Burg, Shana. A Thousand Never Evers. NY: Delacorte Press, 2008. It is 1963, and Addie Ann Pickett is largely aware of the cruelty of the world. But when Old Man Adams dies and leaves his garden to the town of Kuckachoo, Mississippi to share—white and black—Addie’s family is thrown into the controversy when Addie oversees and hears something she shouldn’t and is too scared to tell, even though it means that her brother, Elias, must go into hiding. But as the summer and fall unfold, Addie learns about ethics as she watches the adults around her trying to come to terms with the Adams legacy, and Addie finally realizes that there are times in life when being right is better than being safe. Strong middle school read to use within a Civil Rights unit.
Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. NY: Yearling, 1995. The Watson family live in Flint, Michigan, and as a family they have all the special quirks that only relatives can appreciate. But when older brother Byron, who seems to be on the road to delinquency, goes beyond what even his parents can tolerate with good humor, the family is bound for Birmingham, where Grandma Sands lives, and where Byron will spent the summer. But no one could have ever expected how their lives would be impacted by the journey to Alabama and the events of a Sunday morning. Wonderful middle school read.
Krisher, Truly. Spite Fences. NY: Laurel-Leaf, 1994. Maggie lives in Kinship, GA on the poor side of town. A loner with a mind of her own, Maggie has friends among the Black population of Kinship, a move guaranteed to place her on the outs with her mother, especially in light of her younger sister Gardenia’s recent triumph in the Hayes County Little Miss Contest. Maggie additionally finds her relationship with her mother strained when she realizes that she is the only one who can prove the atrocities of the KKK against her friend Zeke. A wonderful middle/high school text.
Magoon, Kekla. The Rock and the River. NY: Aladdin, 2009. Sam is the son of a well-known civil rights leader in 1968 Chicago. He’s gone to non-violent demonstrations most of his life, but as tensions come to a head in 1968, Sam begins to wonder if the non-violence movement of Martin Luther King, Jr is really feasible, especially after his friend Bucky is brutally attached by two white police officers for no reason. To further Sam’s confusion, his brother, Stick, has joined the Black Panthers, much to their father’s anger. As Sam struggles to reconcile his father’s stands with his brother’s seeming rebellion, tragedy hits his family again, and Sam must decide who he will be in this fight for equal rights. Excellent middle/high school read.
Vecinana-Suarez, Ana. Flight to Freedom. NY: Orchard Books. Yara Garcia and her family must leave Communist Cuba in the wake of Fidel Castro’s “reforms” of the middle class. Although her father promises that the move to America will be temporary, Yara finds that life in America is strange and exciting. And as Yara becomes comfortable with her new life, her father becomes less happy, worrying that his family of women will become too independent to be good Cuban women. An excellent read for middle school.
Weaver, Beth Nixon. Rooster. NY: Winslow Press, 2001. Kady, the daughter of poor orange growers, thinks she’s in love with Jon, the boy who loves her violet eyes, takes her on romantic boat rides, and buys her beautiful things. But her romance is complicated by several factors: Jon lies fairly frequently and is way too fond of sharing his homemade chocolate brownies (the year is 1969 for those of you who need a hint); her mentally handicapped neighbor, Rooster, considers her to be a mother substitute; and Rooster’s brother, Tony, forces Kady to work on her social consciousness as he shares with her his family’s life in Cuba and their escape in the mid 60’s. Add to this that Kady’s mother refuses to understand her at all and Grampsie, who is slowly losing her mind, is fixated on Walter Cronkite, who speaks to her from the television. A delightful coming of age story for middle and high school age students.
Mackall, Dandi Daley. Eva Underground. NY: Harcourt, 2006. Eva Lott is looking forward to a great senior year with her boyfriend, Matt, and her best friend, Melanie. But when her father announces that the two of them are going to spend his sabbatical year in Communist Poland, Eva is at first angry then determined to get back to the U.S. as quickly as possible. But as Eva meets her father’s new students and comes to understand what it means to be part of the radical underground movement, she also comes to realize that she, too, may have a place and a cause in Poland. And when Tomek offers her his friendship, Eva finds herself wanting to be worthy of his trust. An excellent story for middle and high school age students.
A note: Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine easily make up the bulk of this category. However, because their plots are so similar from book to book, these texts will not be reviewed.
Avi. Wolf Rider. NY: Bantam, 1990. After a mysterious phone call, a teen decides that he is the only one to prevent a murder…but can he find the potential victim before the venomous and anonymous phone caller? Middle/high school.
