It has been said that “all good literature is about that which is true.” In other words, all literature worth reading resonates with the human experience or, importantly, with the eternal. In most cases, that which literature illuminates may broaden a reader’s perspective or resound with what matters most. What is (or was) life like? What does life mean? How should we live? Is there more?
The titles in this summer reading list, compiled by RCLS’s middle-school teachers, answer these sorts of questions. These reads are recommended with a variety of RCLS students in mind––some reluctant readers, some avid bibliophiles––but all of these narratives are “good” in that they are about that which is true. In every case, these are books beloved by RCLS teachers and students who have read them, and they promise to lend understanding that broadens your student’s perspective or reinforces her embrace of goodness. Peruse this list for titles your middle schooler might enjoy this summer, visit the library or local bookstore, and get him reading. Even better, maybe you’ll want to read alongside (or with) her, too. Enjoy!
Making Bombs for Hitler, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
It is no surprise that middle-school history teacher, Mr. Kuball, recommends a historical fiction title as a “must read.” Mr. Kuball loves historical fiction for its power to grant understanding of historical events through the eyes of persons, fictional though they be, who experienced, felt, and reacted to the events as they occurred. Literarily speaking, historical fiction “brings history to life,” he says. Making Bombs for Hitler does just that. Published in 2012, this narrative recounts the fictional experience of an Eastern European teenager who is captured by the Nazis and used for slave labor. A compelling but sobering read, Making Bombs for Hitler is informed by the real stories of those who survived the horrors of Nazi-era prison camps. While this is a tragic account of how some children suffered during the war, it is also an inspiring narrative in that Lida, the novel’s protagonist, is a courageous character, comforted by memories of her parents and compelled by the hope of being reunited with her sister. Even in horrific circumstances, Skrypuch’s Lida is a paragon of hope and selflessness to those around her.
Among the Hidden, Margaret Peterson Haddix
Literature and resource teacher, Mrs. Strohschein, recommends this title, the story of a boy that lives secretly as a third child in a society that only allows two children in a family. The novel has a fast-paced plot that keeps the reader in suspense as the narrative follows two characters fighting for their right to exist. This book falls under the science fiction or dystopian genre, which appeals to many young readers, and will hold the attention of even a reluctant teen reader. One more reason to pick up this book for your middle schooler is that this is the first of a series of seven books in the Shadow Children series, which may keep your child reading for a period of time.
The Crossover, Kawame Alexander
Mrs. Strohschein, who challenged her 6th-grade students to read 40 (40!) novels from various genres this school year, offers another favorite title to our list. This title is particularly unique among juvenile titles as it is a novel in verse. The novel’s protagonists are a set of 7th-grade basketball-playing twins, and the narrative concerns the boys’ family members and relationships. The book’s “it’s going to be all right” feeling is relevant as it taps into the fears and insecurities that so many middle schoolers experience. According to Mrs. Strohschein, this best-selling, award-winning text is an excellent, non-threatening way to introduce kids to poetry.
Wednesday Wars, Gary Schmidt
Holling Hoodhood is a 7th grader in the late 1960s. While the Vietnam War consumes the attention of the entire nation, and, most significantly, his father, Holling is occupied with the travails of being a teenager, which include Wednesday lessons with a teacher who insists he read Shakespeare. Part coming-of-age, part memoir, and, part historical fiction, this Newbery Award–winning book is rich with wit, historical detail, and literary allusion. While the novel has the potential to make a past sociopolitical era accessible to present-day middle schoolers, RCLS’s middle school teachers note that some of the historical context and cultural allusion may confound today’s teen readers. In that way, perhaps this is a great book to read (and discuss) with your teen. It’s a rather smart, humorous, and entertaining read. We think parents will enjoy it, too.
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
A prequel to what is arguably the 20th century’s grandest literary epic––The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s renowned The Hobbit hardly demands a synopsis here. In her recommendation that this book belongs on a “must read” list for middle schoolers, Miss Schauer notes the immense value of reading the classics, which teens too readily eschew outside of the classroom. Literature is an “inside joke,” she told her Shakespeare-reading 8th graders recently. Among other benefits, the cultural capital one acquires from reading the classics grants a learner entrance to the “inside” of so much other literature and understanding. Consider that great literature is rich with life and allusion. Once students can identify the hero journey in narrative, for example, they recognize it in other texts, as well, and they certainly may draw parallels to the broader human experience. Today’s teens already know Harry Potter for the hero he is. This summer, why not encourage your reader to get to know Bilbo Baggins? Bilbo and his world, the imaginative Middle Earth, are unmatched for their memorable detail:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
What is not to love? Comfort, character, adventure: this is surely the story of a summer––and a childhood––well spent.