What’s on your child’s summer reading list? As kids get older they are probably picking out their own books, for the most part. But there is no reason why you can’t make a few suggestions! My son is about to enter 6th grade (gasp! faint!) and I chose these books with him in mind. But no need to consider this primarily a 6th grade summer reading list. The books are appropriate for all middle schoolers!
(Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
I intentionally chose books that I felt would take kids out of their familiar surroundings and get them thinking about the experiences of others around the world. But not to fret, none of these books are preachy tomes that kids will hate reading. There is a sprinkle of humor, some serious issues, a few books in verse, and a lot of thoughtful topics. Happy reading! (P.S. Grown-ups will love these books, too, so feel free to make any of them a read aloud!)
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. The protagonist in this book charmed the pants off me. Kek is a refugee from Africa and has come to live with his aunt and cousins in Minnesota. In Somalia, Kek and his mother became separated after an attack on a refugee camp. Kek maintains hope that his mother will still be found (spoiler alert: happy ending) but in the meantime he optimistically sets about learning the ropes of living in America, which includes a very wonderful friendship with a cow, and becoming friends with a foster girl at his new school. I did feel like the author created Kek with a bit of forced naïveté (would he really not know what jeans were?), but all in all, a very enjoyable book.
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai. This is a young readers edition of Malala’s story. The Nobel Peace Prize winner describes how her father raised her to stand up for herself, and her experience living in Pakistan as it was transformed by the Taliban when she was 10 years old. She explains how important education is, especially for girls, and her miraculous survival after being attacked on a bus. If you have older teens, they can read the adult version, but younger kids will appreciate this edition.
The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, with illustrations by Peter Sís, is inspired by the childhood of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Neftali, as he is named in the book, is pressured by his authoritarian father to study practical pursuits. But Neftali is a dreamer; he looks at the world and sees all its wonder. He spends his time writing about his observations, daydreaming and feeding his artistic soul. This book is absolutely beautiful. The lovely illustrations are an integral part of the storytelling. This book would also be a terrific read aloud for parents with middle school aged kids.
Listen Slowly by Thanhhà Lai. I previously recommended Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again, a verse novel about an immigrant family from Vietnam set in the 1960s. Listen, Slowly is a contemporary, prose tale of a middle school girl, Mai, born to immigrants, but who feels very American. One summer she is dismayed to learn she will be accompanying her father and grandmother to visit her extended family in Vietnam instead of spending time on the sunny beaches of her Californian home. This is an engaging coming of age story in which Mai learns to love her heritage and culture. Kids will absolutely relate to Mai on every level!
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez. 11 year old Tyler’s Vermont family farm in trouble and in order to make ends meet they hire a family of undocumented workers. One of the girls is Tyler’s age and the two become friends, learning from each other. The is a wonderful book that addresses what it means to have compassion for others, the meaning of family and what it means to be honest. The narration alternates between Tyler’s perspective and letters written by Mari. (I listened to this as an audiobook.)
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle is narrated by Isaac, a Choctaw boy whose family is forced to walk the Trail of Tears. It is quite a remarkable book, mixing historical events with the supernatural, while delving into the cultural identity of the Choctaw. From the beginning of the book, Isaac announces to the reader that he is a ghost, and he foresees the tragedy to come. Yet, Tingle uses humor in surprising and effective ways. I highly recommend reading it aloud or alongside with your child, as adults will enjoy it just as much and kids will surely have many insightful questions.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle. I have mentioned a few times how this past year I have become enamored with novels written in verse. Margarita was born in the USA but her mother came from Cuba. The author grew up in mid-20th century Los Angeles and feels her loyalty being tested by the two countries. She spends holidays in Cuba but that all begins to change as the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorates. Stories of immigrants are so important right now (well, anytime, really) and this is a gorgeous one about a girl who also learns to love reading and poetry along the way.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Ted and Kat take their cousin, Salim to ride the London Eye. They balk at standing in the long queue but then a stranger offers them one ticket. Salim takes the tickets and gets on the ride, but never gets off. Ted and Kat must solve the mystery of what happened to their cousin. Although never stated as such, Ted is autistic. (He describes himself as “having a different kind of brain.) Ted studies the clues, using his systematic way of looking at things to finally find his cousin, just in the nick of time.
