50 Refreshing and Relatable Books To Teach in Middle School
Middle school students faced plenty of issues before the social, political, and economic upheavals of the past few years. At the same time, challenges to what students are allowed to read in school have made some of their experiences even more marginalized than they had been. With that in mind, we revised our recommendations to be even more inclusive, with an eye toward middle school books you may not already have in your library.
Today’s classroom requires flexibility, especially with young readers. Not all middle school books have to be read silently or independently. Read some aloud to your students, give them audiobooks to listen to, or let them read one chapter at a time to each other. See what kind of conversations come up. Engaged students learn better, and you don’t need a canned curriculum from some corporation to tell you that.
Remember, maturity levels vary widely, and you know your students best. Be sure to read the books first before you share them with your middle school students.
(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)
Best Middle School Books
1. Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
This remix of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award–winning Stamped From the Beginning is an urgent exploration of how the history of race affects us in the here and now, created for young people. There’s even a teachers guide.
Buy it: Stamped on Amazon
2. Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
Khosrou is not like the other kids in his Oklahoma middle school, but he knows how to tell a story. This true story of Khosrou’s family and their escape from Iran in the middle of the night is an immediately gripping account of both middle school chaos and personal strife.
Buy it: Everything Sad Is Untrue on Amazon
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter as she wrestles with her emotions after seeing her unarmed childhood friend killed by police, which has become a generational touchstone. Definitely for older kids—and definitely worth the conversations that follow.
Buy it: The Hate U Give on Amazon
4. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue … by Christina Soontornvat
This book is a thrilling and information-packed true story of survival about the 2018 cave rescue in Thailand. Full of interviews and firsthand accounts, the story will keep even the most active students on the edge of their seats.
Buy it: All Thirteen on Amazon
5. Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Louise Wolfe is a Muscogee high schooler caught between family obligations and everything that being a teenager involves. Another one for older kids, this is an authentic coming-of-age story with a fresh voice.
Buy it: Hearts Unbroken on Amazon
6. Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
When Amanda Gorman read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in eighth grade, she was inspired to become a writer. “It was the first time I had seen a dark-skinned girl on the cover of a book and that absolutely enthralled me. Reading Morrison taught me how to write unapologetically with a Black feminist voice that was my own,” she said. Later in life, when she spoke at the presidential inauguration in 2021, Gorman raised the voice of her generation. Her book of poems is expansive and inventive, and it’s one of the top must-read books for today’s middle school kids.
Buy it: Call Us What We Carry on Amazon
7. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Simply put, this is one of the most well-written books you’ll ever find in YA lit. Protagonist Leigh Chen Sanders’ voice is stunning in this expertly woven tale of love, friendship, tragedy, and imagination.
Buy it: The Astonishing Color of After on Amazon
8. Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
Yes, we’re going there. No middle school book catalog is complete without a few good Manga titles. It’s time to shrug off any reluctance and dive into what the kids are already reading. These are teacher-approved, rich with storytelling and character exposition, and ripe for literary analysis. If these titles don’t seem fit for your students, check with them—they know best! First up is the classic Naruto, a story about a young chaotic kid who is determined to become the world’s greatest ninja.
Buy it: Naruto on Amazon
9. Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
This spin on traditional manga (with the usual high-flying warriors and action sequences) tells the story of two kids who want to become manga artists themselves. The characters are high school kids trying to live their dreams—very relatable to young readers.
Buy it: Bakuman on Amazon
10. A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima
When Shoya meets Shoko six years after he knew her in school, he learns about the consequences of bullying. This is a great story for middle schoolers and is an accessible way into the manga genre.
Buy it: A Silent Voice on Amazon
11. The March Series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
The three-part graphic novel series details how John Lewis made his way from his family farm to the Edmund Pettus Bridge alongside Martin Luther King Jr. for the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March. Beautifully rendered and powerfully told, this trilogy lends itself to all kinds of classroom readings and activities.
Buy it: The March Series on Amazon
12. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Acevedo brings her slam poet sensibility to this emotionally vivid story about Xiomara Batista, a first-generation Dominican American teen in a religious family who “feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood.”
Buy it: The Poet X on Amazon
13. The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy
The first of two books by Maulik Pancholy, this story follows Rahul Kapoor, a middle schooler who loves his grandpa and is crushing on a boy at school.
Buy it: The Best at It on Amazon
14. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
Explore the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of seventh grader Zoey, who lives on the edges of society and tries to find her way forward.
Buy it: The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Amazon
15. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
The recipient of multiple awards, this novel follows Steve, an amateur filmmaker. As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, he decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies.
Buy it: Monster on Amazon
16. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart
With connections to Common Core standards, this book follows Coyote, a young woman who travels the country with her dad in an old school bus. Over the course of thousands of miles, she will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all.
Buy it: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise on Amazon
17. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. Now a ghost, Jerome watches the devastation unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing. Soon, Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances.
Buy it: Ghost Boys on Amazon
18. Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
The recipient of multiple awards and one of our favorite middle school books, this novel is a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her.
Buy it: Piecing Me Together on Amazon
19. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
Another one of our fave middle school books! Follow 11-year-old Melody, who is not like most people. She can’t walk, she can’t talk, she can’t write, all because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory—she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it.
Buy it: Out of My Mind on Amazon
20. Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
A timely story for middle schoolers. After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of them.
Buy it: Return to Sender on Amazon
21. Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
Zenobia July is a trans girl in Arizona who is trying to adjust to a new school.
Buy it: Zenobia July on Amazon
22. In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington
Another new addition to our list, this is a coming-of-age story about young love between Andi and Zora, two Black girls at a mostly white summer camp.
