Books in the Middle: Reading for Middle School

Our focus is on books middle school students might like to read and topics pertaining to books for these students, and we are giving recommendations. Teachers, librarians and middle school students are the contributors to this blog. Enjoy!

Alone, Together July 31, 2016

Filed under: Realistic Fiction/ Contemporary Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 2:17 pm

imgresAfter his father died, Chris felt adrift. Not that he had been terribly close with his father. It always seemed complicated with his dad. Like maybe he was letting him down, but maybe not. Hard to tell. But now it was too late, after all, because his father was dead.

His Uncle Jack thinks that Chris should come with him and take his boat and sail it down from Alaska to Washington. At first Chris’ mom doesn’t like the idea, but then Uncle Jack wins out. Soon Chris finds himself aboard the Puff. However, it isn’t just Chris and his Uncle Jack. There is someone else on board, and his name is Frank. Frank is a boy about three years older than Chris, and Frank has nothing pleasant to say to well, anyone. Chris has no idea who Frank is or why he’s on the boat with them.

Before Chris can find out, he becomes seriously seasick, and the pills his uncle give him send him into the twilight zone. However, at some point he comes to, and realizes that the boat is sinking. Chris barely makes it up to the little life boat where Frank is already sitting before his Uncle Jack races back down for the radio, but the boat is sinking too fast for him to get out. He makes a last frantic effort to save the boys by tossing the radio to Chris, who drops it.

Chris does make it into the life raft with Frank, who seems to not be able to process what is happening to them. After some really scary moments, they make it to a deserted shoreline. However that is just the beginning of their troubles.

Fairly quickly they discover an abandoned shack, however, there is a radio with a dead battery and no way to call for help. Where are they, and just how long can they survive on their own? Frank continues to be incredibly hostile toward Chris, who struggles to understand why. After befriending a raven, who Chris names Thursday, Frank alternates between seeming to be nice and wanting to kill Chris and the raven. Winter is coming and the boys have to decide what their course of action should be.

The Skeleton Tree by Iain Lawrence is one of the best survival books that I’ve read in a long time, and one of the best books I’ve read this summer. It kept me interested from the beginning to the end, and I appreciate that in a book. The dynamics between the boys and the wildlife around them will  keep you on the edge of your seat. If you like adventure and survival stories, don’t miss this one!

Recommended for 6th grade and up.



The Creeping Shadow- Coming Soon!!! July 28, 2016

Filed under: Mystery and Ghost Stories — lpitrak @ 7:17 pm

Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud, by guest contributor Karen Bonarek, MLIS Student at the University of Illinois & Intern Librarian at Downers Grove Public Library

With the upcoming release in September 2016 of The Creeping Shadow, the fourth book in the Lockwood & Co. series, not to mention the first book in the series being on the 2017 Rebecca Caudill list, this seems like a good time to take a closer look at the series.

The Screaming Staircase introduces Lucy Carlyle, Anthony Lockwood, and George Cubbins, three young teens who are psychic investigators dealing with “The Problem.”  Fifty years ago, in an alternative modern-day London, ghosts and spirits of all kinds have arisen, wreaking havoc after darkness falls.  Only the young are psychically tuned to even see spirits, so young teams of investigators risk their lives every evening battling the dead.  Told in first person by Lucy, she joins the independent psychic investigation team of Lockwood & Co., headquartered out of Anthony’s home, to battle not only the spirits, but other, larger, better funded, more organized, corporate psychic investigation agencies.  The trio wind up battling evil supernatural forces at Combe Carey Hall, the most haunted home in England, which has claimed the lives of previous owners and investigators.

The Whispering Skull finds the group battling a mad, horrific phantom, a deceased doctor who tried to communicate with the spirit world when he was alive.  Unfortunately, his spirit is inadvertently released by George.  In addition, we learn more about the strange (and illegally obtained) skull trapped in a green jar that George has been researching, and with which Lucy has a strange ability to communicate.

The Hollow Boy brings a new dynamic to the Lockwood & Co. trio.  Due to their ongoing successes, the trio finds themselves with more cases than they can handle, let alone keeping on top of training and supplies.  Solution?  Bring in a fourth person to run the business, which adds a new dynamic and tension to the group.  The group also begins to press Anthony for details on his family’s secrets, which was what prompted him to open his own agency.  In the middle of all of this, London is suddenly overrun with an unprecedented amount of aggressive spirits; in spite of this, Lockwood & Co. is the only agency not invited to combatant the out-of-control threat.  Yet, somehow, that doesn’t seem to stop them from getting involved . . . .

These books combine witty dialogue, great characters, and just enough supernatural chills that won’t necessarily send you under the blanket, but might have you clutching one.

(Grades 6 and up)

The_Screaming_StaircaseThe Whispering SkullThe Hollow Boy.jpg


Today Meets Yesterday July 27, 2016

Filed under: Realistic Fiction/ Contemporary Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 1:24 pm

Thankfully, it is the end of the school year, at least for Jimmy McClean. He has been Zstruggling with two of his classmates, one a Lakota like himself, and another a white boy. For some reason they have decided to team up and make his life miserable. Jimmy just doesn’t know how to deal with it anymore.

