Just because your child is in middle school doesn't mean they won't benefit from listening to a great read aloud! In fact, reading books to middle school students will spark dynamic conversations about important subjects as well as offer meaningful, supplemental material to school subject studies. We've selected titles for this list of middle school read aloud books with that in mind.
The suggested novels here will encourage cross-cultural, thought-provoking conversation about historical and contemporary life. They prompt students ages 10-13 (6th, 7th and 8th grades) to use their critical thinking skills to find parallels and diversions in these fictional stories with current events in culture and society.
Of course one book list can't cover all the important topics, but these books will get you started. In addition, each book recommendation includes a sample of topics for discussion as well as an additional, "pair with" novel.
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You can view this list, including the "pair with" recommendations in my curated list at Bookshop here.
THE SECRET BATTLE OF EVAN PAO by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Topics: how we learn history, American Civil War, micro-aggressions, anti-bias, speaking the truth
I absolutely loved this book and the story offers a particularly rich array of topics for discussion. Evan, who has an exceptional ability to sense when other people are lying, his sister and mother move to a small Virginia town from California. Evan's new class is in the middle of preparing for "Battlefield Day," a field day when students learn about the Civil War. Evan's research leads him to the discovery that Chinese-American soldiers fought in the war. While Evan becomes friends with Max, he also deals with a bully, Brady. But Max's intuition tells him the there is something deeper to Brady than just his outward meanness. Chapters tell the story from different viewpoints of people who live in the town.
Pair with: Kathy Cannon Wiechman's Like a River: A Civil War Novel, a suspenseful tale about two Union soldiers, one who his hiding his age, another who is hiding her gender.
LOUISA JUNE AND THE NAZIS IN THE WAVES by L. M. Elliott
Topics: mental health, grief, WWII, woman in the work force, lesser known history
Elliott's novel introduces readers to a little known aspect of WWII: U-Boat attacks off the North American east coast. Louisa June's family lives on Chesapeake Bay. The US has just entered WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even though German U-Boats lurk in the offshore waters, Louisa's father and brother take their tugboat out to help. Tragedy strikes. Her parents have difficulty with her brother's death and deal with it in different ways. Meanwhile, Louisa's sister Katie leaves home to work as a riveter and Louisa and a friend are determined to find German spies.
Pair with: Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz, based on the true story of a Polish Jewish boy who survived 10 concentration camps.
JOURNEY OF THE PALE BEAR by Susan Fletcher
Topics: freedom, perseverance, lesser known history, literacy
Arthur, a boy living in medieval Norway, runs away from his abusive stepfather and stepbrothers. He has a letter from his Welsh cousins, which he assumes is asking him to return to Wales and claim his birthright. Unfortunately, he can't actually read the letter. In the port town of Bergen he encounters a caged polar bear and two ruffians shove him in the cage. When Arthur soothes the bear, he is enlisted to accompany the bear on a ship to England, for the bear is a gift from King Haakon to King Henry. Hair-raising, heart-searching and page-turning adventure follows. The story was inspired by a 13th century "pale bear" who lived in the Tower of London menagerie, a gift from Norway.
Pair with: Karen Cushman's delightfully funny Catherine, Called Birdy, the diary of a medieval girl who doesn't wish to marry the man her father's chosen for her.
SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS by Joanne Levy
Topics: grief, friendship, Jewish culture, unusual careers, healing
12-year-old Evie's parents run a Jewish funeral home. Some kids might be freaked out by this, but Evie thinks it's fascinating and is looking forward to taking over the family business one day. Then she meets Oren, a boy new to the area whose parents have recently been killed in a car accident. Oren is now living with his uncle and hasn't spoken a word since the accident. Evie has always admired the way her parents nurture their clients in their grieving moments and she is determined to help Oren. The two of them get off to a rocky start but eventually becomes friends and Oren even helps Evie stand up to her school bullies. Levy's book may deal with grief, but it is not depressing and she masterfully weaves Jewish cultural and funeral traditions into the narrative.
