10 Books That Help Me Hook Self-Proclaimed Middle School “Non-Readers” by Brittany Gendron

As educators, we know that there is no such thing as a non-reader, just a young soul who has yet to find the right book. The book that turns unintelligible ink slurred across a page into a meaning-making guide for the world around us. Sadly, by the time students reach middle school, many still have not had that experience, whether because of topic, access, interest, time or skill.


So for the sake of Book Love, as my idol Penny Kittle would say, I’ve tried to continually grow the reading culture in my classroom. My prior students warn incoming grades of this in their end-of-year advice: “Be ready to read… She’s really serious about that.” And from a young student whose endorsement I finally earned with basketball coaching books: “All the things in her room are mostly books… this class will make you stronger in whatever you want to do.”


Accordingly, here I humbly offer 10 of my favorite titles that have helped me connect to the reader in each of my students, with hopes it may help share the book love!


fish in a tree - final cover

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Spirited, creative, and spunky, Ally warms your heart from the beginning. She addresses the fear of any kid who has felt out of place in school (pretty much everyone!), describing how she’s been at seven schools, and just tries to make it through the day without being picked on by teachers or classmates. Every reader roots for Ally as her new trio of friends and new teacher, Mr. Daniels, help her conquer her social fears and previously undiagnosed dyslexia. Charming and uplifting!


rite of passage

Rite of Passage by Richard Wright

An oldie but a goodie. I stumbled upon this through my love for Richard Wright, and found this novel perfect for MS too. It tells the story of Johnny whose previously “normal” life falls apart when he learns his family isn’t actually his own and he’s being sent to live elsewhere. Distraught, he runs to the streets to survive, and that’s where the plot really starts rolling. This book provides such a powerful tool as a high-interest, low-level reader.


Who Am I Without Him

Who Am I Without Him? by Sharon Flake

This book, a collection of short stories, hits it out of the park. Each story showcases a different African-American teen voice (mostly female) trying to make sense of the world around them, who they are, and what they value. From a father’s letter to his daughter, to church girls looking for boys, to girls tolerating abuse just to stay in a relationship — the real, authentic voices makes this anthology one you cannot put down, and one that will build important conversations in your classroom.


the crossover

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

What is there not to like? Basketball, brotherhood, love interests, this rhythmic, beautiful story of soul, hard work, and basketball is a breath of fresh air. I read aloud from this during open house, needless to say, it’s become one that is always on hold in my classroom.


Invasion of the Overworld

Invasion of the Overworld by Mark Cheverton

My only regret is that I didn’t get aboard the Minecraft phase sooner. For young gamers in your classroom familiar with Minecraft, this book is the key to the reading kingdom. A story of a young kid who gets transported into the game on accident and has to survive — this tugged at me more than I ever anticipated. And students can’t seem to get enough of these stories!


all american boys

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

In the short time after I read pieces as book teasers, this book is making its way around the classroom and causing very powerful discussion. The story of Rashad, a black teen who is brutally beaten when accused of stealing and resisting arrest — intertwines with Quinn, a white teen who saw the entire episode. The book takes us through the arc of the reality of racism and police brutality, leaving the reader wondering when and if Quinn will ever have the courage to speak up. Relevancy of the plot and engaging characters keep this book enticing to many of my students who find other books “too boring.”


rad american women

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History… And Our Future! by Kate Schatz

Much like the faces of the women on the cover, I can see the faces of the young women in my classes that this book has touched. A beautiful, easy-to-read collection of 26 women otherwise not likely to be studied in history: Hazel Scott, an early prodigy of Juilliard who went to be the first African American to host her own TV show, Nelly Bly, who in the late 1800s changed journalism by going undercover in a mental institution for 10 days, and then traveled around the world in a record time. Smart, succinct, readable non-fiction for middle grades.


i am malala

I Am Malala (Young Readers) by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick

This is one of those books I keep ordering more of because, well, sometimes I’d rather a book stay in the hands of a child than ask for it back. When the book becomes one that parents eagerly call me to talk about, I know I’ve done my job. This book leaves young women and men alike in awe of what she’s done. Initially drawn by their knowledge of her from the news, students are constantly amazed at the detail of her life, and inspired and grateful for our own, unique privileges in our lives.


Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March  by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

WOW. Just WOW. This book again, draws young men and women in, giving a side to the Civil Right Movement you rarely see. Her on-the-ground perspective of the events in Selma leading to Bloody Sunday as well as the Selma-Montgomery March is invaluable. It’s humbling, and a brilliantly told (and illustrated) memoir. Very accessible, un-intimidating non-fiction.


Hidden Girl

Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave by Shyima Hall

Hidden Girl tells the story of Shyima Hall, a girl born in 1989 and enslaved at the age of 8. She takes the reader from her childhood in the slums of Egypt to the harrowing life of being enslaved to a wealthier family. A story of remarkable struggle, courage, and bravery — her memoir hooks young readers in simply astounded that this is in fact, present day real life, not fiction, and not historic. Interwoven with many facts about the modern-day slave trade that further guide the reader – her story will leave any reader inspired to take action and thankful for all you have.


Brittany Gendron is a 7th grade English teacher in North Carolina. She has taught in North & South Carolina for the past four years, inspired by many of her great teachers. She is an avid reader, and her teacher-heart is fullest when her students cross from “non-readers” to “Ms. G, when can I get that one?” You can find her on Twitter @readwritethrive or on her blog Musings From The Middle: Read, Write, Teach, Love