May 31, 2012

Most of these recommendations come from a few years ago, when I taught sixth graders, so I know I’ve missed some of the better new books out there!  Please fill me in by leaving a comment or emailing me: bluejeangourmet {at} gmail {dot} com.


Evil Genius (Catherine Jinks)  

Child prodigy Cadel Piggot, an antisocial computer hacker, discovers his true, shocking identity and his part in a global conspiracy when he enrolls as a first-year student at an advanced crime academy. [series]

His Dark Materials [series] (Philip Pullman)
first book–The Golden Compass

In a world where every human is born with an animal companion, or daemon, young Lyra, who is stubborn and inquisitive, gets swept up into a great mystery with her daemon Pan.  When Lyra’s best friend disappears, she and Pan go on a journey that takes her as far as the North Pole and involves dangerous politics, armored bears, hot-air balloons, and a mysterious substance known as Dust.

My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George)

A favorite of my youth and still popular–Sam is tired of living in his crowded New York City apartment.  He runs away to the Catskill Mountains and learns to live on his own in the natural world.

Peak (Roland Smith)

Peak Marcello has been estranged from his dad, a famous mountain climber, for years.  But when Peak starts to act out–like climbing up the side of a public building, Spiderman-style–Peak’s mom and stepdad ship him off to live with his father, Josh, who wants Peak to try and become the youngest climber to summit Mount Everest.

Pendragon [series], D.J. MacHale
first book = The Merchant of Death    

Bobby seems like a normal fourteen-year-old trying to survive the ups and downs of middle school, until he learns that the survival of the entire world is up to him.  Traveling through time and space, to the medieval world and back to the modern, this adventure will keep your heart pounding.

Ranger’s Apprentice [series], John Flanagan
first book = The Ruins of Gorlan

A particular favorite of male students I know, this series follows young Will, the ranger’s apprentice after which the series is named.  Rangers are a secretive group of men who courageously protect the kingdom, and Will must work hard to be worthy of them.  As a great war between good and evil looms in the near future, Will’s character and courage are tested in the absorbing first book.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians [series] (Rick Riordan)
first book = The Lightning Thief

Drawing heavily on Greek mythology, the books in this series imagine that the gods are still alive and well in the modern world, having children with mortals and generally causing mischief.  When Percy, a twelve-year-old, discovers that his long-lost father is Poseidon, his life changes forever.

The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau)

It is always night in the city of Ember, and its citizens are content to live that way and never explore the dark Unknown Regions.  Twelve year olds Lina and Doon are going to change all of that…[series]

The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)

On his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers that he is not just an ordinary boy; he is an Old One, the last in a line of immortal keepers of the Light.  His task is to track down the six Signs of the Light and to join them in order to overcome the Dark.  He is guided on this perilous journey by the first of the Old Ones, a mysterious figure named Merriman. [series]

The Indian in the Cupboard (Lynne Reid Banks)

Omri’s brother gives him a last-minute birthday present–a cabinet–which has the power to bring to life whatever he places inside of it: a toy horse, a cowboy figurine, etc. [series]

The Kane Chronicles (Rick Riordan)
first book = The Red Pyramid

Riordan does here with ancient Egypt what he did so well with ancient Greece–he brings it into the modern world.  In this series, a pair of siblings has to fight against the evil god Set and save their father, Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane.

The Shadow Children [series] (Margaret Peterson Haddix)
first book = Among the Hidden

Luke has spent his whole life hiding, never attending school, birthday parties, or sleeping over at a friend’s house.  Because he is a shadow child–a forbidden third child within one family–he has to keep his identity a secret.  But one day, he discovers that he is not the only shadow child out there.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Avi)

When I taught sixth grade, I loved teaching this book–an adventure story set in olden times, on the high seas, with a gutsy protagonist and a murder mystery.  What could be better?  Avi is one of my favorite authors for middle school readers.


