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!

The Lost Family November 1, 2016

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — lpitrak @ 4:09 pm
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This is a rare nonfiction book, which is COMPLETELY true, but crazier than fiction! Beginning in 1903, this fascinating story focuses on the “lost family” of Russia—whose legend seems to grow stronger over time. Nicholas II was Tsar of Russia, and was at the time the wealthiest monarch in the entire world. He had a kingdom of 130 million people, and his empire stretched to cover an entire 1/6 of all land on the entire surface of the earth (which is CRAZY), but his subjects lived in dire poverty.

The Romanov family was composed of Nicholas, his beautiful, shy wife Empress Alexandra, their wild, gorgeous daughters named Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, and their very frail, sickly youngest brother, the Tsarevich Alexei. They ate off of solid gold plates, attended parties with thirty-course dinners, and all owned prize-winning horses….  And at the same time, farmers in Russia starved and froze to death in homes with no heat, factory workers worked 12-hour days in dangerous conditions where it was easy to lose fingers, hands, or your life working with run-down factory machines, and young men died as soldiers fighting in World War I. Almost 2 million Russian soldiers were killed in total in World War I.

Infuriated by such an unbalance in lifestyle, members of the Bolshevik party forcibly removed the Romanov family from their palace to the country, placing them under house arrest.  Then, in July 1918, rebels from the party entered the estate where the entire Romanov family had been banished, with the intention of executing all of them. However, afraid to cause a mass uproar when revealing the murder of children, they later reported only Tsar Nicholas II was dead… when the mass grave of the family was found, two bodies were missing—what really happened to Princess Anastasia and Tsarevich Alexei?  Read this exciting book to find out!


True Story Behind Man vs. Wild December 17, 2015


The Kid Who Climbed Everest

Bear Grylls, most famous for his hit t.v. show “Man vs. Wild” has done some crazy things on camera!  He’s run Class Five rapids… with no raft; he’s dove beneath the ice of a Siberian frozen lake… with no protective gear or clothing; he’s demonstrated how to effectively free yourself from deadly quicksand… by getting stuck up to his chest in some of the fastest moving quicksand on earth; he’s eaten rats and termites that he dug out of a rotting tree stump, and finally, perhaps most famously, he’s even drunk a bottle of his own urine to avoid dehydration in the middle of the ocean!!


But before Bear was the star of his own show, he was a member of the British Special Air Service.  On a training jump in Africa his parachute failed to open, and he fractured his spine.  Doctors were unsure if he would ever walk again.  After multiple surgeries and eighteen months of agonizing, painful rehab, Bear did regain the ability, not only to walk, but to train to climb Mount Everest.  Two years later, at age 23, he became the youngest Englishman to climb Everest, which is the highest peak in the world.  (The record has since been broken, just for FYI!!).   is an awesome book about this whole journey, and speaks to overcoming obstacles, true resilience, and the power of an adventurous spirit.


Are Zombies Real????? July 17, 2015

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 3:54 pm
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Lots of books, movies and TV shows are focusing on Zombies these days, and while we know they are fantasy, some people think that zombies really could come about. So is there any truth to that? Are there any “zombies” in nature right now?

Zombie Makers: True stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca Johnson takes this question very seriously. Could something “take over” an animal or insect and control them? Could something invade an animal or insect and change its nature? This book is chalk full of examples where either another insect, fungus or virus is able to alter the animal or insect it comes into contact with. imgres

Read how an ant becomes the perfect host for a fungus that eventually grows out the top of the dead ant’s head. Or how a worm takes over crickets and forces them to drown themselves. Or how a caterpillar becomes a zombie like bodyguard wasp protector and starves rather than let the little wasp cocoons be eaten, and then the caterpillar dies.

Yes, nature is already providing us with some examples of how animals and insects can be taken over but nothing so far shows how something can die and then come back to life. Those are still in the realm of fantasy, and let’s hope it stays there!

Recommended for grades 6th and up.


Ever Want to Be Someone Else? October 27, 2014

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 1:11 pm
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What would it be like to pretend to be a different gender? Could you keep that up for a long time? What about pretending to be a different race? What if your life depended on how well you could hide who you really were?

Can I See Your I.D.?: True Stories of False Identities by Chris Barton looks at ten different people through history who have had to change their identity to keep themselves safe and others who just wanted a lark.

imgresMost interesting are the stories of people who created whole new personas for themselves that were needed to keep them alive. For example, Solomon Perel was a young Jewish boy, trying to survive during World War II, and he hid in plain sight. You’ll have to read the book to find out how. Or what about the husband and wife who were slaves and came up with a plan to get their freedom, if they weren’t caught be slave catchers first.

This is a quick read that will have you thinking about who you might like to pretend to be, and if you could pull it off!

Recommended for grades 7 and up.




He Hid, But Was Found August 14, 2014

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 4:26 pm
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After World War II and the Nuremberg Trails, not ALL the major Nazis were captured and tried. Some escaped justice for a time and some for all time. One major person of interest was Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who was in charge of removing Jews from Germany and ultimately, all of German occupied Europe. This meant he was the one responsible for rounding up the Jews, and transporting them to concentration camps all over Europe where they faced unimaginable horrors trying to survive. Many had no chance of survival, as they were killed immediately.

imgresAs the war drew to a close, and it became evident Germany was losing, Eichmann was told to stop killing Jews, but he didn’t. He began moving them out of the camps on long torture filled walks in terrible weather where more and more died.

