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!

Life Was Perfect…Until it Wasn’t July 29, 2019

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Novels in Verse — oneilllibrary @ 10:15 am

download-2In a small village in Armenia in 1914, people are just living their lives in the Ottoman Empire. There are Turks, Kurds, and Armenian Christians all living together, for the most part in harmony. But the world events are going to come crashing into their lives very soon.

Shahen and his twin sister Sosi couldn’t be more different. She’s tall and strong and loves living in her village, dreaming already of marrying one of the local boys. Shahen, at thirteen, is still waiting to have a growth spirt and catch up with his two older brothers and he wants to leave this place as soon as possible. He has an uncle in America who has invited him to come live there, but Shahen’s mother and father want him to stay with them. Shahen wants nothing more than to fly away and start a life away from all the turmoil he sees coming. The only one who doesn’t see anything coming seems to be their father, who believes that all their neighbors and their village will not fall prey to the horrors that are happening around them. Even as things begin to spiral out of control, and other families leave, Shahen and Sosi’s father believes in the inherent goodness of others and thinks they will be safe. Unfortunately, his belief is misplaced.

Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath is a look at the Armenian genocide that occurred in 1915 and lasted through 1917 under the Turks. Around three-quarters of the Armenia population were killed – about 1.5 million people and their lands lost. Families of young and old were transported to deserts and left to die, others taken to rivers and shot. As World War I raged on, most of the world was in the dark about this horror and for decades afterwards, it was officially denied by the Turkish government.

Recommended for 8th grade and up.



Little Known Disaster April 8, 2019

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 9:43 am

Joana, Florian, Emilia all have something in common. They are all fleeing from memories, ghosts and the advancing Russian army during the last few months of World War II. Joana is traveling with a group of displaced people and while she has some medical experience as a nurse, she can’t stop some of the more horrific things she sees along the way.

Florian is running. He has many secrets and one of them is that he can’t get caught by the downloadNazis. If he is, it will mean certain death for him. Emilia is struggling to stay alive and not get caught by the Russian army. When she and Florian meet by chance, she decides she will follow him no matter where he goes because of a good deed he has done for her.

The path these three souls are on, as well as thousands of others, is captured in stark language in Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Each of the characters in this book is striving and looking for a better tomorrow, without much hope for the eventuality. One blind girl must pass inspection by the Nazis in order to continue on the journey, but anyone with a disability is summarily executed. A little boy wanders out of the forest and says his grandmother won’t wake up. A shoemaker knows that a person’s shoes could mean the difference between life and death.

This book, in addition to highlighting the many Germany civilians who were fleeing at the end of the war, shows how others became refugees during this traumatic time in world history. And it sheds light onto a little known tragedy that occurred in the Baltic Sea as thousands and thousands were trying to flee.

Recommended for grades 8 and up.


Peace or Revolution? March 19, 2019

Set in 1968 Chicago, this beautiful coming-of-age novel highlights the rise of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Sam and Stick Childs are the son of Roland Childs, a devoted father and a Civil Rights Movement advocate for peaceful protest. Roland is a personal friend to Martin Luther King, Jr., and his sons have grown up attending marches and speeches for black equality. Recently, however, Stick has been spending

rockandrivermore time with the local Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party; he is inspired by the Party’s free breakfast program, support for impoverished neighborhood families, and rhetoric about fighting violence with violence. As the younger brother, Sam has always looked up to Stick and followed his lead in all things. However, joining up with the Black Panthers means directly opposing his father’s commitment to non-violence and peaceful protest. Sam feels caught between loyalty to his father and to his brother, or between “a rock and a river,” with any choice he makes seeming to be a loss. Can Sam find his own moral compass and voice as he struggles to grow up in one of the nation’s most turbulent periods in history?


A Life She Doesn’t Want February 18, 2019

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 3:49 pm

download-1.jpgMattie is struggling to see how she can find a way out of her life. Her mother is gone, leaving her as the “mother” figure in the house with an angry father, and an absent brother. Mattie longs to leave her humble home and go to the big city…New York City to be exact. But the year is 1906, and young women living by themselves anywhere, let alone a big city is still fairly new, and Mattie’s father wants no part of it. Mattie is desperate to earn money of her own so she can have some choices.

She finally convinces her father to let her work at a nearby hotel for the summer, the Glenmore, where she meets a young woman named Grace Brown. Over a few days, Mattie comes to realize that Grace isn’t on a happy vacation with her young man, but rather seems distraught about something. When Grace gives Mattie a packet of letters and asks her to burn them, Mattie isn’t sure what to think.

