Picky middle school readers exist in classrooms everywhere. Teachers know that students have become masters of fake reading or avoidance tactics like always needing to use the washroom or leaving to get a drink just as silent reading has begun. This blog post contains affiliate links which are of no cost to the reader. If you make a purchase through the provided links this blog will receive a small commission to help with the financial costs of maintaining the site.
Today I am teaming up with Sara from Secondary Sara to share our thoughts about books for picky middle school readers that they will actually read. The books listed in this blog post are tried and true novels recommended by two middle school ELA teachers who deal with picky middle school readers and fake reading daily. We have observed our students to see what books they actually read versus pretend to read. Sara’s Note to Readers: Just so you know… I’m purposely skipping novels that I suspect you already know are amazing, like Hunger Games, Divergent, The Selection, Matched, Harry Potter, Maze Runner, etc. I’m sticking with relatively “clean” novels that don’t have a ton of swear words or mature content.
(Kristy) Track Series by Jason Reynolds
In this four-book series, readers follow the lives of a track team. As they read about the daily lives and struggles the characters Ghost, Patina and Sunny go through they realize that everyone goes through challenges in their lives. I have not been able to keep these books in my classroom library all year. Mature themes, but no mature content.
(Sara) Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu
I’m really excited about the entire DC Icons series (including Wonder Woman!), but I love that quality authors are turning superheroes into YA NOVELS instead of only comics or graphic novels (no offense). This book series would be a good bridge for students who are reluctant readers, who want action, and would benefit from a familiar character (like teen Batman).
(Kristy) Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The novel begins with the protagonist Ally Nickerson getting sent to the principal’s office for work refusal. This immediately catches the reader’s attention as they want to know what caused this behaviour from her. When they learn she is on a first name basis with the principal they can’t wait to learn more. Ally’s world changes when she gets a new teacher who realizes the real reason she wants to get sent to the office. No mature content.
(Sara) Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber
This is my go-to novel (trilogy) for students who need help getting their mystery requirement done for their independent reading. It’s addictive, modern, and not too difficult of a read. I also love it because it’s so action packed that, despite the title, it is NOT a “girl book”. The island setting makes it feel like an episode of Hawaii Five-O, so it’s a nice escape if you’re living in the middle of winter.
(Kristy) The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This is my favourite book of all time for middle school students. I teach it every year to my Grade 8 classes. Ponyboy Curtis, a young teenage boy from the Greasers gang gets jumped by the Socs a rival gang while walking home from the movie theatre. This action-packed novel written by S.E. Hinton when she was just 16 has remained on middle school bookshelves since its publication in 1967. Students cannot help but remain engrossed in the lives of the Greasers as they experience the life on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Mature content and themes.
(Sara) Land of Stories: Book One (The Wishing Spell) by Chris Colfer
This is a really hot series in our middle school, in part because it’s a fantasy book that will feel engaging and comfortable. I think the play on fairy tale archetypes is good for students who aren’t inherently interested in longer, traditional fantasy (like Lord of the Rings or something that looks difficult). It’s addictive and makes students want to keep going in the series.
I reach for this novel whenever boys tell me they don’t like or want to read. Once they meet Steven they are immediately drawn into his life and the events in the novel
(sick little brother, crushes and parent issues). The title alone is an immediate attention grabber. I have yet to find a student who has not enjoyed this novel.
(Sara) The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky
Historical fiction is rough sometimes, and students often need to be dragged to reading it… but this disaster novel is super interesting. Told through the perspective of two girls from opposite ends of Roman society, readers get to experience Pompeii’s devastation firsthand.
(Kristy) Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
For your truly picky reader, who does not want to read anything or won’t even a touch a book for fear it could cause them harm – then this series is a winner. The main character Greg Heffley is your average kid who seems to get into a lot of interest situations. Students enjoy the author’s sense of humour, relatable scenarios, and book graphics. I get my students hooked on reading this series and then recommend other graphic or non-graphic novels once they are ready. I used to be of the mindset that these books were too easy for my middle school classroom, but once I saw their magic in getting non-readers to read I quickly changed my opinion.
(Sara) Refugee by Alan Gratz
Told through THREE teenage narrators in different decades (WWII Europe, 1994 Cuba, and 2015 Syria), this novel is SO action-packed that any reader can’t help but keep going. This book is violent enough that “young” readers might want to wait, but a majority of tween and teen readers will understand international conflict better and have more empathy after reading it.
Lastly, once your students have read these novels have them check out any books by authors Eric Walters and Gordon Korman. These authors write novels that kids want to read because they relate to the characters and enjoy the writing style.
Additional Reading Resources
- Reading and Writing Workshop Ideas for the Middle and High School Classroom
- Independent Reading Tips and Tricks
- Reading Journal Assignment
- 12 Genre Book Reports
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