Books have the power to show early adolescent readers that they’re not alone in their feelings and circumstances, provide positive examples for how readers can speak up for themselves and others, offer understanding of those who are different from them, provide insight into real-world situations, and serve as a mental health break and escape from the real world.
Throughout my career, however, I’ve heard from teachers and parents that middle school kids just don’t enjoy reading. There’s a consistent theme that even students who loved reading in elementary school no longer read for fun as they move through the middle grades. Middle school students, however, do enjoy reading if they’re given books that interest them, that they connect to, and that are on their reading level.
There are many authors writing for middle-grade students who truly understand and capture the essence of what it is to be in middle school today. Introducing these authors and their work to students can reinvigorate students’ joy in reading and inspire them to read through series or authors’ collections. Here are 10 that are consistent favorites with my students.
1. Jerry Craft
Jerry Craft’s New Kid graphic novel trilogy expertly captures the unique and often overwhelming experience of navigating middle school, especially when you’re the new kid. The graphic novel format of his books captures the readers’ attention and keeps them engaged throughout the trilogy.
His books, which include a diverse cast of characters that reflect the authentic complexity of middle school kids, not only are entertaining but also tackle important issues that impact students in our world today.
2. Barbara Dee
Each of Barbara Dee’s books engages readers by developing characters and plots and embodying the honest and authentic middle school feelings and experiences. If students read one of her books, they almost always read multiple, and the most common reason is that they identify with the characters.
All her books are fantastic, but a consistent favorite is Maybe He Just Likes You. This book empowers readers to speak up, gives them language to describe sexual harassment, and shows why it’s important to talk to a trusted adult.
3. Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds’s range of books allows students to grow up with his writing, from books perfect for late elementary school to traditional middle grades and then more complex young adult novels.
Students enjoy the complexity and authenticity of his books. He also offers a range of styles: graphic novels, verse, fiction, nonfiction, and more. Recently students have enjoyed reading Long Way Down, both the narrative verse novel and the graphic novel version of the story.
4. Kelly Yang
Many students get hooked on Kelly Yang’s Front Desk series and continue to read many of her other middle-grade books. As they advance to high school, there are her young adult books for students to continue reading.
Yang uses her own experiences to shape stories that resonate with students by showing vulnerability, addressing complex issues, and providing hope. Her new book, Finally Seen, has become a fast favorite with students, and they continue to love all of the Front Desk series.
5. Jasmine Warga
Jasmine Warga’s middle-grade novels are beautiful and complex, explore the power of friendship, and use lyrical verse to capture the reader’s attention. Her books are all very different, but her voice shines in each of them.
Warga’s most recent book, A Rover’s Story, is unique and was an instant hit for many students. It combines science, magic, friendship, and resilience, and can be read by younger readers at a surface level or more deeply explored for themes by older students.
6. Alan Gratz
Students who enjoy historical fiction, and even many who don’t usually like it, love Alan Gratz’s books. He takes actual historical events and accounts and builds fictional stories that capture the human impact of these events on adolescent children.
Students enjoy reading about these events through the eyes of someone their age, and the books often motivate students to research and learn about that historical event and time. Two consistent favorites are Ground Zero and Refugee. He also recently published a graphic novel, Captain America: The Ghost Army, which students love.
7. Raina Telgemeier
Older elementary and younger middle-grade students can’t get enough of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels. Many students have read all her books multiple times and grow up with them. These are books that students want to own so that they can reread them over and over.
Readers are drawn in by the colorful graphics and continue reading because the stories are funny and entertaining and feel real to them, and they see themselves in her books. I have heard Telgemeier’s books referred to as girl books; however, please don’t categorize them this way. Boys also love her books, particularly Ghosts, Guts, and her graphic novel versions of some of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club books.
8. Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jewell Parker Rhodes’s books are timeless and powerful, and they teach readers about the world while also engaging them in captivating stories that encourage them to explore and empathize with different perspectives. Rhodes creates historical fiction, contemporary, and magical realism narratives that transport readers into worlds filled with adventure, emotion, real-world issues, and sometimes a little bit of fantasy.
9. Stuart Gibbs
Many students start reading some of Stuart Gibbs’s books in elementary school and grow with them into middle school. He creates stories with mystery, humor, and thrilling adventures that capture the imagination of young readers and keep them coming back for more of his books.
His main characters are very relatable and feel like someone that students would want to be friends with, adding to their connection and interest in the stories. He also has a wide range of tales, many of which are in a series and range in topic from solving crimes at a spy school to saving animals. He recently published graphic novel versions of some books from his popular Spy School series. If students enjoy his books, they have many choices to read before they run out.
10. Nicole Melleby
Nicole Melleby’s books address a multitude of challenges that young readers face in middle school with honesty, nuance, and authenticity. Her novels include topics such as identity, mental health, friendship, and complex family dynamics.
Melleby’s books invite readers to see themselves in the characters, reflect on their own emotions, and have empathy for others through story lines that capture their attention. Student favorites include The Science of Being Angry and How to Become a Planet, both of which capture something essential about adolescents’ mental health.