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!

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.


Hope Nation April 25, 2018

This book is a collection of essays about hope from some amazing authors such as Libba Bray, Ally Carter, James Dashner, David Levithan, Marie Lu, and Jason Reynolds. The editor explains this book better than I can in her introduction. She says:

“What is Hope Nation? Simply, it’s a collection of unique and personal experiences shared by some of my favorite writers for teens. Stories of resilience, resistance, hardship, loss, love, tenacity, and acceptance– stories that prove that sometimes, hope can be found only on the other side of adversity.

Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood once said that during a crisis, it’s vital to look for the helpers. The authors featured in Hope Nation are our helpers.”


Nothing But a Man March 12, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:29 am

Much legend and mystery surrounds John Henry – the man that raced an engine and won. How do you separate fact from fiction? Many songs were written about John Henry over the years and how he was able to dig out more rock than a machine.

downloadAin’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson tries to dig beneath the surface and reexamines old documents and ideas to determine if the current thinking on who John Henry was, is based more on legend than on reality. Could the real John Henry have actually been in prison and part of a work gang hired out to work for the railroad company? And if so, how did he die? Was it really right after winning against the machine? Looking at the many songs that were written about this man, the author is able to uncover some possible truths about who John Henry really was, and what happened to him.

This was a super fast read, but I wish more description had been given to the actual method for going through the rock and also how the machine worked. It was a short book and I wanted more!

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


And Then She Was Gone… February 28, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 12:36 pm

So much mystery has surrounded the disappearance of Amelia Earhart that it is hard to believe she was as famous in life as she has been in death, or presumed death. Amelia had an interesting life growing up in the early 1900s in the United States. She and her younger sister had an unconventional upbringing to a certain degree, and her childhood was happy until her father’s alcohol use got out of control and cost him several jobs downloadwhich forced the family to move many times. This made Ameila less trusting of marriage in general and a conventional life even more. She was a risk taker and got involved in planes early on. Mostly because she enjoyed being aloft in the sky and daydreaming.

While Amelia did set records for flying, and for being a woman who was flying, many times she seems to have lucked out. She wasn’t completely immersed in the machinery and knowing all the ins and outs of the actual airplane as many pilots are and need to be. She was more interested in just getting up there, even though she was very intelligent.

Which could be why she never learned how to properly use the radio, even though she would need it to make her attempt to circumnavigate the world at the equator.

Amelia Lost: The life and disappearance of Ameila Earhart by Candace Fleming is a fascinating read about one of America’s biggest unsolved mysteries. While the book doesn’t say what happened, it does present enough evidence through witnesses that she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, probably did crash land somewhere, but where has always and still today, remains the question.

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


The Klan Is Coming January 29, 2018

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 4:32 am

After the Civil War, the hope was for the country to come back together and become united. However, there were many from the Southern states who felt their entire way of life was gone and didn’t know how to rebuild it. The South was in a terrible state, in terms of how much of the area had been devastated by the war years. Many cities and towns were in shambles, much of the countryside had been pillaged by troops and crops and livestock had either not been kept up or were simply gone.  Add to this millions of freed people, most with little to no education or place to go, other than the plantations they had lived their lives on up until emancipation.

After Lincoln was assassination, President Johnson was sworn in. And though he was a Republican, he had sympathy for the Democratic South and halted much of the plans for reconstruction that the Republican congress had laid out. Into this mix came a group of Southern men who decided to start a “club.” At first it appeared the club might just be a lark, and a chance for them to get dressed up, ride around the countryside, and supposedly enforcing any laws that weren’t with the upheaval in the Southern states. Early on though, there were shaded of what it would become. downloadHowever, when Nathan Bedford Forrest took an interest in the Ku Klux Klan (which loosely translates to circle circle) the main focus of the group became keeping the newly freed people in the same position they had basically occupied during slavery. This meant massive terror for people who supported any Republican candidates – leading to disenfranchisement in voting, school teachers who were beaten and sometimes killed, churches burned and average citizens driven from their lands by force and brutality.

Finally, the U.S. government realized that the state governments either wouldn’t or couldn’t control the members of the Klan and stepped in.

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The birth of an American terrorist group  by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an amazing read about this organization which is still with us today. Knowing the history behind this group, and understanding all that they have done to many citizens of this country is plainly presented in easy to read nonfiction work.

Recommended for students in 7th grade and up.