However, at the end of the war, Eichmann wasn’t on trail. He wasn’t to be found. Some didn’t even know his role in the war, and others, once they found out, didn’t even have a picture to know who they were looking for.

Thus it wasn’t until a girl named Sylvia, living in Argentina in 1956 brought home her new boyfriend to meet her family. His name was Nick Eichmann. During dinner he admitted his father had been a high ranking Nazi official who was instrumental in eliminating Jews in Europe. Many former Nazi found a haven in Argentina after the war, and anti Jewish sentiments were high even after the war in Argentina. For that reason, Sylvia’s father, who was half Jewish, had never admitted to anyone in Argentina his heritage. It made for a very uncomfortable dinner.

It wasn’t until months later, after Sylvia had broken up with Nick Eichmann, that she and her father read an article naming the notorious Nazi, Adolf Eichmann. They realized they might have been having dinner with one of his sons.

Thus began the secret spy operation by Israel to bring to justice one of the most hated and feared men from the Nazi organization. The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb tells the tale of how one of the most infamous men of World War II was kidnapped, drugged and ultimately taken to trail for his crimes.

Highly recommended for anyone who is interested reading about World War II or a good spy story in grades 7th and up.


Do YOU Believe in Fairies? October 30, 2013

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:36 am
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Almost a hundred years ago, two girls, one 9 and one 15, began an adventure together. Frances, who was 9, went with her mother to live with her aunt and uncle while her father was offimgres fighting in the Great War (World War I). Her older cousin, Elsie, showed her the beck, or glen behind the house they were living. As the weather got nicer, Frances would spend more and more time investigating the flowers, trees and animals that lived around the little waterfall and stream that ran through the area behind the cottage.

At one point, Frances began to notice little men around the trees, and later, she saw fairies. At one point she mentioned this to her mother, and aunt and uncle, who immediately said she was making things up and began to tease her. When Frances asked Elsie if she ever saw fairies, Elsie said she had. One day, Elsie asked if she and Frances could borrow father’s camera to take a picture of the fairies. Her father reluctantly agreed, and only gave one plate for them to use. When Elsie and Frances were far away from the house, Elsie brought out little paper fairies she had drawn on paper, painted and carefully cut out. They used long hatpins and gum to keep the fairy pictures up. Thus began one of the longest running hoaxes in modern times…all perpetrated by young girls.

The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure is a great little book showing how one afternoon changed the lives of many people in England and even in America. What is amazing is how the whole story didn’t come up for so many years.

Recommended for 6th grade and up.


What if someone else had your name? July 14, 2013

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 11:41 am
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imgresWhile one Wes Moore was growing on the East coast in New York City and in Baltimore, Maryland, there was another Wes Moore. However, one ended up being a Rhodes Scholar, graduating from John Hopkins College and the other was put in prison for life after participating in a robbery that killed an off duty police officer. How could two young men, both with many of the same struggles, end up with two very different lives?

This is the question Wes Moore asks in his book Discovering Wes Moore. When he was in South Africa on an exchange program during his final year in college, his mother told him someone with his name was being sought for murder. It began to haunt Wes. He wanted to know more about this other person with his name who was accused of something very wrong and tragic.

As we follow the life of Wes Moore, the author, we see his life had many ups and downs, and at no point in his early childhood did things look good for him. It wasn’t until he was in his early teens that things began to make sense to him a bit and his life did indeed change.

This is an incredible book for all the what ifs?

Recommended for grades 7th and up.



Real Life Gross Out! February 19, 2013

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 9:33 pm
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What could be better than learning about real life gross out stuff? And what a better subject than…blood itself! In Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, we learn so much about the origins of how people all over the world viewed blood in the past and how we deal with it today. The little stories in this book are awesome. For example, did you know that Gaul warriors made necklaces…for their horses of the severed heads of their enemies? Or what about a woman in the 1600s who bathed in blood because she thought it would make her younger. Some believed that your brains were in your blood and if you leaked too much, there went your intelligence! But not all these ideas are from the past. Many religions today still have rituals surrounding blood.

I am not into gross stuff, but this book walks the line between truly gross out and cool information. If you love reading weird off the wall facts, and enjoy going “ewwww” often, this is a great find for you!

Recommended for 7th grade 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.


What’s a Little Brain Trauma? November 18, 2012

Filed under: Nonfiction Titles — oneilllibrary @ 8:27 pm
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ImageOkay, so you might think I’m a bit sick for loving this book (and I truly do) but there is something so interesting and twisty about it all at the same time. Part of the reason I love this book so much is that I have the best time booktalking it. Seriously, kids shriek, laugh and then gasp as I’m telling them about Phineas. So what book am I referring to? Why Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman of course!  I read this book several years ago, and it quickly became my go to nonfiction book to tell students about when I wanted to get their attention.

Phineas was a young man, only 26, when he had a tamping rod go shooting through his head…. and he survived!!! This happened in 1848 and when everyone got over their shock that this man was walking and talking after a metal rod went through his head, they thought he was fine. That is, everyone but his doctor, who began to notice Phineas had some strange behaviors. The doctor realized Phineas’ reasoning had been impaired and he had problems relating to people, issues that had never plagued Phineas before the accident. Phineas lived anotheImager 11 years after his near fatal head trauma and in that time, he helped advance the realization that the brain might have areas that were responsible for different things. At the time this book was published, there were no known pictures of Phineas, but since then, one has surfaced, showing Phineas with none other than the tamping rod that went flying through his head!

Recommended for readers who love science and who won’t be put off by the scientific jargon: grades 7th and up.