Need some good books to recommend to rising sixth graders?
This 6th grade summer reading list is chock full of great books that tackle a wide variety of subjects that will interest kids heading off to middle school. The books are great for kids ages 11-12.
This list of recommended summer reading books is designed to showcase a diverse selection of stories with suspenseful plots and interesting characters. I intentionally chose books that offer kids a nice challenge and get them thinking about the experiences of others around the world.
Plus, there is a book to satisfy every sixth grader, whether they want funny books, serious stories, fantastical tales, graphic novels – even nonfiction! Make sure kids are allowed to pick out their own books so that reading is fun, not a chore. (TIP: Our Reading Bingo card may help!)
MORE: Check out all our summer reading resources, like reading bingo, the great library challenge and more.
Note: this post contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn commission for this blog. Bookshop supports independent booksellers. You can see this list, in addition to our other summer reading lists curated at Bookshop.
Do you want a printable 6th grade summer reading list? You can grab one at the end of this post!
THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE by Eugene Yelchin
Yelchin's illustrated, semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in the USSR is hilarious. Yevgeny’s ballet-obsessed mother wants him to be a dancer like her beloved Baryshnikov. He family is aware that displaying talent leads to small freedoms that may otherwise be elusive in their restricted society. Little does she know that Yevgeny spends his evenings drawing on the underside of the dining room table. Yevgeny’s Jewish family lives in such a small apartment that, as the youngest, he sleeps under the table. The discovery of Yevgney's talent provides the family with some hope. Yelchin's writing and illustrations masterfully walk the line between tragedy and comedy. Very enjoyable!
ORANGE FOR THE SUNSETS by Tina Athaide
1972 Uganda is not the typical setting for a children's novel, and yet, readers will draw many parallels between the shocking events in which the Ugandan government expelled ethnic Indians from the country, and present-day xenophobic tensions and arguments over national borders. The narration, which alternates between two friends–Indian Asha and Ungandan Yesofu–explores the nature of loyalty, nationality and allows the reader to view the country's chaos through two different lenses. Powerful and moving.
THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS by Anne Blankman
Valentina and Oksana both have fathers who work at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but the girls do not get along. When the unthinkable happens and there is an explosion at the plant, the girls are evacuated. Oksana has to leave her mother and father behind and instead accompanies Valentina and her mother to Leningrad. The narrative alternates between the two girls in 1986, and Rifka in 1941, who we later learn is Valentina's grandmother. The girls learn secrets about their families, each other and must learn out how to trust each other.
THE DREAMER by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrations by Peter Sís
Ryan's book is inspired by the childhood of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Neftali 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
Listen, Slowly is a contemporary tale of a middle school girl, Mai, born to Vietnamese immigrants. Mai doesn't feel Vietnamese, she feels very "American!" One summer she is dismayed to learn that instead of spending time on the sunny beaches of her Californian home, she will be accompanying her father and grandmother to visit her extended family in Vietnam. 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!
EFRÉN DIVIDED by Ernesto Cisneros
12-year-old Efrén loves to watch his Ama make milagras for him and his twin siblings every morning. It seems like she is always making a miracle breakfast out of nothing. After his Ama is deported in a surprise raid, Efrén must look after the household, including his sibling who has a cognitive disability, while his Apa works hard to earn the money needed to bring Ama back to the family. Efrén's secret almost costs him his best friend, a white boy who lives with his grandmother, as well as his academic success. Readers will empathize with the struggles of living with immigration difficulties and the emotional chaos of being forcibly separated from a parent.
OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga
This free-verse novel begins in Syria around the start of the Arab Spring. Jude and her pregnant mother decide to emigrate to live with her uncle in America. Her older brother, caught up in the protests against the government, stays behind with their father. In America, Jude meets new friends and discovers an interest in theater. With unflinching honesty and a keen perception, Jude describes the transition from Syria to her experiences adjusting to living in America. A splendid book.
