30 Spectacular Middle Grade Books Kids Will Love
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Looking for good middle school or middle grade books for your kids and tweens? This reading list will help you find new and classic must-read books for middle schoolers and kids.
I have a soft spot for excellent middle grade books. Though I don’t pick them up often for my own reading, there’s something about the best middle school and middle grade books that I just love so much.
Maybe it’s that the elementary and tween years are often when kids fall in love with reading and start to define their tastes. Maybe it’s that the very best middle grade authors seem to have an innate understanding of and respect for kids.
They don’t talk down to them, they address difficult issues, and they do it in a straightforward way that gets to the heart of the child experience.
Middle grade authors who write books for middle schoolers, kids, and tweens know that childhood and middle school aren’t easy and they don’t romanticize it.
They know that kids are often grappling with difficult issues, or that kids every day encounter friends and classmates who are. Reading books written for middle schoolers, tweens, and older elementary readers can help kids approach these situations thoughtfully, sensitively, and with empathy.
Besides that, I love how excellent children’s books stay with readers forever. I can still picture scenes from my favorite books I read as a kid.
My love for Harry Potter actually has nothing to do with the stories; I enjoy reading them with my daughter, but I could probably take or leave them in my own reading life.
What I love about them is how they have created several generations of avid readers.
These are readers who aren’t afraid to dive into 800+ page books, who can follow complicated storylines with many characters, and who celebrate a book release as a major event.
Even if you’re an adult reader who doesn’t read with kids or typically reach for middle school books, there are some here that are worth reading–two of them made my best reads of 2017 list.
Using the Middle Grade Reading List
This reading list is a little different from previous reading bucket list recommendations because I know that middle school literature may not go on your own list (but it’s great if they do!). Instead, I expect that you may be looking for good books for middle schoolers to read on their own–or with you.
I’ve included a few of my favorite classic middle grade books, but also some new, highly acclaimed, and popular books for middle schoolers, kids, and tweens.
I haven’t read all of these yet, but I plan to use this list to choose books from book fairs and book club order forms that come home from school. When I’m looking for middle school books for girls for my own daughters, these are the books I’m starting with.
I want to build out our library of middle school books with books that my kids are likely to love and read over and over again.
As you think about back-to-school reading plans, you also might want to consider your reading routines and habits for the school year. Excellent books like those below are one element of a good reading routine.
I’ve also tried to include a diverse selection of genres, topics, characters, and even formats (unfortunately only one graphic novel and one poetry collection, as I haven’t read many).
But maybe these will light your kids on fire for more! This list of the best books for middle school girls and boys will help you guide your own young readers to find books that resonate with them.
And if you want to go a step further, consider starting a reading journal with your kids:
30 of the Best Books for Middle Schoolers, Kids, and Tweens
These are some of the best new and classic middle school novels and fiction books, for adult and child readers alike. No matter your or your child’s reading tastes and interest, one or more of these books will be a great addition to your library and reading list.
Anne of Green Gables
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Anne is well-known, well-loved, and never at a loss for words. When Anne, an orphan, is mistakenly sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elderly brother and sister who wanted a boy to help with the farm, she shakes up their lives and the lives of others in Avonlea with her sense of adventure and optimistic spirit. I re-read this popular book for middle school girls in 2017 and enjoyed the Netflix series Anne with an E for a little darker, more grown-up perspective on Anne.
Bridge to Terabithia
Author: Katherine Paterson
I picked this up at a library sale with the intention of keeping it for my daughters’ library, but I started it one rare quiet day and finished it in a few hours. This story of Jess and Leslie’s friendship and their magical forest kingdom is as wonderful—and heartbreaking—now as it was when I was 10.
Author: Cece Bell
This graphic novel is a memoir of the author’s own experience navigating elementary school as a deaf child who uses hearing aids. Cece wants more than anything to find a true friend, but she feels like her hearing aids and her deafness create a barrier between herself and the other kids. They either treat her too differently or forget to speak so she can lip read and understand. Cece soon realizes that she may have differences, but they can be good and even give her superpowers. This is an excellent book to share with kids to discuss the feelings of people who have differing abilities, and how they can view their own differences positively.