Avi. The Man Who Would be Poe. NY: Bantam, 1988. Two frightened children turn to the tormented author when first their mother, then their aunt disappears in Baltimore. Elementary/middle school.
Cohen, Daniel. Raising the Dead. NY: Cobblehill Books, 1997. This non-fiction text tells the tales behind some of the great horror stories of all time. If you want to know where the idea of Frankenstein might have been founded in science, what happened to Evita Peron’s mummified body, this is the book for you!
Duncan, Lois. Daughters of Eve. NY: Bantam, 1979. A teacher manipulates high school girls with frightening results. Middle school.
Duncan, Lois. I Know What You Did Last Summer. NY: Bantam, 1980. Four high school students accidentally kill
a child and make a pact never to tell. But now, someone who seems to know they “did it” is making their lives miserable. Can they find out who knows…before they’re all punished? Middle school.
Duncan, Lois. Summer of Fear. NY: Bantam, 1977. When her cousin’s parents are killed in a car accident, Jodie’s
parents invite the cousin to come and live with the family. But how is Jodie supposed to act when her cousin attempts to seduce both her boyfriend and her father? And why do strange things keep happening to Jodie and her mom? Middle school.
Duncan, Lois. Gallows Hill. New York: Delacorte Press, 1997. When Sarah Zoltanne is asked to tell fortunes at her new school’s carnival, she opens up a can of worms concerning witchcraft, religious zealotry, and relationships that threatens not only her relationship with her mother but also her life. Middle/high school.
Duncan, Lois. Killing Mr. Griffin. NY: Bantam, 1982. Mr. Griffin, a high school English teacher, really drives his
students’ crazy with his demands for great content and perfect mechanics. So when a group of students decide to play a trick on their teacher, they never expect it to end in murder. Middle/high school.
Kehrent, Peg. Horror at the Haunted House. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1992. During a dramatic performance, Ellen is contacted by the ghost of one of the former occupants of the house. Elementary/middle school.
VandeVelde, Vivian. There’s a Dead Person Following My Sister Around. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1999. Ted’s life is as bad as he thinks it can be…until the day he realizes that there ARE ghosts and they’re following his little sister around…as a way to get to him! Elementary.
Yancey, Rick. The Monstrumologist. NY: Simon & Schuster. Orphaned Will Henry takes up his father’s role as assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a doctor who studies monsters. But nothing can prepare Will for the anthropophagi and the reality that a huge group of them are on the verge of sweeping through the countryside, eating anyone who gets in their way. Dr. Warthrop, however, is both horrified as well as professionally excited at the thought of dealing with the monsters. A Printz honor book.
Abbott, Tony. Cracked Classics-Dracula: Trapped in Transylvania. NY: Hyperion, 2002. Devin and Francine consider themselves to be typical teens, which translates for them into being bored with school and obnoxious to their teachers. But when their English teacher sends them to the library to better research Dracula, the students are transported into the book and into the adventure of a lifetime. A fun read for upper elementary and reluctant middle school students.
Avi. Romeo and Juliet Together (And Alive!) at Last. NY: Orchard Books. Two junior high students find romance
through a staging of Shakespeare’s classic play. Elementary/middle school.
Colfer, Eoin. The Legend of Spud Murphy. NY: Hyperion Books for Children. A hilarious story about two boys and the librarian—Spud Murphy—who makes them realize how special time spent in the library is. All ages.
Ferris, Jean. Love Among the Walnuts OR: How I Saved My Family from Being Poisoned. NY: Penguin, 2000. Sandy Huntington-Ackerman, the sheltered son of a multi-millionaire and his actress wife, is forced to take a stand against his evil uncles when they poison his parents, his butler’s beloved wife, and the family chicken (don’t ask). Middle/high school.
Hoeye, Micheal. Time Waits for No Mouse. NY: Putman and Sons, 2002. Hermux Tantamoq, mouse/watchmaker, leads a nice, normal, routine life until the morning the mysterious Linka Perflinger comes to his store and asks him to fix her beloved watch, because, she notes “danger can occur in minutes, seconds, and not having a timepiece that tells the actual time can cause serious problems.” Intrigued, Hermux fixes the watch and then, as he tries to return it, watches as Linka is kidnapped by a mean looking rat and his cronies. The adventure Hermux is flung into shakes his notions about his life forever. A charming read for upper elementary/middle school readers.
Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. NY: Amulet, 2007. Greg is the wimpy kid, and he tells his story with a combination of comic pictures and self-deprecating text. Boys eat this one up! Middle School.
Korman, Gordon. Son of the Mob. NY: Hyperion, 2002. Vince Luca just wants to be a normal teenager; no easy feet when your dad is a mob boss and your mother thinks she’s June Cleaver. Then Vince finds himself in a steamy clutch with Kendra Bightly and decides to just ignore his family situation and enjoy the romance. But when Kendra reveals that her father is an FBI agent, Vince puts two and two together and realizes that Kendra’s dad is the agent sent to put his dad away. Middle/lower high school read.
Korman, Gordon. No More Dead Dogs. NY: Hyperion, 2000. Wallace Wallace tells the truth about his teacher’s favorite book Old Shep, My Pal in a book report, and when given detention, cannot force himself to write anything else than another report that tells the honest, unforgivable truth about why he had to write the book report the way he did. Now he’s stuck watching the school drama club bring the hated book to the stage, and when he starts to give the actors and actresses advice on their lines and how to “snazz” up the play, it spells big trouble for everyone! A delightful read for middle schoolers.
Korman, Gordon. A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag. Raymond Jardine can’t catch a break; he knows the
gods are out to get him. So when we gets a chance to win a trip to Theamopolous, the famed lucky Greek isle, he is determined to go at any cost. And the cost is high, mainly for his English partner, Sean! Middle/high school.
Korman, Gordon. Son of Interflux. NY: Point fiction, 1986. Hilarity ensues when Simon, the son of the owner of the Interflux company leads his high school in an organized strike against the company. Creating an alter ego to go head-to-pocketbook against his father, Simon knows that he is the only person who can save his school from being swallowed up by his father’s excesses. Middle/high school.
Korman, Gordon. Don’t Care High. NY: Point fiction, 1985. Paul Abrams can’t believe the school he finds himself in; the students and teachers of Don Carey High simply go through the motions, probably why the school has earned the nickname “Don’t Care High.” So Paul decides to shake things up, most importantly, by running Mike Otis for student body president without Mike’s knowledge. Middle/high school.
Lowry, Lois. The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline. 1983. Caroline and her brother erroneously think they are
targeted to be murder victims at the hands of their mother’s boyfriend. Middle school.
Paulsen, Gary. Harris and Me: A Summer Remembered. NY: Bantam Doubleday, 1993. Autobiographical story of Paulsen’s summer spent with his cousin Harris, notable for a variety of pranks, life-lessons, and developing friendships. Elementary/middle school.
Spinelli, Jerry. Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? NY: Dell, 1984. Sibling rivalry brings hilarious results. Elementary/middle school.
Townsend, Sue. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ . NY: Avon, 1984. British teen Adrian Mole tells in humorous style the trials and tribulations of being an adolescent. (Two more books follow in the series.) Middle/high school.
Zable, Rona. Landing on Marvin Gardens. NY: Bantam, 1989. Financially destitute, 15-year-old Katie and her mother reluctantly move in with eccentric Aunt Rose, who is both an inspiration and an embarrassment. Middle/high school.
Balliett, Blue. Chasing Vermeer. NY: Scholastic, 2004. Billed as a Da Vinci Code for tweens, this entertaining text follows Petra and Calder as they try to discover who has stolen a Vermeer painting. Using Calder’s Pentominoes and Petra’s research, the two work against the odds to figure out who has “The Lady Writing.” But do they want to know if it means their beloved teacher and maybe even one of their parents is involved? Fun middle school read.
Tim Bowler. Storm Catchers. NY: McElderry Books, 2003. When Ella is kidnapped from her own home while babysitting her younger brother, Sam, her family is thrown into turmoil. Finn, the oldest son in the family, blames himself for not being home when Ella was taken and little Sam begins having visions of a girl who wants him to come and play with her. Told using alternating 3rd person limited, Bowler allows us to see Ella’s fear and terror during her ordeal even as he shows Finn’s desperation as he looks for clues to his sister’s disappearance. On impulse, Finn creates a “magical” pendulum that is supposed to provide yes/no answers to questions posed by a person who has enough psychic power; Sam actually emerges as the energy force that provides Finn the clues he needs to find Ella. However, can Finn find Ella before she learns the truth about her kidnapping, a secret that has the capacity to destroy their happy family. A wonderful read for middle/high school.
