Holes Louis Sachar Award winning best book for reluctant readers pragmatic mom pragmaticmom

Best Books for Middle School Kids from Actual Middle School Students

Favorite Books for Middle School from Middle School Kids

Once your child can read Harry Potter, the entire universe of books opens up, but what is age appropriate?  I have handed my oldest chapter books that were Newbery Award winners, on the thin side, and with decent size type only to find them a tad too old for her based on content.  I have a tendency to steer what I call “Grapes of Wrath” realism to middle school; I think these books are fine for 4th or 5th grade as a classroom assignment because the teacher provides context, but reading for pleasure should be … a pleasure. 

Another reason why some of these books are on this list is that, as historical novels, it will be a much richer experience to read them while learning about that period of time in history class.  But, as always, it’s just a personal call.  I have used the Boston Public Library’s book list as a guide.

My original list was quite sparse simply because I’m backlogged with chapter books for grades 3-5.  In a testimony to the power of texting, my Mother’s Helper Extraordinaire (and straight A student) texted her Straight A Student Friends for help compiling this list.  She said that she was shocked to get the list completed in 10 minutes.  I will read these books eventually, but they have MHE after it to indicate it’s a recommendation from my 8th grader Mother’s Helper Extraordinaire (MHE).  And who knew we read some of the same adult books?!

Please add your favorite middle school chapter books and chapter book series! Thank you!!

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Beyond Lucky by Sarah Araonson

A great coming of age boy story wrapped around soccer, heroes with feet of clay, and what it means to be a friend.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

This Newbery Award winner author was born over two hundred years ago, yet her novel, set in Medieval England, is an enduring tale of a son of a knight who becomes a hero despite being crippled and discovers that there is more than one way to serve the king.  Her book makes the medieval times come alive.  I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  MHE.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  MHE.

Deception Point by Dan Brown.  MHE.

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi

A mom friend met the author at an event at the Boston Public Library and really enjoyed meeting her and hearing about her background.  She bought this book for her son, a 4th grader.  He didn’t finish the book; it’s better for a slightly older age.   I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

My 6th grader is on her third reading of this “challenged” dystopian book trilogy.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.  MHE.

If you haven’t read this yet, it’s too good to be missed!

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

A Million Miles from Boston by Karen Day

Karen is coming to my 6th grader’s book club today! I really feel that she’s the quintessential coming-of-age middle school girl story teller. The book club meets about this particular book which is SO PERFECT for going-int0-6th grade as it addresses all the anxieties about change and friendship that I suspect all kids go through, certainly mine did. Add in a possible new step-mother, confusing friendships with both older kids and the opposite sex, and you capture the angst of a middle grader.

No Cream Puffs by Karen Day

Tall Tales by Karen Day

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

This is one of the best YA (Young Adult) books I’ve read that skews also to Middle Grade. A coming of age story for Janie, a high school freshman, hits all the same notes for middle school and is PG-clean. She grapples with fitting in but in a upbeat lighthearted way while being herself. What brings additional weight to this story is that a local Civil Rights story is wrapped into Janie’s story which imparts a message that one person can make a difference.

No Small Thing by Natale Ghent.  MHE.

Piper by Natalie Ghent.  MHE.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.  MHE.

The Misfits by James Howe

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

I am a big fan of Cynthia Kadohata so I gave this book to my daughter to read when she was 8-years-old.  Another friend of her’s also read this at the same age.  It wasn’t that long, the print wasn’t mouse-sized, and it won a Newbery Medal.  Right? Wrong!  In retrospect, I should have read the book first.  It’s a story about a Japanese family forced to relocate during WWII, a particularly sensitive subject for me because my mom was forced to relocated during the war.  It has a Grapes of Wrath realism that would be better served for a middle schooler, and it would be a richer experience coupled with learning WWII-era  U.S. history. I consider this as historical fiction. [ages 11-15]

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella.  MHE.

