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

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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?

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

  1. 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!)

  2. 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 🙂 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. 😉

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.”

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

    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.

  11. 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).

  12. 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).

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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.)

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 🙁 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!!!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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…

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