10 Must Read Classics for Middle Schoolers

The middle school years are a great time when it comes to finding good books for your kids to read. Kids at this age can process and discuss deeper, more difficult subjects. Unfortunately, modern young adult literature often doesn’t provide books with deep, meaningful plot lines. And sometimes the characters in those books are shallow people we don’t want our kids to emulate.

But there is some great literature for this age group as well, books that are meaningful and thought-provoking. In this post I’m sharing ten must read classics for the middle grade years. (Some of these are interchangeable with the upper elementary books, in my opinion. Much of it just depends on the maturity of the child.)
This post is part of the Five Days of Great Kids Book Series. You can find all of the books in the series here. You can also pick up my Ultimate Books of Unit Studies for Literature Lovers for free here. It has forty-five literature unit resources for great kids’ books, printable graphic organizers for reading, and a unit study planning pack.
This post series is a celebration of the update and relaunch of my ebook- Charlotte’s Web Literature Notebooking Unit, a notebooking unit study for early elementary grades based on the book Charlotte’s Web. You can find the unit study and samples to check out here. You can find the book in my shop for $7.99 during the relaunch. (It’s regularly $14.99.)

Classics for Middle School Readers
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Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz and Jack and Ruth Gruener

This is historical fiction based on real life events. Set during the Holocaust, the book follows young Yanek, a Jewish boy, who loses his family to the Nazis and is shuffled to a number of concentration camps. The book has a definite dark tone because of the setting. But there’s hope as well. Jack Gruener is young Yanek. He’s a Holocaust survivor, telling his story through this book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Although The Giver is the most well-known, this book is actually one of a quartet. It’s set in a dystopian future where all pain and fighting has been erased. This also means that memories of joy and happiness, and colors, and differences have also been erased. When Jonas turns 12, he’s chosen to be the Receiver of Memories. He visits the Giver and begins to see what his “perfect” society has lost in the quest for perfection.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

I’ll be honest. You- and your kids- will likely cry reading this one. He’s a touching story about a boy and his dogs. There are adventures and sweet moments. There are troubled and sad moments. But the theme of the book is growing up. It’s a coming of age story- all mixed up with the sweetness of being a dog owner.

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody

This is another big tear jerker, but it also has a male main character- as does Where the Red Fern Grows. That’s sometimes important at this age because often boys prefer to read books with boys as the main characters. This is actually the first in a series, but I’ve not read the others. Ralph Moody, the author, writes historical fiction based on real events in his life. In this first book, he and his family move from the city to the country and learn to live as ranchers.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Hi, I’m Leah and I’m an adult Harry Potter fanatic. I came to the party a bit late, but once I read the books I’ve never gone back. I may or may not even drive my kids crazy with my, um, enthusiasm. Seriously, though, there is so much of value in the whole series- great literature, compelling characters, heroes and villains, hard decisions, and growing up. I would recommend the first three books for middle grade kids. In those books, Harry is 11,12, and 13; and the content is pretty well aligned with those ages. Things turn much darker and heavier in the fourth book- and movie. And I, personally, would choose to have kids wait until high school years for the remainder. If you’re looking for resources to make a complete Harry Potter unit study, check out this post.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series are awesome classics you don’t want to miss. The Hobbit which describes the journey of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit and his finding of the fateful ring, is a little bit easier read than the Lord of the Rings series- which is actually three volumes in one.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who lived during the Holocaust. She and her family were hidden away, along with another family and a former dentist. She kept a diary, and it was compiled and translated into this book. It’s moving because it’s a glimpse of day-to-day life of these plain, ordinary people whose lives were turned upside down because of the horrible persecution of the Jews.

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

Across Five Aprils is historical fiction, set during the Civil War. He’s two young to fight, but he comes of age during the time of the war. His family has loved ones on both sides of the conflict, and it’s stirring to read about what happened during the war through the eyes of this boy growing into manhood.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Set in Mississippi during the Depression, this story is told from the perspective of Cassie, a young black girl. Throughout the book Cassie’s family tries to maintain their dignity and pride in the midst of poverty and racism.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes is a Newberry Medal winner. It’s the story of Stanley, unjustly sent to a detention camp for boys. When he’s there, he’s made to dig holes with the other boys: many, many holes. Soon Stanley discovers there’s more to this camp than just digging holes under a dried up lake. The book has some dark humor as well as a great story.

Classics for Middle School Readers

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