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!

Humor Born from Struggle December 16, 2019

Filed under: Humor,Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

Imagine growing up knowing your very existence was against the laws of your That you couldn’t say “Dad” in public to your own father, because you could be taken away from your mother and put in an orphanage, and your parents could be arrested. All because of race. Welcome to Trevor Noah’s life.

Growing up, at least when he was under ten, Trevor lived under the system known as Apartheid. This meant that the government had instituted a system of racism and figured out a way to classify everyone. Based on your skin color (and language which in many cases was set by your skin color), your life was set. If you were black, you lived in the worst parts of the country, had little education, and were destined to work menial jobs your whole life. Coloreds (people of mixed ancestry from colonial days) were in the second rung and the whites occupied the top tiers of society and controlled not only the government, but also the economy.

Now, being just a kid, Trevor didn’t really get all of this. So when he went to visit his grandmother, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t go outside and play with his cousins in Soweto – a black only township – that had been created by the government as a place to house black workers. He couldn’t go outside because Trevor was mixed, or colored, although he wasn’t colored because of colonial times. His mother, who was black, had decided she wanted a child. And she picked a white man from Switzerland to be her child’s father. Trevor’s years growing up were filled with pranks, close calls and a real story of finding oneself in the midst of poverty and hope.

It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah is a funny, tragic, uplifting story giving insight into another whole world. The part in the book where he talks about his good friend, Hitler, is really eye opening. Many children in South Africa are named Hitler. He gives a really interesting and thought provoking answer for why.

Highly recommended book for grades 8 and up.


War in the Water December 9, 2019

Filed under: graphic novel,Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:00 am

Many of us know a lot about the Civil War, or at least some of the battles that weredownload.jpg fought, some of the main players, and what it was about. But how many of us know names like Will Cushing, John Ericsson, Gideon Welles (A.K.A. Father Neptune) or Gustavus Fox? If you are like me, I didn’t… until I read this book.

When war broke out between the states, it became a main strategy for the Union government to try to squeeze the life out of the South. The way they sought to do this was through a plan called Anaconda. If the South couldn’t get their goods to markets, they had no money to fight a war and no way to get in needed supplies. So how to stop them? But not letting any of their ships out. Of course, the South had a large coastline. Virtually all of the states that seceded from the Union had a coastline. This meant the Union had a lot of water to cover. And when the war began, they had four ships! Yes, just four! They had a shipyard that could make more, but, it was in Virginia and they lost the yard when Virginia seceded. Not only did they lose the shipyard, but their best ship at the time called the Merrimack.

How on earth would the Union be able to  stop the South when they had the shipyards AND the Union’s top ship?

Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale is a  super fast read and really informative about the battle for the coastline during the Civil War. Highly recommended for its readability as well as just a great story and learning about one of the more daring sailors of the time and the pranks he pulled, and got away with, was great fun.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Bones Do Tell Tales November 4, 2019

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:01 pm

Imagine you are just going about your business, doing your job, when suddenly, a humandownload-9 skull rolls out at your feet! Quite the shock, right? That is exactly what happened one day near Albany, New York in 2005. A backhoe was scooping up dirt to lay a sewer pipe when an object was dislodged by the digging a a construction worker realized it was a skull. Obviously work stopped right away. 

Quickly the police were called in to make sure they weren’t disturbing a crime scene. And what they discovered was a shock to many. It turns out they had stumbled upon the slave graveyard of a large family farm owned by the Schuyler’s until 1910. While the Schuyler family cemetery was closer to the main house and clearly marked, where the slaves had been buried was lost over time, probably due to just stones or wooden grave markers used to designate the graves. 

Archaeologists can learn a lot about how people lived in the past from studying how people were buried, what condition their bones were in at the time of death, and even doing DNA and isotope testing to show what areas of the country and world the people had lived in. This finding added to the growing body of knowledge about people who were enslaved in the north.

Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a slave cemetery by Lois Miner Huey is a fascinating look into the lives of enslaved people living in the north and how their lives differed and were the same as those in the south.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Famous Deadly Couple June 24, 2019

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 12:54 pm

Just a couple of young people, falling in love, during the Great Depression in the Uniteddownload States. What could go wrong with that? Plenty, if your names are Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

During the Great Depression, it was very hard to find work, and for people that were already struggling or poor, this made life very difficult for them. Clyde was growing up in a family that had always had trouble getting money, and unfortunately for him, he quickly turned to robbery as a way to get the things that he wanted. Prison and jails were no picnic at that time, and Clyde, at an early age, found himself locked up in prison serving time. It was a very hard few years for Clyde, and it was in prison that he committed his first murder – although he wasn’t tried for it, probably because it was an inmate and another inmate had helped Clyde in the fight. While Clyde was already having issues with the law, it is certain his horrible experiences with the guards and the abuse he suffered in prison contributed to his absolute refusal to ever be caught and sent back to that place once he was freed.