Secret Letters from 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern. I loved this book about 10 year old Ernest who lives a quiet life in Paris with his grandmother and an eccentric housekeeper. Well, his life is quiet until he meets his new classmate, Victoria. Victoria has 13 brothers and her exuberance for life draws Ernest out of his shell.
The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Julie narrates this book in the form of a notebook, accompanied by polaroid photos that help tell the story. Julie feels a bit invisible at her British school until two boys arrive from Mongolia and ask her to be their “Good Guide.” Julie bonds with her new friends, while still trying to navigate the complicated relationships of sixth grade. Funny, touching and a bit sad at parts, this is an enjoyable and rather quick read that kids will like.
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye. Aref Al-Amri is getting ready to leave his home in Oman. He is not looking forward to moving to Michigan and leaving behind all the things, places and people he loves. Instead of packing his suitcase as his mom requests, he and his grandfather, Siddi, visit a number of special places and along the way his grandfather helps him acquire momentos of home, while helping him learn to appreciate the adventure that is about to begin.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney contains some tough subject matter, but it is a marvelous book. 12 year old Amira lives in the Darfur region of Sudan on her family’s farm. It is 2003, just as war is breaking out in the area. She loves her family and dreams of going to school. When the Janjaweed arrive in her village, the survivors make the long walk to the refugee camp, where conditions are hard. Amira receives the gift of a red pencil and yellow notepad which becomes a catalyst of sorts, both for her spirit and for her mind. The most difficult scene in the book is when the Janjaweed terrorize the village and Amira sees the death of her father. The ending of the book leaves a lot of questions unanswered but curious and thoughtful children will want to learn more.
Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg is a moving story written in verse. Serafina, an 11 year old living in Haiti, dreams of becoming a doctor. She works hard in her impoverished, isolated village to earn money for school fees and the uniform. Although she has supporters, her dreams are challenged when a flood and an earthquake bring devastation to her island home. This is a beautifully written book and will remind children that education is a privilege.
George by Alex Gino. George is a girl, but everyone thinks she is a boy. She is worried no one will know who she is and she will stay hidden forever. She dreams of playing Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web but the teacher won’t even consider her for the part. George confesses her secret to her best friend, who helps her concoct a plan. This is a quiet gem of a book and I am impressed at how accessible the text is for the intended audience. George is a fifth grader and the story is not overcomplicated or bogged down with social and political backstory or controversy. While many might dismiss this book (which would be sad) solely because of George’s transgender identity it is much more than just an LGBT story. All kids are familiar with keeping secrets and worrying about being accepted by others. This is a moving and hopeful story.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin. I absolutely loved this book set in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Sasha has been wanting to become a loyal member of the Soviet Young Pioneers for as long he can remember. He sees Comrade Stalin as the great father of the Soviets, he knows all the laws of the SYP. His father works for the great Comrade Stalin, until… one day he doesn’t. When Sasha accidentally breaks off the nose from a statue, fear sets in and Sasha struggles to make sense of what is happening around him as he slowly comes to understand that some of what he thought to be true isn’t. This book is both subtly funny and sophisticatedly heartbreaking. Younger kids may miss much of the subtext of Sasha’s story but middle grade readers will have much to think about, and hopefully talk about with their parents who grew up before the break up of the USSR. (I listened to this on audiobook.)
Other book lists your middle schooler will love this summer:
- Chapter books with an Asian-American theme
- Historical fiction middle grade books
- Thrilling mysteries
- 11 books for 11 year olds
- Classic books for tweens
- 12 books for 12 year olds
More 6th grade summer reading (and more!):