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Good YA books for middle schoolers?

Good YA books for middle schoolers?

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Maybe this is just an English teacher question, but I hope not. I'd love to put together a Top 10 list of YA books that are most likely to get kids reading -- maybe a boys list and a girls list, with full crossover rights (smile) and share it at the middle school website I have fun with in my spare time. Anybody want to play? If you offer a book, please give me at least 50 words on why you think it deserves a high ranking. And feel free to offer more than one. I know you will anyway! PS: I've actually been reading some YA books recently to get myself more up to date. Just finished The Lightning Thief, the first in the Olympians series by Rick Riordan (who was teaching eighth grade just a few short years ago!). How does that play in MS? Characters too young? How about the Adam Canfield series by Michael Winerip (also a NYT columnist) about a crusading middle school reporter?

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Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture

Thanks so much for starting this very important thread. As many of my readers know, I believe providing books and even a classroom library is not only for the ELA teachers out there:

So this thread is near and dear to my heart. There are some really great YA books out there that are so well-written they put their adult counterparts to shame. They bring in high-level readers, low-level readers, boys, girls, you name it. A great YA book is one that lures them all into literacy because they are exciting, thoughtful, and applicable. They are the books that speak to tweens and teens about what they are feeling regardless of the genre in which the message is delivered.

Here are just some of my picks:

UGLIES - If I could pick a "one book/one school" pick for Middle School it would be this one. Think "Logan's Run" but a tween sci-fi adventure that delves into issues of identity, appearance, stereotyping, and all -isms everywhere.

EVERLOST - Well, anything Neal Shusterman. (I could do a whole other entry about The Schwa Was Here.) But this one in particular is tweens in a Purgatory of sorts. What happens after...? Big stuff.

PINK AND SAY - this picture book is great to help teach about the Civil War. I've seen 8th grade boys cry. Powerful.

SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT - I just haven't met a kid who hasn't loved this skeleton detective. Here's a review I wrote some time ago:

THE HUNGER GAMES - Picture a future or alternative Earth where the rebel cities are kept in line by having to sacrifice two teens every year to participate in a televised blood sport. Running Man, Gladiator, Logan's Run (can you tell I like sci-fi?) This book deals with politics, the media's ethical role in our lives, etc...

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID - I dare you not to laugh. It's light, it's right at their level of humor. It's practically a universal language for YA.

MANGA SHAKESPEARE - I'm a big Shakespeare fan. But I'm not so into those cheesy versions that translate the Bard's words. I still find the words applicable because he speaks in metaphor and I've seen metaphors cross cultural lines. I've seen ELD kids translate easier then honors kids. But the Manga aspect brings it to them and lures them in. Any in this series are great. Start with Romeo and Juliet...

THE OUTSIDERS - The ultimate, most perfect, reaches-everybody-book there-is. It won't grow old because it's about them.

OK, I've petered out. There's only 8 here. I know the minute I log off, I'm going to think of a zillion more.

I can't wait to read other lists. Thanks so much, John, for starting this discussion, and I hope to hear from you again real soon on the middle school boards.

-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Elizabeth Stein's picture
Elizabeth Stein
Special Education Teacher from New York

Great idea John! I'm always ready to talk books!
Heather,'s two more of my favorites to add to the list...

THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry is a perfect read if you're looking to trigger higher-level thinking and deep discussions. The ending is purposely ambiguous which leaves readers in the position to make their own judgments. The main character, eleven year old Jonas, lives in a futuristic society where pain, suffering and the need to make choices are eliminated. All is pleasant and peaceful--all of the time. A central question becomes, "Is it right to give up meaningful happiness just to get rid of sadness?

I AM THE CHEESE, by Robert Cormier is a compelling read. Each chapter alternates with the main character riding his bicycle toward something mysterious and an interviewer trying to uncover the boy's memories. The author writes with a sense of urgency that keeps readers asking questions and reading in search of answers. Readers can't help but connect to the main character. The ending is satisfying and not necessarily predictable.

That's all for now...

Lora Ma-Fukuda's picture
Lora Ma-Fukuda
mom & former exec producer

Wow, lots of great recommendations already! Perfect for the holidays (I have several teens to shop for).

Recently I read a great book by Bernard Beckett called "Genesis." It's really hard to describe what the book is about without spoiling the shocking ending (did I already spoil it?) but it's a great one for boys and girls who like science fiction -- and mulling over what it means to be human. This is the Amazon description: "If robots began to self-evolve, learning to feel and create as we do, what traits would set humans apart--and help us survive?"

Also top on my list is Philip Pullman's Dark Materials Trilogy (Golden Compass, Subtle Knife, and Amber Spyglass). I just found it to be an incredible adventure. Very different from the Harry Potter books -- feels darker -- but still the same kind of page-turning action and drama.

And a special one for the girls: A Room with a View by E.M. Forester. This book was my intro into all the rest of his wonderful books (and Jane Austen actually) but I read it as a teen and something about Lucy's story -- the push and pull between wanting what's "normal" and something more extraordinary is so relevant for this age.

Cindi Rigsbee's picture

I actually asked every language arts teacher in my middle school so that I'd have a range of titles to share. It was amazing to see thier faces light up when they talked about their favorite book.

