What were/are your favorite GOOD books for middle schoolers?

Updated Mar 23 2016
offbeatbride

good books for middle schoolers

Help! My kid keeps bring home terrible junky books with terrible junky writing.

I have a brilliant child who enjoys reading, and I love finding her books that are rich and wonderful. We've read Narnia, Matilda, Little women and all kinds of classics. My problem is when she goes to school she brings home these series about Disney characters, or the rescue the random animal book, or some book about how hard it is to be a popular girl.

If I give my child a reading list she can usually find the book in the schools library, but I am running out of ideas for her age group. Does any one have a favorite book from middle school that I can recommend for her literary treasure hunt? -Amy

Ooh, this is going to be a fun one. Mine middle school favorites were Black Beauty, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the Sherlock Holmes series for kids, and anything by Mark Twain.

Your turn! We've talked a lot about favorite books for adults, but what were your favorite good books to read when you were in middle school?

  1. If she hasn't read them yet, check out the Young Wizard series by Diane Duane. Smart sci fi fantasy with a surprisingly robust moral outlook, snd just plain good fun adventures with a diverse and engaging cast. And theyre still being written!

  2. Here are some of my favorites: Harry Potter, the Artemis Fowl-books, the Lockwood and Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud, all books by Cornelia Funke (especially the Inkheart trilogy). I also love all books by Neil Gaiman, even though not all of them are suitable for kids. It is always a good idea to ask the librarian. Tell her (or him) which books you liked and ask for suggestions. They know their libraries and are usually very well read people who love to share their passion. Good Luck!

  3. Percy Jackson quintet (probably more upper elementary than middle school, but YMMV)
    Oryx and Crake trilogy
    Chronicles of Pyrdain were things I read and reread from about fifth grade through high school
    Earthsea cycle
    Treasure Island
    Foundation series
    Robot series
    Abhorsen trilogy
    Harry Potter (I still reread these, and the didn't even start coming out until I graduated high school)
    Some Stephen King (I started with Firestarter, my 8th grader won't read him, my fifth grader started with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon)
    Some romance novels (I started with whatever Harlequin's supernatural line was in the 90s, and also Johanna Lindsey, in about 6th or 7th grade)
    Ravenloft series
    Stephanie Perkins
    John Green
    Christopher Pike/LJ Smith/teeny-bopper horror writers of the 80s and 90s

    • I can second some of these! (The rest I haven't read so I can't say either way.) I was a high-level reader in middle school and I read the Robot series, Foundation series, and Christopher Pike. Great stuff!! The Oryx and Crake series is also wonderful and should be good for her age.

      To add to this list
      – everything by Laurie Halse Anderson
      – Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series and Crystal Singer series were fabulous reads for me as a kid and really impacted me in a good way
      – Ray Bradbury
      – Robert A. Heinlein (you may want to discuss the problematic ways he portrays women though)
      – Kat Zhang's Hybrid Chronicles
      – Stephen King
      – Eva by Peter Dickinson
      – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series
      – The Giver series
      – Solstice by PJ Hoover
      – Shards & Ashes by Melissa Marr (collection of short stories)
      – everything by Charles de Lint, and he even has a few YA-specific books like Dingo
      – Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
      – The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
      – A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L'Engle
      – everything by David Eddings (the Belgariad series and the Mallorean series were my favorites)

      • While I also enjoyed Dragonriders of Pern, note that there is a fair bit of sex, especially in the first couple books of the series. I did a book report on one when I was in grade 7 and felt glad that my teacher had never read it. There is a Harper trilogy that is a little more middle school.

        • Heh, I read Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth Children series) for a book report in sixth grade and then read the rest of the series. Most sex of ever encountered in books outside of Laurel K Hamilton. I don't think there's anything wrong with Middle Schoolers reading books with sex scenes as long as the sex scenes reflect your values (coerced sex is portrayed as bad and only done by villains, positive sex happens in supportive relationships, etc). Keeps them from searching the internet for porn πŸ˜›

          Now, there is some … troubling sex in Dragonriders specifically, like where they don't fully explain to Lessa that her dragon mating will result in her having sex with whoever rides the dragon she mates with.

          • Totally true. I don't think sex is necessarily bad, I just think it's fair to know that it's in the books in case your kid isn't ready to read about that or you want to know ahead of time whether there are conversations that need to happen around it. Dragon Riders definitely has some sex and relationships that probably should be discussed. The third book of the Harper trilogy has a boy spying on a girl and seeing her bathing naked.
            Again, that's not outside the acceptable realm but some parents might want to talk about that as an issue. It's a reason I love Tamora Pierce. She handles it in really age-appropriate ways. Not talking down to her readers at all but also not writing scenes that are sexually explicit and written with an adult audience in mind.

      • I'm going to have to add some of these to MY reading list! However, as a heads up, the Oryx and Crake might be a bit intense if you mean the series by Margaret Atwood. There is some intense sexual content (child pornography) and violence (the prison escapees later in the books).

  4. Most of these books weren't even in print when I was in middle school, but they were my daughter's favorites at that age: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (and the rest of the Tiffany Aching books), Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Odd and the Frost Giant (all by Neil Gaiman). Also the entire Wizard of Oz series, and the rest of the Little Women books. I think by the time she started high school, she had read the entire Harry Potter series at least twice. I'm not sure they're still in print, but the Belgariad series by David Eddings was a big favorite, too.

    • Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books seconded. Those are gems, I love them at 26! I also loved The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, also by Terry Pratchett. There's nothing terribly age-inappropriate about the rest of the Discworld series, either, they're just not focused on a YA audience. I remember one or two thinly-veiled dirty jokes, but nothing major.

  5. Children's librarian here. But first, some questions. Does she like fantasy/science fiction? Realistic fiction? Mysteries? Is she an average reader, or a strong reader? Do you know why she's picking up the trashy books? Are they super popular? Or are they just FUN? Assuming her school hasn't cut the funding to have a school librarian, I highly recommend talking to them as well. Or, your public library librarian.

