After spending months researching culturally responsive books for Curriculum Associates’ new Grades 3–5 reading program, Magnetic Reading, I’ve accumulated a long list of middle grade books that I think every educator should have on their summer reading lists. I asked my colleagues and several Magnetic contributing writers to send me their own recently published recommendations to round out the 10-plus titles suggested here.
Laura is a voracious reader, a Curriculum Associates editor, and the author of Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth (Grades 5–7, 2015).
History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner, illus. by Dylan Meconis | Grades 3–7 | 2020
Laura says, “Kids who enjoy true stories will gobble up this nonfiction/graphic novel mashup that explores little-known details surrounding the arrival of the Pilgrims and their interactions with the Wampanoag people. As a nonfiction author myself, I especially appreciate that Messner describes her research process and delivers information about how she consulted with Linda Coombs, an educator and historian from the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, in the book's back matter. Also available in the series: The Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and Women’s Right to Vote.
Brooks Benjamin, who is a Curriculum Associates contributing writer and the author of the middle grade novel My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights (you can find an educator’s guide on Brooks’s website), had two recommendations to share: one fiction and one nonfiction.
Amina's Song by Hena Khan | Grades 3–7 | 2021
Brooks says, “I absolutely adore this novel and its prequel, Amina’s Voice. Both books are heartwarming stories about friendship, family, and the power of music.
Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes | Grades 5–9 | 2021
Brooks describes Grimes’s new poetry collection, which pairs poems from female poets of the Harlem Renaissance with Grimes’s original poems, as “beautiful and inspiring.” He adds, “Nikki’s poems about women poets are phenomenal, and the accompanying artwork is stunning.”
Magnetic Reading, a new Grades 3–5 reading program, uses a knowledge-rich curriculum, culturally and linguistically responsive texts and instruction, scaffolding, and actionable data to help students build their skills and develop a love for reading.Learn More about Magnetic Reading
Kathryn Hulick is a Curriculum Associates contributing writer and the author of Strange but True: 10 of the World’s Greatest Mysteries Explained (illustrated by Gordy Wright, Grades 5–8, 2019), a work of nonfiction that helps readers learn the scientific method as they explore the lost city of Atlantis, tour a haunted house, and learn to separate fact from fiction.
Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries by Sarah Albee | Grades 3–7 | 2020
According to Kathryn, Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries by Sarah Albee is not only “very funny,” but it’s also “filled with surprising, delightful details about important archaeological discoveries from all around the world.”
And, finally, my own recommendations. If the blog’s editors would have let me, this list would have been five times as long—there are that many incredible, diverse middle grade titles out there.
Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist | Grades 3–5 | 2020
Ten-year-old Isaiah falls back on stories about a superhero version of himself that he reads in his recently deceased dad’s journals to help him navigate a world where his little sister asks too many questions and his “Mama’s been all rain.”
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert | Grades 3–7 | 2020
Alberta is drawn to her new neighbor Edie because she’s excited to not be the only African-American girl in town, but her friendship with homesick Edie grows as the two seventh graders investigate family secrets.
The New Kid by Jerry Craft | Grades 3–7 | 2019
Craft’s middle grade graphic novel won the John Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award. It centers on seventh grader Jordan Banks, who finds solace in his artwork even as he struggles to find where he belongs after his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day | Grades 3–7 | 2019
Edie uncovers family secrets and discovers her own Native-American identity in Day’s debut middle grade novel.
*Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes | Grades 3–7 | 2020
Twelve-year-old Donte’s classmates at Middlefield Prep call him “Black Brother” in part because Donte’s brother, Trey, is a lighter skin color. Despite bullying from peers and teachers and infuriating injustices, Donte grows into a talented fencer and an empowered activist.
*Two Naomis and Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick | Grades 3–7 | 2016 and 2020
Naomi Marie and Naomi Edith share a first name but are not into the same things. They learn how to navigate their differences; embrace their blended, mixed race family; and find their ways through middle school together.
Front Desk and Three Keys by Kelly Yang | Grades 3–7 | 2018 and 2020
These award-winning titles center on Mia Tang and her hardworking parents, who live and work in a motel. Readers will be drawn in by compelling plots and the impossible not-to-root-for heroine, Mia, who meets challenges great and small with pluck.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga | Grades 3–7 | 2019
A Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse about 12-year-old Jude who leaves her home in Syria to make a new home in America.
*Excerpted in Magnetic Reading
Magnetic Reading instruction is culturally and linguistically responsive and designed to foster inclusive classrooms where all students are engaged.Download a Magnetic Reading Lesson Sample