::Coming of Age::

Anne of Green Gables [series] (L.M. Montgomery) 

This classic tale of young orphan Anne who is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert has been read and treasured for ages.  Though these books were written long ago, Anne’s headstrong personality and struggles are still relatable today.  Like many of the books listed here, this one makes a fun read-aloud.

Dairy Queen (Catherine Murdock)

I fell in love with this book and its sequel when I taught sixth grade–a smart, sassy, sports-loving protagonist named DJ lives on a dairy farm with her parents and two older brothers.  When a boy from school comes to work on the farm over the summer, DJ starts to think about and see herself differently. [series]

Rules (Cynthia Lord)

Twelve-year-old Catherine has conflicting feelings about her younger brother David, who is autistic.  On the one hand, she loves her brother and defends him fiercely–on the other hand, she hates all of the “rules” that her family has to live by in order to make sure David is okay.

Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli)

A sad but beautiful story about a young woman who isn’t afraid to be different, the boy who loves her, and the pain that comes when we give in and compromise on who we are.

The Janitor’s Boy (Andrew Clements)

A young boy is embarrassed by his father’s job and decides to make a mess so that his father will have to clean it up.  What he ends up discovering about his dad surprises him.

The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)

Written by the author when she was sixteen years old herself, this book describes a world in which there are two distinct groups of kids–”greasers” and “socs,” (short for “socialists”).  Ponyboy, the main character, is a greaser and proud of it, always willing to fight against the stuck-up socs on behalf of his own gang.  But when Ponyboy’s friend murders a soc, everything falls apart.

::Female Protagonists::

Ida B:…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, & (Possibly) Save the World (Katherine Hannigan)

A young girl with a strong personality adjusts to the new (and difficult) world of public school after being home schooled her entire life.

Gallagher Girls [series] (Ally Carter)
first book = I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You

This charming series depicts a group of friends who attend the Gallagher School for Exceptional Young Women, where they (secretly) train to be top-notch spies.  Cammie and her whip-smart, funny, and independent friends deal with many of the same issues as other teenage girls, just with the added complications of espionage!

The Princess Diaries (Meg Cabot)

In the book on which the movie is based, Mia Thermopolis is a very average ninth grade girl with average, ninth grade problems.  When she discovers that she’s actually a princess set to inherit the throne of a small European country, Genovia, her problems get a lot more complicated. [series]

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)

Another book-turned-movie series, this one follows a group of friends through a memorable summer, during which they pass one very special pair of jeans back-and-forth. [series]

The Secret Language of Girls (Francis O’Roark Dowell)

Eleven-year-olds Kate and Marilyn have always been the best of friends, until boys and a very popular older girl comes into the picture and begins to tear the girls apart.  Will their friendship survive the pressures of middle school?

::Historical Fiction::

Kira Kira (Cynthia Kadohata)

In the 1950s, a Japanese-American family moves from Iowa to Georgia, where they are a distinct minority.  The family’s parents work long hours to create a good life for their children, and but when one of their daughters becomes sick, it falls to her sister to care for her.

My Brother Sam Is Dead (Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier)

Set during the Revolutionary War, young Tim is forced to decide where he stands, torn between his brother Sam, who supports the colonists, and their father, who remains loyal to the British.

Number the Stars (Lois Lowry)

I remember very distinctly reading this book for the first time; it affected me profoundly.  In German-occupied Denmark, a young Jewish girl is taken in by her Christian friend’s family and has to pretend to be something she’s not, in order to survive.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Mildred D. Taylor)

Set in the Deep South of 1930s America, this book tells the story of nine-year-old African-American Cassie Logan and her family.  Gritty but beautifully written. [series]

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne)

A deceptively simple tale of a secret friendship between Bruno, son of a Nazi commander, and Shmuel, a young Jewish boy who lives on the other side of the fence at “Out-With.”  In framing the story from young Bruno’s innocent perspective, the author manages to newly convey the horrors of the Holocaust.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly)

Growing up in a family of seven at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Calpurnia–or Callie–fights against her society’s expectations for girls, which include lots of corsets and sewing and not much formal education.  With the help of her grandfather, Callie finds a way to pursue her own interests, much to her mother’s consternation.

