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!

Children Always Suffer in War July 14, 2015

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 5:51 pm
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As a young boy, growing up in rural southern Sudan, John only knew the good things in life. He enjoyed hearing stories of his relatives, braving the lions that roamed close to their village, and at 13 was looking forward to the day when he, too, would complete the ritual that would recognize him has a man in his community. However, one day, his village was attacked by the government forces. While there had been rumblings for years of possible war coming, until it arrived at his door step, John was able to push his fears aside. After the attack, he and a group of other boys and some adults, were forced to move from place to place, trying to survive.imgres

While John was going through this in the countryside, the major cities in the south were not safe either. Martha was only six years old, and her younger sister only three, when their parents decided it was too dangerous to stay in the main southern city and moved the family to the country. Martha was surprised by life in the country. It was very different than what she was used to. However, not long after this move, the village Martha and her family were in was also attacked. Her parents were in a neighboring village at the time, so Martha and her sister, along with other children were taken by a woman and they ran from the village.

What neither Martha nor John knew that first night, was this was not going to be something that would end quickly and they would be re united with their families. Both John and Martha found themselves traveling long distances, often without food or water, only to encounter hostilities at every turn. John found himself in a massive refuge camp, in charge of hundreds of younger boys, and in the position of trying to keep everyone going, while Martha struggled to find a place for herself and her sister.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan by John Dau and Martha Akech is an amazing true story of how these children used their wits and ingenuity when things were at their worst.

Recommended for 7th grade and up.


The Dead and Dying…Everywhere February 9, 2014

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 9:13 pm
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I’d heard about this girl, Tillie Pierce for several years. When reading some excerpts from other Civil War books, her name would come up periodically and especially when I was reading about the Battle of Gettysburg. So I was very excited to see there is a whole book written about this brave girl who witnessed one of the most pivotal battles of the whole Civil War.

Tillie Pierce: Teen Eyewitness to the Battle of Gettysburg by Tanya Anderson does a wonderful job of giving the reader lots of background on how the town of Gettysburg was founded, who the main citizens were, and how Tillie came to be in the thick of the battlefield, filled with the dead and dying men and horses.

searchTillie’s family thought she would be safer outside of town, at the farm of a neighbor’s parents, away from where they thought the fighting would happen. Instead, Tillie and the neighbor’s family found their farm in the midst of horrific shelling and bullets whizzing close by. At one point, Tillie and the others found themselves running through a field as shells exploded around them!

What Tillie probably remembered the most, and what the read will too, was the aftermath of the battle. The shear amount of dead was almost beyond comprehension. Tillie, as a young girl, struggled to help the sick as best she could, and her vivid descriptions of seeing amputated limbs stacked next to a fence will resonate with readers long after the story is finished.

Recommended for 7th grade and up, and especially for any students interested in the Civil War.


How Much Can You Lose? January 2, 2014

Growing up in southern Sudan while the civil war raged was difficult to say the least. Viola doesn’t even remember her father, and her mother and grandmother struggle to keep the soldiers at bay in their small home which becomes a gathering place for many other widowed women in the community. Viola hasn’t been able to attend school since the northern Sudanese took over, but she does try to keep things going at home with her younger brother Francis.

imgresBut how can you live when even a boy trying to protect you soldiers on the street can be killed in front of your eyes? Something horrible happens to Viola, and her mother realizes they must leave. After a few false starts, Viola, her mother and little brother begin the flight to America. After much trauma, Viola is able to begin a new life, however, nothing is what she thought it would be.

The Good Braider by Terry Farish is a harsh, realistic look at immigrants and the situations that can bring people to America. It shows the huge adjustments that immigrants are forced to make in order to assimilate to a new country and culture.

Due to the realistic situations Viola and her family encounter, this book is recommended for mature 8th graders and older.


$300 Or Your Life November 18, 2013

Filed under: Historical Fiction — oneilllibrary @ 9:41 am
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imgresIn the midst of the Civil War, a young girl named Claire, is about to have her safe, comfortable world shaken. Lincoln has announced the beginning of a draft. However, if you could pay $300.00, basically the equivalent of a working person’s year salary, you could avoid it. Or get a substitute to go for you. The working class of New York City had no way to pay that kind of money, or pay someone to go for them.