Pair with: All Three Stooges, by Erica S. Perl; a look at the friendship between two boys who are dealing with loss while getting ready for their bar mitzvah.
CUBA IN MY POCKET by Adrianna Cuevas
Topics: 1960s, oppressive governments, freedom, immigration, fitting in
Cuevas's story, inspired by her father's experience, begins after the Bay of Pigs invasion. 12-year-old Cumba has been marked for military recruitment in Fidel Castro's oppressive regime and so his parents decide to send him to safety in the United States. When he arrives in Florida, he is overwhelmed by the strangeness of life, language and culture. Gradually he begins to acclimate but still longs to be reunited with his family.
Pair with: Isla to Island by Alexis Castellanos, a nearly wordless graphic novel which follows a very similar story of a Cuban girl sent to live in Florida.
BOY, EVERYWHERE by A. M. Dassu
Topics: Syria, refugee crisis, asylum, bravery, discrimination
After Sami's mother and sister are injured in an explosion at the mall, his family decides to flee Syria and travel to Great Britain. The journey is difficult and dangerous and once they reach England, his father requests asylum at the border. The family is then separated and detained by the authorities while they work to present their case. Moving, eye-opening and hopeful.
Pair with: Alan Gratz's Refugee, a book that shares the stories of three children in three different historical settings.
THE KAYA GIRL by Mamle Wolo
Topics: Contemporary Ghana, economic and social class, friendship, education
Abena leaves her upper class home to spend the summer with her Aunt Lydia, who runs a fabric and sundries shop in a bustling market in downtown Accra, Ghana. Abena meets Faiza, a migrant Muslim girl who works as a kayayoo, or porter, carrying purchased goods in a bucket on her head for customers. The two become fast friends in spite of their differences and initial language barrier. Both girls learn about lives outside their own experiences, how society treats them differently, and how to speak up.
Pair with: Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide. Set in Uganda in 1972, friends Asha and Yesofu find themselves on opposite sides of the forced expulsion of Indians.
A DUET FOR HOME by Karen Yan Glaser
Topics: Homelessness, music, education, family, mental health
June, her younger sister and mother move into a homeless shelter in the Bronx. Tyrell has been living in the same shelter for three years. He loves to listen to the neighbor play classical music and when he learns June has a viola that she is not allowed to play inside the shelter he convinces the neighbor to giver her lessons. Unfortunately, new housing policies are threatening to move families out of Huey House before they are ready but June and Tyrell are hoping to find a way to stop that. The narrative voice alternates between June and Tyrell.
Pair with: Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Samo. Mexican-Irish Cora narrates her struggle with homelessness while taking care of her neuro-atypical sister, Adare, and her mother searches for housing.
THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN by Brandy Colbert
Topics: racism, mystery, inclusion, friendship
Alberta and her two dads are one of the few Black families living in their coastal California town and they are delighted to learn that the new owners of the B&B across the street are also Black. Alberta quickly befriends fellow 7th-grader Edie, despite their fashion differences. Meanwhile, Alberta's white best friend, Laramie, appears to be drifting towards the mean girl, causing tension in their relationship. When Alberta and Edie set out to solve the mystery lurking between the pages of a stack of journals from the 1950s and 60s they find in the attic, they uncover a secret life.
Pair with: Follow Candice as she investigates a long-unsolved mystery relating to racial injustice in her family's past in The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson.
ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Topics: Indigenous experience, cultural traditions, storytelling, anti-bias
I thought it would be fun to have a book of short stories on the list, as well as an alternative to Island of the Blue Dolphins, which is unfortunately still assigned in many schools. Ancestor Approved is a collection of short stories by Native American authors. The book is structured around an intertribal powwow in which the authors tell their stories. Tales range from funny and silly to serious. Topics cover an incredible range of issues making this not just a book in which Native kids can see their lives reflected, but a must-read anthology for non-Natives that will promote a deeper understanding of Native life.
Pair with: Louise Erdrich's classic The Birchbark House series is an essential narrative about life as an Ojibwe in the 19th century.