::Male Protagonists::

Adam Canfield of the Slash (Michael Winnerip)

A rip-roaring series perfect for any young reader interested in journalism or a career in the news. [series]

Bud, Not Buddy (Christopher Paul Curtis)

Bud, an orphan living in Depression-era Detroit, believes firmly that his father is jazz musician Hermann E. Calloway.  Setting off on his own to find him, Bud learns about family and adventure, all the while maintaining his determined, optimistic spirit.

Hatchet (Gary Paulsen)

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is forced to survive on his own after a deadly plane crash.

Heat (Mike Lupica)

Michael Arroyo pitches with some serious “heat”–but despite his success in baseball, he faces a tough situation at home.  Orphaned after his family’s escape from Cuba, Michael and his brother have to hide their situation and fend for themselves in order to keep from being sent back.

Holes (Louis Sacher)

Camp Green Lake is no picnic–it’s the place juvenile delinquents get sent to be “straightened out.”  The boys sent to the camp spend their hot, dry summer digging holes that are five feet deep and five feet wide, over and over and over again.  Stanley, the book’s protagonist, was sent to the camp for a crime he didn’t commit, but as he spends his summer, he can’t help but notice that there seems to be a reason for the holes other than just punishment…

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Jack Ganntos)

Faced with learning difficulties and behavior problems, hyperactive Joey can’t seem to get it right and is finally sent to a school for troubled students.

The Boy Who Saved Baseball (John Ritter)

The fate of Dillontown’s baseball field rests on the outcome of one game; if Tom Gallagher’s team loses, they lose their field as well.  Young Tom takes it upon himself to consult the town’s reclusive baseball legend, Dante Del Gato, to ensure his team’s victory.


Chasing Vermeer (Blue Balliet)

Sixth graders Petra and Calder have begun to bond over their shared love of art, but it isn’t until a Vermeer painting is stolen on its way to Chicago, their home town, that they team up to solve the mystery.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E. L. Koningsburg)

One of my personal all-time favorites!  Siblings Claudia & Jamie Kincaid run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where they sleep in an antique French bed and bathe themselves in the museum’s famous fountain.  But when an intriguing statue appears in the museum’s collection, Claudia & Jamie decide to find out its true history.

Hoot (Carl Hiaasen)

Roy Eberhardt is once again the new kid at school.  After seemingly endless moves, Roy’s family has settled in Coconut Grove, Florida, where he attempts to make friends and fit in.  Though he has no luck with friends, Roy does discover owls nesting in a tree scheduled to be cut down as part of a new construction project.  He makes it his mission to save the owls, much to the dismay of the police.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick)

This luminous graphic novel is truly a work of art, with its black-and-white pencil drawings that vividly capture a world you won’t want to leave.  Young Hugo lives alone in the Paris train station after his father’s death in a tragic fire.  Doing his father’s work so that no one will know Hugo is living alone, the young boy attempts to solve a mystery that he believes will lead him to a message that his father left behind.

The Westing Game (Ellen Raskin)

A group of people with seemingly no connection but the apartment tower they have all just moved into are forced to play The Westing Game, tracking down clues to solve the murder of Sam Westing, who has promised a fortune to whichever team uncovers the mystery first!

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)

Miranda and Sal are best friends, until Sal suddenly shuts Miranda out of his life for no apparent reason.  Bereft, Miranda becomes even more puzzled when cryptic notes begin appearing, leaving clues that it may be up to her to save her former friend.



  1. Touch Blue, also by Cynthia Lord, is another great book for this age group.

    Comment by Elizabeth — June 8, 2012 @ 10:05 am

  2. The Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson is fantastic!

    Comment by Elizabeth — June 18, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

  3. thanks for the recommendation, Elizabeth! I don’t know that one–will have to check it out.

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — June 26, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

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