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!

A Novel for Artists February 13, 2013

It’s funny how sometimes books can be both loved and hated, liked and disliked. Recently our middle school book club, Book Buddies, chose to read Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. Several students did not enjoy the book and I had the opposite reaction.

Hollis Woods is an orphan. She was abandoned as a baby in Hollis Woods and that’s how her name came to be. Part of her story is told through flashbacks described through the pictures Hollis draws. She’s a skilled artist who has an eye for color and detailed drawings.

Hollis runs away from the only real family she’s ever had and ends up in another foster home. This time she’s placed with Josie, who is also an artist. Hollis likes living with Josie but if Social Services discovers Josie’s mental health is getting worse, Hollis will be forced to leave. All the while, Hollis can’t seem to forget the Regan family – the one family she felt was real. She’s torn between staying with Josie to help care for her and wanting to be back with the Regan family.

The book switches back and forth between Hollis’ pictures (her memories) and her time with Josie. I thought this book is a good reminder about how important family is.

Book reviews and recommendations are great but you’ll never really know if you like or dislike a book until you read it for yourself.


What’s the Harm in a Tiny Little Lie….? November 15, 2012

What if you were asked to lie, about something fairly small; a lie that really didn’t make your life worse, or anyone else’s, but brought you wonderful things? This is the dilemma Maud faces in A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz. Maud is an orphan living the not so happy life of one around the turn of the century. In fact when we first meet Maud she is locked in the outhouse because she has been bad, again. While in the privy, she has a conversation with a woman outside the door, who, to Maud’s utter amazement and delight chooses to adopt her minutes later. Maud is taken back to live with the woman, whose name is Miss Hyacinth, and Hyacinth’s two sisters. Quite quickly Maud is asked to conceal her existence from anyone outside of the sisters’ house. While Maud enjoys the new perks of her life – pretty clothes, lots of food and quite a bit of freedom – she realizes quickly that the sisters’, and Hyacinth in particular want something from Maud. Maud has to decide if she can play along with what they want, or find out if she does have a conscience after all.

Maud is one of those characters you just begin to pull for right away. She has tons of street smarts and knows right away something is off about these old women – after all they adopted her! She knows she isn’t a good catch! So why have they done this? However, even Maud can’t figure out just how bizarre their plan is until she is right smack in the middle of it, and wondering how she can get out. This book has lots of twists and just when you think you have it figured, BAM, something jumps out at you.

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


Quiet Book With Punch November 4, 2012

Confession time here: I’m a plot reader. I love to read books simply because I have fun meeting new people, experiencing new places, and closing a book at the end with a sense of satisfaction. I don’t look for major hidden meanings or delve too deeply into a character’s motive. I essentially, like a good story.Image

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr is a good story. It is what I like to call a “quiet book.” In other words, I will have a hard time booktalking the book because it doesn’t have buildings exploding, and zombies killing kids, but quiet books have a strength all their own and deserve to have attention. In Zarr’s book, we meet two girls who are going through some very traumatic experiences.  Jill has lost her father to a car accident, and she has become quite bitter and resentful of life in general. She can’t connect with her mother anymore, and she has pretty much driven away all her friends. Enter into her life, Mandy, who is running away from her own life for various reasons. Mandy is pregnant, and Jill’s mom, much to Jill’s horror and dismay, has agreed to adopt Mandy’s baby.

Zarr does a brilliant job of capturing each girl’s voice in such a distinct manner, even without the headings before each chapter changing perspectives, the reader would know who was telling the story. Jill is hostile; Mandy is inappropriate in social situations. Jill is fearful; Mandy is hopeful. Jill is struggling; Mandy is finding her core of strength. As a reader, you find yourself rooting for both girls at the same time, even as they want different things and would result in different outcomes. Take time to read this thoughtful and wonderful book and let me know what you think.

Recommended for 8th grade readers and up.


Waiting Can Be the Worst Part October 31, 2012

Waiting can be the hardest part, especially if you are waiting to find out if your younger sister will come out of her coma. In Waiting to Forget by Sheila Kelly Welch, T.J. can’t believe that his life has brought him to just such a place, after all the times he and Angela survived living with their mother, and all her crazy boyfriends. To have Angela struggling to survive because of something he did, it is almost too much. When the book begins, T.J. and his sister have been adopted but T.J. has a hard time letting go of the past, specifically how he feels about his biological mother. This moving and fast paced book follows T.J. as he is forced to grow up long before he should, to protect his little sister and at times his mother, from herself and others she brings into their lives. Struggling to deal with the possible death of his sister, he relives everything that brought him to this moment in time, hoping for something positive in a life that has been short on happiness and security.

Why did I love this book? In a time when so many books are focused on dystopian/utopian societies, or fantasy and science fiction, this book is a nice addition because it is a contemporary fiction novel that appeals to both teen boys and girls. The situations T.J. finds himself in resonate for readers because it is so real, and you find yourself really hoping that things will work out for him. In my job as middle school librarian, I’ve recommended this book to both my 7th and 8th graders, in particular, those looking for realistic situations and traumatic family dynamics.
Highly Recommended for 6th and up.