HEALER OF THE WATER MONSTER by Brian Young
Nathan is trying to avoid spending time with his dad's new girlfriend, so instead of heading to Las Vegas with his father, he convinces his divorced parents to let him visit his grandmother on the Navajo reservation. In the desert, Nathan encounters Pond, an ailing water monster from the Navajo Creation Story. From there, Nathan begins his epic adventure into the Navajo Third World with the help of the Holy Beings. Young intriguingly blends together Diné mythology and the contemporary world. Fantastic.
SERAFINA'S PROMISE by Ann E. Burg
This 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.
YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P. by Alex Gino
Jilly P. is learning about how society doesn't treat individuals equally and how she can be part of the solution. She befriends a fellow fantasy book fan, Profound, who is deaf and Black. When Jilly's sister is born deaf she starts to learn about Deaf culture and how her sister's whiteness makes her different than Profound. Her Black aunt encourages her to confront racism, even though her parents want to ignore racial tensions, both in the family and in society. Jilly is an eager student and is a positive role model for kids to learn how to support marginalized people.
TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
This page-turner is an epistolary novel. Avery and Bett's fathers are sending them to the same summer camp in hopes that they will become friends. The dads are dating and thinking about getting married. At first, Avery and Bett are determined to dislike each other, but instead end up the best of friends. The book deals with the meaning of friendship and family. Avery and Bett discuss their origin stories, so readers hear about blended families, adoption, surrogates and learn that families come in all combinations. I absolutely adored this book and even though it ends with a wedding, it's not the one you were expecting!
BLANCAFLOR, THE HERO WITH SECRET POWERS by Nadja Spiegelman, illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez
Blancaflor is no damsel in distress; she is the fearless rescuer of others! Inspired by Latin American folktales, this exciting graphic novel takes readers on a rollicking adventure when Blancaflor completes challenges in order to save the prince from an ogre.
BORDERS by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan
A mother sets out with her son to visit her daughter in Salt Lake City. When asked for her citizenship at the border, the mother responds, "Blackfoot." She will not identify as Canadian and so is refused entry to the United States. When turning around to re-enter Canada, she is also refused entry and the pair sits in limbo between countries. Kings' beautiful and careful storytelling asks readers to think about nationhood, Indigenous peoples, identity and justice. Absolutely brilliant.
THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO by Shing Yin Khor
Mei is a Chinese-American girl living in the 19th century Sierra Nevadas, where her father is a cook at a logging camp. She tells tales of Auntie Po, a Paul Bunyon-like folk tale figure. Anti-Chinese sentiment and disgruntlement among the loggers leads to conflict and although Mei's father's white boss is well-meaning and supportive, his words are less effective than action. Although the story addresses serious subject matter, the overall tone if hopeful.
PASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani
This is a simply lovely graphic novel about a girl who seeks answers about her family. One day, Pri finds a pashmina in an old suitcase. When she puts it on, she is transported to a vibrant India where she encounters an elephant and a peacock who become her guides. Pri begins a journey to find the answers to her questions in this marvelous story filled with magical realism.
ASTRONAUTS: WOMEN ON THE FINAL FRONTIER by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks
In this thrilling graphic novel, the author and illustrator team up to tell the story of Mary Cleave and Valentina Tereshkova, the first women in space. The narrative centers on the women's journey through the training at NASA and their experience in a white male dominated world. Ottaviani and Wicks have written a marvelous tale with a heavy dose of humor; I found myself laughing much more than I expected to at a book about astronauts!
WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
In this graphic novel memoir, Jamieson and Mohamed tell the story of Mohamed's experience as a refugee living in a camp in Kenya. Readers will learn of the difficult life in a refugee camp but relate to the hopes of Omar and Hassan. Omar faces tough choices that could affect his future as well as his family and although the experiences of Omar and Hassan are likely to never be known by most readers of this book, readers will not soon forget them.
KING GEORGE: WHAT WAS HIS PROBLEM?: THE WHOLE HILARIOUS STORY OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Tim Robinson
Formatted in a reluctant-historian, reader-reluctant friendly fashion, with lots of sub-sections, quotes, maps and illustration, this book is an informative delight. Sheinkin begins his narration by offering up the idea that his book is a "step-by-step guide to starting a revolution." Step 1: Kick out the French." And on it goes from there. If your kid has captured the history bug after reading, give them Sheinkin's follow-up, Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the Civil War.