The middle grades are a critical time in students’ social, emotional, and cognitive development. Not quite grown but no longer little kids, middle graders flourish when their studies are challenging, meaningful, and personally relevant. So if you’re looking to add impactful reads to your classroom library, check out these 20+ fantastic finds from our friends at Random House Children’s Books. At turns mysterious, funny, fantastical, heartwarming, and compelling, there’s something here for all of your readers in grades 3-8.
ALA Award Winners
1. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Middle schooler Roy Eberhardt is not only the new kid in town, he’s the only hope for a colony of endangered owls whose habitat is on the verge of destruction. Find an educators’ guide and student activities using Hoot in the classroom here.
Buy it: Hoot at Penguin Random House
2. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Sixth grade New Yorker Miranda is desperate to find the connection between a host of strange events and some unseemly characters before it’s too late to prevent a tragic death. In the midst of solving this dangerous mystery, Miranda also learns important lessons about friendship and love. Find an educators’ guide on using this book in the classroom here.
Buy it: When You Reach Me at Penguin Random House
3. When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
This mystical tale introduces us to Lily, a Korean American girl who is tempted to make a deal with a magical tiger in order to save her ailing grandmother. Steeped in Korean folklore, Lily discovers the power of stories and the courage to find her own voice. Find the When You Trap a Tiger educators’ guide and resources here.
Buy it: When You Trap a Tiger at Penguin Random House
4. Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango
Middle school is never an easy time, but for seventh grader Iveliz, the transition is complicated by mental health issues. As she struggles to find her footing, she learns valuable lessons about advocating for what you need and the redemptive power of surrounding yourself with people who truly care. Get the free educators’ guide for Iveliz Explains It All here.
Buy it: Iveliz Explains It All at Penguin Random House
5. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
When Maizy Chen finds herself in Last Chance, Minnesota, working in her family’s restaurant, she begins to see the world with new eyes. A heartwarming tale of food, family, and fun with a twist of familial drama and racial awareness. Get a free educators’ guide for this book here.
Buy it: Maizy Chen’s Last Chance at Penguin Random House
New Books From Teacher-Favorite Authors
6. Wrecker by Carl Hiaasen
When Valdez Jones VIII (aka Wrecker) inadvertently catches the eye of a dangerous smuggler, he finds himself ensnared in a net of shady characters. Set in and around the beautiful blue waters of Key West, this is a tale of a lonely boy with a storied past and a deep devotion to the natural world around him. Get a free guide for teaching with Wrecker here.
Buy it: Wrecker at Penguin Random House
7. Hidden Truths by Elly Swartz
Told in alternating points of view, this heartfelt story tackles the tender issue of changing friendships. When an accident causes a rift between best friends Dani and Eric, each must find their own way on the path to forgiveness.
Buy it: Hidden Truths at Penguin Random House
8. Ready, Set, Dough! by Kelly Baptist
Spunky sixth-grader Zoe Sparks is determined to win a new laptop by being the top cookie-dough seller in her school’s competition. But when her ambition starts to boil over, she finds herself in hot water with her family and her best friend.
Buy it: Ready, Set, Dough! at Penguin Random House
9. Something Like Home by Andrea Beatriz Arango
Removed from her dysfunctional home by social services and placed with her aunt, Laura must find her way as the new girl in town, away from her parents and everything she holds dear. Desperately lonely, her hope is reignited when she finds a lost puppy who helps her begin to heal.
Buy it: Something Like Home at Penguin Random House
10. Project F by Jeanne DuPrau
Thirteen-year-old Keith lives in a post-apocalyptic world devoid of technology. When he stumbles upon a secret mission known only as Project F—that promises to change the world—he must weigh his longing for adventure against the realities of the dangers involved.
Buy it: Project F at Penguin Random House
11. Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie Thief by Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr
Ben’s fortune tells him the best things in life are free and he begins dreaming of cookies and fancy scooters, assuming he can get anything we wants without paying. That’s until a school bully steals his fortune and Ben has to work to retrieve it, going to great lengths by getting a lawyer, gathering witnesses, and presenting his case. Through this process, Ben learns that the real culprits aren’t always our first suspects.
