As I write, my fifth grade daughter is telling me, for the six hundred fifty-sixth time, that she only has eleven more days of elementary school left. This fact seems thoroughly exciting to her. Time cannot move fast enough for her. She seems to sense the cusp she teeters on and is no longer satisfied to wonder what lies ahead. She is ready for what comes next.
I, on the other hand, am not ready at all. It is continually remarkable to me how moments in parenting can have such long build up times and yet find a way to sneak up on you. You have nine months of pregnancy to prepare, adjust, and anticipate the birth of your baby, and yet, the moment is always a surprise. You have five years to enjoy, discipline, and teach your precious babies before you place them in the loving care of a long line of teachers, and yet, that first day of Kindergarten is a complete shock. Then you have six long, comfortable years to laugh, learn, and grow with your fantastic elementary school age children, all the while knowing what comes next, and yet, the day it ends is going to be a surprise (despite the dictated second by second countdown).
Almost since the moment I found out I was pregnant the first time, I have worried about and dreaded the middle school years. Those years were so painful and dramatic for me that I felt, and still feel, completely powerless in knowing how to help navigate my own children through them. I know I cannot protect and shelter them from every harm, whether physical or emotional, but a little gentle bubble wrap between twelve to fourteen should just be standard. What she senses ahead with ease and expectation, I look back on with difficulty and hurt. And while I know in my head that she is not me, and her story will not be mine, my emotions are not convinced!
These oncoming years that I have, previously, been able to ignore, shut away, and block off, are now, unavoidably, upon us. I am ill-prepared, nervous, and excited. When she was a baby, I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely lost as to how to help this tiny human flourish. I would check out every parenting book I could find and hang on to the things that were consistent throughout each book. But now, again feeling overwhelmed and lost, I have read exactly zero books on parenting during this new phase and I avoid talking to parents of teenagers about parenting.
With denial firmly established and recently identified, it is past time for me to move forward with reality.
A friend helped me take a few steps in the right direction a few weeks ago by asking me for book recommendations for middle school students. I was, unsurprisingly, excited and got to work on a list right away. I realized that this is an age group that I often skip over in my recommendations. As I worked through my book list, I thought about my daughter reading these books. I found myself looking forward to her broadened literary adventures and our discussions of them. While so many things around her may be changing, at least one thing will not, she and I will still read together. And that gives me great comfort and confidence.
If you share a home with a middle school aged kid and find yourself in need of some comfort and confidence, here are some excellent books to read together. While each of these books can be enjoyed by anyone, for the sake of ease, I have given them very general categories. These are not definitive, merely directive. And, there are many more books than these. As always, I would love to hear your recommendations.
For the athlete:
- Crossover (Kwame Alexander) – Kwame Alexander is a gifted storyteller. His lyrical style of writing is creative, accessible, and enjoyable. He has many books to his name, but Crossover is my favorite. The characters he develops are so tangible and relatable you cannot help but connect with them.
- Track series – Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and, coming soon, Lou (Jason Reynolds) – If you have spent any amount of time around Well Worn Pages, you know that most of my lists include something by Jason Reynolds. This series is one of my favorites to recommend to kids. The books are so refreshing, interesting, and compelling.
For the world events journalist:
- A Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park) – This remarkable story follows two children, in two different eras, living through war in Sudan.
- I am Malala (Malala Yousafzai) – This is a perspective changing story of a girl whose name we all know now. She took a stand against the Taliban to advocate for the education of girls and nearly lost her life in the process.
- Refugee (Alan Gratz) – The book follows three different kids through three very different wars throughout recent history. It is heartbreaking, shocking, and based in reality.
For the historian:
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare) – The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a Newberry Medal winner. It is a fascinating story of a young girl sent to Puritan America by herself. It is a story of struggle, friendship, misunderstanding, and cultural tension.
- Lions of Little Rock (Kristin Levine) – This book tells the story of the desegregation of schools in Arkansas through the eyes of two girls and their commitment to maintain their friendship.
For the fantasy enthusiast:
- The Ranger’s Apprentice series (John Flannagan) – Classic fantasy fiction here. These books are very enjoyable reading.
- The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander) – My previous admission is, sadly, unchanged. However, I stand by the high recommendations of others with this series.
For the deep thinker:
- The Giver (Lois Lowry) – Here is another excellent Newberry Medal winner. Like A Wrinkle In Time, this book had a significant impact on me. It is worth the wait to read it when it can be thought through and understood.
- The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) – There are many twists in the telling of this World War II novel. The narrator’s voice and the perspective of the main character are particularly unique and excellently done. This would be a great one to read together and talk about.
Coming of age stories:
- Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) – Woodson’s autobiographical work in this book is remarkable. The way she tells the story of her transitional childhood is, by turns, intriguing and relatable.
- Full Cicada Moon (Marilyn Hilton) – The pain of moving, of being uprooted and un-rooted and the struggle to understand identity and cultural contexts; what could be more recognizable to middle schoolers?
- Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan) – Ryan has a way of telling stories you need to hear in such a way that you want to hear them. The story of Esperanza’s transition from life in Mexico to life in California is no exception.
Just for fun:
- Holes (Louis Sachar) – This hilarious book is a Newberry Medal winner and a National Book Award winner. It is funny, heartfelt, cheeky, and great fun. Who knew digging holes out in the desert could amount to all that?!
- The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin) – This book is one of my all time favorites of the Newberry Medal winners. It is Clue (the board game), murder mystery dinner, and a logic puzzle all in one. This one makes for a fantastic read aloud.
Books create bonds at any age. And, when it comes to middle schoolers, we can use all the help we can get creating and maintaining those bonds.
Here’s to these doing just that!