Good Middle School Books for Reluctant Readers

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Find good books for your middle school students who are reluctant readers, maybe even struggling readers.

From graphic novels to nonfiction books, I’m sharing six categories of books plus recommendations in each category of books that are motivating, some at lower levels, and really, really good. In other words, kids will like them!

Not only have I taught reluctant readers but also my oldest daughter is a reluctant reader. So I know that you have to try everything including matching kids with the right book. Books that they’ll love to read. Which is easier said than done.

Think of your readers’ interests and give them some books from this list.

Get Specific Strategies to Motivate Your Middle Schoolers Here: 12 Ways to Motivate Middle School Readers to Read.

Find Book Recommendations for Every Age Here: Book Lists By Age.

 

Middle School Books

START WITH GRAPHIC NOVELS

 Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
6th grade is hard enough for Raina but it’s even worse with braces, headgear, and friend troubles. Kids love this series that starts with Smile. ALSO READ: Drama, Sisters
 
Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Awkward
by Svetlana Chmakova
This book is SO RELATABLE for any kid who struggles with confidence and speaking up like the main character, Peppi. This well-done graphic novel tackles the issues of friendships and confidence, among other things.
 

Brave
by Svetlana Chmakova
Just like Awkward, this takes place at Berrybrook Middle School where Jensen is the miserable target of the school’s bullies attacks. Friends, Jenny and Akilah think that they can use the newspaper to help him, but their plans without Jensen’s consent hurt their friendship. The ups and downs and challenges will feel familiar to readers and you’ll be rooting for Jensen to stop the bullies and find his place in the world.
 

I Survived The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (Graphic Novel)
by Lauren Tarshis, Georgina Ball, illustrated by Haus Studio
Retold in a graphic novel format, this tells the story of a boy on the Titanic who is traveling with his mom and sister to reunite with his father in the United States. If you have a reader who prefers graphic novels, give this historical fiction book a try.
 

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anybwile
The Crossover graphic novel version is a fast-paced read that packs a big punch visually and emotionally. Kids love Alexander’s lyrical writing and how he seems to just “get” the teenage human condition. (Hint: it’s messy and wonderful and complicated and real.) Basketball player and twin Josh narrates his life in quarters, just like the game he plays. He writes about missing his twin when his twin, Jordan, gets a girlfriend. He shares about getting into trouble when he hits Jordan in the face with a basketball. And he reveals the pain of watching his father as his heart fails. Don’t miss this coming-of-age story about a boy trying to figure out his life.

Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
Growing up, Imogene (aka. Impy) always loved her family’s part in the Renaissance Faire . . . that is, until middle school. Even though she gets her dream to work in the faire as a squire, she also just wants to be like the other girls at her school, too. Her journey is painful and honest as she figures out who she wants to be. It’s narrated as a hero’s journey which, with the faire background and middle school drama, feels perfect.


The Croc Ate My Homework
by Stephan Pastis
This book is so funny and my kids LOVED this book, as did I. It’s from the author of the Timmy Failure books and the Pearls Before Swine comic strip. The main characters, the crocs, are not the smartest and their not-very-smart-thinking will keep you thoroughly entertained.


Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson
Roller Girl shows the struggles of friendship and finding your place in the world as Astrid works hard to become a better roller derby skater, reconcile that her best friendship has ended, and develop a new one. (I recommend going to a roller derby event with your kids to help them know more about this cool sport for girls — it’s such a blast and would be helpful for reading this book, but not essential.) Well-written and relatable.

Big Nate Welcome to My World
Big Nate Welcome to My World
by Lincoln Peirce
I think the Big Nate comics are even better than the novels — they are just so stinking funny! The episodes will keep both you and your kids cracking up.


New Kid by Jerry Craft
Jordan’s parents make him go to a private school across town where he’s one of the only kids of color. Besides having the tricky business of navigating friendships, he now must deal with the two separate worlds of his neighborhood and his school along with racism and balancing academics with his art. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.


5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior
by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun
Gorgeous artwork sets the tone for an otherworldly story. The five worlds are falling into chaos. When one world attacks another, Oona Lee, a girl who is a sand dancer, rescues two boys and the three determine to lit the unlit Beacons and save the worlds. But, they face a dark force that comes with a devastating betrayal. (I mentioned this on Instagram but this book enticed my 7th-grade daughter with a chronic illness who hasn’t felt well enough to read in months to read!!)
 

