13 Read-Alouds to Help You Connect with Your Middle Schooler

by Kari Ness Riedel

As a parent of a middle schooler who spends more time Snapchatting with friends than reading, I’m always looking for ways to keep him interested in books and opportunities to connect with him via a shared experience. Reading aloud with him is a simple and sweet way to accomplish both of these things.

Our book choices can range from simple picture books or poems that can be read in one sitting to longer books that may take a month to complete. I look for page-turners that also spark conversations about real emotions, historical or current events, and tough moral choices.

I asked middle school kids and teachers for a list of their favorite read-alouds. Here are some of the top picks that I can’t wait to share with my young reader.

  • Zero

    by Kathryn Otoshi

    This beautiful picture book tells the story of the number “Zero” who feels left out and worthless. It is relatable to kids and adults of all ages. Marco, 12, says, “Zero finds that he is just as important as every other number! Let's go Zero!”

  • The Most Magnificent Thing

    by Ashley Spires

    The main character in this book is trying to build something amazing and gets frustrated when it doesn’t turn out as she envisioned it. In the end, her perseverance and grit pay off. Mrs. Floyd shares it with her class because it is a “great book for demonstrating skills of effort, motivation, and persistence.”

  • Counting by 7s

    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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    If your kid loves sad books with complex characters, this is a great pick. Twelve-year-old Willow Chance doesn’t fit a typical mold and her life gets exponentially harder when both her adoptive parents die in a car crash. The story of her journey to overcome her grief with the help of unlikely new friends is inspirational. Katherine, 11, gives it five stars and recommends this book “to anyone who likes twists and turns in a realistic novel.”

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  • Garvey’s Choice

    by Nikki Grimes

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    Several short free verse poems are woven together to tell Garvey’s story. Garvey feels like a failure because he’d rather read about astronomy than play sports like his father wants him to. But, he discovers a love of music that helps him stay true to himself and build a bridge to his dad. Emma, 12, raves that this is “an emotional and captivating book from a master author.”

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  • The Crossover

    by Kwame Alexander

    This Newbery Medal winning book is perfect for a dramatic reading. Written in free verse, it’s the story of 12-year-old twin brothers and their struggles on and off the basketball court. It is fast paced to keep readers interested and filled with relationship themes to get them thinking. Oliver, 13, highly recommends it: “Crossover is the greatest book I have ever read.”

  • Forging Freedom

    by Hudson Talbott

    This re-telling of the true story of Jaap Penrat’s heroic efforts to lead his Jewish neighbors to an underground path to safety from Amsterdam to Paris during World War II is a great way to explore this time period and the topic of moral courage. Reena, 11, loved it, saying, “It’s a sad book about the time when the Nazis took over Europe and how one brave child changed everything for the better.”

  • Fahrenheit 451

    by Ray Bradbury

    This classic dystopian story is about a world where firemen like Guy Montag are in charge of starting fires to burn books. This ignites meaningful conversations about censorship, free speech, and moral choices. Miriam, 13, reflects, “It was a great representation of what could happen to our society if we lost our creativity or curiosity.”

  • Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1)

    by Margaret Peterson Haddix

    A sci-fi thriller set in a world where families can only have two children. Luke, an illegal third child, has always lived as a “shadow child” until he meets a fellow shadow and begins to rebel against the system. Tyler, 11, loved this book: “[It] has many twists and turns. I recommend it for people who like mystery and excitement.”

  • Well, That Was Awkward

    by Rachel Vail

    Described as “’Cyrano de Bergerac’ for middle schoolers,” this is a great window into modern-day middle school romance where texting and social media play a central role. Gracie always wants to help other people. She’ll even help her best friend get the guy that she has a crush on, but at what price? This book is funny and relatable and has a few original plot twists that make it stand out from other books. It perfectly captures the ups and downs of the life of an eighth grader.

  • Goodbye Stranger

    by Rebecca Stead

    Bridget, Emily, and Tabitha have been best friends forever with one rule — no fighting. But, this rule is hard to keep as they enter eighth grade and each explore their own paths. A brilliant realistic fiction story about changing friendships, first love, and discovering your identity that can open conversations with young people about their own journey. Ryann, 12, gives it five stars: “I liked that this book uses real-world problems … it will make you gasp and laugh! I recommend this book for anyone 12 and over.”

  • The Outsiders

    by S.E. Hinton

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    Grown-ups might remember reading this classic story about Ponyboy and Sodapop when they were in middle school. The timeless message of what it feels like to be an outsider still makes this a popular book in classrooms. It is ideal for talking with your teen at home about coming-of-age issues. Vanessa, 14, shares, “This story is amazing … it was meaningful and fun at the same time.”

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  • The Alchemist

    by Paulo Coelho

    Not typically thought of as a “kid” book, this inspirational fable follows Santiago, a shepherd boy who goes on a magical journey in search of financial treasure but finds the real treasure of wisdom and inner peace. Ms. Johnson, seventh grade teacher, gives it two thumbs up: “I read it aloud to students and we reflect and connect to the challenges and adventure of Santiago, relating it to our own life and experiences. A must-read!”

  • Tuesdays with Morrie

    by Mitch Albom

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    The author shares life lessons gained from weekly meetings with his college professor. Kileigha, 12, recommends it as a great read-aloud. “The theme of this book is that work isn't always everything. Morrie teaches Mitch that love means way more.”

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What books have helped you connect with your middle schooler?