    If she likes fantasy, I loved anything by Patricia C Wrede. She has a series called The Enchanted Forest, the first one is called Dealing With Dragons. Tamora Pierce is also wonderful, I recommend her Alanna: The First Adventure. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu starts at least in our world, before the main character travels through a magical forest to rescue her best friend from the Snow Queen. The Wikkeling by Steve Arnston has a really fun dystopian feel to it, but without the gore of teen dystopian books.

    If she likes realistic fiction, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper was phenomenal. Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff was also very good. Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri was great as well. Anything by Andrew Clements, but he might be a bit young for her.

    Historical Fiction: Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French was interesting.

    Scary: Mary Hahn Downing's Wait Till Helen Comes.

    I'm going to stop myself here.

      • I discovered Tamora Pierce via an OBB post re: baby names. I was 29 and devoured her work, but as I was reading I remember thinking that I wish I would've discovered her as a middle schooler. Good stories, quality writing for YA work, and fantastic female characters. (I'll also throw in that her "Immortals" series does some pretty heavy philosophical lifting on post-humanist relationality–i.e., treating animals ethically without humanizing or anthropomorphizing–in readable, relatable ways. Highly recommended.)

    • Mom here- She is a good reader, Top in her class this 9 weeks actually. She is bringing home the terrible books because that is what her teachers have available and out. (My child goes to a county school and they are practically begging some of the kids to read anyway they can.) They are also popular with the girls in her class. She does have a librarian who will help her find the books on the list that I send with her but I don't know if my child is asking for recommendations.
      However she is thrilled with this post… she has several lists going now! She can't wait to get started!

  6. What kinds of books does she like? Does she like funny books, fantasy, realistic fiction, etc. if she's enjoying what she's reading I wouldn't worry too much about it! The important thing is that she's reading–that's a habit that will hopefully stick with her for the rest of her life!

    Here's a list of ones that have been popular in my library/I really enjoy
    The Percy Jackson books
    Anything by Tamara pierce
    Wonder
    El Deafo
    The 14th goldfish
    The school of good and evil series
    Miss perigrines home for perculiar children

    • I second "anything by Tamora Pierce". I was actually going to say that same thing. Her books tackle difficult subjects like sex, death, and even war in a way that is respectful and honest, but also age-appropriate.

  7. I second Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, and Coraline are all definitely fine. There's a lot of historical and speculative fiction out there that's also good. Biographies from whatever section of history your kid is studying (or any, really).

    • How did I forget Neverwhere? Though when my daughter was younger, I always read anything by Gaiman first, just to check the content (also so I could read them first).

  8. In middle school I loved Judy Blume. fantasy wise Piers Anthony is great and filled with puns. And of course HP.
    Also love Holly Black.

  9. The Westing Game
    From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler
    The Egypt Game
    Tuck Everlasting
    A Wrinkle in Time (the whole series is good but I think the first one is best)

    • All of this! I read "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler" when I was in middle school and spent years as an adult trying to remember the name of it with only a few plot details. We read it to my daughter after finding a copy and she absolutely loves it. We just finished A Wrinkle in Time and are reading The Westing Game next.

  10. I loved reading as kid and still do as an adult, middle school was around the time I started checking books out of the adult section of the library. Not that I didn't still dig through the young adult/teen section but I found I wanted more from the books I was reading. If that's an option for your daughter, go for it. At school she might be checking out what her friends are checking out or what the school librarian is recommending for kids her age, if you have a public library nearby and can go outside of school she might surprise you in what she picks out. Sometimes I just enjoyed reading books that didn't make me think too much and thats when I went for young adult/teen fiction. I enjoyed the authors Sharon Creech, Lois Lowry, Judy Blume. I also add Harry Potter to the list of great books to read.

    • Seconding Sharon Creech. I loved, loved, loved Walk Two Moons and Chasing Redbird. Gorgeous writing, and they are both stories that make you think.

  11. I'm very big in all-ages, all genres YA, so here are some that I love that haven't been mentioned. Some may be too easy for her, but all of these have the building blocks of great storytelling.

    Peter and the Starcatcher (long series, but the first book stands alone wonderfully)
    The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (Humor and mystery with some wonderful characters)
    The True Meaning of Smekday and Smek for President
    Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Stories (Pratchett anthology. Short story collections are great for MS because it exposes them to a bunch of different writing styles)
    The Fairyland series by Catherynne M Valente
    The Animorphs series by KA Applegate (an oldie, but a good intro to SciFi)
    The One and Only Ivan by KA Applegate (a completely different style than the Animorphs, but beautiful and well worth reading)
    The Nazi Hunters/Hunting Eichmann (if she's at the older end of middle school – a great NF book about post WWII)
    Lockwood & Co (Written by Stroud, who also wrote the Bartimaeus trilogy mentioned earlier)
    Everything by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle, Chrestomancy – all wonderful)
    The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper
    Tamora Pierce – Lioness Quartet, Immortals, Protector of the Small, Circle of Magic, Beka Cooper, Daughter of the Lioness (roughly in that order, I think)
    Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia Wrede
    Green Angel/Green Witch by Alice Hoffman (a beautiful set of books on dealing with loss)

    • I second Tamora Pierce and Gail Carriger (I like the Parasol Protector better than the Finishing School, but it does have more sex).
      Non-US stuff:
      John Marsden (Tomorrow when the War began, the first three are very good)
      Wolfgang and Heike Hohlbein (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_Moon, they wrote a number of YA books and loads of adult trash, in Germany the way to go is to buy the big black books, no clue what the English editions look like)
      Rosemary Sutcliff (best Arthurian cycle,the Ninth)
      Edith Nesbit (House of Arden)

      p.s. I found Cornelia Funke to be extremely boring in German, is she any good in English?