Out of My Mind
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Melody is an eleven-year-old girl who has never walked, fed herself, or gotten herself dressed. She has also never spoken a word, though her head is filled with them. Melody has cerebral palsy, and many of the most basic aspects of her life present a challenge. But what she longs for most is the ability to communicate and show the world that the person inside is smart and feeling.
Her world is changed when she learns of a machine that can help her communicate, in much the same way we’ve all seen Stephen Hawking speak. When she starts to show her smarts in school and in a high-stakes trivia competition, will her classmates allow her to become a full-fledged member of the team? This book wasn’t perfect, but it was inspiring, insightful, and emotional. I especially recommend it for any children who may have classmates with cerebral palsy or other disabilities.
The War that Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada has never seen the world beyond the dirty London street that she sees outside of her window. She’s never seen grass or trees, and she’s not exactly sure how old she is (she guesses nine). Her abusive mother has kept Ada locked inside her entire life, ashamed of her club foot.
When her brother Jamie is to be evacuated to the countryside to avoid the anticipated bombings of World War II, Ada steels herself and sneaks away from her mother. They find themselves in Kent, placed with Susan Smith, a woman who lives alone and does not want children.
Despite her unwillingness and her grief over her deceased partner (hinted at in the book, but not discussed in detail), Susan cares for the children, seeing to both their health and education.
Ada finds solace in a pony, crutches, and physical freedom she’d never had, all while building relationships and new confidence. But she struggles with the trauma of her past. Is she worthy of being loved? Will she be rejected again, or forced to go back to her mother? Could her foot ever be fixed?
These uncertainties weigh, until the war comes to their doorstep and the stakes are raised. This was an amazing middle grade book, full of history and realistic, flawed characters. I was enthralled and I loved the sequel just as much.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, a young boy whose father works at Auschwitz. Bruno knows very little about Auschwitz or what his father does; he only knows that he is separated from all of the people behind the fence. He strikes up a friendship with another boy on the other side of the fence, which provides much-needed companionship for them both. This book is told solely from Bruno’s relentlessly innocent perspective, which is frustrating for the wise reader who wants him to face the reality of what’s happening. It’s unflinching, and you won’t be able to turn away, even as you can see what’s going to happen. I don’t recommend this for younger readers, but it will be impactful for pre-teens or young teens who can handle it.
Where the Red Fern Grows
Author: Wilson Rawls
The story of Billy and his two hunting dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, was one of my favorites growing up. I read it multiple times–and sobbed every time. Many readers don’t like how sad this story is, but I always loved the bond between Billy and the dogs, as well as the bond between the dogs. It’s worth reading for the way it depicts respect for nature and animals, as well as life in poverty in the Ozarks.
A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
I like encouraging kids to sample different types of books as they’re defining their tastes, and this is the quintessential science fiction kid-lit book. I must admit: I was not one of the child-readers enraptured by this book. I read it and the sequels, and they were just fine. I enjoyed the quirky characters but the story didn’t capture my imagination. My tastes, though, did not veer toward fantasy or science fiction when I was a kid. They’re broader, these days, and I’m curious if I would enjoy this more as an adult. This is one that I might try as a read-along with my kid–and then watch the movie afterward.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
I loved this book for the perspective I so rarely see in books: that of a modern Native American. Junior is a talented cartoonist who decides to leave his school on “the rez” and attend a nearby all-white high school. The story is both funny and poignant. It follows Junior through his difficulties navigating two worlds and feeling pulled by the expectations and sacred traditions of his tribe and world outside of the reservation that offers the future he dreams of.
Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan
This one is still on our list of books to read, and I’m hoping to get to it with my kids soon! Here is the summary: Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and Mama, Papa, and Abuelita to care for her. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard work, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression or lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances-because Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.
Author: R.J. Palacio
After years of homeschooling, August Pullman is going to a mainstream school for the first time. He was born with a facial difference that required several surgeries per year since his birth, and while he is now quite healthy, his face always stands out in a crowd. In the 5th grade, when cliques are forming an image is important, these differences are not treated kindly. August finds himself the object of ridicule and fear, even as he strives to make friends and treat others with kindness. Soon his class is divided between those who accept August and those who don’t–and the numbers aren’t in his favor.
