Best Books for Middle School Girls
I do love a good Top 10 List and this list is chapter books for middle school girls for ages 10-14 (middle-school-girl-ish-give-or-take-a-year-or-two) from ChristinaReads is a really good one of her childhood favorites! I have only read half her list, but the books that I’ve read are such winners that it makes me want to read the rest of her list. Clearly the woman has great taste! This is a list worth having your daughter work her way through. Let me know what you think? And please check out ChristinaReads excellent blog!
1. Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. This is my all-time favorite book from childhood, and I still love it. It’s about a girl named Kit who moves from a carefree life in Barbados to the restrictive, Puritanical society of colonial New England. The book depicts this society wonderfully, making that period of American history come alive. The historical information about the Salem Witch Trials and the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule blends beautifully with Kit’s personal journey towards adulthood. The various characters are also wonderful, and even those who appear unsympathetic have some redeeming qualities. I honestly can’t praise this book enough; I’d recommend it to anyone, children and adults alike!
2. E. L. Konigsburg, The View from Saturday. You might recognize Konigsburg’s name from the more famous From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but personally I’ve always preferred The View from Saturday. This book is told from the perspectives of four sixth-grade children whose lives unexpectedly converge when they become teammates for an interscholastic academic competition. All four children are extremely intelligent, and they each have a unique way of seeing the world. I loved this book because I felt like I could identify with all the main characters, particularly Nadia, the only girl on the team. I also learned a lot of random interesting facts, because the narrative frequently flashed back to the competition and described some of the questions and answers. I think that, in real life, many smart or “gifted” children are misfits socially, and this book does a wonderful job of depicting that innocence and awkwardness.
3. Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted. I didn’t read this book until my late teens, so I can’t call it a childhood favorite, but I very much enjoyed this clever retelling of the Cinderella story. The problem with traditional Cinderella stories is that it’s hard to root for a heroine who would allow herself to be bullied by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Levine adds a wonderful twist to the story: Ella is obedient because she has to be — she’s under a curse. In this version of the tale, Ella must find the fairy godmother who gave her the “gift” of obedience and convince the fairy to undo her spell. Otherwise, she might be compelled to do something horrible, such as murder the kindhearted prince Charmont whom she’s grown to love. This is a creative and charming twist on the Cinderella story, and it has a good lesson for young girls about determination and inner strength.
4. L. M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island. I loved all the “Anne” books as a child, but this one was always my favorite. It’s the third book in the series, where Anne finally has the chance to go to Redmond College. There she reconnects with old friends and makes several new ones, including the frivolous yet quite intelligent Philippa Gordon. I really liked reading about Anne’s adventures at college, and I think she matures a lot during the course of this novel. I must admit, I also loved this book the most because it’s the one where Anne finally realizes her true love for…well, you know who. 🙂 These books are so sweet and uplifting, and the little anecdotes about the eccentric people Anne meets are always charming. Revisiting these books just makes me happy, and I know I can always turn to them for a nostalgic, comforting read.
5. Lois Lowry, Number the Stars. This book will always stand out in my mind as the first book I ever read about the Holocaust, and I still think it’s one of the best, at least of those written for children. It’s the story of a Christian girl living in Denmark and her Jewish best friend, and it takes place during the German occupation of Denmark. When the Germans start passing laws that discriminate against Jews, Christian Annemarie and her family decide to hide her best friend Ellen from the soldiers. This book does not directly address the horror of the Holocaust, but it depicts the fear felt by 10-year-old Annemarie very well. It also shows the heroism of ordinary people who did their best to rescue Jews in defiance of the laws, as well as the difficulties they faced. The book’s ending is a hopeful one, focusing on the triumphs that some brave individuals managed to achieve. I definitely think all young children should read this book.
6. Karen Cushman, Catherine, Called Birdy. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that this book sparked my fascination with the Middle Ages. It’s the story of 14-year-old Catherine, the daughter of a moderately well-off gentleman who wants to marry her off to an even richer gentleman. The book is composed of her diary entries, where she muses about her lot in life and observes the strange behavior of the adults around her. Initially, Catherine is immature and full of complaints, but she definitely grows and matures throughout the novel. I remember being completely fascinated by her depiction of medieval life and how different it was from my own. I also thought her voice was hysterically funny — her unique approach to swearing remains one of the most memorable aspects of the book to me (“God’s thumbs!”). Oh, and the various tricks she played on the suitors who tried to court her — hilarious! This is another book that’s stayed with me since childhood — and, like most of the others on this list, it’s still on my shelves.
7. Gene Stratton-Porter, A Girl of the Limberlost. This sweet book follows the lovely and independent Elnora Comstock, who is fascinated by nature and whose passion is collecting rare moths. In the first half of the book, she struggles with snobbery at the local high school and with a mother who (for reasons that become clear later in the book) hates her. In the second half, she falls in love for the first time, but the experience is bittersweet because the man in question is engaged to somebody else. Like Rose in Bloom (see #8), this is a sweet, wholesome story that just lifts my spirits.
8. Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom. This sequel to Eight Cousins revisits the Campbell family when Rose and all her cousins have grown up. Now Rose must navigate the confusing world of high society; and, as a wealthy and beautiful young woman, she must choose between her many suitors, some of whom are just after her fortune. Alcott’s books — at least the ones written for children — are refreshingly wholesome, and sometimes it’s just nice to read a book where the biggest “sins” are things like flirting and (funnily enough) reading inappropriate novels. 🙂 There are some wonderfully romantic moments in the book, and Rose must ponder difficult questions about her place in the world. Reading this book transports me to a simpler time, and it’s often a welcome relief from the stress of modern life.
9. Virginia Euwer Wolff, The Mozart Season. This is another book whose main character I really identified with. Twelve-year-old Allegra is something of a violin prodigy, and she enters a music competition where she must learn to play a Mozart concerto better than everyone else. (No, I wasn’t a prodigy, but I did play the piano for several years and was involved in annual competitions). As she prepares for the competition, she also matures into adolescence and begins to perceive the world around her in a new way. I appreciated the musical descriptions in this novel, and there’s a very memorable storyline with a confused, homeless man who desperately wants to remember a particular song he heard long ago. The book is somewhat melancholy, but in a very good way, and it’s yet another childhood favorite of mine.
10. Judy Blume, Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson. What girl didn’t read a ton of Judy Blume in her pre-teen years? This particular book was my favorite of hers, even though I didn’t initially realize that it was the second in a series. It must have stood alone fairly well! Rachel is another protagonist who’s something of a misfit because of her intelligence. She also feels some pressure to be the “perfect” child because of her older brother Charles, who is constantly getting into trouble and annoying her parents. This is a quintessential coming-of-age novel complete with first crushes, changing friendships, and a new perspective on the world. It’s funny in some places, sad in others, and I just remember really loving it. This is the only book on the list that I don’t currently own — but I definitely checked it out of the library several times! I’ll have to find a copy of my own now.
These are my childhood favorites, and they’ve really stayed with me through the years. What books did you love as a child?