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!

Giants Among Us? August 25, 2016

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 2:08 pm

imgresHe simply needed a new well. At least that is what William Newell told the men that had come on the morning of October 16, 1869 to work for him. He took the men to a specific location and told them that he figured digging down about four or so feet should get them to water. What none of the workers expected was to find what appeared to be a stone man, or maybe even a petrified man. Could this be proof that giants once roamed the earth, as the Bible said? Could this be proof of Giants that the native Onondaga Indian tribe described in their legends?

Or could it actually be one of the most successful hoaxes played on Americans in the 1800s? The Giant: And How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy looks at a little known, but largely impactful hoax that was imagined and perpetrated by a man named George Hull, along with many accomplices. This Cardiff Giant, as it was later named, captivated the minds of Americans for several months before the truth finally came out.

This is a quick and interesting read about a little known part of American history. Recommended for 6th grade and up.


She Took an Ax, Or did She? August 20, 2016

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:42 pm

One of the most looked at, mulled over, and inconclusive murder mysteries in America are the Borden murders of 1892. Two people were brutally murdered, probably by an ax or some other sharp object on the morning of August 4th in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts.

The body of Andrew Borden was the first discovered, by his daughter, Lizzie. After she called for the maid and others in the area heard her distress and came to see what was going on, his gruesomely hacked head was seen lying on a sofa in the front parlor. It took some time before Abby Borden, Lizzie’s step-mother for most of her life, was found also brutally murdered in an upstairs guest bedroom, half hidden due to the fact she was partially under the bed.

With this double murder, the sleepy town of Fall River woke up, in a big way. The story soon was being carried all over the East coast. Who could have done these horrible deeds? The police soon began to suspect Lizzie, the spinster daughter living at home with her father and step-mother. The eldest daughter, Emma, had been off visiting friends.

imgresThe Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller is a fascinating look at the events of the day of the murders as well as all the things that led to the eventual trial of Lizzie Borden for the murders of her parents.  Many of the myths and stories surrounding Lizzie Borden are delved into by the author and most of them come up empty. Miller looks at the transcripts from the trial, reviewed the newspapers and searched out every lead she could for this book. Having read a book not long ago called Sweet Madness – a fictional account of the murders as told by the maid in the house – I realize that the authors of that book relied heavily on the myths and legends surrounding the case, rather than seeking out the facts. Of course, that can make it much more interesting reading for a fiction book, however, because the Borden case still confounds most who make a study of it, the reality is quite exciting enough for me.

Truly, this is a book that will keep you engrossed from the beginning to the end, and will leave with many more questions. If Lizzie did kill her parents, how on earth did she do it, and if she didn’t, then who did? The world may never know for sure.

Recommended for mature 7th graders and up.


Leaking Secrets August 8, 2016

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 1:34 pm

When does the duty to your country supersede your duty to your government? Are they theimgres same? For Daniel Ellsberg, growing up after the end of WWII, the threat of Communism was always at the forefront of things. So he decided to pursue a military career and when he got out, wanted to go into how the government makes public policy on things, especially regarding military actions.

Ellsberg ended up working in Washington, D.C. under the Lyndon Johnson administration and learned some things quickly, as the involvement in Vietnam began to gather momentum. He firmly believed that the United States had an obligation to prevent the spread of Communism and if that meant putting boots on the ground in that country, then so be it.

At one point, Ellsberg went to Vietnam just to see what the situation was for himself. He spent two years living in the country, going out with U.S. soldiers and seeing for himself what was happening in the country of Vietnam. After that, he realized that he could no longer support the war as he once had.

Upon his return to the United States however, it wasn’t until some time later, after reading a 7,000 page secret government study detailing the escalation of the conflict and showing how many times things were mishandled by four presidents that Ellsberg realized he could no longer remain silent. He decided to share these top secret 7,000 pages with the press and therefore, the American people.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin reads in parts like a spy novel or perhaps how NOT to be a spy! What is interesting about this case, is that because of Ellsberg’s actions, and the steps taken to “take him down” a president became embroiled in one of our nation’s biggest scandals- Watergate.

Recommended for any student who is interested in the Vietnam War or wanting to know more about the 1960s, Nixon or Johnson. Fascinating read.


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.


True Story Behind Man vs. Wild December 17, 2015


The Kid Who Climbed Everest

Bear Grylls, most famous for his hit t.v. show “Man vs. Wild” has done some crazy things on camera!  He’s run Class Five rapids… with no raft; he’s dove beneath the ice of a Siberian frozen lake… with no protective gear or clothing; he’s demonstrated how to effectively free yourself from deadly quicksand… by getting stuck up to his chest in some of the fastest moving quicksand on earth; he’s eaten rats and termites that he dug out of a rotting tree stump, and finally, perhaps most famously, he’s even drunk a bottle of his own urine to avoid dehydration in the middle of the ocean!!


But before Bear was the star of his own show, he was a member of the British Special Air Service.  On a training jump in Africa his parachute failed to open, and he fractured his spine.  Doctors were unsure if he would ever walk again.  After multiple surgeries and eighteen months of agonizing, painful rehab, Bear did regain the ability, not only to walk, but to train to climb Mount Everest.  Two years later, at age 23, he became the youngest Englishman to climb Everest, which is the highest peak in the world.  (The record has since been broken, just for FYI!!).   is an awesome book about this whole journey, and speaks to overcoming obstacles, true resilience, and the power of an adventurous spirit.


War In Pictures November 19, 2015

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 5:36 pm

The Civil War in the United States was one of the first wars to be captured withimgres photography. Up until then, images were in paintings or drawings often years after the events or battles themselves had taken place. With the invention of the camera, everything changed. The book Photo By Brady: A Picture of the Civil War by Jennifer Armstrong shows how important this work was at the time.

Two men were primarily responsible for the photographic documentation of the Civil War. The one most widely known is Mathew B. Brady who was a well known photographer of the day and had become known for doing portrait work. He was trying to make photography into an art form to give it legitimacy. The second person was Alexander Gardner who became a business partner with Brady for a time. During the Civil War they ended up splitting away from each other and Gardner created his own studio.

Both men were instrumental in giving the public at the time and all the generations afterwards a true glimpse into the horrors of the Civil War.

Recommended for grades 7th and up.



Two Ships, Cracked in HALF! October 16, 2015

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 10:00 am

In February of 1952 one of the worst winter storms to hit the Northeast also lead to one of the greatest Coast Guard rescues of all time.

With terrible weather pounding the coast and the high seas, two oil tankers, the Pendelton and Fort Mercer, both trying to ride out the horrible weather before heading into port, broke literally in half! Only one of the ships was able to get out an S.O.S. before it cracked in half, which was the Fort Mercer. The Fort Mercer knew things were bad and that they had sprung a leak in the middle of their ship, so they radioed the Coast Guard and ships were on their way to help them. However, the seas had 60 to 70 feet high waves,imgres-2 so any kind of rescue was going to be near impossible.

However, the Pendelton broke up in the night, and there wasn’t any warning so no S.O.S. was sent out. They were found purely by accident by a plane that was looking for parts of the Fort Mercer! This meant there were FOUR parts of ships that were floating in high seas and no one knew how long each section could stay afloat, especially in the horrible storm that was raging.

Into this nightmare, men were sent out to try to rescue them, knowing all the while, they might never return themselves.

The Finest Hours: The true story of a heroic sea rescue by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman is a fast paced, edge of your seat adventure story about the real dangers of the sea, and the real people who venture out to save people. An amazing story.

Recommended for students in 6th grade and up.