Insights & Media

Insights & Media

Summer Reading Lists for Middle Schoolers

March 23

Summer time is a great opportunity for students of all ages to read new books, learn of new authors and their ideas, and yes, enjoy themselves!  LearningLeaders coaches recommend reading something everyday, whether it is fiction, non-fiction, or even the news.  After speaking with many of our students, they are unsure of what books to read this summer.  Especially at the middle school age, great non-fiction books are challenging to find.  Many are either too complex or not interesting for middle schoolers.  We recommend students take close look at Historical Fiction and Mystery books as well.  Historical Fiction books are excellent because they provide a fun and engaging reading experience while still introducing elements of history and culture otherwise unknown to the reader.  Mystery books are excellent because they can hone the reader’s inductive logic skills.

Please see some LearningLeaders book recommendations with descriptions below.  They are organized by Theme/Topic.  We hope you can find some selections for your summer reading here.  Some of the following recommendations may include mature content, so we strongly recommend all students read other reviews of the books before they make their selections.)


  • Kamkwamba, William. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope.
    • Young teen William, who taught himself enough physics and engineering to build a windmill and bring electricity to his drought-stricken village, discovered the magic of his Malawi homeland in the miracles of science.
  • Weisman, Alan. The World Without Us.
    • In this very accessible book about environmental science the author presents a study of what would happen to Earth if the human presence was removed. Weisberg examines our legacy for the planet, from the objects that would vanish without human intervention to those that would become long-lasting remnants of humankind.


  • Krakauer, Jonathan. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.
    • In May 1996, the author participated in an ill-fated climb that resulted in the death of his climbing mates.
  • Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
    • As Bryson and his friend Katz walk the 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine, the reader is treated to both a very funny personal memoir and a delightful chronicle of the trail, the people who created it, and the places it passes through.
  • Baggett, Jennifer. The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World.
    • Three friends at a crossroads in their twenties quit their high pressure NY media jobs, leave their friends and everything familiar behind, and embark on a year-long backpacking adventure around the world.
  • De Blasi, Marlena. That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story.
    • The author describes a summer in Sicily where she uncovered the story of Tosca, the daughter of a poor horse trader, who became the ward of the local prince and his family and eventually had a love affair with the prince.

United States Life/History

  • Almond, Steve. Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America.
    • The delicious and hilarious story of one man’s lifelong obsession with candy and his quest to discover its origins in America.
  • Alvarez, Julia. Once Upon a Quinceaňera: Coming of Age in the USA.
    • A cultural exploration of the Latina fifteenth birthday celebration traces the experiences of a Queens, NY teen preparing for her quinceaňera. Compare it to Alegria’s Estrella’s Quinceaňera on the Fiction list.
  • Helman, Scott. Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice.
    • In the tradition of Dwyer and Flynn’s 102 Minutes and Cullen’s Columbine, the definitive book on the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, written by Pulitzer prize-winning reporters from The Boston Globe.
  • Salzman, Mark. True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall.
    • While teaching writing to seventeen-year-olds detained in Los Angeles Central Juvenile Hall, Salzman found himself surprised by the boys’ talent. The teens’ heartwarming, funny voices are included in this irresistible, provocative memoir.
  • Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City.
    • Written like a fictional thriller, this true story is a gripping tale about two men — one a creative genius, the other a mass murderer — who turned the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair into their playground.
  • Lauterbach, Preston. The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll.
    • In this terrific popular history, music journalist Lauterbach resurrects a thriving African American subculture that nurtured rock ‘n’ roll.


  • Blumenthal, Karen. Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different.
    • Framed around his inspirational Stanford University commencement speech, this book traces the life of the late founder of Apple, covering topics ranging from his struggles as an adopted child and a college dropout to his Buddhist faith and friendships.
  • Pellegrini, Georgia. Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time.
    • Foodie blogger Pellegrini has crafted a memoir rich both in her hunting experiences and ruminations on what it means to kill what you eat. Author’s blog.
  • Walls, Jeanette. The Glass Castle.
    • Wall’s extraordinary memoir recounts her itinerant childhood with two eccentric parents and the poverty and bullying that she endured. A graceful, candid, and sometimes shocking story. REVIEWS.
  • Sotomayor, Sonia. My Beloved World.
    • Appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009, Sotomayor became the first Latina to achieve this high judicial office. This book offers a moving portrait of her gritty South Bronx neighborhood and her extended Puerto Rican family, as well as details of the many challenges she has faced during her formative years and early career.
  • Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban.
    • Describes the life of a young Pakistani student who survived an assassination attempt and became the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.


  • Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.
    • An account of the author’s struggle with a rare brain-attacking autoimmune disease traces how she wound up in a hospital room with no memory, of baffling psychotic symptoms, and describing the last-minute intervention by a doctor who identified the source of her illness.
  • Hornbacher, Marya. Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia.
    • Based on research and her own battle with anorexia and bulimia, which left her with permanent physical ailments that nearly killed her, Hornbacher’s book explores the mysterious and ruthless realm of self-starvation, which has its grip firmly around the minds and bodies of adolescents all across this country.


  • Buzzell, Colby. My War: Killing Time in Iraq.
    • A U.S. Army soldier who served in Iraq as a member of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team recounts his tour of duty in which he engaged in dangerous firefights and kept a blog describing his war experiences. Graphic language and violence.
  • Fick, Nathaniel. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.
    • An ex-Marine captain shares his story of fighting in a recon battalion in both Afghanistan and Iraq, beginning with his training at Quantico and following his progress in the deadliest conflicts since the Vietnam War. Same Marines from Wright’s Generation Kill. Graphic language and violence.
  • Finkel, David. The Good Soldiers.
    • Combining the action of Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down with the literary tone of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a reporter, embedded with Battalion 2-16, takes an unforgettable look at those in the surge, the heroes and the ruined, returning from the Iraq War. Graphic language and violence.
  • DeMeo, Albert & Mary Jane Ross. For the Sins of My Father: A Mafia Killer, His Son, and the Legacy of a Mob Life.
    • The son of the head of the Gambino crime family’s squad of killers and thieves describes coming of age in the world of organized crime, the murder of his father when he was seventeen, and his determination to escape his father’s fate.
  • Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.
    • Relates the story of a U.S. airman who survived when his bomber crashed into the sea during World War II, spent forty-seven days adrift in the ocean before being rescued by the Japanese Navy, and was held as a prisoner until the end of the war.
  • Moore, Steve. Special Agent Man: My Life in the FBI as a Terrorist Hunter, Helicopter Pilot, and Certified Sniper.
    • A former FBI agent offers an account of his day-to-day life as a G-man, including experiences with SWAT teams, counter terrorism activities, and undercover work, as well as his personal life and battle with cancer.

General History

  • Croke, Vicki Constantine. The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal.
    • Ruth Harkness, a dress-designing socialite, captured the first giant panda to be seen in the West. The adventure, strong writing, and fascinating personalities make a thrilling, deeply, satisfying story.
  • Sharenow, Robert. The Berlin Boxing Club.
    • In 1936 Berlin, 14- year old Karl Stern, considered Jewish by the government despite a non-religious upbringing, learns to box from the legendary Max Schmeling while struggling with the realities of life as a Jew in Nazi Germany.


  • Fluke, Joanne. Double Fudge Brownie Murder.
    • Life in tiny Lake Eden, Minnesota, is usually pleasantly uneventful. Lately, though, it seems everyone has more than their fair share of drama–especially the Swensen family. With so much on her plate, Hannah Swensen can hardly find the time to think about her bakery–let alone the town’s most recent murder. . .
      Hannah is nervous about the upcoming trial for her involvement in a tragic accident. She’s eager to clear her name once and for all, but her troubles only double when she finds the judge bludgeoned to death with his own gavel–and Hannah is the number one suspect. Now on trial in the court of public opinion, she sets out in search of the culprit and discovers that the judge made more than a few enemies during his career. With time running out, Hannah will have to whip up her most clever recipe yet to find a killer more elusive than the perfect brownie. . .
  • Anolik, Lili. Dark Rooms.
    • A stunning debut about murder and glamour set in the ambiguous and claustrophobic world of an exclusive New England prep school
      Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and fast–a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide-note confession–but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister Grace to accept the case as closed. Dropped out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer.
  • Sykes, Sarah. Plague Land.
    • Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants.
      Yet some things never change. Oswald’s mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried.
      Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it by finding the real murderer is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.
      And then the body of another girl is found.
  • Levien, David. Signature Kill.
    • A stunning serial-killer novel from David Levien, featuring his acclaimed and indomitable investigator, Frank Behr . . . this is the bigger thriller we’ve been wanting for from Levien.
      A young woman’s body is found on a side street in Indianapolis, horrifyingly arranged. Meanwhile, Frank Behr, who is down on his luck and virtually broke, takes on a no-win case to locate a single mother’s wayward daughter who’s been missing for months. Suddenly Behr feels the two cases may be connected, but he is years removed from his life as a legitimate police officer and has few friends left on the force. His relentless focus has always been his greatest strength . . . and his deepest flaw.  As the death toll rises, it becomes clear Indianapolis has a serial killer in its midst . . . an invisible average Joe who passes beneath the radar but commits unspeakable acts. Frank Behr’s pursuit will lead him to a dark place–and ultimately to a devastating decision from which he will not be able to turn back.

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