This middle grade book does an excellent job of putting the reader in August’s shoes and showing what it’s like to be the person who is always stared at, or avoided, or whispered about. And it’s not just kids who do these things–it’s adults as well. This is a sweet book that I recommend for any kid and their parents; third grade was about the right age for us.
Author: Lois Lowry
Jonas lives in a seemingly perfect world–no pain, no inconveniences, and everyone contributes equally. But when he is given the role of Receiver, he must now learn and hold the collected memories of all past societies. Suddenly, he has a whole new perspective on his world and what makes a life meaningful.
Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
This is another one that’s high on my family’s TBR: Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd–but extraordinarily endearing–girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Author: Katherine Applegate
My kids and I adored this book about an old oak tree named Red that watches over the neighborhood and the many animals that live in its branches. For decades, the tree has been known as the “wishtree,” where each year people tie their wishes written on strips of cloth.
When a new family moves in and they aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms, Red decides to intervene. This is a beautiful, touching story of nature and friendship. Adults who appreciate books about trees will want to share this one with a child.
Related: 13 Eco-Fiction Books about the Environment and Nature
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Author: Eleanor Coerr
I still remember one of my elementary school teachers reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes aloud to us. It brought so many things to light: the aftermath of the atomic bombs in Japan, children battling fatal illnesses, a peek at life and culture in Japan. This short novel based on a true story brings history, empathy, and culture into one moving story that you (or your kids) will always remember.
If you and your child love the story of Sadako, also don’t miss The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako’s brother collaborated with the author to tell this story. The publisher was kind enough to send us an advance copy and my daughter immediately seized it–she has already read it three times! She’s also mastered the art of folding paper cranes.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
So many accolades for this book of poetry; it’s high on my list to read with my kids: Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Tuck Everlasting is one of my favorite books that I read in school. Ten-year-old Winnie Foster is enchanted when she meets the Tuck family, who are unlike anyone she’s ever met. She soon discovers their secret: they cannot die. After drinking from a magic spring many years before, they found that they never aged. Now they move through life, trying to remain inconspicuous and find purpose in lives that never end, and Winnie must decide if she wants to follow the same path.
This is a classic middle grade book that prompts discussions about family, choices, and mortality. It’s one of the first books that come to mind when I think of excellent middle grade writing: artistic but straightforward, and above all, respectful of the reader’s abilities to wrestle with difficult questions.
Author: Louisa May Alcott
Between the past, recent, and upcoming screen adaptations, plus Geraldine Brooks’ recent March, interest in Little Women has never really waned. The story of four very different sisters and their steadfast mother living in genteel poverty in Concord, Massachusetts, while Mr. March is away as a chaplain in the Civil War continues to enchant. That Louisa May Alcott herself didn’t much like the story is beside the point. Jo stands as a rebellious feminist icon, while the dramas, joys, griefs, and relationships of the sisters stand as enduring symbols of comfort, devotion, and perseverance.
The Secret Garden
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
A dark mansion. Mysterious wailing through the corridors. A beautiful walled garden with no entrance. These are just a few of the mysteries that kept me reading this book over and over as a kid. It was also one of my first introductions to unlikeable characters. Mary Lennox is a surly child, with few redeeming qualities (and several other characters aren’t much better). But the settings themselves emerge as characters: the manor, the moors, and especially the garden, which serves as respite, friend, and healer.
My only disappointment with this book, on attempting a reread with my daughter, is Mary’s hateful and racist language at the beginning. Though fitting for the story and character, like the Little House books it’s something that requires further discussions with young readers.
The Thing About Jellyfish
Author: Ali Benjamin
Everyone says that it was an accident… that sometimes things “just happen”. But Suzy won’t believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.
