Making this 8th grade reading list was a challenge. It’s a tough age for finding the right book. Rising 8th graders may not yet want to read YA fiction, but they also don’t want to read middle grade books about 10 and 11 year olds. Many 8th grade reading lists include a host of classics like Animal Farm or To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’ve stuck to contemporary fiction, which I think most 12 and 13 year olds will enjoy. (Not that there is anything wrong with reading the classics!)
I’ve curated an eclectic and diverse of titles selection for this reading list for 8th graders ages 12-14 so whether your middle schooler wants realistic fiction, historical reads or fantasy there he or she is sure to find something to read during the school year or summer. (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Realistic Fiction for 8th Graders
Most 8th graders will get a lot out of reading about kids their own age and will relate to all of these characters, even if their real life experiences are quite different. The quest to figure out who you are is universal to all adolescents!
Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Ghost is the first book in a series of sports-themed novels by an excellent middle-grade author. Castle Crenshaw, nicknamed “Ghost” because of his talent for running away, is drawn into the local track team. Ghost, who lives with his hard-working single mother, isn’t sure he fits in with the team. He’s not the only one on the team that struggles, however, but with the help of supportive adults, the kids find their way. I enjoyed this book and appreciated the way Reynolds created complex individuals who struggle with difficult choices, even when they make the wrong decisions.
All Summer Long by Hope Larson. In this graphic novel, 13 year old Bina turns to music after her parents shut down screen time. She uses music to work through her emotions about how her relationships with family and friends are changing as she gets older. A brand new graphic novel perfect for summer or when your 8th graders wishes it was summer!
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. I liked the narrative style of this book a lot. There are three stories told from different viewpoints of kids growing up in New York City. Bridge, who had a severe accident when she was younger, now wears a cat-ears headband to school every day. She is getting to know fellow seventh grader, Shem, whose story Stead partly tells through his letters to an absent grandfather. A third, unnamed teenage narrator, spends the day trying to avoid someone and reflecting on her complicated friendships. The stories overlap and Stead excels when it comes to telling the complex emotional and social stories of middle schoolers and how complicated their lives can seem to them.
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly. Apple is going through the difficult middle school years. Her friends have mysteriously turned on her, she is teased about her looks at school, and she find her mother embarrassing, especially when she cooks Filipino food for her friends. To top it off, for some reason, her mother does not want her playing the guitar or listening to her father’s Beetles albums. I liked this book and it realistically captures the angst of the early teenage years.
Middle School the Worst Years of My Life. My son has enjoyed James Patterson’s middle grade books. This is Patterson’s first middle grade novel and he has many more for kids who want a light and funny read that still addresses all the difficulties, insecurities, ups and downs of the middle school years.
MORE: Books for 12 year olds
Fantasy Books for 8th Graders
Teens love ito indulge in a little fantasy reading! Add these books to your 8th grader’s reading list.
Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. In this, one of the few children’s books with a British Indian protagonist, Al Chaudhury gets a letter and a hamster from his deceased father. The letter tells him to find his father’s time travel machine and go back in time to avert a disaster. A fun and suspenseful read.
Frogkisser! by Garth Nix. This is a great book for fantasy fans who want an advanced fairy tale read by don’t get want the story lines bogged down in romance. Princess Anya must go on a quest to find the ingredients to a Transmorgification Reversal Lip Balm as well as escape the devious plans of her stepfather, Duke Rikard. Her talking dog, Ardent, accompanies her on her adventure, which is full of twists, turns, curious and fascinating characters and lots of laughs. It is not a retelling of any one specific fairy tale, but the book includes references to many familiar stories.
The Mark of the Thief (trilogy) by Jennifer A Nielsen. This incredibly thrilling trilogy is packed full of action and twists behind every corn. Nic and his sister are slaves in mines just outside of Ancient Rome. When Nic discovers an ancient bulla that once belonged to Julius Caesar, the bulla infuses him with a power. He becomes both a target and a pawn in a political conspiracy.
Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale. I adore this fantasy series who many parents only know as the author of the popular early chapter books series, The Princess in Black. The four novels start with a retelling of the fairy tale, The Goose Girl, but then expand into much more than that. Each book focuses on a different protagonist tied to the country of Bayern who has a special power they must learn how to control and use effectively. There is light romance, but of the middle grade, not the YA variety, and your kids will love these page-turner adventures, especially if they enjoyed series like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.
Inkheart (trilogy) by Cornelia Funke. I adore the metafictional aspect of this book. There’s something so wonderful about characters escaping the confines of their stories. Meggie’s father’s read aloud skills are so magical is actually able to read characters out of the books! Unfortunately an evil character he has read out of a book is on a mission to bring him down and Meggie’s father has accidentally read his wife into a book. Spellbinding.
Historical Fiction for 8th Graders
I’ve purposely chosen historical novels for this 8th grade reading list which I think will appeal to kids who think they hate historical fiction!
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I can’t believe I’ve never included this on a list before. This masterful novel is told in several parts that cross historical and cultural boundaries. The thread that binds the narratives together is a magical harmonica. Music is such an integral part of the story and so I also recommend the audiobook format which is absolutely stellar.
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. In 1918, 16 year old Hattie, an orphan, travels to Iowa, determined to make her recently deceased uncle’s homestead in Montana her own. But, she must tame the land in a year in order to keep it as her own. The narration is coupled with short articles that Hattie writes to a newspaper about her experiences and letters she writes to her friend Charlie, who is at war in France. Hattie’s life is hard and she relies on her neighbors to help her out, but there are also fellow homesteaders who are not so supportive. This is a fantastic book and a good choice for advanced readers.
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. I love Cushman’s books! Brat, who is a 13-ish year old orphaned, homeless girl is taken on as a midwife’s apprentice. She proves to be a speedy learner and a hard worker but when she makes a mistake her embarrassment is such that she runs away. The resulting adventure and her eventual return is a page-turner that even kids who think they hate history will revel in. It is not a long novel and so is good for advanced readers and reluctant readers alike.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. Multiple narrators describe the adventures of several children and their (potentially) holy dog. This book is an amazing mix of morality tale and puzzling mystery. Jeanne with her psychic visions, Willian, a biracial Muslim monk with superhuman skills, and Jacob, a Jewish fleeing his destroyed village who has healing powers come together for an adventure that enriches their lives, as well as the lives of the readers.
Poetry for 8th Graders
Did you think an 8th grade reading list could be complete without poetry? Think again!
Poetry Speaks Who I Am: Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence, and Everything Else. Don’t think your budding teenager won’t want to read poetry. This excellent collection of 100+ classic and contemporary poems was created specifically to speak to your adolescent. I was really impressed at the selection of poems and I think you will be too! The short format of a poem is appealing to kids who would rather be out bike riding than reading.
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