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. If you would like to listen to booktalks of some of these books, please check out this site and enjoy!

Enemies at First January 23, 2023

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

download-2Valentina knows right away that morning that something is wrong. Her mother tries to make excuses for why her father didn’t come home the night before from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where he works. But even though Valentina has been told over and over again that the plant is safe and that nothing could ever happen, she clearly sees a fire in the distance, where the plant is located. Still, her mother insists that she go to school like usual. When she gets outside, things are even stranger. There is a weird smell to the air and even the color of the sky is wrong. And where are the birds, which was her first hint something was wrong?

At school, the girl who seems to hate her the most, Oksana, appears determined to create a problem between them, yet again. Valentina is worried about her father, and she wonders if Oksana’s father returned from the plant since he works with Valentina’s father. Oksana has her own worries, as her father is missing too. But she has other reasons to be concerned about whether or not he will return.

What neither girl knows is that the plant has had a terrible disaster, one that will impact the rest of their lives forever and bring them together in ways they never could have imagined.

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman shows how the Soviet Government controlled all aspects of their citizens lives and how two girls had to try to survive once everything changed. This was a fascinating and really good read.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Changing World December 12, 2022

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

Mary has always felt very secure in her life and in her village. However, since her older brother died the year before, and Marydownload-12 blames herself, she begins to realize that some things she always believed were safe and secure might not be. Mary is deaf and so is her father, but her older brother was hearing and so is her mother. Where they live, on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, it is very common for someone to be deaf. In fact, their whole village knows sign language so they can all talk to each other. 

One day though, a man shows up and word is that he wants to try to figure out why there are so many deaf people living on that island. After all, it is unusual on the mainland for someone to be born deaf. The man treats those on the island who are deaf as if they are less than and have something wrong with them. Basically he acts like they don’t have any intelligence. This frustrates Mary but at the same time, she is having issues with her best friend Nancy and is realizing that maybe not everyone sees the world as she does. 

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte is a fascinating look at life in the 1800s and how communities adapt to the needs of its members. 

Recommended for grades 6 and up. 


It Starts with Fire October 17, 2022

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

download-8Things are changing in India in 1857. But it turns out, not fast enough for Meera. She longs to learn to read and write like the boys her father teaches, but she knows that isn’t something that her father approves of for girls. In fact, Meera is getting ready to go off and be with her husband, a boy named Krishna when she turns 13 in just a few days. She has been married to him since she was a little girl, but will go join his family now that she is older. Her parents believe in a fringe practice called sati, where if a husband dies before the wife, the wife will follow him in death by sacrificing herself on his funeral pyre. Meera was young, but she still remembers when her aunt had to do that after her uncle died. Still, she is young and her husband is as well, so she isn’t worried about this.

However, there is unrest in the state of India, and many are rebelling against the control of the East India Company, a British company that had been ruling over India for over a hundred years. Meera’s life gets caught up in that struggle. Can she figure her own way out?

Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar tells about how Indians began rebelling against British colonization in the mid 1800s. Of course, this is just the beginning of the process which would take another hundred years to see the country fully free. Meera is just a girl living with many of the restrictions and rules that were placed on girls and women, not just in India, but around the world. And, as we know, many of these oppressions still focus on women today.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


When the Water Came August 8, 2022

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Novels in Verse — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

download-2Joe wants more for his life that what his father has. He thinks that by showing his dad he was able to save up and purchase a news stand on his own that his dad will respect him more. And then he can ask Maggie to begin planning their lives together. Or that is what he hopes as the country gets ready to celebrate Decoration Day, to honor all the soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

Some of Joe’s friends just can’t wait for school to be over, so they can go sneak off to the forest, and to the lake that is high up above Johnstown, Lake Conemaugh, a man made lake owned by members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Basically, rich people from Pittsburgh, PA. But people from the town aren’t really welcome at the hunting club, unless they are working there.

All little Gertrude Quinn wants to do is go to the big parade for Decoration Day! But with all this rain and the streets flooding, and her stick in the mud aunt, it looks like she might not get to have the fun time she is hoping for.

As the streets flood, and the rain keeps coming down, more and more people get worried about the dam that holds Lake Conemaugh in its banks. Because what will happen if the dam fails?

Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown by Ann Burg is based on true events in 1889 when an earthen dam collapsed and sent millions of gallons of water rushing down into the town of Johnson, where homes, businesses and people were in its path.

Recommended for 7th grade and up. If you enjoy this book, consider reading another novel in verse on the same subject called Three Rivers Rising by James Richards.


Finally Together May 30, 2022

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Novels in Verse — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

download-1Richard and Millie had grown up together with their families in Central Point, Virginia. It was an unusual area for that time in Virginia – black and white families would often get together for events and to just hang out. The rest of the segregated South seemed to disappear in Central Point. When Millie was in high school, she and Richard started to date and in time fell in love.

But there was a problem. Richard was white, and Millie was black and Native American. In Virginia, people who were white could only marry other people who were white. Millie and Richard went to Washington, D.C. to get married since they knew they couldn’t in Virginia. But in the dead of night, the Sheriff arrested them for being together. They were tried and found guilty of breaking the law for living together because they were of different races. Their sentence was they could not return to Virginia for 25 years, or face the possibility of going to jail. Both of them wanted to live in Virginia – it was where their families were and where they wanted to raise their children.

Millie hated that they had to live in Washington, D.C. City life was not for her. She struggled to find someone who could help them and finally she did.

Loving VS. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell is a novel in verse look at the important Supreme Court case involving marriage in this country and how the United States was still dealing with segregation and racism years after the abolition of slavery.

Recommended for grades 7 and up.


Struggle to Survive August 9, 2021

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

download-2That summer was a hot one, just like all the others in Mississippi. Yet Rose Lee was used to the heat, even if she never got USED to it. It just was. But that July, she and her brother Fred Lee got bad news, news that they should have seen coming but didn’t. Their mother, who had married a man to take care of his younger children, was moving to Chicago, without them. Not that they had seen their mother much since she’d married Mr. Pete, but still, now she was moving to Chicago, without them, and didn’t seem to have any issues with it. Of course, she’d already left them with her parents, Papa and Ma Pearl, about seven years ago, so why should she start acting like a mother now? Still Rose is terribly hurt by the fact that her mother is showing she obviously doesn’t care about either her or Fred.

And after that big hit, they just keep coming. The summer turns out to be one shock after another, and all of them are unpleasant and show how different some of her own family feel about events happening in and around Mississippi. Ma Pearl never lets Rose forget she is NOT the favored grandchild, not even close and makes references to her dark skin as if it is something to be ashamed of, and makes Rose think bad things about herself.

When horror strikes close to home, Rose feels like her connection to Mississippi and home is slipping away, and all she wants is to get away as fast as possible because she can’t see herself surviving in such a place. Is it possible to be happy when she is surrounded by so much despair and horrible history, past and present?

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson is a look at the south during the murder of Emmett Till and how many people were living with the constant battle between wanting to do what they knew was right, and being terrified of how it could come back down on them and their families. It shows how not everyone felt the same way about how to move forward and how that could and did create family conflict and how if things were going to change, it might just have to come from the younger generation.

Recommended for grades 7 and up due to authentic language usage.

“Find me on Twinkl’s TBR list of best books and bookish bloggers!”


What Has Changed? February 22, 2021

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

download-1Ashley lives in her nice house in the Los Angeles suburbs where the most people worry about is when the wild fires come down and houses burn. Well, that is what people think. But just like most places and with most people, it doesn’t take too long looking under the surface to see issues. Like Ashley’s older sister, Jo. Jo has become a huge source of conversation at their household, and mostly because their parents don’t know what to do with her. Ashley feels like that has taken some of the pressure off of her, but really, how much pressure can be removed considering she’s a young black girl, growing up in Los Angels in 1992?

What Ashley doesn’t realize is that an event that happens not too far from her house (relatively speaking) is going to change how she views many things – her parents, her sister, her friends and most of all, herself. Rodney King was beaten savagely by police officers and it was caught on video tape. Ashley and her friends are shocked when riots break out across the city after the officers are acquitted of any wrongdoing at their trial. Ashley, who has been sheltered from some things because of her well to do parents and the life they gave their two daughters, often feels apart from the other black kids at her private school. Ashley has three close white girlfriends that she’s grown up with. Now, with the riots, Ashley, her friends and even her family are all coming up against ideas they have long held and are having to decide if they can still live with those thoughts.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed is like a look back in time and a look back to last week. Never does the author make the point of how little has changed when it comes to police brutality and people of color – or how this country, almost thirty years after the Rodney King event, are still grappling with issues of race. However, it is impossible as a reader to not see how little has changed. Children are still struggling with where they belong and who their friends are, really, and our society still hasn’t figured out how to move on from the legacy of slavery. This is a really great read.