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
A must-read, atmospheric historical graphic novel about the early years of Queen Elizabeth the First of England. Margaret is an orphan who grows up in an island convent. She doesn’t learn that she is a secret princess until her half-sister, Eleanor, is banished to the island. Eleanor is the former queen. On the island, she’s both kind and manipulative and yet bonds with Margaret so much so that when she escapes at the end of the story, Margaret joins her. 
 

This Was Our Pact
by Ryan Andrews
A compelling graphic novel adventure filled with curiosity, magic, and friendship –as well as a talking bear, a map-drawing crow, and a special journey to the stars. Every year for Autumn Equinox, the town sends lanterns down the river to join the stars in the sky. Curious to know if this is true, Ben and Nathaniel, boys whose unstable friendship doesn’t bode well for cooperation, follow the lanterns on their bikes. Soon, they meet a talking fisherbear who is looking for the river, too. They meet and are imprisoned by a potions maker, make a daring escape, grow into a true friendship, and finally, learn the unexpected, magical truth about the stars. 
 

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad!
by Nathan Hale
Boy readers especially like this series much more than me but it’s just personal preference –the more sarcastic tone and the violence of the books do not appeal to me personally. And yet, so many kids like these books that I finally decided to add them to my list. No doubt, these introduce kids to history and can motivate kids to read so those are good things. This particular story takes place during the American Civil War focusing on the ironclad steam warships with the battles, other military aspects of the war, and real people like William Cushing.
 

Real Friends
by Shannon Hale 
Kids will relate to the ups and downs of Shannon’s friendship in elementary and middle school in this true-to-life graphic novel with incredible artwork. We see Shannon struggle with friends, the popular girls, and even her own behavior, we watch as she discovers her passion — using her big imagination to make up stories.

TRY A NOVEL IN VERSE

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Because this is written in verse, this is a fast read but packs a big punch, especially for boys. Basketball player and twin Josh narrates his life in quarters, just like the game he plays. He writes about missing his twin when his twin, Jordan, gets a girlfriend; about getting in trouble when he hits Jordan in the face with a basketball; and about watching his father as his heart fails. This is a coming-of-age, gripping story about a middle school boy who is just trying to figure out life.
 
12 Novels in Verse (That Get Kids Reading)
Booked
by Kwame Alexander
I’m AMAZED at how skillfully Alexander writes about the teenage human condition — he just gets it! 12-year old Nick struggles with his parents’ separation, a school bully, and the awkwardness of a first crush. The only thing that feels right is soccer…until he gets injured and can’t play. This lyrical, fast-paced story feels honest and relatable. Alexander’s books are almost always guaranteed to get middle school kids excited to read, reluctant readers included.
 

House Arrest
by K.A. Holt
You’ll feel so many emotions reading this tender, heartwarming story that shows a brave boy who feels anger, fear, worry, and love over his challenging situation. Timothy is under house arrest for the next year. He lives with a brother who needs constant medical care and feels so much pain and confusion over his big life changes. Part of his year-long punishment is to meet with a probation officer, meet with a therapist, and write in a journal which is the book we’re reading. When his little brother gets assigned an abusive new nurse, Timothy feels like even if he gets thrown in juvie, he must do something drastic to help his brother. 
 

Lifeboat 12
by Susan Hood
Thinking Hitler will invade England next, Ken’s family sends him to safety in Canada. But, Ken’s ship doesn’t make it. It’s torpedoed and sunk only days into the journey. Written in verse and based on a true story, this is a moving account of bravery and survival as Ken, several other kids, a priest, the ship’s only woman, and members of the crew spend weeks adrift at sea in an ill-stocked lifeboat. You’ll read about their swollen feet, dehydration, and starvation as well as the stories and songs that helped keep the kids distracted and hopeful. Ultimately, you’ll be left with a sense of amazement at the resiliency of the human spirit.
 

Emmy in the Key of Code 
by Aimee Lucido
This is an exquisite book that celebrates music, STEM, making friends, and growing into yourself. Emmy’s eager to start a new school and make friends but she’s thwarted by rudeness at every turn. A daughter of professional musicians, Emmy decides to accept that even though her entire life is music and she lives for music, she’ll never be a musician herself. So for an elective, she takes computer programming instead of music. A girl in her programming class named Abigail is friendly but only during class. Which makes Emmy feel both good for that little attention but angry at being kept a secret. As Emmy’s family adjusts to San Francisco, Emmy figures out her place in the world, especially as it relates to her growing love for programming.
 
Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Other Words for Home
by Jasmine Warga
Written in evocative yet very readable verse, follow a young girl from her home in Syria as she moves with her mother the United States. Jude’s journey is one of growing up, being brave, and discovery. Readers will see how Jude finds her way– relating other ESL students in their safe classroom space, finding new friends, getting her period and starting to wear a headscarf, and even performing in the school play. Her insights on life in America helps put us in her shoes of an immigrant experiencing this country for the first time.
 

GET HOOKED ON SURVIVAL, ACTION, & ADVENTURE

 
Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Hero: Hurricane Rescue
by Jennifer Li Shotz
Exciting and fast-paced, this is an easy-to-read, page-turning adventure perfect for animal and survival enthusiasts. Ben, Noah, and Ben’s dog Hero, a retired search and rescue dog, leave the safety of indoors during an oncoming hurricane to search for Ben’s missing friend, Jack. Hero leads the friends to Jack but their adventure gets more challenging from there. A mudslide, an alligator, a lost Scout troop with an injured leader, and lots more mean Hero must work hard to get the boys safely home. Excellent!
 
Lost is a riveting retelling of a soldiers’ plane crash then weeks of thirst and starvation in the perilous south seas on precarious lifeboats. The fast-paced writing moves the story along with purpose and the photographic evidence is fascinating. Readers will be hard-pressed to put this intense true story down. (Don’t miss next book in the series: Lost in Outer Space about the Apollo 13 moon mission.)
 

Storm Runners
by Roland Smith
Smith always writes non-stop action and adventure books. This series is about what happens when a hurricane hits, flips the school bus, and Chase and his classmates are stuck in a swamp. Be warned, the first book ends on a cliff-hanger but there are three in the series so you can keep reading with book two, The Surge.
 

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
Based on this book, you’d think the zombie apocalypse was totally fun. At least that’s how Jack approaches life, zombie fights, and survival. He and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse where they plan for rescuing his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing being quite capable) and fighting zombies and monsters. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Delightful. Who would have thought?!
 
Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Miles Morales 
by Jason Reynolds
Miles’ spidey sense is whacking out when he’s at school, especially in his history class. Add to that, he’s worried he will turn out like his criminal uncle. So, Miles, who is Puerto-Rican and African American, stops being Spider Man. Until he discovers a chilling plot of men named Chamberlain who work under the control of The Warden.  Now, he must use all his skills to save the world from a racist threat. You’ll love the diversity, the two-parent family, and the complexity of Mile’s character.
 

96 Miles
by J.L. Esplin
Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.” Isn’t this a great first sentence? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies were stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother not to mention Stewart is nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
 

Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts
What a great adventure with realistic conflict between step-siblings who are on a sailboat trip with their uncle! A storm sinks their ship and they barely make it to a deserted island alive. Now they’ll have to work together if they want to survive.
 

Scar Island
by Dan Gemeinhart
Sent to an isolated boy’s prison, Jonathan has little time to adjust before all the prison’s adults are killed in a freak lightning accident. Soon a Lord of the Flies scenario develops, Jonathan’s friend is banished from the group, and a mysterious old librarian gives Jonathan books to read that strangely seems perfect for his situation. When a dangerous storm threatens the entire island, Jonathan must decide if he will abandon his guilt and step up to help the other boys. Moral dilemmas, suspense, and action, plus good writing make this an engrossing adventure.
 

Allies
by Alan Gratz
Written from many different voices about one day in history, readers easily can see the massive amount of cooperation, planning. and troops from different countries involved in D-Day (when the Allies invaded France at Normandy.) We hear from an American teenage soldier who was born in Germany, a French Algerian girl whose mom is a recently captured spy,  a Canadian paratrooper who lands in the wrong spot, and an American black medic. It’s violent and disheartening yet despite terrible losses, racism, and injuries, the fighters persist despite everything to accomplish their goal — to take back the area for the Allies. What an incredible retelling of this day!

READ A BOOK ABOUT REAL LIFE

Orbiting Jupiter Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Joseph is an abused boy with a violent father, a parent at age thirteen, and is now living as a foster kid with Jack’s family on their organic farm. As he learns to trust them, we slowly learn about Joseph’s deep love for a rich girl named Maddie, his daughter named Jupiter who he’s never seen, and his shattering heartbreak. This is an amazing story– painful yet filled with redemption and hope — beautifully written and one that will give middle school readers so much to ponder.

Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Maybe He Just Likes You
by Barbara Dees
Middle schooler Mila is feeling trapped— a group of basketball playing boys is getting too close, grabbing her, touching her, and then telling her that she’s imagining it. Ignoring doesn’t stop the behaviors, neither does telling an adult, telling her friends, or wearing baggier clothing. Now her toxic friend Zara is acting mad and jealous that Mila’s getting the boys’ attention. Unexpectedly, Mila finds her strength when she starts karate classes. That helps her find what works to put a stop to the harassment. I highly recommend this essential book; it should be shared widely with middle school boys and girls. 

Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Ghost
by Jason Reynolds
Ghost accidentally gets on a track team and it’s life-changing. His coach becomes a mentor and father figure who pushes Ghost to take responsibility for his mistakes (stealing sneakers) and to start dealing with the ghosts of his past. Well-written with a hopeful message about growing up and growing into yourself.

FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION AUDIOBOOKS

Audiobooks can be at any reading level — and content — so the sky’s the limit with these! Most children’s auditory processing comprehension is much higher than their actual visual reading comprehension.

Please remember this important truth: audiobooks COUNT.

And they are SO motivating for many a reluctant middle schooler. (Like my own daughter.)

Audiobooks build vocabulary, allow kids to practice strategies like prediction and inference, and develop a love for books. Plus, they really benefit children with reading challenges or learning difficulties. I can’t tell you how glad I am that my neurodiverse daughter can listen to audiobooks and get through assigned reading — or just get “into” a story.

Try these favorites:

Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Harry Potter
 by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
The best selling children’s book of all time, this is a MUST READ (LISTEN) for so many reasons: the brilliant storytelling, a complex and entertaining plot, relatable characters, rich language, essential life lessons about friendship and bravery, and more.


Keeper of the Lost Cities 
by Shannon Messenger, narrated by Julie Roundtree
Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. And Sophie has a secret—she’s a Telepath and not human. She must leave the human world for the Elvin world where she’ll face danger from both worlds. Her only hope is to regain the memories of her past. Mesmerizing!


The Graveyard Book
 by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Gaiman This book is so excellent, I’d say it’s a modern children’s book classic. Bod lives in the graveyard with an assortment of ghosts and other cemetery creatures who raise him after his parents are killed when Bod is only a baby. Bod’s main guardian is Silas who cares for him, feeds him, and teaches him about the human world. The ending is bittersweet (my daughter yelled at me for making her read a sad story) but perfect. Despite the scary-sounding title, the scariest part is in the first chapter when Bod’s parents get murdered.


The Screaming Staircase
 by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Miranda Raison In old-time London, we learn that dangerous ghosts and spirits are appearing everywhere with evil intent BUT only kids can see them. Teens Lucy, Anthony, and George badly need money for their ghost agency so they take a perilous job that may just be their last.


Cinder 
(Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
Cinder is a skilled mechanic cyborg, a human with machine parts, and lives with her step-mother and sisters. (Remind you of Cinderella yet?) When Prince Kai asks her to fix something for him, she becomes entangled in a plot which puts her life at risk and the entire country’s fate is hanging in the balance. This is an AMAZING can’t-put-it-down series that is good for middle school readers who aren’t ready for too-mature YA content quite yet.


The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) 
by Richard Paul Evans, narrated by Fred Berman
If you like fast-paced, not-too-hard science fiction, you’ll love this fantastic audiobook about a boy with electrical powers versus an evil group who wants to control him and others like him. It’s an addictive series for middle schoolers who enjoy action, suspense, and adventure.

NONFICTION

Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Beavers: The Superpower Field Guides
by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith
In this fact-filled, funny, and illustrated nonfiction book, you’ll meet Elmer who, like other beavers, has superpowers like Chainsaw Teeth and an Ever-Toiling Tail. Wow, right!? After you zip through this engaging nonfiction book, I predict Elmer will be your new favorite kind of animal — and you’ll be a beaver expert, too. Excellent, engaging writing.


From an Idea to Nike: How Marketing Made Nike a Global Success
by Lowey Bundy Sichol, illustrated by C. S. Jennings
If your kids love Nike, they’ll devour this easy chapter book about the origin story of the brand… Readers will see that it’s not enough to have a good idea and great product but you also must figure out how to sell your product — and Nike did this by sponsoring elite athletes like Michael Jordan to wear their shoes. The company’s journey shows kids that businesses go through ups and downs. However, continued innovative thinking combined with hard work and determination leads to success.
 

Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children
by Kath Shackleton, illustrated by Zane Whittingham
Holocaust survivor stories like these MUST be told. Because these six children started just like any of the kids reading their stories, they were ordinary kids who experienced the hardest things a child could face…being torn from their homes, separated from family, captured as a prisoner, and/or forced to hide. Graphic storytelling with unique artwork supports the clear, compelling narratives that will stay with you. It’s pretty sad to witness the tragedies in these children’s lives. Powerful, emotional, deeply disturbing that leaves us with a sense of loss, even with these children’s survival. We need more books like this. We must never forget. Buy this book for your classrooms and libraries!
 