I did read this book also, and I thought it was a cute love story from the author of the Shopaholic Series.  I personally wouldn’t have guessed that an middle-schooler would like this because I think of this as Chick Lit.  But, to my earlier point, there is not a line between young adult and adult fiction, truly.  This is an enjoyable read on the beach.  I probably would not hand this book to my 8th grader but if she found it on her own I wouldn’t stop her.  MHE’s friends also recommended Remember Me? also by Sophie Kinsella.  I have to say I bought this book to read on a long plane ride and gave up.  It’s not as interesting a story so I’m giving a fair warning.

Savvy and Scumble by Ingrid Law

The View from Saturday by E. L. Konisburg

This might be Konisburg’s finest work, which is saying a lot given her two Newbery Medals!  This tightly woven story tells the story of four members of Mrs. Oliniski’s 6th grade Academic Bowl team and their unlikely state middle school championship, but also weaves together short story about each of the students reminding us that there is only two degrees of separation between kindness and love.

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  MHE.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass.  MHE.

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott.  MHE.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  MHE.

Beowolf:  A New Telling by Robert Nye.  MHE.  She notes, “Not as bad as orginal but pretty graphic.”

Maximum Ride series by James Patterson.  MHE.

My oldest raced through this series and is expected me to preorder the next one which I believe is the final one??


Witch & Wizard series by James Patterson

My oldest enjoyed this series too, which she also raced through while waiting for more Maximum Ride.

also in Manga

Not sure if Demons and Druids is a new series but just saw this one…

Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen

Percy Jackson series  by Rick Riordan

This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

The new series is as eagerly embraced as the first Percy Jackson. The Son of Neptune is coming out soon and can be pre-ordered (which is what my 6th grader insisted that I do).

The Kane Chronicles series is not as popular as Percy Jackson and I think it’s simply because Ancient Egypt is as familiar and kids find it confusing and difficult to keep track of. My 6th grader also liked it but she likes Ancient Egyptian gods in general. This is probably the key to a good match with your child.

Holes by Louis Sachar.  The Boston Public Library places this book under Middle School, but it’s also worked successfully as a book club book for boys in 3rd grade.

Mudville by Kurtis Scarletta

This is a great baseball tale that boys AND girls loved. It reads as realistic fiction but has a magical realism twist which makes the book especially fun to read. Epic rivalry between towns, Native American curses, dysfunctional families, and baseball — this book has it all!

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli

Will Tuppence, a tightly-wound freshman in high school, learns about love and letting go after a family tragedy. [ages 11-16]

The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewert.  MHE.

My oldest loved this book about exceptionally gifted children brought together and trained to help stop an evil twin brother from taking over the world, yet there is also a sweetness and innocence to this series that makes it appropriate for ages 9 and up.

The Land by Mildred D. Taylor.  MHE.

Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.  MHE.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

The moms in my book club swooned over this book.  They were reading it for their mother/daughter book club and highly recommended this book.  We almost picked it for our adult book club.

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Found your post through Twitter. Thanks for this i-n-v-a-l-u-a-b-l-e post for a homeschooling family with two young teens!

  2. From my LinkedIn Group Moms Extraordinaire:

    Mia, this is awesome! I can’t wait to share them with my 12-year-old daughter!

    Posted by Joy

  3. HoneyFern School

    Other suggestions from my middle school kids:

    Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

    Mother-Daughter bookclub series

    Ender’s Game (series)

    The other Giver books: Gathering Blue and (title escapes me)

    There are others, but that will keep everybody busy for awhile!

  4. Jim Westcott

    So many awesome middle grade reads, so little time! Great list!

  5. Hi Mia, I’ve had some great news. The Crystal a Navigator, ages9-12, is being considered for the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award. It is already in school libraries in MD, DC, and MA snd is a Momschoice award winner and five star Reader’s Favorite. The best reviews are from the kids. Learning about art is fun. Reading about a girl who got embarrassed in school and then didn’t give up gave me confidence. This is what an author dreams of hearing. Thanks nancy

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