Claire is biracial – her mother is an Irish immigrant and her father a free black man.  They have plans to buy the inn they work in, hopefully soon in the future. However, when we first meet Claire and her family, there is unrest in the city streets. Irish immigrants, worrying of the possible influx of free blacks from the south who will compete for the few jobs there are, and feeling the unfairness of the draft policies, begin rioting against any wealthy or black people they see walking on the streets.

For Claire, who has had both Irish and black friends growing up, the first time someone comes at her because she is mixed is a shock to her. She begins to question how her family has gone on as they have and wonders what will happen when the riots are finally put down. Will things ever go back to the way they were?

Riot by Walter Dean Myers looks at the beginning of segregation in New York City, and the seeds for divisions between races and class. Told in a screenplay style, this novel is a quick read about a very tumultuous time in our country’s history.

Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Body Snatchers….Literally! July 26, 2013

imgresWho would have thought counterfeiters would want Lincoln’s body? His dead body that is. What would they stand to gain by robbing Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, IL in 1876? Turns out, a lot. A lot of money, real and fake. Did you know that during the Civil War, half of all money in circulation was fake? Some people were really good at making counterfeit money, and others not so good. So the government, realizing if people couldn’t trust the money in their pockets, there would be no economy, created the Secret Service. Yes, the Secret Service was first created to root out counterfeiters, or coney men, as they were known.

Turns out, good counterfeiters were hard to come by. A man named “Big Jim” (an alias I’m sure you figured out!) was very good at keeping his hands clean by finding good engravers and having them make the fake money, then giving it to others who passed it around. You needed good engravers because the longer the fake money was in circulation, the more real money you could make. If you don’t know how this could be possible, read the book, it explains it really well.

So who was the best engraver around? A guy named Ben Boyd. But the Secret Service guys do their job and they nab him and put him away for 10 years! This means Big Jim is without his best engraver. It also means he’ll try just about anything to get him back. And in this case, anything includes…you guessed it, grabbing Lincoln’s corpse and holding it for ransom!

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin is a fast paced look at the world of counterfeit money and how desperate times called for desperate measures.

Great read and recommended for grades 6th and up.


The Irony of Life January 8, 2013

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 10:40 am
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I must be on a cover kick, but the irony of the cover of The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland is perhaps too obvious, but startling nonetheless. I am always on the lookout for interesting nonfiction works and I found a great one in The Bite of the Mango. Mariatu was living her life in Sierra Leone during the civil war in that country that raged for most of her life, certainly all of her young life. Her family was poor, like most of the country and living in a small rural village. She made her life with her aunt and uncle in a custom that appears (at least in the book) to be very common –  many family members would live away from their biological parents to be raised by other family members. So while Mariatu’s parents were both living, she made her life with her aunt and uncle and was close to many members of her extended family. Often, there were reports that the rebels were coming to the village and everyone would leave to live in the woods and wait until it was safe to return. Sometimes this lasted as long as a month or more. As time went on, the mayor of Mariatu’s village decided it was too unsafe staying in such a small village and everyone was to move to a larger one, in the hopes of safety from the rebels.

imgresThis proved to be a turning point in Mariatu’s life as well as those of her close relatives and friends. Rather than finding safety in the larger village, the rebels attacked it and killed many women, men and children, and tortured others that were left alive. Mariatu was one who was captured and before her release, she had both of her hands chopped off. Yes, BOTH of her hands. She then wandered looking for help before she was taken by 2 women to a town with medicine that saved her life. As horrific as this was, Mariatu wasn’t alone. Many, many others had both hands cut off, and she meets them in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. There she learns to adjust to life without hands, and struggles to process her new life and what will become of it.

The Bite of the Mango is an incredible story of one young woman who has the same hopes and dreams as any girl you know, and how she was able to find a way toward living those dreams.

Recommended for 8th grade and up based on mature content including rape and torture.