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!

Peace or Revolution? March 19, 2019

Set in 1968 Chicago, this beautiful coming-of-age novel highlights the rise of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Sam and Stick Childs are the son of Roland Childs, a devoted father and a Civil Rights Movement advocate for peaceful protest. Roland is a personal friend to Martin Luther King, Jr., and his sons have grown up attending marches and speeches for black equality. Recently, however, Stick has been spending

rockandrivermore time with the local Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party; he is inspired by the Party’s free breakfast program, support for impoverished neighborhood families, and rhetoric about fighting violence with violence. As the younger brother, Sam has always looked up to Stick and followed his lead in all things. However, joining up with the Black Panthers means directly opposing his father’s commitment to non-violence and peaceful protest. Sam feels caught between loyalty to his father and to his brother, or between “a rock and a river,” with any choice he makes seeming to be a loss. Can Sam find his own moral compass and voice as he struggles to grow up in one of the nation’s most turbulent periods in history?


The Lions Are Roaring December 5, 2012

Ever since I was young and my parents had the whole family watch the PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize, I’ve been fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement. Learning about Emmett Till, and then the famous court case, Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas and seeing the bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-ins, I was alternatively amazed, appalled and astounded by this time in our country’s history. I have since read some incredible books on this time period, most of them nonfiction texts.images-2

So I was eager to read The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. At first I assumed it would be about the Little Rock Nine (the nickname given to the 9 black students who integrated Little Rock Central High in 1957) but was actually pleasantly surprised to see the focus of this book is on what happened the year AFTER the school was integrated. Not many know that the governor, rather than allow black students to attend with white, shut down the high schools. Marley, a 7th grader attending a junior high school watches as her older sister Judy is forced to stay home from school, then has to leave town and attend school where their grandmother lives when the high schools remain closed the entire year. For Marley, this seems the most traumatic thing that can happen to her, until she becomes friends with a new girl at school. A girl named Liz. Liz is different in that she challenges Marley. While Marley is great in Math, she has a really hard time speaking to people, even her own mother, about what is important to her and even sometimes just the mundane things in life. When Liz and Marley become partners for a class project, Liz works hard to get Marley ready to speak in front of their whole class. Then, something happens that shocks Marley to her core, and shakes up not only her life, but ripples with far reaching consequences.

I really loved this book, not only for the time period and subject matter but for the thoughtfulness of Marley and Liz’s friendship, as well as the complexities of family life. When do you have to stand up and when is it okay to keep quiet? Marley has to come to grips with how to answer these questions, and as a reader, you will ponder them yourself.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.