  12. If you can get your hands on an old copy of "The girl who owned a city" that's a great one that isn't well known (apparently the editions since '95 or so have been dumbed down). Isabelle Allende wrote a beautiful trilogy of books that I like to gift to kids about that age; the first one is "City of the Beasts". The Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey was written for kids that age and if she likes it there are the whole rest of the Pern books. The first 10 or so Xanth books by Piers Anthony are good and I think age appropriate. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede are still some of my favorite books and as a bonus almost all the main and secondary characters including the star are strong females (one is a dragon or I'd say women).

    It's great to encourage her to read the good stuff but it's also ok if she reads some junk. I was already reading mostly from the adult section by middle school (mostly a mix of sci-fi/fantasy, "literature", and all the Agatha Christie's I could get my hands on) but I distinctly remember spending entire afternoons at the library devouring the Sweet Valley High books because my mother wouldn't let me check them out. I still read everything from the occasional trashy romance novel to super serious literary fiction depending on my mood.

    That being said there lots of good resources to help you and her find the good stuff, especially since YA has exploded since we were kids. The librarians at your public library should be able to suggest books/authors based on what she has liked in the past. The A Mighty Girl website has a great curated selection of books that are sorted by age range with about 2,000 books in the pre-teen and teen sections http://www.amightygirl.com/books . Goodreads also has tons of lists of books for any age or topic; this is just one http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1606.Top_100_Middle_School_Must_Reads

    • I love The Girl Who Owned a City! I still have my copy. My dad grew up in the neighboring town and will drive by the high school when we're in town (if I ask.). It really does look as described in the book!

    • I agree. It's great to broaden literary horizons, but let her read the "junk" too. When I was a middle schooler, my parents weren't big fans of how much fantasy (and sci-fi) I read, labeling it junk. They tried to give me other stuff, but I never liked the suggestions of adults as much as the books I discovered for myself or through friends. And now I'm a literature professor. My job is (partially) reading and analyzing literature, and I still sometimes read the same "junk" fantasy series I loved as a kid.

  13. I enjoyed the Series of Unfortunate Events series – 13 in all. Very intelligent series that doesn't pander to kids. The movie seriously does not do it justice and I would suggest not watching it.
    Sarah Dessen is also great. Keeping the Moon is my personal favourite. I still read her books at 26.
    The Travelling Pants series
    Artemis Fowl series
    Judy Blume
    Louise Reynolds Naylors' Alice series

  14. Lots of good suggestions above (Tamora Pierce, Lois Lowry, Tuck Everlasting, Wrinkle in Time, Narnia, etc). I would also add: Scott Westerfeld, especially the Leviathan and Uglies series (warning — he chooses different writing styles for each of his series, so you may like one but not the other), the Grounded trilogy by G.P. Ching, Starters by Lissa Price, Lost and Found by Brooke Davis (warning – aging and living with grief is the theme in this one).

    I also have trouble finding good books, so I do two things — I look at what amazon recommends for books I know I like (hit or miss strategy), and I go to Barnes & Noble to look at the pretty displays of books, which seems to help me find new ones (to go get from the library).

  15. I agree with Emily just the fact she is reading is good. That she is open to your suggestions is great.
    Some modern and classic works with strong female characters you could try that haven't been mentioned yet:
    Last Dragonslayer series by Jasper Fforde-quirky fantasy
    Finishing School series by Gail Carringer-steampunk about a school for spies
    His Dark Material series by Philip Pullman
    Oz series by L. Frank Baum

    The Printz Award are given to YA novels thought to have literary excellence you can find lists for them going back to 2000. The YALSA a division of the American Library Association has lots of lists and even a teen book finder ap on their site.

  16. The Lioness Rampant series (or anything else) by Tamora Pierce.
    The Enchanted Forest series (Dealing with Dragons and its sequels) by Patricia Wrede
    Anything by Bruce Colville
    Anything by Jane Yolen, but especially Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast
    Catwings by Ursula K. LeGui
    ,

  17. I strongly second (third?) the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce and pretty much everything Madeleine L'Engle wrote.
    Lois Lowry is a queen among authors and is also prolific, and writes in many different genres – realistic humor, realistic tragedy, dystopian, etc.
    Cynthia Voigt is another great author who writes dark realistic fiction.
    Chris Crutcher writes sports fiction, and there's a lot to digest in his books around masculinity and friendship.
    Zilpha Keatley Snyder is amazing, too: The Egypt Game was one of my favorites as a kid.
    I've heard great things about Wonder, though I haven't read it myself.
    She's definitely old enough for The Hobbit and maybe the rest of Lord of the Rings (depending on her tolerance for pages of description).
    She might even like some good old-school mysteries, such as Agatha Christie.

    But, I gotta say, if a kid is picking out her own books, let her read them. I read some books my parents would've considered pretty terrible when I was that age. It's part of exploring and developing our own tastes, and when you're a voracious reader you often read indiscriminately. Some of those "junky" books I read with friends, which was great because it stoked the fires of my nascent love for book clubs. Let her read the junk. Seriously. Ask her about what she's reading (you don't have to read it, just talk about it!) and share some of what you're reading. It's a great practice. She'll grow into her tastes as a reader. Those tastes might tend towards books you don't like, and that's okay.

  18. There are many books your daughter could read. The list below also contain classics I read as a girl:
    Any of Madeline L'Engle's novels, ie: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, A Wrinkle in Time, The Young Unicorns, etc.
    A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula LeGuin
    Eagle of the Ninth & The Silver Branch, by Rosemary Sutcliff
    The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander
    The Deryni Chronicles, by Katherine Kurtz
    The Adept Chronicles, by Deborah Turner Harris & Katherine Kurtz

  19. There are a lot of good recommendations so far. I definitely agree with those who recommended Garth Nix. He has some very strong heroines in his Abhorsen series. The Young Wizard series by Diane Duane also got high marks from me. Regarding Tamora Pierce – some of these are more "grown up" than others, but can also be good conversation-starters about morality, puberty, sexuality, family, and relationships. Song of the Lioness is probably more In tune with the younger set, while some of her later series (Trickster, Bekah Cooper) have more adult theming.

