I was recently asked for some recommendations of books for middle schoolers. Since I began teaching middle & high school most of my reading comes from Young Adult fiction. These books tend to deal with tougher issues that high schoolers (and some middle schoolers) deal with. YA books tend to have more language and some subject matters that parents of younger middle schoolers prefer their kids not be exposed to yet. While these books are important, I respect the parents' decision for their own children here.
After going through most of my library I have come up with a list of books that I, as an avid book reader and teacher, would recommend to any kid. I have also linked each book title to its webpage or, when one was not available, to a bookseller. I am not getting any kickbacks from anyone- publishers, booksellers, authors, etc, for promoting these books. I just think they are great books that get kids into reading.
Some of these books have the occasional strong language and some fantasy violence. Neither of which are to the extreme. Nor should they exclude a book from this list.
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- I think you know the story. An orphan is raised by his aunt & uncle until he discovers he is a wizard and is the only to have survived a killing curse. Even if you've seen the movies, read the books! While I love the movies, the books are so much richer and more detailed.
A series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket- Orphans fight against the evil Count Olaf.
Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis- A fanastical journey through the wardrobe for 4 kids who discover they are royalty in Narnia and are called back when Narnia needs them most.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan- Percy discovers that he is the son of Poseidon and embarks on several journeys to save the world
Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson-five youngsters find themselves trapped as virtual images of themselves and have to battle the "Disney villains & witches after the park closes. A great series for Disney fans. The first is set in Magic Kingdom, the second in Animal Kingdom, & the third (which I've not yet read) in Epcot.
Pendragon series by DJ MacHale- 14 yr old Bobby Pendragon discovers everything about his life is not what it seems when he discovers he is a traveler and must travel to different "territories" in order to battle the evil Saint Dane for control of all of Halla. A great series for boys.
Shadow Children series (Among the Hidden, Among the Importers, Among the Betrayed, etc) by Margaret Peterson Haddix-Families are only allowed to have two children. The Shadow children are the hidden third children.
Giver, Gathering Blue, & Messenger by Lois Lowry- A dystopian society where everything is controlled- to what people wear, to who they marry, to what jobs they have. Jonas is selected to become the next Receiver of Memory and discovers that the restrictions are there to protect people from war, famine, etc, but in the process good things like celebrations have been taken away. He has some tough decisions to make when the fate of a baby comes into question.Gathering Blue & Messenger are companion novels set in similar societies.
Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke- A man can read characters out of books & evil man escapes from one who wants him to read out more and more. So much better than the movie.
Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo-A kid discovers he has the ability to go into pictures & is sent to a school where he meets a few other students with different abilities. They discover they are descendants of the Red King but not all of them are on the same side.
Eragon by Christopher Paolini (this is the first of the series)- A boy finds a dragon egg and becomes a dragon rider. He is pursued by a man who wants to destroy all dragon riders. MUCH better than the movie.
Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage- the seventh son of a seventh son discovers he has magical abilities.
City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass (the Mortal Instruments series) by Cassandra Clare- Clary discovers the existence of the Shadowhunters who are tasked with protecting the world from evil.
Land of Elyon series by Patrick Carman- a girl spends another summer in a city surrounded by high walls that are there to protect the town from the evil outside. She discovers the truth is much more than she is being told.
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley- The Grimm sisters are the great, great-something nieces of the Grimm Brothers. After their parents disappear and they are shuffled to different foster homes they end up with the only living relative- a grandmother they thought was dead. She is the keeper of Ferryport Landing and is in charge of the fairy tale characters living there. Buckley does a great job of weaving different characters & stories into these books. I have read the first one with my classes over the years and they love the story.
My Sister the Vampire by Sienna Mercer- A girl moves to a new town and discovers she has a twin....who happens to be a vampire. A cute series for girls.
Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley- At the start of a new school year girl decides she is no longer going to be invisible at school. She makes the decision to dress differently and talk to her crush. She is lab partnered with her crush and when everyone leaves the class she celebrates by popping a gummy bear in her mouth- and chokes to death. She spends the rest of the book trying to figure out how to get her ghost to move on to the next realm. A funny book!
Hunger Games & Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (and the soon to be released Mockingjay)- A dystopian story where the US is divided into 13 districts after some unnamed war. To remind the other 12 districts of the failed uprising by the 13th several years prior, the government requires all districts to send 2 kids to fight to the death during a televised contest. The winner is set up in a nice house and their families no longer have to worry about food. Very action packed. One of the best series I've read. The highly anticipated series finale-Mockingjay comes out August 24.
Edited to add:There is violence in here because of the nature of the Hunger Games- they are literally fighting to the death (for example-there are hybrid hornets in a nest that gets cut down over some of the contestants). In my opinion, Collins writes it in a way that fits the story and doesn't glamorize it. I would compare the level similar to that in the later Harry Potter books. Please give these books a shot and read more reviews online before passing them by!
These next few series are some that I have not read but I have had several boys who love them. I had a waiting list for them last year.
Spy High series By AJ Butcher (I've not read these but I have several boys who love this series)
Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz (another I've not read but my boys love)
The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (another that my boys love)
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver
These are not the only books I recommend but I will stop here for now. I love books where the kid is the hero and gets to battle (and usually defeats) evil forces.
Please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments or comment on books in this list.
Later I will post a list of recommended books for older kids.