City of Ember - fantastic setting with both boy and girl protagonists

Wreckers - every chapter ends in a cliffhanger and the class screams "DON'T STOP!!!"

Tuck Everlasting - as sixth grade language arts teacher Cristie says, "Just the prettiest little book." The author's style is beautiful so it's fun to read the descriptions.

Crispin - another boy down and out, orphaned and mistreated...we're pulling for him the whole way.

Jerry Spinelli books (Loser, Crash, Maniac Magee, Stargirl, etc.) The books are realistic fiction - kids make so many connections to them.

Uglies & House of the Scorpions - great for advanced 7th/8th graders; sci-fi adventure

Monster - realistic fiction, unique format (screenplay and journal formats), great for boys

Freak the Mighty - good for middle school boys - especially ones who haven't been successful in school

The Lightning Thief - many ages and genders love this book full of fun, fantasy, and mythology.

Bronx Masquerade - Nineteen kids write a narrative and a poem. Very real, relative, and modern, written well.

A Long Way from Chicago
A Year Down Yonder - both of these titles are wholesome and heartfelt, make you a better person

Warriors (fantasy series about cats and animals)

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture

A brief note about Avi:

There may be individual books by Avi that you may like or dislike, but you can't deny this guys overall contribution to literature. Cindi mentioned Crispin in the above comment, and it got me thinking. The fact is, that books by Avi appear on EVERY GENRE shelf. These books draw in readers of all ages and of all levels. And when we talk about the standard of "reading across an author's works" a young reader is bound to hit a genre he or she likes that was written by Avi.

I'm partical to The Fighting Ground - a Revolutionary Drama with a young boy who goes to war thinking it's going to be a heroes dream. It's told from hour to hour in a 24 hour period, so it's small chapters make for exciting reading for lower-level readers (especially boys.)

But I know many teachers who also love the political drama told in scripted format, Nothing Like The Truth.

-Heather WG

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

I LOVE this idea and am looking forward to getting good titles! I decided to have a "Saunders' Picks!" section in my classroom of books I've actually read and recommend to students. My plan was to order 1 book a month from the book orders another teacher was organizing. However, I find so many that I want to read, that I end up ordering several books each month! Many of you have already named some of my favorites but I'll list them again anyway!

(In no particular order)
Hunger Games/Catching Fire
Twilight series
House of Night series (maybe a little mature for Middle School)
Diary of a Whimpy Kid series
The Outsiders
The Invention of Hugo Carabet (I think that's how you spell it! It's also on my son's favorite list!)
The Skin I'm In
First Part Last

My son's favorites (he a 13 year old 8th grader)
Persey Jackson and the Olympians series

Sorry I don't have the authors. They are all great stories that really connect with kids. Adults love them too!

Rhoonda Howard's picture
Rhoonda Howard
6th Grade Language Arts/Social Studies; 8th Grade Language Arts

This book is easily read by fourth grade students, but it is the book I have used over and over to help my sixth grade students realize they do love to read. I recommend this book to adults as well.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron's picture

Wow, you've listed some titles I don't know anything about. How exciting! OK, I don't know if I've mentioned this in my prior posts, but here's a book ordering trick:

1. In the September Scholastic Book Orders, pick ONE catalogue that says 20X on the cover.

2. If you can get $200 worth of orders from that ONE catalogue (combine with another teacher if you want), you get 4000 bonus points worth of free books.

3. I wrote a letter home to my families, and it only took a few kids per class (I have 252 kids this year) to not only reach the goal, but surpass it. I got over 10,000 bonus points right off the bat in the beginning of the year to use throughout the year to keep the enthusiasm up for my classroom library.

I just trickle new titles in periodically and the excitement remains!

BTW, Are there titles we can also suggest to recommend to our math and science compadres to help them with their classroom libraries? Sometimes it's hard for them to get the funds or the titles to build a library, and every class should have one to encourage literacy across the curriculum.

Here are three:
Kiss My Math
Math Curse

-Heather WG

Donalyn Miller's picture

Some "newish" books that have been popular with middle school readers and well-reviewed are:

Airborn. Oppel, Kenneth.
Beastly. Flinn, Alex.
Breathe: A Ghost Story.
Chains. Anderson, Laurie Halse.
The Compound. Bodeen, S.A.
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. Sonnenblick, Jordan.
Elephant Run. Smith, Roland.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. Yancey, Richard.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Ryan, Carrie.
The Great Wide Sea. Herlong, M.H.
Gone. Grant, Michael.
Graceling. Cashore, Kristin.
The Lightning Thief. Riordan, Rick.
The London Eye Mystery. Dowd, Siobhan.
The New Policeman. Thompson, Kate.
Nation. Pratchett, Terry.
Night of the Howling Dogs. Salisbury, Graham.
Peak. Smith, Roland.
Princess Ben. Murdoch, Catherine.
Secret Keeper. Perkins, Mitali.
Waiting for Normal. Connor, Leslie.
When You Reach Me. Stead, Rebecca.
Wolf Brother. Paver, Michelle.

If you would like annotations for these books (too long to post!) I can email them to you. Contact me at

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