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!

To Make A Monster December 18, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles,Novels in Verse — oneilllibrary @ 1:05 pm

We’ve all heard or seen or listened to something about Frankenstein. But do we reallydownload know much about the woman who created one of the most enduring creatures in the last two hundred years? Mary was the daughter of a famous writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, who is often linked as being one of the first writers to examine the rights of women, or the lack of rights for women. Unfortunately, just ten days after Mary was born, her famous mother died. Mary grew up with her older sister and her father, listening to famous poets and writers of the late 1700s and early 1800s talk about all kinds of interesting and thought provoking ideas. It wasn’t until her father remarried that Mary’s life took a dramatic change. No longer was it acceptable for Mary to listen to the conversations her father had, and the step-mother moved the family to the city and had Mary’s father run a bookstore that never did well. When Mary was a teenager, she was sent to live for two years with another family in Scotland, whom she grew to love and adore. Then her father demanded she return home to help work in the book shop.

Even though Mary wasn’t happy working in the city in her father’s book shop and to be back living with her step-mother and step-siblings, Mary was excited to meet a new young poet who had come by to speak to her father. Percy Bysshe Shelley was a married man of 21, and Mary was just 16, but their attraction to each other was instantaneous. They ended up running away together with Mary’s step-sister Claire.

Thus began years of Mary running with Shelley in an attempt to find a place where they could be accepted. In the process, Mary wrote one of the most famous books ever, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, which was published in 1818.

Mary’s Monster: Love Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge is a novel in verse with amazingly haunting black and white illustrations depicting the life of Mary until just after Shelley’s death. A fascinating read about one of the worlds most famous authors.

Recommended for mature 8th graders due to content.



Flying High Above the Battle December 12, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 10:01 am

download-1War had finally come. There was a lot of talk, but after Lincoln’s election, southern states began leaving the Union and it had come to war to preserve the country. One man thought he might be able to help the Union with the war. His name was Thaddeus Lowe. Lowe was an aeronaut (someone who flew air balloons) at the time the Civil War began, and he thought that the army should have an actual balloon corp to help determine troop movements, fortifications and other advantages that could only be seen from the sky. Lowe found some in the government more receptive to his idea than others, but he did find support with the first general of the Union army, McClellan, who soon made use of Lowe’s hydrogen air balloons.

Flying high above enemy lines was not something that could be taken lightly. The confederates soon realized the problem these balloons could cause for them, and right away began trying to shoot them out of the air! Because the balloons needed to go up and come down, sometimes quickly, ropes were attached to allow for just such an activity. Lowe often took up members of the military so they could gage troop size and movement. Sometimes the balloons went up during actual battles and were able to give important information to help the commanders on the ground.

Lincoln’s Flying Spies: Thaddeus Lowe and the Civil War Balloon Corps by Gail Jarrow is a quick and interesting read about a little known part of the Civil War.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


They Glowed Like Ghosts December 6, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 9:54 am

It was great work for good pay! At least that was how the girls looked at it when they started working for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation in New Jersey just before World War I in 1917. The young girls loved the camaraderie that emerged in the work room where they would bend over the faces of watches and other dials and painted them with the magical seeming luminous paint that held that wonderful element that had only recently been discovered: radium!

While the girls worked, they would take their paint brushes and put them in their mouths to get a nice fine point on the tip because painting the numbers with the luminous paint was precision work. Each girl was paid per dial they painted, so speed was of the essence. They were mostly young girls, some as young as 14, and making money they could spend on nice dresses and fancy clothes, while others took their wages home to help out their families. What none of the girls knew was that radium was a silent, but deadly killer and each time they put the paint brush in their mouth, they were letting the killer into their bodies. The girls were completely unconcerned with the paint – although some didn’t like the gritty taste – because their employers told them the paint was completely harmless to them. What the girls and women didn’t know was that radium had been known to cause harm and that had been documented as early as 1901. What was worse, their company soon realized that the radium wasn’t good for the women, but kept it a secret from them – going as far as to out right lie to them. However the company felt the amount of radium in the paint was so minuscule as to be almost not there. So what if the girls literally glowed from the dust that got on their clothes when they were in a dark room. It made it all more exciting for them!