Bonnie was a vivacious young woman who had her pick of the guys. In fact, she married quite young, just before her 16th birthday, but it was a romance that was troubled from the very beginning. Her husband Roy, later left her for longer and longer periods of time and was eventually arrested for burglary and sent to prison. When he did return some time later, Bonnie wouldn’t take him back. It was after the stock market crash of 1929 and when most people were losing their jobs that Bonnie met Clyde at her brother’s house. The two were instantly attracted to each other.

Bonnie and Clyde: the Making of a Legend by Karen Blumenthal chronicles in detail the lives of these two doomed young people as they began to spiral more and more out of control. The book does a lot to help separate the myth from reality when it comes to one of the most notorious criminal pairings in American history.

Recommended for grades 8 and up.


Wanted by No One May 20, 2019

Filed under: graphic novel,Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 11:46 am

As the war in Syria began in 2011, many thought that the ruler, president Bashar Al-downloadAssad’s government would fall as other muslim countries had in the Arab Spring uprising that had been sweeping the region in North Africa. But many underestimated Assad’s grip on the country and that he would get military and political support from Russia.  As always it is the civilians who are caught up in any war, and in a civil war, as the country divides, it can be doubly so.

After days of rioting by civilians asking for their rights, Assad’s military forces went after Syrians and began a war that is still raging today (in 2019). Executions and massacres became common and many people were scared. At that point, civilians began leaving their homes in the hopes of a chance to get away from the war. At first, people went to Jordan and Lebanon and others went to Turkey.

To make matters worse, Islamic jihadists began to join the fight against Assad and brought with them their own brand of terror as they forced the communities they invaded to adhere to strict Islamic law. The people of Syria felt they were caught between two forces with no end in sight. By this point, millions of people were forced from their homes by violence or the threat of violence.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian refugees by Don Brown is a stark look at what happens when a country falls into utter chaos and who ultimately always pays the highest price. The book also looks at how a country falling to pieces has a ripple effect on the whole world as others try to help, or turn away, the victims of the war.

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


To Get OUT at Any Cost May 7, 2019

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 3:23 pm

downloadCaptured. Probably one of the most dreaded words or events that could befall a World War I soldier or pilot. After all, it meant time away from the war effort, time away from family and the ability to communicate regularly with them, time away from life in general. The waiting and wondering and the petty and overt cruelties suffered by the Allied captured men by the Germans day in and day out, took its tole on the most hardened souls.

The Grand Escape: The greatest prison breakout of the 20th Century by Neal Bascomb describes what life was like for the thousands who were kept behind enemy lines, but he focuses on a few that were kept at a place called Holzminden. This camp was where many of the Allied pilots were housed, and most of them had already tried to escape from other camps. One made it as far as what he thought was neutral Netherlands, only to realize that there was a German town with the same name, just before the border.

At Holzminden, the men were obsessed with escaping. Finally, a group of men decided they were going to try to dig a tunnel out of the camp and get to freedom by walking over 100 miles to the  border with the Netherlands. A man named David Gray was the official ring leader and champion of the endeavor. However, much planning and ingenuity went into the effort. Not only did they have to dig a tunnel under the camp commander’s nose, they had to gather provisions, equipment, special clothes, money, information regarding the surrounding countryside, and many other things including speaking a language that most didn’t know to try to escape. The odds were stacked against them.

This is an amazing book about an amazing adventure and because it is a true story, it makes the results all the more astonishing.

Recommended for grades 7 and up.


An Unpopular War February 25, 2019

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 12:52 pm

What was it really like to be a soldier in Vietnam? What was it like to be a medic, or a downloadnurse, or a protest singer, or a refugee, or a veteran of the war?  There are many stories in this book, including one about a man named Mike Horan, who grew up in foster homes. He was one of the first soldiers that was sent to Vietnam, at the beginning of the United States’ conflict with the country. Horan found himself being taken prisoner by North Vietnamese and thought for sure his life was over. He was captured after the jeep he was in hit a land mine. As the four Vietnamese took into the jungle, he didn’t have much hope of making it out alive.

Another man named Gilbert De La O shared his experience of being in a fire fight, pinned down in the jungle while he was operating the radio for his commanding officer – a job that put a target on his back since the radio operators were typically killed so they couldn’t relay messages or give information. Interspersed between interviews with soldiers, medics, nurses and others are chapters on the leaders of the time from J.F. Kennedy to Nixon and also people who were decenters. 

Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge gives readers a clear understanding from all sides what the war experience was like for the people living through it at the time and how it impacted their lives. 

Recommended for 8th grade and up.


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.