Buy it: In the Key of Us on Amazon
23. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Taken from the national news headlines, this book follows two teenagers and a heinous hate crime that crosses gender and racial lines.
Buy it: The 57 Bus on Amazon
24. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
A tale of two stories, told in alternating sections, about two 11-year-olds in Sudan—a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985.
Buy it: A Long Walk to Water on Amazon
25. Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan
Jameela lives with her mother and father in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that there is no school in their poor, war-torn village, and Jameela lives with a birth defect that has left her with a cleft lip, she feels relatively secure, sustained by her faith and the strength of her beloved mother, Mor. And then Mor passes away. …
Buy it: Wanting Mor on Amazon
26. When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
A graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a former Somali refugee.
Buy it: When Stars Are Scattered on Amazon
27. Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Set against the backdrop of the segregation history of the American South, take a trip with an 11-year-old boy who is about to discover that the world hasn’t always been a welcoming place for kids like him, and things aren’t always what they seem—his G’ma included.
Buy it: Clean Getaway on Amazon
28. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Grayson is caught between knowing she’s a girl and everyone believing she’s a boy. This is a beautifully written story about self-esteem and empowerment.
Buy it: Gracefully Grayson on Amazon
29. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist: books.
Buy it: The Book Thief on Amazon
30. George by Alex Gino
George knows she’s a girl, but everyone else sees her as a boy. Gino does a masterful job of taking us into what social ignorance about gender assignment feels like.
Buy it: George on Amazon
31. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Genius Willow Chance loses both parents in a car crash, but she is nonetheless able to both change her life and impact those around her.
Buy it: Counting by 7s on Amazon
32. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Born with extraordinary physical deformities, Auggie finally braves going to an actual school. He is stared at and tormented, but he also finds friendship. Middle schoolers will cheer for him and also cry for him.
Buy it: Wonder on Amazon
33. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Castle Crenshaw, known as Ghost, has been running ever since his father threatened him and his mother with a gun. It’s not until he starts running for the middle school track team that he begins to see what running can do for him.
Buy it: Ghost on Amazon
34. Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
Ellen is a neurodiverse kid with a best friend who helps her navigate through school and sometimes confusing social situations. But when new friends and opportunities come along, Ellen has a chance to learn even more about how she actually fits into the world.
Buy it: Ellen Outside the Lines on Amazon
35. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Ponyboy and his brothers, Darry and Sodapop, have a tough life. They know they can count on their friends—true friends who will do anything for them. Unfortunately, the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids, make them prove their loyalties after a night of fighting goes too far.
Buy it: The Outsiders on Amazon
36. Nikhil Out Loud by Maulik Pancholy
Nikhil is a 13-year-old gay Indian American boy who depends on his voice for his joy—he’s a voice actor for a popular cartoon. Then he ends up in a small Ohio town trying to put on a school musical. This is a relevant and touching story kids will love.
Buy it: Nikhil Out Loud on Amazon
37. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Basketball-loving twins Josh and Jordan find their way through isolation and conflict in this novel in verse by master poet Kwame Alexander.
Buy it: The Crossover on Amazon
38. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda Sordino can’t tell anybody why she called the police to break up a party the summer before ninth grade. In fact, after the trauma she suffered, she can’t speak at all.
Buy it: Speak on Amazon
39. The Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis
Parvana is 11 when the Taliban comes to power in Afghanistan. Her father is arrested, and women are not allowed to leave the house without a male escort. Parvana must disguise herself and find work to save her family.
Buy it: The Breadwinner series on Amazon
40. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine
Ling Chang must find a way to survive after her father is taken away during China’s Cultural Revolution.
Buy it: Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party on Amazon
41. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Stella and her brother aren’t supposed to leave the house at night, but they run into much bigger problems when they stumble on a Ku Klux Klan rally. Stella fights racism within her community and learns about compassion in the process.
Buy it: Stella by Starlight on Amazon
42. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson’s verse memoir tells the story of coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement.
Buy it: Brown Girl Dreaming on Amazon
43. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
Molly has concerns when her family moves into a church with a graveyard next door, but when her already-odd stepsister makes a sinister new friend, things get downright dangerous.
Buy it: Wait Till Helen Comes on Amazon
44. Refugee by Alan Gratz
Gratz weaves together stories of child refugees in three different eras: Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and present-day Syria.
Buy it: Refugee on Amazon
45. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
Jack Hurd gets a foster brother, Joseph, an eighth grader whose only dream is to be with his daughter.
Buy it: Orbiting Jupiter on Amazon
46. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Nine-year-old Cassie Logan faces racial discrimination and financial hardship during the Great Depression.
Buy it: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry on Amazon
47. Uglies by Scott Westerfield
Tally Youngblood lives in a dystopia in which all 16-year-olds have cosmetic surgery to make them pretty.
Buy it: Uglies on Amazon
48. We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist
YouTuber Josh Sundquist tells the true story—with graphs!—of his failures in dating.
Buy it: We Should Hang Out Sometime on Amazon
49. Feed by M. T. Anderson
The Feed scrolls constantly through Titus’ brain, providing him with entertainment, advertising, and social networking. On a spring break trip to the Moon, he meets a girl who sees life differently.
Buy it: Feed on Amazon
50. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Spoiled princess Esperanza moves from her family’s ranch in Mexico to a migrant camp during the Great Depression. She learns to rely on her inner strength and the support of her family.
Buy it: Esperanza Rising on Amazon
What are your favorite middle school books? Come share them in the WeAreTeachers Helpline group on Facebook.
Plus, check out 100 great writing prompts for middle school.
This Article, 50 Refreshing and Relatable Books To Teach in Middle School was written by Sean Hogan on on WAT - Classroom Ideas Middle School
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