Encouraging reading & writing

7 Great Books for Reluctant Readers in Middle School

By Elizabeth Babbin

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Getting middle-schoolers to read can be difficult unless you find titles they can relate to as they struggle to sort out who they really are. These books have the power to engage reluctant readers and keep them interested.

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret
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“The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick

The lavish, enthralling illustrations in this book 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.

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“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 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
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“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 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
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“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 that’s chock-full of outstanding resources to get boys reading. It’s a must-visit.

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“Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio

Six different narrators tell the story of Auggie, a boy who was born with facial deformities. The book 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
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“One for the Murphys,” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Carley finds herself by losing her family in this 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.

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“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’ IQ scores trump everything else. Gordon Korman is a gifted writer for the middle school set. This is just one of his fast-paced, insightful, well-written books for this age group.

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About the Author

Portrait of Elizabeth Babbin

Elizabeth Babbin

Elizabeth Babbin, M.Ed., is the instructional support teacher at Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania.

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