    If your daughter is younger, the "Dealing with Dragons" series by Patricia Wreede is light-hearted, entertaining, and full of strong characters.

    Brian Jacques' Redwall series is great for young animal-lovers. Also about animals, but a little quirkier and with a few more "grown-up" themes is Claire Bell's Ratha's Creature. I remember being rather spellbound by the sentient prehistoric felines who are this book's main characters.

    Personally, the "at least she's reading" argument kind of bugs me. I hear it a lot, but no one would say this about ANY other kind of media. You wouldn't say "at least she's eating" if your daughter ate nothing but candy bars. Instead, I think of "literary junk food" in the context of a well-rounded literary diet. We have a biological "taste" for sugar but that doesn't mean it's all we should eat. It's better to encourage variety and critical thinking than ban all "junk food" or take the other, "at least she's reading" extreme.

    • As an educator and former reading tutor I really have to disagree with the equivalency of "junk" reading to junk food. There are types of books and authors that I abhor and cannot enjoy reading because the writing is so bad and the content is little more than fluff. But for readers who enjoy it, the act of reading still builds connections in young minds that are just as powerful and beneficial whether they're reading something disappointing, or experiencing rich worlds from authors who can weave in challenging concepts and vocabulary while maintaining an engaging narrative. No matter how much I disliked what some of my students chose to read, I would never discourage it (unless the content matter was seriously inappropriate), because they truly are still benefiting from the act of reading. "At least they're reading," is so, so very different from, "at least they're eating." A kid who knows that they are trusted to read whatever they choose to enjoy is a child who will be so much more open to suggestions of even better, more challenging material when they feel ready for it again.

      On that note, I also want to mention that many kids in this age group gravitate towards fluffier reading simply because it's nice to have an escape. They're still able to immerse themselves in an imaginary world, but one that might not have all of the conflicts of their lives — everyone they know IRL is going through puberty and that can get weird/overwhelming. Other kids at this age start to feel like the history lessons they're learning & having to read about (or any other subject, really) is heavy enough, and they want fluff books that just feel good. These are totally valid reasons for reading! Reading as a coping mechanism for pre-teen life is possibly one of the most well-adjusted methods there is.

      So… yes… I always want students to reach for more challenging reading and to experience wonderful authors! I will always suggest the books for them that I think are best (and so many of my favorite books have already been mentioned in the comments!), but it's OK if they go on a fluff streak here and there. Most kids who love reading will come back around when they're ready or when the right book grabs their attention. Having a parent who is on the look-out for books that might do that is the best thing! I just want to caution against disparaging the fluff too much. It's really not as bad for them as we want to believe it is.

  20. Michelle magorian – most famous for goodnight Mr tom, which is a great book,but a little love song is my favourite book of all time. Essentially a coming of age in world war 2, but it covers a lot of feminism, relationships and mental health in the kind of way you would want your kid to learn!
    I'm pretty sure his was the age I hit Danielle steel as well – maybe a bit trashy, but I still think they are pretty good!
    Sometimes I suppose it's about opening your horizons, learning about the world outside your own,sometimes you just want escapism!

  21. The "Anne of Green Gables" series is very good, if she hasn't read them already. I also enjoyed the "Tripods" sci-fi series by John Christopher.

    At that age, I started reading books shelved in the adult section. Some I would consider to be age appropriate would include Mary Stewart's mysteries. I started with "The Moon Spinners" and read it so many times I lost count. (Note: The movie was terrible!) Elizabeth Peters' archaeological mysteries set in Egypt in the early 1900's should be age appropriate. Also, if you don't mind a Christian theme, romances by Grace Livingston Hill were a nice start to that genre. Some might object to them and to Jane Austin's books because of the attitudes of the times they were written, but both authors offered a sense of history and you won't have to worry about them being too sexy. For alternative views on religion & spirituality, I also love Richard Bach's books.

    I saw someone recommended Heinlen but I would respectfully disagree. I would think his books have way too much sex and his attitudes toward sex would be way too complex and confusing for middle school. I would probably recommend Poul Anderson as a sci-fi & fantasy author for a young teen. I think "The Merman's Children" would be a good one to start with. I do not remember his books having much if any sex – nothing graphic at any rate. I think they age appropriate but it has been too many years since I've read his work to be absolutely sure, so you might want to read them first.

    Although you didn't ask for non-fiction recommendations, this might be a good time to expand her reading choices in that direction. I began reading biographies at that age. I was required to stay in the YA section for biography until I was old enough for the "tell all" style found in the adult section. I started with biographies written for young adults about the authors of my favorite children's books. From there, I branched out to books about historical figures. I remember books about Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, and another about George Washington Carver. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the authors, but they were both very good. Just recently, I read one written by George Burns about his life with Gracie Allen that would be age appropriate, even though it was in the adult section. Reading biographies gave me a sense of possibility for my own life (career interests to explore, overcoming obstacles, places to travel) and opened up the whole world of non-fiction as well.

  22. Not sure if it's been mentioned, but Catherine M. Valente's Fairyland series is great. I've only read the first book but it was fantastic if you (or you kid) are into fairy tales, legends, other lands. Quite clever.

    Ursula le Guin's stuff is fantastic also. Jane Yolen has some great books. The Black Cauldron series is good. Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising is awesome if you love magic and mythology (primarily British) in a contemporary world.

    I adore Tamora Pierce. Joy is right that some of the books are a little more adult but no more so than Dragon Riders of Pern or numerous other books I started reading at that age, probably less. The first Circle series is a good place to start if magic is loved. I will say that Tamora Pierce is clear that she doesn't pull punches. In medieval times, teens married fairly young and had sex. Sex and violence are not strangers to many students in middle years today. So she deals with it in age appropriate ways but it happens. She has books with young people dealing with war, natural disasters, etc. I love that she lays it out but more in the way that it is a reality and just another facet of life. Alanna and the first Circle series are both younger but most of the series in Tortall follow characters who grow up from book to book. The Circle is more compressed time-wise so you can read four books set within a few years at most.