Buy it: Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie Thief at Penguin Random House
12. Not an Easy Win by Chrystal D. Giles
Lawrence just moved to North Carolina with his grandmother and everything seems to be going wrong! He gets into a fight that wasn’t his fault, but nobody wants to listen to his side. When gets expelled from school, he starts helping out with a local program. The next chess tournament is in his hometown, and this could be his chance to make it back there. He knows nothing about the game—but this could be his next big break.
Buy it: Not an Easy Win at Penguin Random House
New & Notable Nonfiction
13. Race to the Truth Series
The three books in the Race to the Truth series present a truthful reframing of American history from the Chinese American, African American, and Indigenous perspectives. With details often left out of textbooks, the struggles, heroes, and inside stories paint an illuminating picture of each group’s experience as it also unveils each one’s contributions to our country’s story.
Buy it: Race to the Truth Series at Penguin Random House
14. History Smashers Series
The real version of historic events is often quite different than the stories we’ve all learned in school. This captivating series takes a deep dive into three important events: Columbus’ “discovery” of America, the Underground Railroad, and Plagues and Pandemics, and reveals hidden truths and sets the record straight. Get the free History Smashers guide for teachers here!
Buy it: History Smashers Series at Penguin Random House
15. Totally Random Facts/Questions Series
If there’s one thing most kids love, it’s weird and wondrous facts about the amazing world in which we live. With amazing photography, cool design, and a wealth of intriguing information, this series will entertain and inspire even the most reluctant of readers. Find free activities for teaching with these titles here.
16. Unstoppable Us by Yuval Noah Harari
From the author of the bestselling adult work Sapiens, this series tackles the amazing evolution of the human race. In volume one, we learn about the early history of the human race. In volume two, we continue with human development from the agricultural revolution through prehistoric Egypt. Get the Unstoppable Us educators’ guide here.
Buy it: Unstoppable Us at Penguin Random House
17. The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee
This fascinating book is a compelling call to action for a new generation of activists. Adapted for young readers, it offers hope and real solutions that address the pervasive problem of racism. Teach with this book using the free educators’ guide.
Buy it: The Sum of Us at Penguin Random House
New Fantasy Reads
18. Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao
As if she doesn’t already have enough to deal with, middle schooler Winnie Zeng unknowingly unleashes a barrage of evil ancient spirits when she bakes mooncakes for her class. Armed with her grandmother’s magic cookbook and a talking white rabbit, she must embrace her new powers and the legacy of her ancestors in order to reverse the chaos.
Buy it: Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend at Penguin Random House
19. Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston by Esme Symes-Smith
Sir Callie’s greatest aspiration is to be seen as worthy by the kingdom’s great and powerful. However, as a nonbinary, they must confront powerful prejudices and bigotry before they achieve the rank of royal knight.
Buy it: Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston at Penguin Random House
20. Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind by Misa Sugiura
Momo is just an ordinary 12-year-old until she learns her mother is a banished Shinto goddess. When demons appear and begin to wreak havoc on her town, Momo must embrace her identity as half-human, half-goddess to unlock her divine powers, save her mother’s life, and vanquish the demons.
Buy it: Momo Arashima Steals the Sword of the Wind at Penguin Random House
21. Alex Wise vs. the End of the World by Terry J. Benton-Walker
Alex thought the worst thing that was going to happen this summer was having to take a cruise with his dad and sister. But when the apocalypse arrives, Alex finds himself in an epic battle between good and evil as he attempts to save the world.
Buy it: Alex Wise vs. the End of the World at Penguin Random House
22. Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll
An innovative twist on Scottish mythology, this intriguing tale follows neurodivergent teen Rayma as she uncovers a world of mystery and magic. When her beloved grandfather dies, she is tasked with protecting the Hidden Folk from the most dangerous creatures of all: the sirens.
Buy it: Like a Charm at Penguin Random House
23. Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliot
There are two rules about dragons: Don’t let them out of the bag, and don’t feed them anything sweet. In this awesome fantasy read, Jaxon finds out the woman he thinks is his mean old grandmother is actually a witch! He has to keep the baby dragons safe by bringing them to their magical world while being sure to follow the dragon rules. But Jaxon and his friends have broken the rules and are unsure if they’ll make it out of Brooklyn with the dragons.
Buy it: Dragons in a Bag at Penguin Random House