School’s out for summer! That means swimsuits, beach trips, summer camp, and loads of summer reading. We’ve rounded up 10 new books for book-hungry middle schoolers. Five picks are nonfiction and five are fiction, but they span genres and topics as varied as the Russian Revolution and futuristic empires, touching memoirs and clever urban fantasies. And if your kids are reluctant readers, find some tips from Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney.
For even more recommendations, check out our Summer Reading for Kids and Teens list.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, ages 10+
What It’s About: Raised in both South Carolina and New York, author Jacqueline Woodson shares tales of her upbringing through Jim Crow and Civil Rights in the ’60s and ’70s. Told completely in verse, Woodson’s book details cherished memories about her grandparents, pop culture, new friends, and living in both the segregated country and diverse city streets.
Why Read It? Woodson’s award-winning memoir (National Book Award, Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Award) is funny and sad and everything in between. The intimate and engaging poems will teach middle schoolers about a complicated time in American history, but it’s also a universal story about coming of age, changing family dynamics, and learning what makes you uniquely talented.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, ages 10+
What It’s About: Before she was the youngest Noble Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai was a young Pashtun girl who loved to learn in her hometown of Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Although her mother was illiterate, Malala grew up in a girls’ school run by her father. A curious, precocious learner who firmly believed in a girl’s God-given right to learn, Malala was considered a blasphemous troublemaker by the Taliban, and in 2012 she was shot by a Taliban gunman. She survived and refused to be silenced.
Why Read It? Educating girls is a global human rights issue, and Malala’s story teaches young readers that even the youngest advocate can have a huge impact. As Malala explains, in countries “where women aren’t allowed to go out in public without a man, we girls traveled far and wide inside the pages of our books. In a land where many women can’t read the prices in the markets, we did multiplication … we ran as free as the wind.”
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip M. Hoose, ages 12+
What It’s About: During WWII, Denmark didn’t resist Nazi occupation, and this deeply shamed 15-year-old Knud Pedersen, who along with his brother and some classmates started a small, secret club of political resisters in 1941. Full of brave but naïve teenage boys desperate to undermine the Nazi regime, the Churchill Club committed 25 acts of sabotage — disabling German vehicles, stealing Nazi arms, and destroying and defacing German property — before being arrested in 1942.
Why Read It? What middle schooler doesn’t want to read about teens who defied authority for the greater good? The Churchill Club’s actions sound like something out of a movie, but they really happened, and Hoose interweaves his own historical nonfiction with recollections from Pedersen himself. This is the kind of book students would gladly read for history class, because the characters are such courageous, clever young heroes.
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, ages 12+
What It’s About: Award-winning children’s author Candace Fleming captures the final years of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Czar Nicholas II isn’t prepared to step up and lead his vast empire. An intensely personal man, Nicholas is better suited to family life with his German and English wife Alexandra (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) and their five children: four girls and one sickly son. As revolutionaries gain ground and WWI approaches, it becomes clear that the Czar and his family are headed toward doom.
Why Read It? History buffs or not, kids interested in “real stories” will love Fleming’s straightforward style of explaining complex sociopolitical ideas and historical contexts concerning the Imperial family, World War I, the Russian Revolution, Russian Orthodox ideology, and even European royalty. There’s a lot to digest, but it’s always fascinating. Fans of nonfiction narratives will dive into Fleming’s chronicle of one of history’s most fascinating downfalls.
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, ages 12+
What It’s About: Fourteen-year-old Audrey struggles with severe anxiety stemming from unspecified school bullying. She is under a doctor’s care and making slow but steady progress, but things significantly change when Audrey meets her brother’s online gaming friend, Linus. Despite her social anxiety, Audrey finds it easy to talk to Linus, and their friendship eventually turns into a sweet romance.
Why Read It? Best-selling author Kinsella, who’s best known for her popular Shopaholic series, delivers her first young adult novel, a realistic contemporary story about social anxiety and gaming addiction that’s nevertheless filled with her infectious brand of humor and romance. A book featuring a young teen protagonist, tough issues, humor, and a quirky, close-knit family? Sounds like an ideal mother-daughter read.
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganada and Caitlin Alifrenka, ages 12+
What It’s About: In 1997, 12-year-old American middle schooler Caitlin and 14-year-old Zimbabwean Martin are paired as pen pals through their schools. At first, Caitlin sends photos and trinkets and asks for the same, not realizing the depths of poverty in which Martin lives. Eventually Caitlin and her family start to send financial support to Martin, and their international friendship forever changes each of their lives.
Why Read It? Caitlin and Martin’s letters and perspectives will teach kids to better appreciate their relative good fortune and to understand how a little bit of help and a lot of compassion can make a huge impact on someone else’s life. Caitlin and Martin’s extraordinary friendship should inspire your kid to be a better global citizen.
Undertow by Michael Buckley. ages 13+
What It’s About: Coney Island native Lyric Walker has a family secret: She’s part “Sirena.” So when 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race (Sirena being among them) of beautiful but violent humanoid sea warriors, land on her beach, she knows this means trouble. Lyric’s New York City beach town turns into a militarized zone with the Alpha on one side and humans on another. Then Lyric is asked to give Fathom, the gorgeous and militant Alpha prince, reading lessons, and sparks fly. Which side will she choose?
Why Read It? Described as a combination of The 5th Wave and Twilight with sea creatures, this romantic dystopian fantasy seems to have enough action, war, and adventure to balance out the fiery romance, making it an equally compelling choice for any kid who wants to start reading a popular new series.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, ages 14+
What It’s About: This dual-narrative fantasy follows two characters in an alternate universe with a strict caste system: Laia is a Scholar (the oppressed class), and Elias is an elite military student for the Empire. After Laia’s brother is arrested, she joins a resistance movement that places her as a slave at the military academy where Elias is a rising star. Despite their differences, the slave and the soldier have more in common than they care to admit, and together they could start a revolution.
Why Read It? One of the biggest debuts of the year, Tahir’s fantasy novel is already a New York Times bestseller and has secured a sequel as well as a lucrative movie deal.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, ages 14+
What It’s About: Thirteen-year-old Noah and his twin sister Jude are inseparable until their art-critic mom announces that their dearly departed grandmother’s ghost wants them to apply to a local arts high school. The competition for their mom’s approval coupled with an unexpected, catastrophic loss leads to three years of drifting apart, finding love, and discovering whom they want to be as artists, siblings, and people.
Why Read It? Nelson’s gorgeously written coming-of-age novel won multiple awards in 2014, and it deserved every accolade. Best for seventh- and eighth-graders mature enough to immerse themselves in the story’s magical realism, philosophical themes, and relationship issues, I’ll Give You the Sun will impress English teachers and make readers want to share the book with friends.