    I know by grade 6 I started reading adult novels. Lord of the Rings, Dragon Riders of Pern, etc. So it's hard to say what works best for middle years as it all depends on your child. School libraries may be more limited.

    I did read crap sometimes. I still read crap sometimes. Sometimes I just need to read a little fluff. I had disagreements with my mother over that numerous times because she felt I should be reading different things. I think exposure to different writing, themes, levels of reading, quality of writing, can help you appreciate good things. And sometimes we just want to turn our brains off or read what everyone else is reading. So the occasional book that you don't necessarily see is high quality can be perfectly fine for me. R. L. Stine and Fear Street totally came home with me when I was growing up and I'm perfectly aware they are pretty horrid. Babysitters Club, the books about teens with serious illnesses, romance novels. It was experimentation to see what I like.

  23. I loved these books growing up:
    Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit which I read for the first time at 14, quite challenging but so worth it
    Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. OK this is a tough one for a middleschooler but I read it right after Disney released The Hunchback of Notre-Dame at age 12 and loved it. You can look into cartoons she loves and go from there, lots of them are inspired from books.
    Carrie and Charlie by Stephen King deal with children/teenagers and their issues facing a scary world.
    Seal Secret by Aidan Chambers
    The Jules Verne novels are amazing if she loves adventure and steampunk – this author is basically the granddaddy of steampunk πŸ™‚

    … I guess I had fairly classical tastes πŸ™‚

  24. I'm guessing I'm going to duplicate some things here, but Madeleine L'Engle, not just Wrinkle in Time, but the Austin family books (Ring of Endless Light in particular) are really good. I remember reading Lois Lowry and her Anastasia books when I was younger, but also Number the Stars, and the Giver – I haven't read all of the books in that series, but The Giver was really good. I've recently read Percy Jackson series as an adult and find them entertaining, a fun glimpse at Greek mythology, and pleasantly diverse in terms of cast and characters. The Heroes of Olympus series is by the same author and continues that trend. I've heard good things about his other books too. Roll of Thunder hear my cry (and the sequels) are ones that I read around that age. Also, Julie of the Wolves, and A Year down Yonder by Richard Peck and some of his other books are good too. Something like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie would be something that would begin to be appropriate towards the upper end of middle grades probably. I second Rosemary Sutcliffe and also loved her take on the Arthur legends. Susan Cooper is another favorite author of mine. And I've only read one of Rainbow Rowell's but I really liked the one I read (Eleanor and Park).

    Some of these probably tend a little more YA than middle school… a lot of it is going to depend on the maturity of your kid, but they're all things I would feel comfortable handing to most 12-13 year olds probably.

    Also, I recommend Nancy Pearl's Book Crush: For Kids and Teens -Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest – she's a librarian who has done a lot of work with reader's advisory, and she has some great recommendations in that book. Which leads me to, find your local children or teen librarian! You can say then 'we like this' and they're great at coming up with 'well you might also like this'.

    I read a fair amount of Babysitters club as a kid and I managed to survive so some not so well written stuff is going to be fine, but there are a lot of really great books out there.

  25. Books that I read for the first time in middle school and have since read countless times because they are so good:
    *Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. (His only children's book and its phenomenal)
    *Watership Down
    *Ender's Game

    I can't wait until my child is old enough to share these books with!

  26. Go for all the Enid Blyton series (My favorites: Mallory Towers, St. Clare's Famous Five, Secret Seven, etc.) and Ruby Ferguson (Jill's Gymkhana series). You can find them on eBay or purchase through the UK version of Amazon.

    My all-time favorite book from that era of my life though is "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."

    (I still read them all!)

  27. I think all of my suggestions have already been mentioned (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, The Dark is Rising, Abhorsen, Tiffany Aching are all still favorites and I reread them still). I might have to use this page to find some new book suggestions for myself πŸ™‚ good books are still good as one gets older.

    Hmm, I don't see much historical fiction in other people's suggestions. I remember really liking Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice, both by Karen Cushman. I also had a couple of the Royal Diaries series from Scholastic; I particularly adored the one about Queen Elizabeth I.

    • Cyndie:
      All of Rosemary Sutcliff's books are classical historical fiction, including the 2 I mentioned above in my comments: Eagle of the Ninth (made into a movie) and The Silver Branch. Lloyd Alexander's classic Chronicles of Prydain are based on ancient Welsh Mythology and historical fiction as well. Yes, there are lots of historical fiction — not just fantasy, however fantasy is often influenced by ancient myths and/or the Biblical apocrypha like Madeline L'Engle's fantasies. πŸ˜‰

  28. Another young adult librarian here.

    I don't think anyone's mentioned Robin McKinley or Monica Furlong, both of whom were very loved and formative for me. McKinley's "The Hero and the Crown", and Furlong's "Wise Child" and "Juniper" especially. Also another plug for Terry Pratchett, but especially his book "Nation" which is the best thing he ever wrote.

    Some "classic" authors the library may or may not have
    Joan Aiken
    Roald Dahl
    Elizabeth Enright's Melendy Quartet and Gone-Away Lake books
    Jane Yolen

    If she's super into animal rescue stuff, Pax by Sara Pennypacker just came out and it's about a boy and his pet fox, but it's actually really good.

    Also the pinterest boards of the place I totally don't work at nope not at all https://www.pinterest.com/castilibrary/ has a lot of good suggestions, and there's a recommended pleasure reading list available as well http://library.castilleja.org/reviews-recommendations/recommended-pleasure-reading.

    There'll be a new pleasure reading list coming out before the summer too.

  29. Maybe a little below her reading level, but the Secrets of Droon series has been amazing for us ever since my daughter discovered it (she had been bringing home the awful Rainbow Fairies books). There are TONS of books in the Droon series, but I think it's more for late elementary school.

    Also, in 7th grade I loved anything by Avi.

