Say the words “middle school,” and people everywhere will get a chill down their spine. Those two words conjure visions of pop quizzes, body spray and rubbery cafeteria food. While many of us have thankfully grown past that stage in our life, middle schoolers of today could really use a guide! These years can be difficult, confusing and sometimes painfully awkward. The six middle-grade books we have selected here remind young readers that they’re not alone in their struggles and reassure them they can make it through.
"Just Add Magic" by Cindy Callaghan (Aladdin Books)
I, like many of my middle school counterparts, had no idea how to talk to boys my age. At a time when crushes and dating meant everything, rejection felt like the end of the world! In Cindy Callaghan’s "Just Add Magic," Kelly Quinn is going through the same predicament.
A shy girl who loves to bake, Kelly doesn’t know the first thing about flirting. So when Kelly and her friends Hannah and Darbie find an old cookbook in the attic, their only intention is to bond over some cookies and commiserate about the boys in their grade. That is, until they realize the book just might be a magic spellbook, full of recipes with titles like “Hexberry Tart” and “Love Bug Juice.” Soon, their secret cooking club is whipping up dish after dish. But are the girls just having some flirty fun, or are they meddling with a power that shouldn’t be messed with?
"The Popularity Pact: School Squad" by Eileen Moskowitz-Palma (Running Press Kids)
I experienced my fair share of friend drama back in middle school, and I’m guessing you did too. It’s a time fraught with complicated social hierarchy, and one false move can bring your popularity or reputation crashing down. That’s the same dilemma Maisy and Bea are facing in "School Squad" by Eileen Moskowitz-Palma.
The sequel to "Camp Clique" in The Popularity Pact series, "School Squad" follows Maisy as she upholds her promise to Bea that they made back at summer camp — that she’ll introduce Bea to the most popular girls in school. Bea’s willing to do whatever it takes if it means she’ll be accepted into the inner circle, but Maisy’s having doubts. Surely there’s more to middle school than groveling to the mean girls? As Bea and Maisy navigate popularity and their personal lives, the lessons they learn — and the friendship they forge — will warm your heart.
"7th Grade Revolution" by Liana Gardner and Luke Spooner (Vesuvian Books)
In middle school, the principal, teachers and even substitutes rule the roost. The discipline and workload can be hard to deal with, and I remember wishing that we, the students, could run the school ourselves. For the kids of Washington Academy Middle School, that’s no wish — that’s reality.
In Liana Gardner and Luke Spooner’s award-winning book "7th Grade Revolution," the teachers have just announced that they’re letting the students take charge of the lessons. But almost immediately, the class finds out that the school is being evacuated, and the FBI is standing guard outside. It turns out that an artifact of national importance is buried somewhere within the school, and that the Feds are about to swarm the premises, in order to take the prize themselves. If the seventh-grade class of Washington Academy wants to outsmart the FBI, they’ll need to put their heads together and use everyone’s individual skills to save the day. This smash-hit novel combines history, action and adventure in a story described as “National Treasure meets Spy Kids.”