More than even elementary school reading material, middle grade books can be looked down upon in the reading community.
Here’s my theory as to why: MG books usually conjure up memories of middle school itself – painful, uncomfortable and awkward.
None of us liked who we were between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Middle school was a mess of simultaneously trying to fit in with our peers and stand out.
But that is what makes middle grade literature so meaningful. These books raised us. They understood us when we felt like nobody did. Most importantly, they taught us lessons that we never truly forgot.
In this post, I’ve shared some of the best books to read in middle school that will continue to impact you throughout life.
It’s worth emphasizing that while these books are most relevant to young readers, they’re excellent for readers of all ages.
The best middle grade books of all time to add to your reading list
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Read Wonder… on the evening of your school orchestra recital.
Probably the quintessential middle grade novel, Wonder is about a fifth grader named Auggie Pullman with a rare facial difference. Because it makes him look different, he’s been homeschooled for his entire life.
But at the beginning of fifth grade, his parents enroll him in the local middle school for the first time. Rotating through different points of view, the book is about Auggie’s – and his classmates’ – adjustment.
I read Wonder for the first time in fifth grade, and it quite honestly taught me what kindness was. It’s beautifully written; narrated by Auggie’s innocent point of view and the voices of all the people in the orbit of his life.
It’s one of the best books for fifth graders to read before middle school, but readers of all ages will also find so many life lessons in its pages.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Read A Wrinkle in Time… on a Saturday afternoon, right after your mother drives you home from the library.
Beginning with the iconic line, “It was a dark and stormy night”, A Wrinkle in Time follows awkward Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace as they are sucked into an interdimensional adventure.
When they are confronted by three eccentric strangers about the slow dissolution of their world, they embark on a journey to save the universe from darkness.
This book is odd, but also perfect for any middle schooler who has ever felt odd. Every gawky seventh grade girl finds her heroine in Meg, and every young teenager will somehow find a home in this book.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Read The Outsiders… the day before school lets out for winter break.
Only covering the span of two weeks, The Outsiders follows 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, whose community is split between the Greasers and the Socs.
Socs have money. They have both parents present, look down on everybody, and can get away with pretty much anything. Ponyboy and his brothers are Greasers – kids without money or a stable family.
Ponyboy is comfortable with this split between the world until one night, when his friend Johnny accidentally kills a Soc. The havoc that ensues teaches him that the world isn’t that simple.
Even though this book was written by a sixteen-year-old, it’s more profound than most books written by older authors. I sobbed. You will too.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret… during quiet spring break mornings before going to your friend’s house.
It’s almost a feat to go through your childhood without reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The iconic middle grade book follows Margaret Simon, who’s just moved to a new school in New Jersey and is desperate to fit in.
Convinced that all her friends are maturing faster than she is, Margaret tries too hard to grow up. And even though her parents aren’t religious, she’s trying to create her own relationship with God – in fact, He’s the one she tells about all her escapades.
This book recently got a film adaptation, which is so deserved. So many of us remember it as the odd little book from childhood, and its quirks are what make it so unforgettable (the “we must increase our bust” chant never quite left my subconscious).
There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar
Read There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom… late into the night, until the words start to blend together.
Written by one of the kings of middle grade fiction (Sachar’s most famous book, Holes, is another of the best middle grade books ever), There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom is about troublemaking fifth grader Bradley Chalkers.
Bradley has been held back from moving up to sixth grade because he lies compulsively, bullies the other students and is bad at school.
But when a new school counselor sees potential in Bradley, he begins to change. Carla thinks that Bradley is actually a kind and sensitive kid, and with her help, Bradley begins to believe that about himself.
Because Sachar has written more popular books, this one is so niche. But it stuck with me because it preaches one truth: it’s difficult to change who you are when the rest of the world is bent on remembering who you were.
Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young
Read Hundred Percent… during the summer of sixth grade, while brainstorming ways to completely reinvent yourself before school starts.
This little-known book covers one of the most transformative eras of a teenager’s life – the transition between elementary and middle school. It’s one of the best books for sixth graders.
It follows Tink, a sixth grader who is stuck in her awkward phase. Her clothes don’t fit right, she’s taller than all the other girls in her grade, and she’s forced to watch as her more popular best friend seemingly fits in without a hitch.
The book covers the entire school year. Each month brings new adventures, boy problems and lessons in self-acceptance.
I cannot recommend this book enough. While I think it has too many adult references to really be relatable to younger teens, it captures exactly what it feels like to be twelve and frustrated with yourself. I read it the summer before middle school, and I needed it.
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Read New Kid… on the car ride to the first day of school.
A graphic novel, New Kid follows seventh grader Jordan Banks, whose parents enroll him in a prestigious, predominantly White private school.
As a budding cartoonist, this bothers him because the school focuses more on academics than the arts. As a Black kid, this worries him because he is one of the only students of color.
New Kid will relate to kids of color who have to act one way at home and another at school. In particular, it’s one of the best books for seventh graders, but I also think it’s for every student who has had to strike the balance between staying true to themself and fitting into another community.
A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima
Read A Silent Voice… in your bed on a school night, with your headphones at full volume.
This one is a manga, but is so widely revered that even people who don’t read manga will enjoy it.
A Silent Voice follows Shoya, who is a bully. He and his classmates enjoy picking on students who are different – so when a deaf girl named Shoko transfers to their elementary school, she’s an easy target.
Shoko is bullied so hard that she has to transfer schools, and once everything blows up in their faces, her classmates dump all the blame on Shoya.
Six years later, Shoya is friendless and miserable. He thinks that there’s no way to reverse what he did… until he runs into Shoko again.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Read The Book Thief… with your English class friend group before Thanksgiving break.
Narrated by Death himself, The Book Thief is set in 1939 Germany. He narrates the life of Liesel, a young German girl who learns to read in secret and uses books to cope with her changing world.
When her family hides a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel’s relationship with words – and the rest of the world – changes forever.
This book has my heart. I will die on the hill that as an iconic tear-inducing teenage novel, it is superior to The Fault in Our Stars. I associate it with bells during winter break and apple cider.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe… after opening presents with your family on Christmas morning.
Now, I personally believe that this book is one of the weakest in the Narnia series. But because my opinion is unpopular, I have to objectively recommend The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a middle grade staple.
The book follows the four Pevensie siblings, who are sent to live with an old professor during the war. While exploring his house, they discover a wardrobe that leads to the world of Narnia.
On the other side of the wardrobe door, they help restore the Narnians from an evil witch who makes it always winter.
Like the rest of this series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels like a hug. Read this to gain sudden clarity – and to feel like a kid again.
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