Glenn, Mel. Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems. NY: Lodestar Books, 1996. Students and faculty members share their memories of Mr. Chippendale, an English teacher, while the reader tries to discover which of the poets is the murderer. High School.
Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas. In Darkness, Death. NY: Philomel, 2004. Seikei and Judge Ooka are a Shogun-era Japanese Holmes and Watson. Because of the mysterious death of Lord Inaba, the two are called in to solve his murder: did he die at the hands of a renegade ninja or is someone else to blame. The mystery unfolds with appropriate tension and middle school-aged readers should understand well Seikei’s outsider status in many situations and how he uses that to his advantage to explicate his own identity.
Snicket, Lemony. The Beaudelaire Orphans series: The Bad Beginning, The Wide Window, The Reptile Room, The Miserable Mill, The Austure Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Carnivorous Carnival, The Penultimate Peril. (1999-2006). NY: HarperCollins. The Beaudelaire Orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, undergo agonizing adventures escaping their evil Uncle Olaf, who wants to kill them for their family fortune. But through great intelligence and ingenuity and, yes, a little luck, the children consistently outsmart Olaf and his evil henchpeople. This is a wonderful series for upper elementary and middle school, and is a great way to teach children the connotations of words and phrases because of the delightful narration of Lemony Snicket.
Springer, Nancy. The Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Marquess (2005); The case of the Left-Handed Lady (2006); and The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (2007). Enola Holmes, younger sister of Sherlock, is a mystery-solving force unto herself. Forced into hiding her true identity when her mother disappeared and her brothers suggested that she be sent to a school for young ladies, Enola begins her own investigative service to earn a living. The books in the series follow Enola as she solves mysteries while working on the biggest mystery of all: finding her mother. Middle school reads.
Werlin, Nancy. The Killer’s Cousin. NY: PenguinPutnam. (1998). Recently acquitted of murder, David moves to Massachusetts to “start over” where no one will know his past. But life with his aunt, uncle, and cousin Lily is strange and unsettling, especially after David begins to get “visits” from his dead cousin, Kathy. As David tries to find normalcy, he continues to run into roadblocks seemingly set up by his new girl friend, Raina, and his family. And then there is Lily’s animosity and strange questions about guilt. A fabulous mystery with a surprising ending. High School.
Werlin, Nancy. Black Mirror. NY: PenguinPutnam. (2001). When Frances’s brother, Daniel, commits suicide, Frances can’t help but think it’s her fault…because she didn’t listen to him enough, because she refused to join the school club that meant the most to Daniel, the Unity Service. In her grief, she decides to join, but meets strong opposition from Daniel’s girlfriend, Saskia. However, with the aid of a supportive art teacher and the school outcast, she joins anyway, only to discover that there is something “wrong” with Unity. What will her suspicions lead her to?
Werlin, Nancy. Locked Inside. NY: PenguinPutnam. (2000). Marnie, the only child of a recently deceased rock star, finds her new prep school to be less than interesting until she meets Elf in an Internet fantasy/adventure game. However, when she is kidnapped by a strange woman who thinks that she is Marnie’s long lost sister, Marnie’s intelligence and computer acumen are not nearly enough to save her, and Marnie finds that she has to rely on other’s for the first time in a long time to find her freedom and herself. High School.
Poetry Bryant, Jen. Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. This story in verse chronicles the Scopes Monkey Trial from a variety of perspectives. A wonderful read that would work well with the movie or play “Inherit the Wind.” High school.
Bryant, Jen. Pieces of Georgia. NY: Yearling, 2006. Georgia’s life hasn’t been easy since her mom died, but when a journal from her guidance counselor and an anonymous membership to the Brandywine River Museum inspires her writing and her artwork, things start to happen. This story in verse chronicles Georgia’s new friendships, the change in her relationship with her father, and her own new sense of self-respect.” Middle Bryant, Jen. Pieces of Georgia. NY: Yearling, 2006. This story in verse chronicles the Scopes Monkey Trial from a variety of perspectives. A wonderful read that would work well with the movie or play “Inherit the Wind.” High school.
Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. NY: HarperTrophy. 2001. Jack doesn’t want to write poetry. But after his teacher introduces “The Red Wheelbarrow” to the class, Jack finds himself hooked, writing back to his teacher in poetic forms that mimic the poetry they’re reading in class. Jack’s poems are humorous and personal, and this book is a gem for teachers who want to show the capacity of poetry as art form, testimonial, letter to the world. Great read for middle school.
