The winter doldrums set in during February, a month that feels so long despite it being the shortest month. This is a great time to find a great book to curl up with on the couch. It is often most difficult to find good books for Middle School readers. Young Adult Fiction at its worst tends to cater to the worst excesses of teen culture. This list draws upon classic books that appeal to readers of all ages rather than books that are specially marketed to appeal to teens and pre-teens. Enjoy this quick review of books that will inspire and delight your middle schooler.
Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Really I could have chosen any number of books by Jules Verne. He has a knack for writing exciting stories that see the protagonist taking an amazing journey or voyages extraordinaires. An early representative of science fiction, the reader is immersed in the scientific thinking of the late 1800s. Granted the science will feel outdated at points, but it rarely detracts from the story.
Journey to the Center of the Earth follows the adventures of the eccectric Professor Otto Lidenbrock from the vantage point of his nephew, Axel. Guided via a volcanic tube to the center of the earth, they encounter a series of dangers. Along the way readers are introduced to Victorian concepts of subterranean geography and prehistoric creatures. Other books by Jules Verne to consider are Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Mysterious Island.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
The story of Anne Shirley remains a favorite in our house. Montgomery produces exquisite characters in the small town of Avonlea. When Anne is adopted by aging brother and sister Matthew and Marilla, she causes many challenges for the close-knit community. This is a story that explores how one person can have such a profound impact on a community, even as that community has a significant impact on that one person.
Readers will explore themes such as the nature of true friendship, what defines a family and the challenges of self-image. Other books by Lucy Maud Montgomery include a whole series of Anne books (six in total). You might also like Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time and Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
One of my favorite Scottish authors, Stevenson knows how to tell an exciting story. Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean has fired the imaginations of viewers, however most of the pirate tropes go back to this classic. Jim Hawkins is the son of an innkeeper who gets caught up in a pirate adventure. The map to Captain Flint’s hidden treasure is found by Jim, who encounters such figures as Billy Bones, Black Dog and Long John Silver.
This is both a heroic journey and a coming-of-age story. Important themes such as finding virtuous role models, responsibility and greed, and courage in the face of danger are great for teens to interact with. Other great adventure books by Stevenson are Kidnapped, The Black Arrow and The Master of Ballantrae.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Even though there are novel-length Sherlock Holmes stories, there’s something to be said for collections of short stories. These are great for those times when you have short periods of time when it’s difficult to start something new and you don’t want to be immersed in a long story. The collection in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has some of the most famous and prototypical adventures of the famous unofficial consulting detective and his sidekick Dr. Watson.
Young readers are introduced to themes such as friendship between unlikely people, the power of inductive reasoning, and the sometimes blurry lines between crime, justice and punishment. Other great books by Arthur Conan Doyle are The Hound of the Baskervilles, A Study in Scarlet and The Lost World.
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
Having looked at several adventure novels, we turn now to biography. I can think of no better book to place in a teenager’s hands than the powerful work of Frederick Douglass. Douglass takes the reader on a journey through his experience of slavery, his eventual escape and his role as a leader in the abolitionist movement. The reader comes away from the narrative with a deep appreciation for the role education plays in making a person truly free.
This book lays an excellent foundation for awareness of societal issues through an insider’s look at the brutality experienced by American slaves and the struggle to achieve a true and lasting freedom. Other great books along these lines are Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery, Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter, and Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place
The middle school years are a time of tremendous spiritual importance. Young readers can gain insight as Corrie Ten Boom’s faith is tried in the crucible Nazi concentration camps. Ten Boom’s recollections walk the reader from the idyllic times shared by the family in Holland before Germany declared war. After the invasion, the family cared for and hid their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. Eventually the family is caught by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps, first in Holland but later in Germany.
Readers are challenged to consider the ways in which God meets his people’s needs in surprising ways as well as the role forgiveness plays after being harshly treated by your enemies. Other stories along these lines are Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, C. S. Forester, The Good Shepherd, and Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor.
Now the goal of reading these great books is to be inspired and shaped by the ideas they contain. My recommendation for you parents is to help guide your child to great books and then to discuss the great ideas with them. This might mean you yourself need to read the book as well! There are lots of great books out there, and these are only the tip of the iceberg. But hopefully this list inspires you to explore the great authors and works to incorporate into your pleasure reading.