Looking for books to challenge middle school students while also retaining an element of “appropriateness” in terms of content? This post is for you. Keep reading for middle school books recommended by teachers.
A month ago, someone wrote to me, asking for recommendations for eighth grade students. This teacher is looking for books to challenge honors students but that also don’t push the envelope too far in terms of content.
As I thought about her request, I could completely relate. It can be challenging to recommend books for middle school students because they aren’t as mature as high school students (typically), but many of them are ready for books written at a higher lexile or level. There’s tension between content and complexity.
Wanting to help, I posted on Instagram, asking teachers to recommend books they think fit these requirements: challenging yet appropriate. My post was specifically geared toward eighth grade students, but some of the book suggestions would work for any middle grade reader.
The problem is that the word “appropriate” is different to every teacher, parent, and administrator (as is the word “challenging”). I think the important thing is to remember that our job is not to pigeon hole students into a level. Instead, we need to continually focus on helping them select books that are just right for them.
What follows is a list of middle school books* recommended by teachers around the web. Before adding them to your classroom library, I recommend checking their “appropriateness” on websites like Common Sense Media and Amazon. You can also check Lexile.com for a recommended age range.
As you make selections, consider the expectations of your district and community as well as the interests and needs of your students. Also, remember that what’s most important is getting students to love reading.
You may also find it helpful to send a letter home to parents. It’s important to communicate that we value their input. Let them know they always have the right to request their child read a different book. This is also the perfect opportunity to suggest they read the books with their children to open the door for meaningful conversations about issues relevant to teens.
Books Recommended by Teachers
- A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
- Arcane by Sever Bronny
- Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson
- The Big Game by Tim Green (and others)
- The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusack
- Boy: Tales of a Childhood by Roald Dahl
- Boy 21 by Matthew Quick
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
- Chasing King’s Killer by James Swanson
- Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa
- Cinder series by Marissa Meyer
- The Clique series by Lisi Harrison
- The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
- Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
- The Crossover (and others) by Kwame Alexander
- The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
- The Egypt Game by Terreece Clark
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- Eragon by Matt Berman
- The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
- Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
- Ghost (and others) by Jason Reynolds
- The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
- The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
- Hoot by Cark Hiaasen
- The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
- How They Croaked by G. Bragg & K. O’Malley
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Just Mercy (YA adaptation) by Bryan Stevenson
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
- Left for Dead by Pete Nelson
- A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
- Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Monster by Walter Dean Meyers
- My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
- No Slam Dunk by Mike Lupica (and others)
- OCD Daniel by Wesley King
- Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan
- Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
- Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
- Schooled by Gordon Korman
- Scrawl by Mark Shulman
- Scythe by Neal Shusterman
- The Selection by Kiera Cass
- A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
- Skinny by Donna Cooner
- Summoner by Taran Matharu
- Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt
- Unbroken (YA adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand
- The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
- Unwind series by Neil Shusterman
- Warcross by Marie Lu
- Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin
- Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
What are your thoughts? Have you read these books? Would you agree or disagree with the level of “challenge” and “appropriateness” for eighth grade students? What books would you add to this list? Add to the conversation and collection by leaving your thoughts in the comments below.
If you’re looking for a way to communicate with parents about the importance of classroom libraries, ways to help students connect with reading at home, and books their child would benefit from reading, download this free resource with handouts for each.
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