Almanac 2020
All-new content and interviews with renowned National Geographic explorers will help you learn about what’s going on in the world! Filled with photos, facts, crafts, features on animals, science, nature, technology, conservation, plus games, activities, jokes, quizzes, comics. This is an exciting, fun-to-read tome of information.
 

Weird but True 8
Do your kids love the Weird But True! books as much as mine? This new edition contains 300 all-new wild and wacky facts and pictures. Want to hear a few?
  • The 1904 World’s Fair featured a life-sized elephant made of almonds.
  • moonbow = a nighttime rainbow
  • Scientists found sharks living in an underwater volcano.
  • Octopuses have blue blood and nine brains.
Thrifty Guides Handbooks for Time Travelers Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution by Jonathan W. Stokes
The Thrifty Guides Handbooks for Time Travelers are irresistible, wildly imaginative romps through history. These books are filled with tongue and cheek hilarity while also being boldly informative about their historical topics…If you’ve decided to travel to the American Revolution, you’ll want your Thrifty Guide along for this exciting adventure!
Set your Time Corp Time Machine Colonial to April 18, 1775, and get some rest, because you are not going to have another chance to sleep for the next twenty-four hours. The good news is, things are about to get very exciting. The bad news is, well, you’re probably going to get shot by a British musket.”
Lucky for you, the book provides a helpful hints section of your odds of being hit by a musket along with information about the battles, casualties, and leadership. (“Better commanders than William Howe: Finn Greenquill’s grandmother, a wet sock, a bowl of soggy oatmeal, this book, a cat stuck in a washing machine.“) The guides are published by Time Corp in the year 2164 to help vacationing tourists with the most practical information for their time travel trips.
 

Worlds Strangest Creepy-Crawlies Top 40 Weird and Wonderful Hair-Raising Bugs

Big, bold text and huge color photographs catch your attention immediately starting with #40, the elephant beetle and ending with #1, the exploding ant. Huh!? Yes, this ant from Malaysia explodes and dies — yikes! Each bug featured gets a 1- or 2-page spread including important facts, a habitat map, photographs, and ratings on the “strangeometer” for creepiness, superpowers, bug beauty, and fight factor. Irresistible!
Rise Up: Ordinary Kids With Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, illustrated by Amy Blackwell
Middle schoolers will love the colorful layouts, exceptional writing, and wealth of information about SO many amazing role model kids. Learn about Poorna Malavath from India who climbed Mt. Everest, Desmond Doss, a WWII hero from the U.S., and Molly Kelly from Australia who escaped from forced resettlement for Aboriginal children. The writing grabs you from the first sentence — and makes these children’s true stories exciting and dramatic as if you were reading an adventure story.
 
 
Insect Superpowers 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour!
by Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell
Stylized to look like a comic book of superhero action with oversized pictures and the occasional large comic-style typeface of smack! pow! and chomp! impress upon the reader just how super these superbugs are. Bugs like the Green tiger beetle, the fastest of all insects. Messner shares the must-know basics (name, size, hideout, superpower) then launches into fascinating details about each including what they eat (favorite foods) and who eats them (archenemies). Action-filled cartoon panels show a bug stalking and then devouring its food. Interesting insets of information narrate more facts about each insect. What kid could resist reading this enthralling tome!?
 
Books for Middle School Reluctant Readers
Totally Wacky Facts About History
by Cari Meister
This reminds me of the Strange But True books only about history and from a different publisher. And, I LOVE IT! This little book makes history interesting to kids — it’s filled with colorful photos and illustrations and yes, wacky facts. Here are a few to get you started:
Early Chinese spies flew on large kites to gather information about their enemies.
Ancient Romans were the first to record seeing UFOs. 
Napoleon suffered from ailurophobia. that means he was afraid of cats. 
Crazy cool, right? It makes you want to know more!
 

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods
by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco
My kids can’t stop reading and rereading this enormous volume of Greek myths, retold Riordan style — I’m talking laugh-out-loud style. Remember all the hilarious chapter titles in Riordan’s Percy Jackson books? And the witty, sarcastic voice of Percy? Yup. All here.
 
middle school books for reluctant readers
 
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2 Responses

  1. I just wanted to say that I love your book lists. So helpful!

    Thank you!

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