The Hundred Dresses
Author: Eleanor Estes
This 1945 Newbery Honor winner is a classic and powerful novel about the effects of bullying. When students begin targeting a classmate who wears the same dress to school each day, she claims that she has 100 dresses at home. The bullying intensifies until the girl is pulled from school. The students are remorseful, but they realize they’ve lost their chance to apologize. This book is somewhat subtle, but readers who pay attention will be prompted to think about regrets and standing up for what’s right.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
When Claudia and her brother, Jamie decide to run away, they don’t just run anywhere: they make their home in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. While there, they sleep in opulent beds, bathe in the fountain, and stumble on an art mystery that captures their imaginations. I adored this book as a kid and I think it’s one I would still love as an adult. I loved the kids’ resourcefulness, the fantasy of camping out in an amazing place like a museum, and I loved the idea that kids could be enthralled by–and potentially solve–a mystery that rocks the art world.
Fish in a Tree
Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the troublemaker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a mall with his friends, Stella (an elephant) and Bob (a stray dog). Ivan and Stella are attractions at the failing mall. He spends his day making art (which is later sold), watching TV, and watching the people who watch him. When Ruby, a baby elephant, arrives at the mall, Ivan feels a new urgency and suddenly has a mission. I just loved Ivan’s voice and observations about humans. I loved this on audio and plan to read it with my kids, as well as the new sequel, The One and Only Bob.
The House on Mango Street
Author: Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street is the remarkable story of Esperanza Cordero. Told in a series of vignettes – sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous – it is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.
Author: Alex Gino
Previously published as George
BE WHO YOU ARE.
When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
The Birchbark House
Author: Louise Erdrich
After we finish the Little House series, my daughter and I will be reading this together. We’ve already had some good discussions about attitudes toward Native Americans in that series, and I think this book will provide even more insight.
Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop. The sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas, then only a baby girl, was rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow and welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the much-loved classic about a young girl, Francie Nolan, growing up in poverty in turn-of-century Brooklyn. Francie is a bookish, resourceful child, caught between her dreamer of a father and her work-worn, practical mother. Francie is self-aware and a keen observer of people and the life around her, a heroine who manages to continue to seek beauty even as it seems determined to elude her. I finally read this in 2017 and it made my list of best books of the year. I recommend this for older middle grade; it’s a great choice if you’re looking good books to read for 7th graders and older.
Related: 11 Moving Books Like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Illustrated Harry Potter Books
Author: J.K. Rowling
Reading the illustrated versions of Rowling’s famous series turned my daughter into a full-on Harry Potter superfan. These books are beautiful; at age six, she examined each one carefully so she understood which character or scene was being shown. We of course followed these up by viewing the movies, which are also wonderful.
My oldest daughter and I finished reading the entire Harry Potter series aloud in 2019. Thinking about doing this with your kids? Read my thoughts on how it went, when to start, dealing with fears, and more: On Reading Harry Potter Aloud with Kids
Author: Lauren Wolk
Wolf Hollow is another book that made my list of favorite books of 2017. A Newbery Honor winner, this middle grade novel blew me away with its spare but insightful, searing writing–especially in the first few chapters, so I was hooked from the start. Twelve-year-old Annabelle is content with her life in school and on her family farm until Betty shows up in town. Betty quickly proves herself a cruel bully who has it out for Annabelle and anyone near her, including Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran who has befriended Annabelle and her family. As the stakes rise, Annabelle’s strength and compassion are put to the test.
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You might also like:
- Middle Grade Books We’re Loving in 2020
- 10 Books I Want My Kids to Read
- 10 of the Best Books I Read in School (K-College)
- On Reading Harry Potter Aloud with Kids
- 19 Fun, Lighthearted Books that Will Absolutely Delight You
- 27 of the Best Books to Start a Reading Habit
Others in the Reading Bucket List Series:
- 50 Books on My Reading Bucket List
- 30 20th Century Classics by Women for Your Reading Bucket List
- 30 Historical Fiction Novels for Your Reading Bucket List
- 30 Contemporary Fiction Novels for Your Reading Bucket List
- 30 Memoirs and Nonfiction Books for Your Reading Bucket List
- How to Create a Reading Bucket List that You’ll Actually Finish
There are so many wonderful middle grade books that I couldn’t possibly include them all here. Please share your favorites in the comments!