Recommended for mature 8th graders and up due to content.


Too Young to Fight November 16, 2020

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

Charlie wants to fight -even though he is only 15 years old. But he figures he has what it takes to be in the war – if only he were a little older. So, he decides that he’ll go register to fight away from his home town, where no one knows how old – or young- he really is. And that is just what he does. Charlie leaves his home state of Minnesota and joins the thousands of others who believe in preserving the Union of the states, and joins the Union army off to fight the Confederates.

Charlie has ideas of what war is like, but the reality is something he coulddownload never have dreamed of – moments of shear terror followed by hours and days of unbelievable boredom. To see the horrors of the Battle of Gettysburg, and to see friends get mowed down by bullets – to kill others – all things that Charlie realizes he wasn’t prepared for at all. How does someone survive something like that? Or do they?

Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen is a short, incredibly powerful look at how war impacts not only the body but the soul of a person. The character of Charlie is based on a real person who did live and fight during the Civil War and how he came back home a very different person than he left. As really everyone who has been involved in a war does. Highly recommended read for anyone interested in the Civil War.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Running Away July 27, 2020

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

downloadWhen school is taken away from Joan, it seems like the worst thing ever. How can she convince her father that school is what her mom wanted for her? How can she convince him that her learning is important – as important as her work on the farm for him and her three older brothers? It isn’t until a visit from her former teacher that Joan gets an idea. If she can only earn enough money from selling eggs, she might be able to get back to school and her dream of leaving the farm and all the hard drudgery that it represents. Yet, quickly it becomes apparent, no matter what Joan says or how hard she works, her father expects her to live out her life in servitude to the farm and to him. After one horrible night of screaming and yelling, Joan makes a brave decision. She will run away and get a job in a larger city. After all, they pay girls in the city to do the work she’s doing for free on the farm. And they pay well! But she knows no one will hire a girl of only 14. So a plan forms. She will need to change her age and her name, just in case her father comes looking for her.

And so Joan, now Janet, embarks on the greatest adventure of her life, and also the scariest. Through the best of luck, she is able to find herself in a wealthy household working as their hired girl. Yet, this family isn’t the typical family, as Joan/Janet quickly realizes and she has her own beliefs stretched as a result.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz gives readers a detailed look at life in America on the farm and in the cities in 1911 and just how hard it was in both locations to get ahead if you start with little to nothing. Looking at a woman’s life, it also portrays the struggles for creating something meaningful in a world that often ignored or simply didn’t care about that entire gender. This was an incredible read and highly recommended.

Recommended for grades 8 and up.


An Island Torn Apart May 4, 2020

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

downloadOkinawa is a relatively small island off the southern tip of Japan, but at the end of World War II it was the place of the last and bloodiest battle of the whole Pacific Ocean war.

Ray is a young American marine trying to find his way on this lush green island that the United States is about to invade. His father tried to talk him out of joining the military, but he felt it was something he had to do, plus it also meant getting away from his dad. He isn’t prepared though for the true horrors of war.

Hideki is a native Okinawan and he and his family have been separated due to the war. His father and sister have been forced to help the Japanese who took over the island years before, and his mother and little brother were evacuated on a ship heading for Japan. Hideki has stayed behind with a bunch of other boys around his age of 14 to become part of the Blood and Iron Student Corps to fight for the Japanese Imperial Army. However, Hideki realizes very quickly that the JIA has no real intention of trying to help any of the Okinawan and in many cases will use them in horrible ways.

Both Ray and Hideki struggle to find footing in this new war torn world they both exist in.  The question is what toll will this take on both of them, and will they make it out alive?

Grenade by Alan Gratz is a really good World War II historical fiction read. It gives a clear picture of both sides of the conflict and how confusing things were on the island and just how terrifying and dangerous too.

Recommended for grades 7 and up.