We may be headed back to school with many uncertainties, but one thing we can rely on is the power of a good book. Beginning your year with a strong read-aloud or class novel can set the tone for creating a culture of readers from day one. Today I am bringing you a list of eight exceptional back-to-school books for middle schoolers that will help you begin your school year right.
1. Restart by Gordan Korman
Restart by Gordon Korman is an excellent story of strength and starting over. Chase loses his memory and has to start his life from scratch. When he finally goes back to school, he realizes that the reactions to his return vary wildly. Students will relate to Chase and his journey as he tries to piece his world back together.
2. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven Green is the kind of lovable protagonist your students will bond with from the get-go. Aven’s parents buy a western theme park in Arizona and her move brings with it the task of explaining to people, yet again, why she has no arms. Aven finds a friend who also has a disability, Connor, and the two explore a mystery in the theme park that will lead Aven to realize she has the strength to do anything even without arms. Your students will love Aven and Connor and won’t be able to get enough of this book.
3. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
In Fish in a Tree, Ally has been finding ways to cleverly mask the fact that she can’t read. A new school and a new teacher will show her that a learning disability does not make her dumb. Your students will relate to Ally in this heartwarming read that will show young readers that struggling does not make things impossible. It’s heartwarming, uplifting, and a perfect picture of resilience. Just what we need to start this school year!
4. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Seedfolks is the kind of novel that helps build classroom culture in one read. This touching tale begins with a Vietnamese girl and six seeds and weaves itself through the heart of an entire community. Thirteen voices bring this tale to life and incorporate strong themes of tolerance and hope. Your students will be immersed in this multicultural story of promise, people, and prosperity.
5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Wonder is a novel that your students may have heard of before, but everyone can benefit from reading this classic tale one more time. Auggie was born with acute facial deformities and has not attended a mainstream school until he begins 5th grade at Bleecher Prep. In this multi-perspective story, a community learns empathy and kindness from a boy who wants nothing more than to just be ordinary. Your students will undoubtedly fall in love with Auggie and want to #choosekind over and over again.
6. Harris & Me by Gary Paulsen
Gary Paulsen weaves a funny, heartwarming tale in Harris & Me, a story about a young boy who spends the summers on his aunt and uncle’s farm with his cousin, Harris. Students love this novel because of all of Harris’ shenanigans they are able to live vicariously through. This funny, poignant tale of boyhood will capture your students’ attention and their hearts.
7. Ungifted by Gordon Korman
Donovan Curtis wasn’t supposed to end up in the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, but when this troublemaker accidentally got assigned to advanced classes instead of detention, he doesn’t argue. It takes a while for his teachers to realize he may not be academically advanced, but Donovan brings something unexpected to the ASD and the student and teachers there will be better for it. Students will love Donovan in Ungifted and will root for him in this unlikely underdog story. This is a perfect way to start the year to clear up preconceived misconceptions. We’re all smart in our own ways.
8. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
Award-winning author Sharon M. Draper tells a tale of resiliency in Out of My Mind, a story about 11-year old Melody and her quest to show everyone just how smart she is despite her cerebral palsy diagnosis. This story will help to reframe how we look at others with disabilities and show that “disability is not inability.” Guide your students on this heartfelt journey with Melody. It’s a piece they won’t be able to put down.
I hope these recommendations have inspired you to start off your year off with a powerful read aloud or whole class novel. If you are looking for some literary activities that will pair with these novels, please check out how I teach the elements of fiction here, and pair some of these activities with your novel.
So tell me, which novel are you most excited to try? Drop a comment below or follow me on Instagram to let me know more.