos! Sophie Foster is different from other kids – she’s an elf with magical telepathic powers! Find out what happens when Sophie goes to elf school to learn about these powers and figure out what her memories mean.
56. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
This novel is great for any of your readers who love dystopian fiction. The main character, Juliette, has a special power; just one touch from her can kill! Her dystopian world is controlled by a dictator called The Reestablishment, who wants to harness this power and weaponize her.
57. The Giver by Lois Lowry
This is another great pick for readers who love dystopian stories. The Giver is a classic middle school-level novel about a world where Jonas is selected as the Receiver of Memories. Jonas receives all the community’s memories from the Giver, and as he does, he begins to question his society.
58. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
This will be a hit with both lovers of historical fiction and fantasy! Set in London during the Cold War, Janie meets Benjamin, the son of a chemist. Benjamin’s father suddenly disappears and the friends set out on an adventure full of spies and danger to find him!
59. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is an absolute classic! This short story tells the tale of Scrooge, a grumpy man who lacks the Christmas spirit. After a visit from three ghosts, will Scrooge have a change of heart and change his ways? Or is it too late for him?
60. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This award-winning book is considered a modern-day classic. In this story, Bod lives in a cemetery after his parents are murdered and is raised by ghosts and his guardian, Silas. Each chapter details an event in Bod’s life as he navigates a world of ghosts and grief.
61. Big Foot Crossing by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
Your mystery lovers will love this outdoor adventure story! During a family camping trip, Jay begins to think his family is being hunted by Bigfoot. When his father disappears, he realizes he must rescue his dad and deal with the threats in the woods!
62. Below the Surface by Allison Finley
Dive into this adventure with your class! In this novel, a thirteen-year-old boy named Theo finds a pocket watch below the haunted Sawyer’s Bridget. Follow Theo as he searches for answers that link this pocket watch to a mysterious local legend!
63. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Your readers will fall in love with this story and its beautiful illustrations! It tells the tale of a young boy named Hugo who while living in a Paris train station is trying to fix an automaton in the hopes of reconnecting with his deceased father. Things go wrong for him when he is caught stealing parts he needs.
64. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
This is a novel perfect for readers who love rooting for the underdog! Hoot is a timeless mystery about a Florida boy named Roy. Let them follow his journey as he and his two friends work together to stop the building of a restaurant that will displace a colony of owls.
65. Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs
Tim is a peasant with big aspirations, but Tim isn’t born into nobility. He doesn’t want to be a woodsman, but he’s determined to find a way around the hierarchical system. Tim wants to be a knight, but can he do it? Your middle school readers will adore this twisted fairytale!
66. Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire
This book is a great starting point to talk about what it takes to start over. Cress is a rabbit who lives in the forest with her mom and little brother. After Cress’s dad dies, they have to move and learn to deal with death, grief, and loneliness
67. The Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave by Deron R. Hicks
Who wouldn’t love a book about secret passages and treasures? Colophon is a twelve-year-old who must travel to London with her uncle, Julian, to solve a mystery with secret clues that lead to a treasure. This is a fun and exciting graphic novel that your students are sure to love!
68. Earthborn by Sylvia Waugh
This is a quirky book that your sci-fi fans won’t be able to put down! Nesta is living in England where she discovers that her family are actually aliens and hey not only that, they have to return to their home planet! Nesta doesn’t want to go but will have to find a way to accept who she is.
69. Lost in the Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olsen
This book tells the true story of World War II soldiers who made an emergency landing in their B-17 bomber on October 21, 1942. Your middle-grade readers will be quickly hooked by this adventure story and can continue their reading marathon with more in the nonfiction book series.
70. Roses and Radicals by Susan Zimet
The brave people behind the women’s suffrage movement are heroes, and this book tells their story. This is an excellent middle-grade book for blossoming historians or anyone committed to learning more about the fight for freedom that continues to this day.
71. Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin
Undefeated is a favorite book amongst young sports fans and historians but is accessible and enjoyable for many different readers. This book tells the true story of Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team’s fight against racism and segregation that made history.
72. My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
Diane Guerrero’s young reader’s edition of her memoir is equal parts heartwarming and eye-opening. This actress’ rise to fame was littered with obstacles and social injustice. Her patient storytelling and honest voice pierce through each page; an absolute must-read for your kids.
73. Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
Chronicling the life and disappearance of the famous female pilot, Amelia Lost is a captivating read for your middle-grade readers. Amelia Earhart’s amazing story is timeless and still unravels today, making this both prevalent and commemorative.
74. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Your 12-year-olds will love this historical fiction novel! It tells the story of a rowing team competing in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. As the American team crosses the finish line, Hitler leaves the competition enraged. Find out what happens by picking up a copy of this captivating story!