It’s been a while since I’ve written up a post about what I’ve been doing as a librarian. And, since Summer Vacation has started for some of the schools in the U.S., I decided to compile this post containing some recommendations for Middle/Junior and High School students.
This list is NOT based on “Required School Reading,” but based on popular reads I’ve seen children and teens read and which books have “circulated” the most within my (work) library’s collection. In addition, I’ve added a few recent books that won accolades, recently.
Middle Grade (~10+)
For this series of books about famous individuals and infamous events in human history, I have seen readers as young as 8 years-old read these books. They are “short” biographies and histories about individuals and historical moments known and unknown. They even write about athletes and performers. Not to mention, when news of a famous person passes away, the series updates the title of their biography for that individual immediately; yes, it’s tragic, but it goes to show us all that this series takes the time to make sure each book has “updated” information.
This is historical fiction series is extremely popular amongst young readers. I want to say there are around 25 books in the I Survived series. Each book focuses on a moment in history where either a natural disaster, a freak accident, or a moment involving warfare occurred, with the narrative based on eyewitness accounts from those who survived the event. Many of the books in this series are based on moments from the last 150 years, but there are a few books in this series where the setting is based on an event that occurred as far back as around 2,000 years ago.
Not to be confused with Jason Reynolds (who is also on this list), Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover series has been adapted into a series on Disney+. But, young readers, especially reluctant ones, still enjoy these verse novels–novels written in poetic style–about kids who learn to balance school, family, and athletics. Life changes ensue and the protagonists in each book learns about resilience while coping with life-altering events.
Yes, I had to add at least one of the series from the Rick Riordan Presents series. So, why did I choose this duopoly by Carlos Hernandez? Well, I thought that since we’re expecting 2 summer movies about superheroes who “travel to the multiverse” and/or “travel to a parallel universe,” the kids would enjoy reading about 2 classmates who stumble upon parallel worlds, where they have to make sure each world stays “separated.”
This historical fiction novel is this year’s recipient of the Newbery Medal. It tells the story of a young slave boy who runs away from the plantation he and his mother are kept to a safe haven where both runaway slaves and free Blacks live together. When the protagonist begins to miss his mother and to recall the way all slaves are treated, he decides to make the dangerous trek to save her and to bring her to where both of them can call home.
Raina Telgemeier is one of the illustrators who has been adapting The Babysitters’ Club into graphic novels. Before she was brought on on that project, she wrote and illustrated her graphic novels which have won several awards (and have been one of ALA’s “Most Banned/Challenged Books”). Ms. Telgemeier’s fiction (above) and non-fiction (below) books are borrowed constantly by young readers.
This graphic novel is about a girl who deals with her physical appearance, particularly her hair. The protagonist is reminded weekly that she doesn’t have “good hair,” is forced to get it “straighten,” and she cannot “mess it up.” The protagonist knows that her mother won’t teach her how to manage her hair, so she tries to do it by herself. After one “bad hair day,” she doesn’t know where to go for help. But, she’s about to realize that she’s not the only one who feels the same way about having “frizzy” hair.
Did you really believe I would omit Jerry Craft from this list?
This series is not only about a minority student who attends a prestigious school on a scholarship, but also about a class of students who are about to enter their adolescence. And, with that they have to come to terms with growing up, understanding how the rest of the world “sees” them, while trying to make their classmates and their teachers understand them at the same time. And, that’s before they attend class, participate in after school activities, and do their homework.
Jason Reynolds is another notable verse novelist who is familiar with reluctant readers (he was one himself). This book takes place within the mind of a young man who decides whether or not he wants to avenge his friend who was killed as a result of gun violence. This book shouldn’t take young readers longer than 1 hour to read.
I’ve noticed that many of our teen patrons enjoy reading books from the mystery, suspense, and thriller genre. The picture above displays some of the most circulated reads; and, 3 of the authors mentioned here are currently the most popular ones for YA Mysteries. And no, you won’t see know any of the twists, or the perpetrators, until they are revealed.
This contemporary mystery novel is based on the (still current) ongoings in the Philippines, where President Duterte’s “War on Drugs” has caused multiple disappearances and murders of its denizens. The protagonist in this novel is a few months away from graduating high school when he receives the news that one of his cousins has died. When he learns that said cousin might have been murdered due to the “politics” in the Philippines, the protagonist travels there to visit his family and to learn more about what happened to him. This coming-of-age novel is a reminder that the currents events in the rest of the world can have an impact on your life no matter where you reside.
This book won both the National Book Award and the Printz Award. This realistic fiction novel is written by Sabaa Tahir who is known for her YA Middle Eastern Fantasy series. This novel focuses on 3 protagonists. A mother who immigrated to the U.S. with her then new husband; her son, a first-generation American boy who is struggling in school; and, her son’s best friend, a girl who survived an earthquake and was brought to the U.S. as a refugee to live with her uncle. All 3 of these protagonists learn quickly that the “American Dream” doesn’t exist for individuals such as themselves. And, the consequences of all of their actions and their circumstances are about to meet them head on.
Before you say anything about this selection being on this list/post. Please know that this book is one of the required reading for those taking the Advanced Placement (AP) Exams. This book goes into the history of 6 drinks everyone in the world has heard of and almost everyone drinks. How did each of these 6 beverages become what humans crave the most?
This edition of Stamped was edited for Teen readers. This book delves into Black American History and it includes everything that is included and excluded from the school curriculum. This book was also one of the fastest books to find itself on ALA’s Most Banned/Challenged Book List.
This graphic novel was one of the groundbreaking books of the genre, and it altered the way historical events are presented in narrative form. MAUS presents another perspective of the horrors of The Holocaust. Only this time, the Jewish people (and other victims) are represented as mice, while the Nazis are represented as cats. This narrative is just as essential as The Diary of Anne Frank and Night.
For readers who enjoy True Crime can now read this book. Murder Among Friends is about 2 adolescent boys who committed a crime and almost got away with it. Their goal was to commit the “perfect crime,” only to get caught due to 1 “minor” oversight. I learned about this crime when I was in high school, and this crime continues to be mentioned in crime documentaries and forensics series. This crime has “inspired” fictional retellings in modern day mystery/thriller/suspense books both for teens and for adults.
Everyone has seen the now famous photo when 2 Black Americans won at the 1968 Summer Olympics and gave the Black Panther Salute during the U.S. National Anthem. This graphic novel delves into the story of the athletes and the events which led them to perform the act that they did, and the consequences that came with it. And yes, this is one of the moments in sports history which happened after Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, as well as inspired Colin Kapernick’s peaceful protest within the NFL.
This memoir delves into the author’s Caucasian mother’s upbringing and her marriage to a Black man which led to her being disowned by her family. After losing her first and second husbands, the author’s mother managed to raise and to support all 12 of her children. This book is a testimony to family, to love, and to devotion.
Many Americans were so moved by the Inaugural Poem Amanda Gorman performed that it was published! Unfortunately, the poem has become one of the latest Challenged Books (in Florida). Similar to the other “challenged” books on this list, young readers can read these books and determine for themselves whether or not there is anything to be “offensive” of within its contents.
These are just a few of many recommendations I suggest for young readers for their Summer Reading. I can always recommend more.