Celebrate Your Middle School Graduate With Gift-Worthy Books

by Denise Schipani

My grandmother made a very big deal of my moving up from middle school (or junior high, as we called it then). She knew I had at least eight more years of school ahead of me, but she made sure I knew how proud she was and how many hopes she had in her heart for me, saved up from her own life. Perhaps this was because eighth grade was the end of her own formal education — she started full-time work at 13, if you can believe it!

It’s worth remembering stories like that in these days when our kids seem to be treated to moving-up celebrations every couple of years — from daycare, preschool, elementary school, and so on. Overblown hoopla and teensy graduation gowns aside, these milestones are worth celebrating, and from our perspective, they’re worth marking with a special gift. Might we suggest a good book? We’ve pulled together this list of books for 8th graders that make great gifts for celebrating their middle school graduation.

  • The Hill We Climb

    by Amanda Gorman

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    On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to deliver a reading at a presidential inauguration, and her message of unity and healing captured the hearts of millions of people. In this collectible gift edition, your graduate will find inspiration, not only through her beautiful words, but they will be inspired in the knowledge that people can achieve great things at any age.

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  • Essential Life Skills for Boys

    by Scott Todnem, illustrated by Martha Sue Coursey

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    One of the most challenging aspects of growing up is learning to take care of yourself. This book walks boys through the basics, from personal hygiene to staying safe online. It will help your child feel better prepared for growing up and taking on more responsibility. Want a book like this for girls? Check out Essential Life Skills for Girls by Lisa Quirk Weinman and Megan Monaghan.

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  • Rising Troublemaker

    by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

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    This book is the perfect graduation gift for a kid with big dreams who might feel intimidated, shy, or nervous about the future. Through personal anecdotes and spot-on advice, the author encourages young readers to show up as their authentic selves every day. She shows kids how to ignore the naysayers and build a life they can be proud of.

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  • The Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation)

    by Daniel James Brown

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    The #1 New York Times bestseller is now available for young readers, and it’s a true-life story that’s sure to inspire. Set during the Great Depression, The Boys in the Boat follows nine working-class young men who shock the world with their fortitude and seamless teamwork to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. With lively prose that captures both heart-pounding race scenes and the backstories of this underdog crew, your graduate will be captivated from start to finish — and curious to see what they can achieve with their own determination.

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  • The Outsiders 50th Anniversary Edition

    by S. E. Hinton

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    This special anniversary edition of the genre-defining classic is the perfect nostalgic-yet-timeless gift to mark the occasion and invite your young reader into the wide world of YA literature. Now with new photos, letters, and review clippings that speak to the iconic nature of Ponyboy and his brothers, The Outsiders has an inspiring backstory of its own: S. E. Hinton — that is, Susan Eloise Hinton — wrote the book when she was just sixteen!

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  • Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers

    by Michelle Obama

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    Adapted from the book for adults, this memoir from the former First Lady of the United States is a must-read for young people. Michelle Obama shares the life lessons she learned from growing up, going to college, falling in love, and balancing her family life and career with her husband’s time in the Whitehouse.

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  • Where to Start

    by Mental Health America, illustrated by Gemma Correll

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    More and more young people are prioritizing their mental health, and this book can help. Teens face an enormous amount of pressure these days, and this book shows them how to cope with various mental health challenges and how to find professional help if they need it.

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  • Hawkins Middle School Yearbook/Hawkins High School Yearbook (Stranger Things)

    by Matthew J. Gilbert

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    Score major Cool Parent Points with this two-in-one artifact from the world of Stranger Things. In appropriately vintage 80s style, these yearbooks — Mike’s from Hawkins Middle School, Nancy’s from Hawkins High — are a must-have treasure trove of character details, including class pictures, secret notes, and, of course, a spread for the AV Club. It’s the perfect companion to their own end-of-an-era yearbook.

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  • Rad Women Worldwide

    by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

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    Featuring profiles of forty women visionaries around the world from 430 BCE to 2016, Rad Women Worldwide is a passionate tribute to perseverance and dreaming big. Readers will learn more about familiar names (like Malala Yousafzi, the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize) and discover new ones (like Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft, the first women to cross Antarctica). The radness continues with another 250-name index to spark further research.

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  • The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs

    by America’s Test Kitchen Kids

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    Budding chefs will love receiving this cookbook for teens as a graduation gift. Whether they want to try their hand at cooking everything from international foods to appetizers and desserts, this book has over 70 recipes for them to explore. It’s the perfect way to encourage your teen to expand their horizons and learn a new skill.

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  • Do Your Best Every Day to Do Your Best Every Day

    by John Cena, illustrated by Susanna Harrison

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    Making the move to high school is exciting, but can also be a little scary. That is where John Cena comes to the rescue! In this delightful book, Cena gives readers the uplifting encouragement they need to go after their dreams, be true to themselves, and work to make the world a better place.

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  • The Book of Dust

    by Philip Pullman

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    Chances are, your young reader is a fan of The Golden Compass. Surprise them with Philip Pullman’s much-anticipated new title, which exists in a parallel world and explores the origin story of Lyra — now just a baby, one that Malcolm Polstead has sworn to protect from those desperately searching for her. As dazzling and extraordinary an adventure as ever, The Book of Dust is one they’ll hang on to for years to come.

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  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Anna Bond

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    The beloved story of the most curious of girls is given new life with this deluxe, full-color illustrated edition that’s as whimsical as it is captivating. Celebrating 150 years since Alice first took that fateful tumble, Anna Bond’s indelible artwork paired with Lewis Caroll’s timeless, imaginative prose combine to create a most wondrous gift for a most wonderful occasion.

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  • You Can!

    by Watty Piper and Charlie Hart, illustrated by Jill Howarth

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    Sometimes, reaching the finish line of middle school means contending with the adjacent fears of entering that mysterious world of high school. Remind your newly minted graduate that he or she can handle anything with the help of an old friend: The Little Engine That Could. Full of trademark advice and plucky wisdom, this endearing — and enduring — character offers renewed motivation and an important reminder that the best we can do is try our best.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2024.