But then Grace and her beau turn up missing – on a calm lake after going for a boat ride. Only Grace’s body is recovered and after Mattie begins reading Grace’s letter to her beau, she begins to suspect that the young man wasn’t as committed to Grace as appearances would have others believe.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly show just how limited women and girls lives were at the turn of the century, and how everything they wanted became a fight. Mattie has to reach inside herself for the strength to let go so she doesn’t meet the same fate as Grace, or remain trapped in her beginnings with her family.

Recommended for 8th grade and up.

If you’d like to listen to a podcast of this book (and others), click here.


Mass Exodus January 31, 2019

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 9:44 am

Nisha and Amil are turning twelve. The twelfth year without their mother. She died giving birth to them. So Nisha has no memory of her – only what she has gleaned from her reticent father over the years, and stories that come out once in a while from their cook, Kazi, who was working for her parents when they were born. The year is 1947, and for Nisha the only big thing happening is she is getting older. But the world around them has other plans. Nisha lives in India and the British are about to turn over the country to the people for them to govern themselves after years of being under colonial control. What Nisha doesn’t realize is that this means her entire life is about to change.

Many different religious groups made up India in 1947 (and today), including three large ones – Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Nisha’s mother was muslim and her father is Hindu, and they had what was called a mixed marriage. However, the politicians have decided that the new India will actually be split into two countries. Nisha’s family, because her father is Hindu, now find themselves living in what will become the Muslim state of Pakistan. Nisha wonders why they can’t just stay where they are. Who cares if their father is Hindu? He’s a respected doctor in the town and they have friends who are Muslim, including their own dear Kazi. And doesn’t the fact that their mother was Muslim make them part Muslim too? It is all very confusing to Nisha. But then acts of violence start being reported between Muslims and Hindus and their father decides they can no longer stay. Secretly they begin planning to leave and head south.

Nisha has no idea the struggles that lie ahead as she and her father, brother and grandmother head off to begin their long and arduous journey to a new home. The walk is filled with danger along the way and the likelihood of all of them surviving the trek becomes slim.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is a quick and powerful tale of a young girl, still struggling with the loss of her mother, and trying to understand the new world she finds herself growing up in. This book sheds light on a little discussed and told part in world history when millions of people essentially packed up and moved to another place. It is the largest mass migration in history to date with around 14 million people making this journey – either into India or into Pakistan. Close to 1 million people died during this turbulent time.

Highly recommended for 7th grade and up.


Literacy for All January 21, 2019

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 7:59 am

Lora is thirteen years old when her country of Cuba undergoes a major political Fidel Castro comes to power after he, along with other rebels, overthrow the dictator Batista. One of the first things Castro does is to create the Cuban Literacy Campaign. The goal is for the island of Cuba to be literate in one year.

Lora is fascinated with this idea, and after seeing posters at school looking for volunteers who can journey far from home, into the mountains to teach families to read and write, she begs her parents to let her go. They, however, are not as excited as she is. They know of the dangers and that there are still forces loyal to Batista out there, promising to hurt and maybe even kill the people going out to teach. Still, when Lora’s grandmother hears of her passion, she persuades Lora’s parents of the importance of this work.

Thus begins a year of discovery for Lora as she is tested beyond what she thinks she can endure. She has training to become a brigadista, and moves into the mountains to live and work with a family. She also has goals for each of the family members to get them to a specific point to read and write. Hanging over all the heads of the brigadistas’ is the constant threat of violence, to the families and to the teachers.

My Brigadista Year by Katherine Patterson looks at a little known event in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba became illiteracy- free in 1961 due to this push by the government to create an educated populace. It continues today to have close to 100% literacy.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.



To Touch the Moon October 23, 2018

Filed under: Historical Fiction,Novels in Verse — oneilllibrary @ 9:04 am

Moving from Berkeley, CA to Vermont is enough of a shock for anyone, but for Mimi and her mother, joining Mimi’s dad at his new college professor position, Mimi finds herself being the only student at school who isn’t white. Mimi is biracial – a mix of her Japanese mother and her black father, and to many, she is a mystery. The most common question she gets, “What are you?”

downloadMimi isn’t sure the cold weather of Vermont hasn’t hardened the hearts of everyone who lives there – because at school the teachers look at her strangely, the students look at her strangely and their neighbor acts like he can’t even see them. Mimi isn’t sure how long she wants to stay in Vermont.

But as the year goes on, she makes one friend, whose mother isn’t sure she wants her daughter hanging out with a black girl, and there is a boy who sometimes is next door with their surly neighbor who appears to want to be friends. What will it take for people to change their minds about Mimi and her family, and does she want to put in the effort if no one else will? Then there is the fact that Mimi wants to be an astronaut, like John Glen, who has just touched the moon. But how can she if girls are only allowed to take classes like home economics and learn how to cook and sew, but never how to build anything?