Frost, Helen. Diamond Willow. NY: Frances Foster Books, 2008. Willow, her family members, and animal family members tell the story of Willow’s family and the culture that sustains them. A beautiful story of growing up in Alaska as a member of the Inuit people. Middle School.
Frost, Helen. Keesha’s House. NY: Frances Foster Books, 2003. Six teens find Keesha’s house—actually Joe’s house since he’s the person who allows these various alienated teenagers to stay in his home until they are able to get back on their feet or return to their homes. Stephie (pregnant), Jason (Stephie’s boyfriend), Dontay (foster care), Carmen (arrested on DUI), Harris (gay), and Katie (victim of abusive stepfather) all share their stories. However, the added special piece of this text is the adult in their life’s response, in which the reader finds that so much of life is misunderstanding and miscommunication. A wonderful text and a recent Printz Award winner.
Glenn, Mel. Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems. NY: Lodestar Books, 1996. Students and faculty members share their memories of Mr. Chippendale, an English teacher, while the reader tries to discover which of the poets is the murderer.
Hemphill, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. Knopf, 2007. This novel in verse—also a recent Printz Honor book—provides an amazing take on the novelist and poet, Sylvia Plath. Told through the voices of the many people who interacted with her but never really seemed to understand her—her husband, Ted Hughes, her mother, her best friends from college, the myriad men she dated and discarded—this is an extremely provocative look at the life of a literary genius. Additional voices frame Plath’s family when she was a child, Plath’s college/relationship experiences, Hughes and Plath’s difficult marriage, and Sylvia’s various recoveries from depression and suicide. Hemphill’s poetry, presented in the style of certain Plath poems, are beautifully written and are, at once, the poet’s and Plath’s. High school.
High, Linda Oatman. Planet Pregnancy. NY: Front Street, 2008. Sixteen-year-old Sahara is pregnant and in general denial. She doesn’t feel like she can get rid of the baby, but she also can’t tell ex-boyfriend Dustin or her mom, who will definitely freak out. But as the months past and she starts to worry about showing, her poetic thoughts turn to finances and education and larger concerns about the paper. High school.
Korman Gordan and Bernice Korman. The Last-Place Sports Poems of Jeremy Bloom: A Collection of Poems about Winning, Losing and Being a Good Sport (Sometimes). NY: Scholastic, 1996. Jeremy, a middle schooler, seems to have a winning team on each sport until his English teacher shows up and ruins the event. He records his traumas in humorous lyric style.
Rocklin, Joanne. For Your Eyes Only. NY: Scholastic Press, 1997. Mr. Moffatt, a sixth grade teacher, often writes poems or sayings on his Monday morning chalkboard. This book includes Lucy’s and Andy’s poetic, pictorial, and journal-written responses to the chalkboard sayings.
Smith, Hope Anita. Keeping the Night Watch. NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2008. When C.J.’s dad up and left the family, C.J. felt like he had to become the responsible male. So when his dad comes back and no one talks about why Dad left in the first place, C.J. is confused and resentful. Can his dad make amends in a meaningful way, or will he and C.J. simply drift apart, tearing the family further apart in the process. Solid middle school read.
Sones, Sonya. What My Mother Doesn’t Know. What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2002 2007. Written in poetic form, these two books provide a delightful due of story in poems of Sophie’s first, second, and third loves and then a second book in which love number 3 shares his insecurities about being with Sophie. Great reads for girls in middle and high school and boys who would like to understand those girls
Sones, Sonya. One of Those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies.. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004. Written in poetic form, this novel follows Ruby, who, after her mother dies, must go and live in Beverly Hills with her father, a famous actor whom she has never met. Assuming that he’s taking her out of guilt only, Ruby determines to make his life miserable for pulling her away from her best friend, Lizzie, and her boyfriend, Ray. But Ruby comes to learn a number of truths about family and friends as she and her father become a family. A great read for high school.
Wong, Joyce Lee. Seeing Emily. NY: Amulet Books, 2005. Written in free-verse, this is the story of Emily, a Chinese-American teenager who has grown tired of allowing her parents to dictate who she is. Immersing herself in an art project, distancing herself emotionally from her parents, and taking up with a boy who finds her exotic allows Emily to redefine herself, and no one is more surprised than she about the results. A strong book for middle and high school readers.