After a few years of working, some of the women began to notice problems. Many of them had jaw pain and their teeth began to get loose. Some of them went to have them extracted, but the spot where the tooth had been removed didn’t heal. In fact, it seemed to make the problem worse, and more teeth needed to come out. One woman, Mollie, went to the dentist and when he gently probed her jaw, a piece of her bone broke off in his hand! He was appalled! He’d never seen something like this. And it didn’t stop there for poor Mollie. The bones in her mouth continued to disintegrate and then she got an infection which went down her throat. In the end she died a horrible death. Mollie was only 24 years old at the time.

She was not the only woman suffering. Others had terrible leg and hip pain and almost all had some form of anemia. The doctors were mystified – especially when they asked after their work environment. Because many of the women had moved on from painting at the dial company and were either home as mothers, or working in other places it didn’t seem this could be caused from work. Doctors had never seen anything like this. What could possible be causing this horrible decline in these young women?

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is a fascinating story of how several companies in different places in America duped the women working for them, and how the law tried to bring some justice to the women who were suffering.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in reading the history of this tragic time in our country’s past and how the repercussions are still being felt today.


The End of the End November 26, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 11:03 am

When did the Civil War actually end? We all tend to think of the ending as when Leedownload surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. But was that really the end in the minds of the southerners? What about their president, Jefferson Davis? After all, Lee told him to leave the city of Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederacy in early April because Lee knew he couldn’t come to the rescue of the city against the Union forces lead by Grant. For the first time in five springs, the Union finally broke the defenses of Richmond and were in the enemy’s capital city, which was only about 100 miles from Washington, DC.

Davis had finally fled the city with the members of his cabinet and also the gold for the treasury of the Confederacy. Still, even with Lee telling him to leave the city, Davis didn’t think the war was over. He believed that as he went farther South, the people would rally and more soldiers would volunteer to be in the army. Even after Lee surrendered a few days after the fall of Richmond, Davis continued to believe his cause was not lost.

Lincoln was not looking to go “after” Davis. He just wanted an end to the whole long bloody, costly, terrible war. In fact, even seven days after the fall of Richmond, Lincoln had not started a manhunt for the Confederacy president. And appeared to have no plans to do so. However, the assassination of Lincoln changed many things, including how the former president, Davis, would be treated. After all, for all the Union knew, Davis had been in league with Booth to carry out the plot to kill Lincoln.

Blood Times by James L. Swanson is not a book to read if you want lots of action and drama. Mostly the book focuses on the movements of the funeral procession of Lincoln’s body as it was taken back across the Eastern part of the United States heading for Springfield, IL. The interesting parts are when the book, in parallel to Lincoln’s last journey, track Davis’ movements and how he really believed, almost till the very end, it was still possible to have the Confederacy survive.

Recommended for someone wanting to know all things about the Civil War, but probably not for the passing interest kind of reader. Grades 7th and up.


Fastest on a Bike in the World! October 17, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 11:58 am

As a young boy in the late 1880s, Marshall didn’t see himself becoming a world championdownload at anything. Growing up one of eight children to parents whose own parents had been enslaved in Kentucky before the Civil War, he didn’t have much chance for opportunity, even living just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. That all changed when his father took a job with a white family as their coachman. Marshall came along to help exercise the horses and met the family’s only child, a boy named Daniel. The boys were both eight, and Daniel’s parents encouraged a friendship between the boys. So much so, that they even invited Marshall to live with them for a time. Marshall got a taste of life that not many poor blacks got – good food, nice clothes and Marshall also played with Daniel’s white friends as well. Because the white family was very well off, they bought both boys bicycles – the new rage that was sweeping all of America.

