Filling a summer filled with good reading material cannot only prepare a young mind for the next grade but also inspire an adventurous appetite that can last a lifetime. Although some of the traditional classics still make for great reading for Middle School students, there are plenty of other modern books that can captivate young readers. Below is a list of a few books that can help students between sixth and eighth grade make the most out of their summer reading.
The ultimate tale of survival, Gary Paulsen’s "Hatchet" engrosses readers in the life of a boy whose life is turned upside down after crash-landing in the remote Canadian wilderness. Armed with only a hatchet along with the wits and courage he can summon, our young hero learns how to negotiate a world equal parts cruel and beautiful, spawning a page-turning adventure story rich in symbolism and life lessons. Prodigious readers who cruise through "Hatchet" can also quickly move on to the other four books in Paulsen’s series.
Alternative: Jack London’s "Call of the Wild" remains a terrific read for middle schoolers more than a century after it was initially published.
Walk Two Moons:
Novelist Sharon Creech creates a touching homage to seeing the world from another’s perspective, which makes for a great read as our hero, Salamanca, learns life lessons while searching for her mother. A book that particularly hits home with young girls, "Walk Two Moons" is an inspiring and thoughtful meditation on life that doubles as an adventure story, creating a page-turning journey that is perfect for the summer.
Alternatives: "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett continues to tap into young minds with its dazzling tale of imagination and resilience. Nancy Farmer’s "A Girl Named Disaster" is another inspirational adventure story recommended for middle schoolers to break up the traditional list of classics.
It didn’t take long for Lois Lowry’s "The Giver" to amass significant acclaim after it hit shelves in 1993, bringing readers a prophetic story about a seemingly Utopian society with a dark secret lurking beneath the surface. Readers tend to be whisked away into the mysterious world of Jonas, a gifted 12-year-old who is being trained for a clandestine mission in a strange futuristic civilization. Although it has enough depth for older readers as well, it’s a perfect fit for the middle-school students just starting to test the waters of creative science-fiction.
Alternative: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins is another elaborately detailed dystopian vision that resonates with readers of all ages while delivering a formidable heroine in Katniss Everdeen.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea:
Readers who can’t get enough adventure tales might need to eventually pick up a novel by the great Jules Verne, the iconic sci-fi scribe who was widely considered ahead of his time. In "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," readers are transported to the magical world of sea monsters and naval exploration, plunging far beneath the water’s surface along with the Nautilus’ brilliant and enigmatic leader, Captain Nemo. Verne’s novel has been stirring imaginations for generations and remains an outright classic of adventure for explorers of any age.
Alternate: H.G. Wells’ "The Time Machine" is another 19th century classic well ahead of its time that is both fun and challenging for young readers.
Flowers for Algernon:
Complex and engaging, "Flowers for Algernon" brings readers into the difficult life of a young man, Charlie, whose low IQ makes him a target of ridicule for a cruel society. But after scientists find a possible treatment for cerebral limitations, Charlie’s life only gets more complicated as his intelligence surpasses the same peers who used to look down on him. Packed with moral quandaries and thoughtful human observation that can introduce a reader to difficult topics, "Flowers for Algernon" is the perfect brain food in the middle of summer vacation – even if it’s a little on the dark side.
Alternate: "Of Mice and Men" is another searing human drama that forces readers to ponder the very nature of human morality and intelligence, although John Steinbeck’s classic is also accessible for younger readers.
Others to consider:
J.J.R. Tolkien’s beloved "The Hobbit: or There and Back Again" is a great launching point for the "Lord of the Rings" series, while Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Treasure Island" is the quintessential summer adventure for readers interested in pirates and sea explorers. For advanced young readers looking for a bit of a challenge, Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece "Jane Eyre" can be both entertaining and inspiring.