  30. Honestly, I don't see what's wrong with your child picking her own books since she's in middle school. Unless she's choosing books that will inspire her to join a cult or get involved in something severley perverse and dangerous, I'd give her a pass. Who doesn't look back on that age and remember "Wow, I was so into Nancy Drew / Sweet Valley / cheesy bodice rippers."

  31. If they are still around, I read a lot of books by Lois Duncan- kind of young adult thrillers. When I worked my way through those, I started James Patterson books (closer to high school). Also, the Giver was one of my favorites, that I reread a bunch of times. I didn't know it was a quartet, but I do have them now, just need to read them! I'm not sure on what is in curriculum these days, but a few that we read in school were The Hobbit, The Devil's Arithmetic, Watership Down. I also picked up random books from the Scholastic book orders like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Dancing on the Edge.

  32. Everyone has made some wonderful suggestions! In addition to the above, here are a few more (some of which will definitely mark me as a '90s kid):
    – The Saddle Club series (if she likes horses, as I did. the books look fluffy but they deal with serious themes, class & race differences, bullying, sibling rivalries, having a single parent, first boyfriends, and so on.)
    – Animorphs series
    – What about Jane Austen?
    – She might not be ready for Lord of the Rings, but The Hobbit is actually intended for a younger audience
    – Bruce Coville's "Into the Land of the Unicorns" and sequels
    – Relatedly, "The Last Unicorn" and sequel
    – Some PD James, Dorothy Sayers, or Agatha Christie
    – Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy
    – Jules Verne
    – Robert Louis Stevenson
    – James Herriot, especially for an animal lover
    – Most Sherlock Holmes mysteries
    – Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley
    – Dear America series: https://www.goodreads.com/series/49549-dear-america
    – Check out the A Mighty Girl initiative, which lists books about strong, courageous girls and categorizes them by type and age group: http://www.amightygirl.com/books
    – Try looking on Goodreads! It includes YA fiction. Their recommendation feature is the best one I have encountered and users have made all kinds of lists; I'm sure there are some focused on books appropriate for this age group.

    One last thought from a '90s kid: Several episodes of the old Wishbone TV series have been made publicly available (legally) on YouTube. The show was amazing for introducing complex classic novels to kids. You could watch an episode together and then read the book or a children's version of the book together.

  33. I can't believe no one has mentioned Robin McKinley yet. Or if anyone did I missed it. I absolutely devoured her books when I was that age. Though I also devoured Tolkien when I was eleven, so perhaps I was unusual. Tanith Lee also has some great ones, and though a lot of them do have rather adult themes many are totally appropriate for middle schoolers, like the Wolf Tower series and Black Unicorn. For some more specific titles:
    Darkangel trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce. Vampires in the first one, but not your standard pop culture vampires.
    Hawksong and its sequels by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Shapeshifters, though she's written some decent vampire books too.
    The Mennyms and its sequels. Living dolls trying to get by in the world with their secret. I still re-read these and I'm 25. I think they're out of print, though.
    The Search for WondLa and sequels by Tony Diterlizzi(sp?). I read these last year and they're awesome, even though I'm well outside their target audience. Lots of action and cool alien life forms.
    At that age I read a lot of things published under the Firebird label that were fabulous, many of them reprints of older works but newer stuff too. Enchantress from the Stars, The Kin by Peter Dickinson, many others. I don't know if they're still in business but it might be worth looking into what they've published.

  34. One of my favorites that hasn't come up yet is the Betsy-Tacy series. The books are meant to age with the reader, so the early ones would be young for a middle schooler, but the ones that follow the characters through high-school and beyond would be totally appropriate. They take place in the early 1900s, but are in some ways surprisingly progressive- the main character goes to college and travels and works and it's all seen as normal, even expected. They were incredibly formative books for me at around that age.

    • YES YES YES YES I was also going to suggest Betsy-Tacy. I loved those books all growing up, and I love that they grow up with you. We visited Mankato MN a few years ago and saw their real houses and walked to Tib's (still chocolate colored!) and where the school was, etc.

      • I was going to suggest Betsy-Tacy as well! I loved these books dearly and devoured the high school and beyond ones when I was in middle school. I love how they take you back to a quainter time where typical entertainment for the teenagers is singing around the piano and making fudge, but have strong characters that still resonate today. It also always fascinated me that they were based on the author's actual experiences – it really gives you a vivid sense of the time and place. Margie, I am super jealous that you went to Mankato. That's on my list for sure!

  35. Seconding Anne of Green Gables, and L.M. Montgomery's other series, Emily of New Moon. I liked Enily a lot more and packed it in my box of books when I went to grad school.

    Also:
    the Little Prince
    Anything Jules Verne
    Jane Eyre ( I read it when I was 11, but check your own judgment because some of it is more adult)
    The Book Thief

    I also really loved historical fictions for kids, particularly about the Second World War. I also liked juvenile biographies a lot, and this field is flourishing.

  36. A bunch of awesome suggestions here. I'm going to add the Alice book series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor– the middle school year books are the best and also the most age-appropriate I would say (starting with The Agony of Alice).

  37. I remember loving The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton when I was younger – there was something so benign and friendly about it. I also reread the original novel One Hundred and One Dalmatians – far more interesting than the Disney film (not to mention significantly more female characters). I also loved Heidi, and Magic in the Weaving from Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series.

    Books I didn't read as a child but I'm sure I would have loved (because I love them now) are Watership Down (my absolute favourite book ever, though you will need to make a judgement call about whether your child will find it upsetting or not), My Family and Other Animals, The Princess Bride (though I dislike the author's characterisation of Buttercup, she's far better in the film, so maybe consider doing a compare-and-contrast with your child).

  38. I strongly recommend the Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce. I liked it even more than the Song of the Lioness Quartet, and its sequels in The Circle Opens series just get even better. Middle School was also around the time I started reading the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey. Interesting and complex characters and stories usually told in trilogies, over 30 books in the series so far. These are not YA books and some of them contain more adult themes than others but Middle School is about the age children are being exposed to them just in their everyday lives so YMV.