Marshall took to riding a bicycle right away. Soon, he was coming up with tricks to perform as well as riding it all over. When the Southards left Indianapolis and moved to Chicago four years later, Marshall’s mother wouldn’t let him move with them. The Southards gifted Marshall with the bike they had purchased for him. Because of that bike, he was able to get a job as a paper delivery boy and it was during one of his rides his life changed again. He needed a repair on his bike and so took it to a shop where he then showed some of his tricks. The owner was so impressed, he told Marshall he would pay him to do tricks outside his store to bring in customers. It worked! It was that store owner who started him on the road to success as a bicycle racer and world fame at a time when it was difficult for many African Americans to even find decent paying jobs.

Marshall “Major” Taylor: World Champion Bicyclist, 1899-1901 by Marlene Targ Brill shines a light on a little known story in American history. Taylor rose to the height of his sport, even though many in America didn’t want him to succeed and worked hard to keep him from winning races, sometimes through politics and other times through actual physical violence. All because of the color of his skin.

Recommended for 6th grade and up. A really fascinating and fast read.


Drown Black Boy, City in Riot May 30, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 11:02 am

Even though I live near Chicago and know quite a bit about history, this whole subjectdownload had completely eluded me until I read this book. In 1919, after years of migration and immigration into Chicago, tensions between black migrants and immigrants from Europe were heating up. For over close to fifty years, the stock yards of Chicago had supplied much of the area with meat and with the invent of refrigerated train cars, the reach grew more each year to include most of the country. Unions were trying to form to increase wages and improve the horrible working conditions. The owners of the slaughter houses however, didn’t want to have to pay more, and with new immigrants looking for work, most of the time, they didn’t have to. When the unions were able to get something going and strike, often there were blacks who would step across the strike line to take the jobs.

Even over fifty years after the end of the Civil War, blacks were still viewed as second class citizens. Most employers would give jobs to immigrants who didn’t speak English over black citizens so when a job opened up, blacks were quick to take it.

When World War I erupted and the United States joined the war, many young men left Chicago and left thousands of open jobs at the stockyards. With a war on, meat was needed in greater quantities than ever, so many blacks from the South were encouraged to migrate North to Chicago where jobs were available for the taking.

After the war ended, unions were still trying to get better wages and working conditions and many returning soldiers displaced blacks who had been working for the past few years. Plus, many blacks didn’t feel that the unions would equally represent them and were hesitant to join, and immigrants didn’t trust blacks who didn’t want to join them in the union. All these tensions led to fights between the groups as well as crowded living conditions.

This all came to a head one August afternoon in 1919 when a four black boys were out swimming in Lake Michigan and drifted down toward a predominately white beach. A few white boys on the beach began yelling at the boys to drive them away and then threw stones at them. At first the black boys were ducking under their raft but one boy was hit in the head with a stone and he drown. Right away, all the years of resentment boiled over and riots consumed parts of Chicago for days.

A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield is an engaging, and interesting read about a little known part of our history. While the book is about the race riot in Chicago, the main portion of the book is describing all the events, circumstances and issues that created the atmosphere that allowed the riot to erupt.

Recommended for students in grades 7 and up.


A Child Called It Book Review by 7th Grader Aaliyah April 26, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles,Student Book Reviews — bhomel @ 10:01 am

David was a young boy who was abused everyday by his mother. David could never go out the house, he was always stuck in the basement. He could never go out unless his mom yelled at him to go and clean the dishes or to clean the house. David went to school with holes in his clothes everyday for two years. He stole food because his mom only fed him scraps out of the garbage if she thought he needed it.

David’s mom was so mad at him for stealing food,  she filled up the tub with cold water and almost drowned him!. He didn’t die, but she did this multiple times to him in the book, The  A Child Called “It”, by Dave Pelzer. Dave Pelzer told us about how his mom really treated him when he was a kid. 


This was a very good book. I also thought it was pretty interesting to learn about how someone else lived a terrible life compared to my life. I recommend this book to people that can handle books with a lot of bad stuff that happens in real life.