As schools shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, middle schoolers at home have time on their hands. Why not use this time to reignite our kids’ love of books! Cognitive benefits of reading include increases in intelligence, empathy, imagination, and concentration.
Finding books that both captivate our middle schoolers and are appropriate for them can be a challenge. But having gotten three of my kids through the middle school years (and still enjoying my youngest’s time in seventh grade) here are a few recommendations.
Fiction for Middle Schoolers
These are timeless tales of children whisked away into the magical, magnificent world of Narnia where trees dance, animals talk, and intense battles of good versus evil. The stories would be captivating enough if that was it. But all seven books in this series weave in gorgeous Biblical truths about the love of Jesus, His sacrifice for us, His faithfulness, His forgiveness, and His ultimate power to conquer evil. These Narnian tales make a fabulously fun read aloud and there are slews of free resources for them ranging from Bible studies to coloring pages.
Books by Blue Balliett
Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game by Blue Balliett are brilliantly written books that ignite curiosity. Balliett’s books instill a hunger to learn, discover, explore, and think. By introducing a famous artist into the plots of her books (Vermeer, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Calder), Balliett sparks an interest of art in middle schoolers while they try to solve mysteries. Balliett characters are realistic kids with quirks, but also with hidden insights and gifts. Discussion guides for all the books created by the author are available for free here.
The Blood King Series
Jill Williamson’s love for Jesus is evident in the engaging story world packed with adventures she’s created in her The Blood of Kings series. Both my sons, who are quite different from each other, devoured this series in sixth grade. Jill has created free curriculum to accompany these books in the form of downloadable PDFs, maps and even songs on her website. If your kids aren’t the epic fantasy-type, Jill’s modern-day spy series, The Mission League, is another win in the middle school book department.
Written by R.J. Palacio, Wonder, is famous for its mantra of “Choose Kind.” Our entire household devoured Wonder because it resonates with all of us. Who hasn’t been talked about behind their backs (especially in middle school), felt insecure, struggled with friendships, and had difficulties communicating with their family? The main character, Auggie, who was born with a facial deformity, shows us how to see the best in others and learn to love ourselves. Jumping from multiple points of view with plenty of humor, this book reads fast. If your middle schooler loves Wonder as much as I expect they will, there are several other companion books by Palacio. In addition, there is a free Wonder App, as well as free teacher-created resources to accompany Wonder all found here.
Books by Tamara Bundy
Tamara Bundy’s two historical fiction books, Walking Miss Millie and Pixie Pushes On touch on the challenges of the middle school years incorporating issues such as discrimination and the polio epidemic plus a light-hearted dose of humor. Tamara’s Christian world view shines through these thoughtfully crafted and heartfelt books emphasizing exercising morals and making good choices. Barnes & Noble created activity and discussion questions for Millie on their free family book club (scroll down on their site) and Tammy has created free video content for Pixie.
Nancy Rue’s series about a fiesty soccer player breaks stereotypes for middle school girls. Lucy (whose mother has died and whose father is blind) faces plenty of challenges while appearing in Lucy Doesn’t Wear Pink, Lucy Out of Bounds, Lucy’s Perfect Summer, and Lucy Finds Her Way. Through each book, Lucy shows how to turn toward God to get through the tough stuff. Perfect for my soccer-playing girls, but also for any girl 10-13.
Non-Fiction for Middle Schoolers
My girls read, journaled in, and prayed through a variety of devotionals put out by Faithgirlz (who specifically targets girls this age). All of them dive into middle school issues ranging from self-esteem to friendships and help girls grow their relationship with God during these tricky years. (I even wrote one myself, 5-Minute Devotions for Girls ). These devotionals are created to engage readers through prompts and questions throughout the text.
Case for Christ, Case for Grace, Case for Faith, and Case for a Creator “for kids” were all adapted from Lee Strobel’s popular Case for Christ book. The books give real-life examples in relatable terms for why Jesus, the resurrection, and creation are all true. If you have access to Netflix, the Case for Christ movie is PG and a wonderful family watch appropriate for middle schoolers.
My boys never found the “perfect” devotional. But autobiographies of celebrities who lean on their faith speak volumes to my sons. Kurt Warner’s All Things Possible, Kirk Cousin’s Game Changer, and Lecrae’s Unashamed are tops on their lists. These celebs, who so many look up to, share real struggles and how they turned to Christ in the midst of their highs and lows. Listening to Lecrae’s Christian hip-hop music and watching YouTube videos of these athletes games would be cool supplements.
Ways to ‘Read’ During Social Distancing
Even though schools and public libraries are closed, online book distributors are still delivering to our doorsteps and most libraries have free Apps allowing you to download free eBook and audiobook versions of many of their titles via Hoopla and Libby. If you don’t have these Apps already, download them today.
These wonderful resources can get your middle schooler’s nose out of their phone and into a book.
But let’s use this time at home to not just assign, but to model a love of learning to our kids. Why not read the same book your kiddo is reading and discuss it together? Why not listen to an audiobook together while you stir up a batch of fudge brownies or take turns reading the pages of a great book out loud? You could also go through a Bible study together reading the same devotion and discussing your answers to the prompts.
All of these are ways to embrace our current situation by sharing with our middle schoolers the knowledge, wisdom, creativity, imagination, faith, and problem-solving skills books offer.