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton looks at a time in our country when we were going through growing pains, in painful ways. Women and minorities were reaching beyond the limits that had been put upon them, and began to, like Mimi, reach for the stars. This is a wonderful book.

Highly recommended for grades 6th and up.



Can You Escape Your Life? August 28, 2018

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 10:45 am

downloadXing Xing is the unwanted daughter from her father’s first marriage. Her father’s second wife had a daughter named Wei Ping and when her father dies, Xing Xing becomes a servant to the second wife. When her father was alive, he shunned the idea of binding young girls feet, in the common tradition. He felt women should be able to walk and move about, but once he is dead, the second wife can only think of making a fine marriage for her daughter Wei Ping. So even though she is much older than normal to bind feet, the mother does it.

Xing Xing is left to do all the work, since Wei Ping can no longer walk with her feet, and the Stepmother continues to treat Xing Xing horribly. Xing Xing’s only solace is escaping and talking with a fish she believes is her mother reincarnated and practicing her calligraphy when she can.

Then comes the cave festival in their town, but this year it will be different. For a local prince will be attending since he has yet to take a wife. Xing Xing only cares there will be a chance to recite a poem she creates. Yet, even with something exciting coming, it looks like she might not make it to the festival after all.

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli will become familiar to readers as a telling of another country’s Cinderella. Set in China at an indeterminate time, readers will understand Xing Xing’s frustrations with her limited world and root for an ending that will prove as wonderful as she is.

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


Across the Years July 22, 2018

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 9:01 am

Two sisters who couldn’t be more different, a mother who never seems satisfied, and a father just trying to make his way in this big wide world. Sonia and Tara are used to moving – from India, to Ghana to Britain and finally to America.  It is there that many changes happen in their family. Sonia is finally able to confront their mother about how she treats their father, and Tara fully gets into her characters to help her fit in and realizes she can act like no one has ever seen before and well, life goes on.

downloadYou Bring the Distance Near by Mitali Perkins looks at a family in transition from their initial roots in India to their final settling place of America and all the trauma and triumphs that go with it. How do you fit in, and still feel like yourself? Is it even possible? And not only are the girls having their own issues, but their mother must find her own way to be herself in all these new and strange countries. And when the girls grow up and have their own girls, what challenges do the children of immigrants face that are different from their own mothers?

This book can be confusing at times and I would recommend sitting down and reading it for long periods of time, otherwise you will loose the thread of the story. There are a lot of nicknames for each of the characters in the book, which can also be daunting if you stop and start the story. As a reader, I was able to connect mostly with the last part of the book, which I enjoyed immensely. The book encompasses many years and as a result does jump in time so be prepared for that to happen.

Recommended for 8th grade and up because of the complexity of the story, not due to content. Really interesting look at the immigrant experience from many different perspectives.


Blood in Kansas May 22, 2018

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 11:36 am

Not much in Kansas, except for wind and cows. Yet this is where Carly’s family has moved, three years ago, when her father felt that life out East had become too complicated. He was a defense lawyer and too many people thought he shouldn’t be representing people they felt were clearly guilty.

Carly has struggled to make friends and not feel like the complete outsider that everyone in the small town of Holcomb treats her as. She desperately wants to be friends,

downloadbest friends, with Nancy Clutter, a popular vivacious girl with an adorable boyfriend. But Nancy has made it pretty clear that Carly isn’t best friend material. Still, Carly holds out hope when Nancy asks her to secretly tutor her in Math. Carly keeps her fingers crossed that soon, Nancy will see her as a good friend.

Before that can happen though, tragedy strikes the small town of Holcomb. All members of the Clutter family still living at home, including Nancy’s younger brother and both parents, are found brutally murdered in their home on a November Sunday morning in 1959. Now Carly has lost all chance of becoming better friends with Nancy, and she grieves for what could have been. Everyone in town begins to suspect everyone, but especially Nancy’s boyfriend, Bobby. Carly can’t believe Bobby could have done such a horrible act, and decides she will set out to clear his name. Only nothing goes as hoped or planned.

No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear is a fictionalized account of a real murder that happened in 1959 of a family in Holcomb, KS. While the reader can feel for Carly as the outsider, the story tends to jump around and it is often unclear why Carly has such a strong motivation for doing what she does. It would have been nice for the author to include a more detailed author’s note – with more about the crime rather than focusing on why the author felt compelled to write about the incident. It could have been an interesting read for students beginning to get into the genre of True Crime or other fictionalized accounts of real events. Still, some students might be drawn to it simply because of the topic.

Recommended for students in 7th grade and up.