Are they too old for read alouds? No way! Reading aloud to middle school students in 7th and 8th grade benefits them just as much as in elementary school. Immeasurably.
Besides the enjoyment kids get when listening to a story (who among us doesn’t love a good audiobook?), you can introduce your 12- and 13-year-old readers to a new author or book series, expose them to an important topic or issue, study a component of writing and author’s craft, and share an underappreciated genre.
What will your purpose be for reading aloud to your middle school students?
See if these recommended books are a good fit for your purposes…
Middle School Read Aloud Books for 7th and 8th Grade
Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber
REALISTIC / BODY DYSMORPHIA & DISORDERED EATING
Sarah’s mom’s dysfunctional relationship with food is affecting Sarah– who now thinks that her slowness in basketball is related to eating too much or too many “unhealthy” foods, instead of being from the normal growing pains of puberty. She’s confused, starving herself, and stressed out. Finally, a friend pushes Sarah to get help…and, help is just what Sarah needs to understand the truth about her body, what health truly is, and how her mom’s disordered eating has affected her.
House Arrest by K.A. Holt
REALISTIC / VERSE
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.
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.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Worth reading and rereading because there are layers upon layers of meaning, skillful writing, and a haunting truthtelling that resonates with us all. Ever since Conor’s mom gets breast cancer, a wild, ancient tree monster visits Conor’s nightmares. The monster demands that Conor admit the truth but Conor refuses. Meanwhile, in the awake world, Conor moves in with his cold, unfriendly grandmother. The metaphorical nightmare echos Conor’s real-world experiences as we journey with him into pain, loss, and eventually, healing. Astonishing and powerful, this is one of the best books I’ve EVER read.
Allies by Alan Gratz
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII
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.
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen
This is a compelling, disturbing, and hopeful childhood story of hardship and survival with moments of kindness and time in nature that sustain the neglected, determined young boy. If you love Gary Paulsen’s stories or just enjoy survival and growing up stories, DON’T MISS this powerful book! Also, Paulsen writes his memoir in the third person which is an interesting choice and one that works extremely well…
Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack
Set in the historical Turkic Jewish empire of Khazaria, Ziva’s beloved twin brother with leprosy continues to deteriorate. When she learns he’ll be taken away by her uncle to die elsewhere, she steals him away to search for a cure. Along their journey, they meet a half-demon boy who tells them about a mythical city where the Angel of Death can not enter. They journey toward the city, and Ziva clings to the hope that the city will be the answer to everything. She’ll bargain and beg with Death, but ultimately, she’ll have to accept that in life, there always is death.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
REALISTIC / PHYSICAL DISABILITIES
Aven Green makes up creative stories for why she doesn’t have any arms. Especially now in Arizona where her parents are the new managers a rundown theme park. She befriends a boy at school who, like her, feels different and isolated from the other kids. His name is Connor and he has Tourette Syndrome. Together he, another new friend named Zion, and Aven investigate a storage shed at the theme park which leads them to Aven’s biological past. This story is about restorative friendship, facing your fears, and discovering your true potential.
Restart by Gordon Korman
After a bad fall, Chase has no memory of who he is or was. But he soon realizes that he used to be a cruel troublemaker. Now that he has a second chance, he can decide who he’ll be with his fresh slate. Because he’s enjoying his new life in the film club and the new (“nerdy”) friends he’s made and doesn’t really want to go back to his old self. This thought-provoking novel shows that who we are is a choice. It’s also an easier read for 7th and 8th graders that will engage 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.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitch Smith
REALISTIC / SHORT STORIES
These exceptionally written, interconnected stories are about kids and their experiences with the powwow, cultural aspects of the Native communities, growing up, and belonging. They’re wonderfully written and wholly engaging. At first, each story seems distinct, but the stories intersect with graceful wonder. It’s a beautiful collection of stories that amplifies Native voices and gives non-Native folks a view of the modern-day lives of Indigenous kids and their families.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
REALISTIC / VERSE
Written in verse, this powerful story takes place in 60 seconds. 15-year-old Will is about to get revenge for his brother’s murder. But so much can be revealed and can happen in 60 seconds…Will he murder someone or listen to the secrets he doesn’t know about his brother?
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
REALISTIC / BODY IMAGE & SIZE / VERSE
Heartbreaking and inspiring, this poignant story in verse shows a girl who learns, after years of fat-shaming and bullying, to define herself not based on what others say but on who she really is. Ellie’s mom won’t buy her new clothes because she thinks it encourages Ellie’s weight gain and is pushing for a dangerous gastro-bypass surgery. Fortunately, Ellie gets support from an understanding therapist who helps her move from powerless to powerful — and accept herself as she is–beautiful and worthy.
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
REALISTIC / POVERTY
Felix doesn’t want to tell anyone that he’s been living in a van. His mom, Astrid, is worried about social services taking him so he keeps quiet even though he really wants a bathroom. His hope is that he can win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. One of the things I loved about this story is how it shows a child’s love for a parent despite all the parent’s flaws–and his mom has many like lying and not holding down a job. It also depicts homelessness as circumstances beyond a child’s control — which is something most kids don’t know or think to consider. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended for 7th and 8th graders.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
REALISTIC / VERSE
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 boy who is just trying to figure out life like most boys at age 12.
Rain Rising by Courtne Comrie
RAIN RISING is a multilayered story about mental health, racism, family, friendship, and self-love — with a main character that you’ll cheer on through her tricky and beautiful growing-up journey. Rain’s older brother Xander always has taken good care of her; he helps her on her saddest days, especially after their dad left and their mom is gone at work most of the time. But, when Xander gets brutally attacked, he’s a shell of himself and barely speaks…and Rain can barely cope. In an after-school group, she starts to make new friends, and slowly finds her way back to health through the group and therapy. I LOVE this book. (Sensitive readers: this story contains cutting.)
The Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen
Two clever, quick-witted kids face incredible danger, insurmountable odds, and a galaxy-spanning war but Yared has been trained for this and he is ready to fight. Set in a futuristic Ethiopian empire, this exciting adventure grabs your interest and keeps it through wild twists and turns that feature heroic main characters!
The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey #1) by Richard Paul Evans
Kids love this YA book series about a boy with electrical powers and an evil group who wants to control him and the others like him. This is a good read aloud book choice if you’re wanting to get 7th and 8th grade readers hooked on a new series.
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, et.al
Because these books zip along with fast-paced adventure and action, you’ll be hard-pressed to stop reading! John isn’t a human teenager, he’s one of 9 Loric children who were sent to Earth when their planet was attacked by the evil Mogadorians. He moves around a lot with his guardian to escape these alien killers who can only kill the kids in numerical order…Now that he’s come of age, he develops his Legacies — powers that will help him survive. But one, two, and three have been killed already. John is next. Use this read aloud book to introduce middle schoolers to this series.
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII
Inspired by the author’s family history, three friends from Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa, can’t imagine the direction their lives will take separating them by war, location, and ideology. Leo and Elsa are Jewish so their path includes ghetto housing, escape for one of them, and prison camp for the other. But, Max is not Jewish and his main goal is to get the approval of his brutal Nazi father. To do so, he gladly pursues Nazi beliefs and actions, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends weren’t “dogs” or less than human. The story’s conclusion weaves together their stories in a heartbreaking, beautiful ending.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
I’ve started this book twice and just could not get into it. Neither could my daughter. BUT, so many teachers tell me that their students love it as a read-aloud so I wanted to include it on this list. It’s a dystopian story about kids who are chosen to train as Sythes, state killers who cull the population so it doesn’t get too large. Teachers tell me this is a popular read aloud book for middle schoolers.