Top Ten (or so) Middle Grade Books to Awaken the Inner Reader in Every Child by Gigi McAllister

We all have them, our go-to books that we use for those students in grades 3-5 who have yet to be bitten by the reading bug.  You know them.  They are the kids who can’t seem to stick with a book from start to finish. They browse the stacks day after day but, despite your recommendations, have trouble deciding on a book to read.  Whether you call them reluctant, dormant, developing readers, or late bloomers, they all need help discovering what kinds of books will really grab them and open the gate to becoming a reader.

I have told the story of my winding, rocky path to becoming a reader here at The Nerdy Book Club before.   Like all of you, I am determined NOT to let a child leave my fourth grade class without loving to read.  I know posting here is just like preaching to the choir.  However, even after 20 years of teaching, I always learn something new or gain affirmation with each new post I read.  It is my hope with this post to share some tried and true titles that I use. But to keep the possibilities growing, I hope you will comment with YOUR own go-to books.  Then we can all discover (or rediscover) books that might set a student on the path toward becoming a lifelong reader.

Graphic Novels

There are still many teachers and parents who have yet to embrace the value of graphic novels. Yes, they are “real reading” and kids (and adults) love them. To students who may be intimidated by lengthy books with few pictures, graphic novels can be just what they need to discover that reading can be fun.  With these books gaining such popularity in recent years, authors are really jumping on the graphic novel bandwagon.  There are graphic novels that will appeal to every reader: girls, boys, fantasies, historical fiction, biographies, classics, you name it.  Some series my fourth graders love include: The Amulet series, Squish, Smile/Drama, Bone, The Lightning Thief, Lunch Lady, Sidekicks, Big Nate, Wonkenstein, Daniel Boom and of course, Babymouse (for you Mr. Sharp).

Diary-Style Books

We have Jeff Kinney to thank for the onslaught of diary-style books that are available today.  Of course many students LOVE the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  This series became so wildly popular that it didn’t take long for other authors to follow suit. Pictures, funky fonts, or colors often support the text in diary books. Books and series such as Dork Diaries, Amelia’s Notebook, Dear Dumb Diary, Justin Case and Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet are always winners in my class.

Origami Yoda Series

Once students discover this entertaining series (The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie) it does not return to the shelves until at least Christmas. The combination of humor, relatable yet quirky characters and great illustrations makes students want to read all of these books.  They appeal to older readers as well. My desk is always filled with little origami Yodas for weeks after.


Short but interesting chapter books appeal to many students who are strengthening their reading muscles.  Some kiddos just love a series and there are so many available. For some, these books build confidence with the right combination of comfortable text, pictures and familiar characters and format. Some popular series include: My Weird School Daze, Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, Marvin Redpost, Sophie books, Captain Underpants and Bailey School Kids.

Marty McGuire

Recently I have added Marty McGuire to my class library.  Students love Marty because she is not a “girly” girl.  She loves to catch frogs, dig for worms and hates to wear dresses.  Although I hope there will be more to come, currently there are two in the series: Marty McGuire and Marty McGuire Digs Worms.


With some middle grade readers, fiction is just not their favorite genre. Some non-fiction books that have been popular in my room include Guinness Book of World Records, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, National Geographic For Kids magazine, sports books, animal stories and anything gross.  You also can’t go wrong with biographies of their favorite people in pop culture.  This year our short biography about the boy band One Direction is well worn.

Tried and True

Yes, there are many new and interesting titles. However, let’s not ignore the many wonderful books that have stood the test of time. My favorite go-to book for students who think they don’t like to read is Skinny-Bones by Barbara Park.  It has just the right combination of humor and sports (baseball).  It is not a difficult read and, at 128 pages, it is not too long or short. The students can really relate to Alex, his interactions with the bully TJ and some of the wacky things he does in this book.
Other books my developing readers really like, that are not exactly new, include: Stone Fox, Shiloh, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom How to Eat Fried Worms, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Frindle, The Chocolate Touch, Joey Pigza and practically anything by Roald Dahl.

I know I am leaving out some real gems here. So please comment with your never-fail books for middle graders so we can all add to our growing lists.

Gigi McAllister teaches 4th grade in Gorham, Maine.  She was a reading late bloomer and is making up for lost time by trying to read all the children’s books she missed along the way.  She is thrilled to have found her peeps here at the Nerdy Book Club. Please visit her at www.thelatebloomersbookblog and occasionally on Twitter at  @GigiMcAreads.