Once school is out, his grandfather tells him he is going to take him on a trip, a trip to see all the important places and events that helped to shape one of the most famous Lakota warriors, Crazy Horse.

As Jimmy travels with his grandfather, he begins to realize that even Crazy Horse had tough times, and that by retracing this famous Indian’s life, he can see some parallels in his own.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III is a great book for anyone interested in the story of Crazy Horse, western life and how to take courage from those who came before us.

Recommended for grades 6th and up.


Beneath the Surface of the City July 21, 2016

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 2:25 pm

imgresNew York City, circa middle to late 1800s, was a MESS! Seriously! There were tons of people and conveyances and thousands of horses adding tons of manure to the streets each day. It could literally taken an hour to go a few blocks, simply because you took your life in your own hands trying to cross the street!

Keep in mind, this was long before traffic lights and anything else that would help people. Traffic moved at slower than 1 mile per hour. Many people knew that things were horrible, but no one seemed able to come up with a plan to make things better. However, one man named Alfred Beach thought the only way to solve this massive congestion problem was to create an underground subway system.

Secret Subway: the fascinating tale of an amazing feat of engineering by Martin W. Sandler tells the story of the first subway in New York City and all the wrangling that went into it. This story includes how “Boss” Tweed – a crooked politician – tried to single handedly de-rail the whole process and how some things are just beyond anyones control.

This is a great story about a little known project and a really fast read. Recommended for 6th grade and up.


Grim Reaper Gets it Wrong July 15, 2016

Filed under: Fantasy Books — oneilllibrary @ 10:12 am

imgresAt a school carnival, moments after RJ has her fortune told, the Grim Reaper appears and instead of taking the fortune teller, nabs RJ. Suddenly, RJ is dead! As a girl who is used to having everyone and everything go her way, this is quite the shock. Gideon – the Grim Reaper who reaped her too early, admits his mistake but tells her there is nothing he can do about it; it is up to the “higher ups” to fix the mistake.

At first RJ must wait in a great hall while all the souls get processed. When she finally gets a chance to see her life, she realizes that she hasn’t made the best choices. Still, it isn’t fair that she was taken by mistake. However, it turns out there is a lot involved in placing a “dead” person back into their old life.

A tribunal must convene made up of three angels, and Death Himself gets involved in the process as well.  Turns out that not many believe RJ deserves to go back because she hasn’t done much with her 17 years of life as it is. It is up to RJ to prove she should go back, by completing three tests.

It’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah Schmitt is book that could have been deep, but seems to skirt the shallow end. Readers might be shocked by the ending of the book, but probably won’t feel too much because of the tone of the book.

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


What is Reality? July 11, 2016

Filed under: Realistic Fiction/ Contemporary Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 1:44 pm

Caden is on the adventure of his life! He’s on board a ship with a captain with one eye and a parrot who is subversive and trying to get him to take out the captain and don’t forget about Callipoe, the ship’s figurehead, whom Caden thinks is really the only one he can trust. After all, the ship and all its inhabitants are on their way to the deepest part of the ocean for the best treasure in all the world. But the problem is, who can Caden really believe?

Caden is on a ship, however it is a ship of his own imagination and as he tries to sail ChallengerDeep-final-cover-hi-rezthrough the murky waters, his parents, his friends and his little sister all struggle with exactly what is going on with him and how, if at all, they can help him find his way to shore again.

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman isn’t like his other books – except that it pulls you in quickly. This book may feel at times like a fantasy, however, it is certainly a contemporary fiction piece. Shusterman uses his incredible writing ability to suck the reader into Caden’s world, and gives you the chance to try to make sense of it before Caden. This candid look at mental illness from the view point of the patient and the world he inhabits as he tries to come back to the world others know is at times heartbreaking and poignant – for the reader knows, at any point, it could be our story as well.

Recommended for mature 7th graders and up due to the complexity of the story.



It Wasn’t an Accident July 8, 2016

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Mystery and Ghost Stories,Romance — oneilllibrary @ 1:58 pm

Shocked from her casual life of privilege, Jo Montfort learns quickly when she finds out her father has died in an accident that her entire world can come crashing down. In the late 1800s in New York, the upper society prided itself on being discrete and young ladies doing what was expected of them. Writing for a newspaper and having thoughts for oneself were NOT what was expected OR accepted if you were a young woman. Your only goal in life was to marry and marry well.

Jo knows all of this, but can’t help feeling that she will be missing out on many things if imgres-1she just goes along with the accepted conventional wisdom and marries Bram, a friend of the family. It isn’t until she learns of her father’s death that she really begins to question everything in her life.

After her father’s funeral, Jo goes on an errand and overhears a newspaper reporter, by the name of Eddie, who insists that her father’s death was no accident. He says that Charles Montfort killed himself. At first, Jo can’t even wrap her mind around this idea, but it makes better sense than an accident with his gun. However as she begins to delve deeper in the mystery surrounding her father’s death and in turn his shipping business with Eddie’s help, she starts to wonder if she really wants to know the truth.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly is a fabulous historical fiction book with a nice dash of romance and mystery. The seedier side of New York is exposed and it will make girls very glad of the opportunities we have now, as opposed to the limited life lead just over 100 years ago.

Recommended for 8th graders.