Awesome Book Recommendations for Middle Schoolers! What to Know about Middle Grade Books

Middle schoolers huddled in a circle
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Books for Middle Schoolers in 2022

Books for middle schoolers in 2022 are the most inclusive and diverse they have ever been. Each year more and more middle grade books are released that showcase themes of self-identification, social diversity, and acceptance. This gives middle school readers the opportunity to connect with books that resonate with them as they find their own identity, both as an individual and as a reader.

What’s Good in Books Written for Middle Schoolers

Today, more and more middle school kids are finding value in the middle grade books they read.

Now more than ever, kids have access to loads of information!

But that doesn’t make growing up or building their identity any easier.

Middle grade authors are consistent in providing their readers with refreshing and relatable characters, themes, and plots. These books act as sort of a guidance tool for middle schoolers as they experience coming of age which is kind of amazing.

What Middle Schoolers Want in Middle Grade Books

Middle schoolers are looking for books that they can connect with. They want to be introduced to characters they can relate to. They long to form friendships with the characters (or make enemies) and follow plotlines with empathy and passion. 

Middle school readers want to feel like they are a part of something that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. They want to build an understanding of the world they live in and how to establish their place within their community and in the world at large.

This may be why we have seen such an abundance of book series emerge in the past decades. When middle schoolers pick up the first book in a series, that’s a sign they are looking for something to commit to. 

Think about it. Similar actions are taken when you peruse the ‘What’s Trending’ category on Netflix. You are proactively looking for a new series you are willing to commit time to. You don’t just start watching it with the assumption you will only watch the first 48 minutes… you want the whole enchilada, amiright?

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Great Book Series for Middle Schoolers

What is so appealing about book series for middle schoolers is that they invite their readers into their complex world. Book series authors cater to readers who love to invest their time living in their characters’ world. Book series carry with them deeper character development and more complex plots. This leaves more room for thrilling plot twists and satisfying resolutions.

Here are a few awesome book series middle schoolers love:

Keeper of the Lost Cities Series
The Land of Stories Series

Beyonders Series
The Hunger Games Trilogy Series

Track Series

Wings of Fire Series

The Selection Series

Some Middle Schoolers Want Fast-Paced Middle Grade Books

Some middle schoolers prefer a more fast-paced read that takes them on a memorable journey. Perfect for readers who are looking for a quick read! Common fast-paced books fall under the graphic novel category or books written in verse.

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels have really found their place amongst middle grade readers. This trend is carrying through, with great relief, into the teacher world as we see more and more teachers accept them as viable reading materials for their students. Alice quote…

Graphic novel authors and illustrators have mastered the ability to cater to their audiences’ longing for an engaging, relatable story with their words AND images without sacrificing the elements of good story-telling.

Nowadays you will find that graphic novels contain strong character and setting development and include challenging vocabulary, more so than the Garfield books we grew up on. Graphic Novels are not Garfield comic books.

What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations, Lewis Carroll Quote

Graphic Novels Middle Schoolers Love

Guts by Raina Telgemeier
Click by Kayla Miller
The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

The Ghoul Next Door by Cullen Bunn

Books Written in Verse

These types of books may appeal more to ‘new’ readers who are stepping into independent reading for the first time or would consider themselves a reluctant reader. The themes found in novels written in verse share the same commonalities as other traditionally written middle grade books.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Catching a Story Fish by Janice N. Harrington

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Don’t Forget about the Classic Books for Middle Schoolers

Let us not forget about classic books for middle schoolers. These books are often considered a bit slower in pace however they contain rich language (awesome for building vocabulary) and access to beautiful sentence structure and prose. 

Classics are important to include in any middle school curriculum or homeschool schedule. They act as little windows into the historical time period they were written in. Sometimes, the language authors used is even considered historical! These books can influence better writing skills, prompt discussions about historical events or lifestyles and help build a reader’s academic vocabulary.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Common Themes in Middle Grade Books

Here are some of the most common themes found in middle grade books. These are important to consider if you are a parent or teacher looking to make book recommendations to your middle schooler(s). To read more about the characteristics of middle grade books, read this. 

  • Acceptance: Middle grade books have characters who accept individual differences and beliefs. Oftentimes characters have to overcome some form of diversity to gain acceptance of themselves or from their peers.
  • Compassion: Characters in these books are empathetic and want to help those who are suffering feel better. Compassion is common in most contemporary middle grade novels.
  • Cooperation: Many middle grade books have characters who must work together to solve a problem or reach an end goal with the help of a partner or team. Middle school students experience a rise in team related activities as they work through middle school making this theme very relatable. 
  • Courage: Characters in middle grade books have the strength to overcome a fear or accept a risk that develops as a consequence to their actions. 
  • Honesty: It is always best to tell the truth and sometimes it takes learning the hard way to believe it! Middle grade books have characters who either experience positive outcomes of telling the truth or the dire consequences of withholding the truth.
  • Kindness: Being kind is a virtue parents and educators seek to instill in their children from the very beginning. These middle grade books have characters who show kindness and are considerate of others. 
  • Loyalty: As previously stated, friendship is one of the biggest themes in middle grade books. Middle schoolers are establishing their own rules of friendship and learning the true value of loyalty and trust in a friendship. Characters in these middle grade books trust each other and do not turn their backs on their friends. 
  • Perseverance: These books have characters that do not give up even when the going gets tough.

What Makes a Good Middle Grade Book?

Books written for middle schoolers are age-appropriate. They do not contain any major acts of violence, lewd or sexual conduct, or profanity. 

Middle grade authors include protagonists who are related to their target audience in both age and life experience paying close attention to key developmental attributes such as physical and emotional markers of children aged 8-12. This can include puberty, voice change, wanting of social acceptance, peer pressure, establishing self-identity, experiencing emotional pain or loss or establishing relationships with people beyond their family/friend community.

A Note on Lessons Learned in Middle Grade Books

What’s most important is that the books middle schoolers read take a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to the themes and lessons taught within them.

Middle schoolers want to feel included in the narrative, not to be talked down to or undermined. A good middle grade book will challenge them to make their own decisions and opinions on what they have read. This in turn helps middle schoolers establish their own view of the world and their place in it. Win-win!

Some of Our Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers

Barbara Dee

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.

It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

B. B. Alston

This book is absolutely magical. It follows Amari who does not believe she could ever live up to her older brother who has been missing for too long. Amari gets an magical invitation from her missing brother that introduces her to the supernatural world. Let’s just say she learns a LOT about herself during her “summer school” training. I absolutely love this book!

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Alicia D. Williams

There are ninety-six reasons why thirteen-year-old Genesis dislikes herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list:
-Because her family is always being put out of their house.
-Because her dad has a gambling problem. And maybe a drinking problem too.
-Because Genesis knows this is all her fault.
-Because she wasn’t born looking like Mama.
-Because she is too black.

Genesis is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so…even if it means harming herself in the process. But when Genesis starts to find a thing or two she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping change others.

Katherine Marsh

Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stuck in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Aleppo, Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Now Ahmed’s struggling to get by on his own, but with no one left to trust and nowhere to go, he’s starting to lose hope.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy from Washington, D.C. Lonely and homesick, Max is struggling at his new school and just can’t seem to do anything right. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Together, Max and Ahmed will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Lisa Moore Ramée

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.

Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.