  39. I have no GOOD fiction picks that haven't already been said. I remember really loving Chicken Soup books at that age. Not the best, but also not terrible. I also enjoyed reading about women in history during their teen years–Anne Frank, Pocahontas, Lucy Grealy, Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Claudette Clovin, The Red Scarf Girl, and more. I Am Malala just came out with a YA version.

  40. This is a fantastic list, and as an avid reader of children's/young adult lit I can vouch for most of the previous comments.

    I'm also going to suggest that you avoid dismissing the perceived "trashier" stuff. While I'm not a fan of many of the series you find in Scholastic book orders…it's her choice, and ultimately she's still reading. Consider those books a gateway drug for better novels and series-take a quick skim through and see if you can find any connections between those books and the ones you would like her to read. Offer them, read them together, but don't push the issue. I graduated from the Babysitters Club to Tamora Pierce to the heavy-hitters of Canlit (but still really love the BSC). Her tastes will evolve, so provide the alternatives but go with the flow in terms of what she brings home from the library.

  41. Depending on her age, interests & maturity levels…..
    – "The Outsiders", S.E. Hinton
    – "The Borrowers" series, Mary Norton
    – "Who Has Seen The Wind?" – W.O. Mitchell
    – "Stargirl" – Jerry Spinelli

  42. Oh boy, this is exciting! I read a TON as a kid, and though I've since parted with most of my book collection, there are a few meaningful ones I've been holding onto for nieces and nephews.

    The Airborn Series – Kenneth Oppel (teenage protagonist works aboard a steampunky airship, encounters air pirates, mythical air creatures, and makes friends with an intriguing young lady)

    The Silverwing Series – Kenneth Oppel (a story told from the perspective of a young bat separated from his colony who gets swept up in bat history, legend, and mythology. Very interesting due to the story being described largely in echolocation)

    Growing Wings – Laurel Winter (an 11 year old girl's life changes when she suddenly beings to grow wings. This one touches a bit on coming of age, self-image and puberty, while being really cool because it's about humans with wings!)

    The Raging Quiet – Sherryl Jordan (this one would be good for mid to older teens, because it's about a 16 year old girl who marries a much older man to secure her family's future in medieval times. Her husband passes away shortly after her marriage and she is an outcast in her new community, due to her friendship with the village madman. She discovers he's not mad only deaf, and begins teaching him a sign language of her own devising. The community turns on her and accuses her of witch craft. This one has some intense scenes of her witch trial and references her marital relations, but I love this book so much because the main character is such a spitfire and her friendship with the deaf man is so sweet and loving.)

  43. I would suggest anything by Mercedes Lackey or RA Salvatore – both might be a little above her, but that's around the time I started reading their books.

    Also, I would consider asking your middle schooler why she's reading those particular books – that might give you some insight into what she enjoys and could tailor a book list to those points.

  44. Series: Lemony Snicket, Anne of Green Gables, Artemis Fowl, Molly Moon, Sisters Grimm, American Girls, Eldest and Eragon, authors: Charles deLindt and Mercedes Lackey. Also she should check out 8th or 9th grade reading lists, Shakespeare for kids, Greek mythology and and non-fiction books she might be interested in.

  45. I loved the Harry Potter series growing up.. I always felt cool when I was reading them and everyone else was just watching the movies, cause I knew what was going to happen next. The school I went to also gave books as reading assignments like the giver and Lois lowery books.. I loved! I also really like goosebumps and other books like that suspense drama! Wish I had more time to read nowadays.. But I'm currently finishing my masters so it's textbooks only right now πŸ™ I agree with the previous comments at that age the writing doesn't really matter too much it's more the content! Just let her read what she wants she will more on to bigger and better books when she's ready!!!

  46. Another vote for Tamora Pierce!

    I also enjoyed The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys at that age. My brother loved Redwall and that whole series by Brian Jacques.

  47. The Little House on the Prarie series Nancy Drew Hardy Boys or the Black Stallion series. Anything by Judy Blume. Babysitter's club. Sweet Valley twins and Sweet Valley high. Let her read the junk too reading bad stuff lets you figure out what you like and don't like. Right now she is experimenting with everything. She doesn't know who she is and is trying to figure it out. I read a lot of different things and some of my friends are shocked that I also read trashy romance. They're bad but fun. Sometimes that's what you want. Oh I just remember the Spiderwick Chronciles. Fun books I discovered them as an adult because I still love children's lit.

  48. I haven't scrolled through all the comments so I apologize for any repeats, but my favorite books in elementary/middle school included:

    -A Wrinkle in Time (and the other books from this series… sometimes heavy religious overtones but still good)
    -ANY of Beverly Cleary's books (might be for a younger age group if I recall correctly but depends on the reader)
    -The Little House on the Prairie series
    -Nancy Drew
    -Encyclopedia Brown
    -The Westing Game

    These are all older books, but I read all of them in the late 90s and still appreciated them then. In fact, writing about them now is making me want to go back and re-read a few…

  49. I agree with so many of the ones already listed here. That's the age I was definitely dipping into adult novels, but I would read just about anything that looked interesting.
    I was seriously into Star Trek when I was in middle school, so I read every Star Trek and Next Generation book I could get my hands on. I also adored Christopher Pike books and read them over and over.
    Some of the ones not listed that I loved included anything by Monica Hughes. It usually had a bit of a Sci-Fi, speculative fiction bent to it like Invitation To The Game, or The Guardian Of Isis.

    My all time favorite book at that age though was called The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy, which is a story told from the Perspective of African Elephants. It's actually still my fav if I had to choose.

  50. Series of unfortunate events- loved that as a child.

    Also Anne of green gables. Their are a few more in the series than just the first 1. I think their are over 10 in total!!!

    Also the famous five by Enid byton. If you can find it as I'm British so you may not be able to find them.

