I love books and reading is one of my favorite hobbies when I can find the time. As educators, we know how important reading is and we are constantly trying to get our students to read. Unfortunately, sometimes our students start to lose the love of reading, or some never found it in the first place. One of the hardest challenges can be finding engaging and appropriate books for our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
While we often focus on the importance of reading for our primary students, it is so essential to have a rich and engaging reading curriculum for our junior/intermediate students. At this age, they have moved on from learning to read to reading to learn and they can really delve deep into higher order thinking within their reading. In order for this to happen, we as teachers have to find great literature that students love.
One of the best things about having great literature is that students can see themselves in the characters. Sixth-Eighth grade is a difficult time for many students and finding characters that they can connect with can be really powerful for our students. I love learning about my students through books and giving these books to them so that they can connect to characters. We all know books should be mirrors and windows. Mirrors so the reader can see themselves in the story and windows so they can learn about others.
Here are some of my tried and true books that are excellent literature for higher order thinking, have relatable characters, and students love.
Top 10 Books
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This book tells the story of 2 weeks in the life of a 14 year-old Ponyboy who struggles identifying right and wrong in a society where he feels like an outsider. There are two groups of people in this society where the “Socs” can do whatever they would like and the “Greasers” are the outsiders who always have to watch their backs.
This book is perfect for this age groups as they are figuring out their own identity and where they fit in. It also is great for introducing the concept of figuring out what is right and wrong and shifting your views of the world around you.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book tells the story of 16 year-old Starr who lives in a poor neighborhood but attends the fancy suburban prep school. One day, Starr witnesses her childhood friend shot and killed unarmed by a police officer. His death becomes national headlines with speculations and rumors running rampant. Everyone wants to know what really happened and Starr is the only one who knows, but what she does or doesn’t say could upend her community or put her life in danger.
This book is a powerful story about the truth and social communities. It can be a particularly powerful story for minority students and can help all students understand some of the realities for people of colour and minority groups.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
12 year-old Josh and his twin brother are masters on the court. Josh tells his story about family and brotherhood in fast paced verse. Josh and his brother learn that breaking rules comes at a terrible price in this novel that explores how the boys grow up on and off the court.
This is another great novel that relates to students in this time of their lives as they are growing up and figuring out who they are. It is also filled with sports which may entice some of your more reluctant readers as your students delve into the complex idea of rules and what it means when they are broken.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas is a 12 year-old boy who lives in a seemingly perfect society. At 12 each of the children are told what their profession will be and Jonas is surprised when he is assigned to be The Giver. The Giver alone holds all the memories of the true joys and pains of human life and as Jonas learns from the giver, life as he knows it is not exactly what it seems to be.
This novel is great as it has students look at society and rules and perfection. Dystopian novels really allow students to think about the world that they live in and how things could be better or worse.
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
This memoir tells the story of Malala, a girl in Pakistan whose world is uprooted by the Taliban. As the Taliban is taking over her city, she must fight for her right to get an education and eventually is shot. Malala’s miraculous recovery has allowed her to become globally known and a national symbol for peace.
This amazing story is one that is wonderful for all your students, but may be particularly loved by girls. Malala is a raw and enticing story that helps students look outside themselves and see the power of education and fighting for what they believe in.
Stargirl by Jerri Spinelli
This book tells the story of Leo, a boy who follows all the social norms at his high school. That is until Stargirl arrives and everyone is shaken up by her nonconformity. At first she is loved by all until her differences become too much and she switches to being ridiculed. Leo is caught in between his love for Stargirl and his need to fit in with the social norms.
This book is powerful for students as it shows how we can be judgmental of others and what that can really be like for those we judge. It also teaches about individuality and being who you are no matter what others say about you, which is something most of our middles need.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
This is another science fiction dystopian novel where Thomas arrives in a large, changing, and dangerous maze with a group of other boys that are all trying to escape. Every month a new boy comes with his memories wiped out until one day a girl comes with a message that changes everything.
This is another great book that has students question what they know and believe about society as well as being extremely engaging the entire time they read.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Running is Ghost’s life but he’s never done it for a track team. That is until an Olympic medalist track coach sees him run and recognizes his true potential. But Ghost has a lot of anger and a past that he is trying to run from. Ghost struggles with letting go of his past and learning to work with his team.
This is another great story that is likely to excite some of your reluctant readers. This is a powerful story of letting go of the past and fighting for your future which is something that many of our students can relate to in some way.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
A group of friends all try on some jeans found at a thrift store and decide whomever they fit best should take them. Miraculously, thye fit everyone perfectly, so the four friends form a sisterhood and all wear the pants at some point as they part for the summer. Then begins the most memorable summer of their lives.
This is a great story about friendship and life as a young adult. Girls will especially find themselves in these likable and relatable characters that talk about what it’s like to go through life and friendship.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This engaging and exciting dystopian novel tells the story of a country where each district sends one boy and girl to the hunger games, where children battle to the death for the entertainment of the people in the Capital. Whichever district wins will receive fame, glory, money, and more provisions. Katniss volunteers when her younger sister is chosen and is thrown into a game where she doesn’t feel like playing by the rules, and everything changes.
This is another book that is hard for students to put down. Students are able to look at life and love as well as society and what is right and wrong. Students will love the relatable characters and you will love the great discussions that you can have as many questions come from reading this book.
Reading is important at any age, but providing good literature at this age can really make or break a middle’s love or dislike of reading. Hopefully, this list sparked some ideas of some excellent literature that you can read with your middles. Remember that one of the best ways to get our students excited about reading is to be excited about it yourself!