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9 great books for reluctant readers in middle school

By Elizabeth Babbin, EdD

It can be hard to motivate middle-schoolers with reading issues to pick up a book. One way to engage them is to find books with themes they can relate to at a time when they’re trying to figure out who they are.

Here are nine great titles to explore with your reluctant middle school reader.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

The lavish, enthralling illustrations in The Invention of Hugo Cabret draw readers in right away. But they include many details that are easy to miss at first glance. The text of the story is similar. It engages readers quickly, but gives way to a complex plot as the book moves along. The art and words work together to immerse readers in Hugo’s world, where he is a 12-year-old boy living a hidden life in a Paris train station in the 1930s. Part graphic novel, part flip-book, part movie: Hugo Cabret is a masterpiece of words and art.


Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen

There’s nothing like rooting for the underdog to get a kid pulled into a story, and Hoot’s main character gets hit from all sides. Roy is the new kid in school. He’s dealing with bullies his own age, but he ends up taking on adults who could be called the same. Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House is determined to bulldoze an abandoned lot that just happens to be home to some miniature burrowing owls. This funny, engaging ecological mystery really ropes in middle school kids as they root for the hero.


The Underland Chronicles, by Suzanne Collins

Before Suzanne Collins wrote the Hunger Games trilogy, she wrote The Underland Chronicles. This set of five books is slightly less violent than Hunger Games, but it’s just as captivating for middle school readers. The series tracks the adventures of a boy who falls down a manhole and ends up on journeys through the city’s underbelly. All of this happens while life up on the street keeps rolling on as usual. Anyone who imagines an alternate reality will be swept up in the Underland books.


Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor: Book One, by Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka is the author of several great books and series for boys. He’s obsessed with getting more boys interested in reading. His new Frank Einstein graphic novel includes the engaging text and illustrations he’s known for. It also manages to combine science, technology, text, and art in one book that kids won’t be able to put down. The author also runs a fantastic website called guysread.com that’s chock-full of outstanding resources to get boys reading. It’s a must-visit.


Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Six different narrators tell the story of Auggie, a boy who was born with facial deformities. Wonder details his struggles to fit in — or at least not stick out. Auggie is homeschooled until fifth grade, when he heads to his public school and really faces life in the public eye. His journey is beautifully told from different perspectives and can give all children insight into how other kids view them.


One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Carley finds herself by losing her family in One for the Murphys, a story about a young teen in the foster care system. The struggles she faces on her path to discovering who she is and what really matters will pull readers in. After some tough experiences with her mother and stepfather, Carley winds up in the busy home of the Murphys. There, she finds stability and an identity that she had always lacked.


The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis

Set in Afghanistan, this story centers around an 11-year-old and her family. They lose everything they have to the Taliban. When her father is arrested, Parvana comes up with a plan to disguise herself as a boy so she can earn money to support her family. The Breadwinner is the first of a three-book series that will have kids wanting the entire trilogy.


Eight Keys, by Suzanne LaFleur

When Elise enters middle school, many changes come with it. Her friendships are different, there’s bullying , and her family dynamics seem off, too. Then she receives a mysterious key as a gift for her 12th birthday. When she realizes that it unlocks one of the eight doors in the barn behind the house, things get very interesting. Elise’s journey dealing with many changes can be helpful to kids who are going through similar things. Also, the suspense and readability of Eight Keys make it a great pick for middle school kids.


Ungifted, by Gordon Korman

A middle school troublemaker accidentally ends up in a gifted program, where he doesn’t belong for more reasons than one. His adventures end up bringing humanity to a school where kids’ scores trump everything else. Gordon Korman is a gifted writer for the middle school set. Ungifted is just one of his fast-paced, insightful, well-written books for this age group.


Find more great books for your middle-schooler. Search the Book Finder tool from our founding partner, Reading Rockets.

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