  51. I love middle reader books! Here are some I've been into recently:
    -The Wildwood series (Wildwood, Under Wildwood, and Wildwood Imperium) by Colin Meloy
    -The Fairyland series (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, and The Boy Who Lost Fairyland) by Catherynne M. Valente
    -Mermaid in Chelsea Creek and Girl at the Bottom of the Sea by Michelle Tea (there's also going to be a third in the series, but it's not out, yet)

    And when I was younger I loved anything by Francesca Lia Block, although some of hers may get more young-adulty.

  52. I loved anything by Roald Dahl and the Animorphs book series at that age. Also The Hobbit by Tolkien, and like others have said, the Harry Potter series. Good luck finding books both you and your child love!

  53. As a middle schooler, I loved The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm (sci-fy), and oddly was really fascinated with Holocaust stories like Number the Stars, Upon the head of the goat, and Anne Frank– I found them heartbreaking and such a huge disconnect from my own childhood, which is what interested me I think.
    We read soooo much as kids, my mom brought us to the library at least once a week to pick out our own books. There should be a YA section at your library with some good picks!

    • OMG The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm!!! Such a good book! My sixth grade teacher read it to us, and I have such positive memories associated with it. We would beg her to keep going whenever she got to the end of a chapter, but she would just grin an evil grin and put the book mark in. I was a sick child, but I went to as much school as possible whenever we were reading a good book.

  54. Some books I loved at that age were:
    All of Tolkien
    Dragonriders of Pern (but yeah the sex in there is a little iffy)
    Pendragon Series by D.J. MacHale (sci-fi)
    A Wrinkle in Time
    Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green
    Also while they were read to me at a younger age I would still recommend the Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen–even my "I hate reading" younger brother devoured those books

  55. First, I'll advise that there's probably a reason she's choosing the books she's bringing home. Maybe they're popular at school and she enjoys talking about them with her friends, maybe they're hitting on her interests or maybe they're pure escape for her. Give her your exuberant blessing to read them, devour them and enjoy them. That's what's most important, whether it's a high-brow classic or some Disney princess party. Feel free to introduce her to other books, but stop judging what she's reading for its literary merit and start considering them in the context of her life and joy. I know you know this, but it's really crucial that she knows you trust her with her entertainment and interests. She's making the choice to read at all! It's a good choice! Encourage it!
    All that said, if her middle school library has a reading program, encourage her to join. It's a fun club where she can socialize with other readers and earn prizes. Important to you is that the reading list is probably chock full of "good" books. I did it and it introduced me to a ton of books I never would've picked up.

    – Dragon's Milk by Susan Fletcher (weird title, great book)
    – The His Dark Materials series
    – Walk Two Moons
    – City of Ember (et al.)
    – Weetzie Bat (Google this one, has some content that some parents are ehhh on.)

  56. I don't want to duplicate, triplicate, etc. some of the suggestions here — there are some really fantastic ones in this thread, and thanks to Dootsie Bug I think I'm going to dust off & re-read my copy of Weetzie Bat.

    I'm assuming that the original poster is familiar enough with their kid's reading history that they could pull some of the titles she's read that the poster really was happy with her choosing. If that's the case, this website can be a fun way to discover similar books: http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com. I'll admit that it's a bit hit or miss & the titles that pop up will need vetting for age-appropriateness. However, I keep going back to it when I've finished everything on my reading list and am looking for something to help me build another long list of books to reserve from the library. I also use it when I'm stumped to find a good recommendation for a student or friend. It's a great starting point!

  57. I really loved the Song of the Lioness and Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. There are some great strong leading ladies in both of the series, that I really connected with growing up. I still reread both series and I'm 30 now.

  58. To this day my favorite books are the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, I'm now reading Pioneer Girl, which is her original writing when she started the books, with a ton of notations that makes it feel like an amazing research paper.
    And yes, I still re-read the Little House series from time to time.

  59. I remember reading a lot of Laurence Yep, Michael Crichton, Anne McCaffrey, and Terry Brooks at around that age. I think I got into the 2001 series by Arthur C. Clarke around that time too.
    It's a little dry in the beginning, but if you can get through the introductory chapters, Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland is a quick, fun read.
    I was also into The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew and those kinds of fluff, which do have their own merits. I saw a mention of the Saddle Club books, which I had completely forgotten about, but second that. I wouldn't worry about the fluff too much, everyone needs some light reading now and again.

  60. I haven't read all the comments so this might have been mentioned, but the American Library Association releases "best of" type lists every year, often targeted toward a particular age group. Many state library organizations have similar lists. You cmight consult those lists for new books for your daughter.

    To get you started (some YA might be too older for her, but not all):
    2016 Notable Children's Books (see older readers section): http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb
    Alex Awards (ages 12-18): http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklists/alex
    Excellence in Non-Fiction for Young Adults (12-18): http://www.ala.org/yalsa/nonfiction
    Coretta Scott King Awards (by African-Americans): http://www.ala.org/emiert/cskbookawards
    Lonestar Books (from Tx Library Association, for grades 6-8): http://www.txla.org/groups/lone-star

  61. My absolute favorite book from my middle school years (or childhood in general, I can't really remember when I found the book) was 'the true confessions of Charlotte Doyle'. It's a book about a young girl who becomes a sailor in 1832, and there is a murder mystery as well.
    I still like to go back and re-read it every now and then.
    But also, the series of unfortunate events are wonderful. I like to re-read those, too.

  62. The Giver is one of my favorite books- it was the first to make me think! I also read a lot of Lois Duncan books- generally a female lead, I guess I would consider it "young adult thrillers" or something. I also enjoyed reading Watership Down (though my classmates did not), the Hobbit, and now I am having trouble remembering back that far. Good luck! Happy reading! πŸ™‚

  63. Can I just start with how much I love that mom popped in with an update that her girl was making a list of all these great book suggestions! I remember reading lots of Ray Bradbury, Tom Clancy, T.A. Barron, Mercedes Lackey, and Anne Mccaffrey to name a few. My friends kids really loved all the Gregory Maguire books I loaned them.

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