Top Ten Quick-Start Books for Middle School by Cindy Christiansen
“Mrs. Christiansen, I need a book that starts fast! Can you help me?” I heard that request from my sixth graders many times last year. They want to be hooked right away when they begin reading, and this is especially true for my reluctant readers. My students and I created the following list of our favorite quick-start books for middle grade students. Enjoy!
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
Novels-in-verse are excellent quick-start books, and this is one of our favorites. Readers excitedly follow as Calliope navigates her Tourette’s Syndrome, her mom’s relationships, and her own relationships. Terry creates a fast pace by changing the format from verse (when Calliope narrates) to prose (when Jinsong narrates) and students love it!
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
This novel will grab readers from the first page, especially if they’re hungry! Yang’s vivid descriptions of the “sizzling bacon” on a “mile high” burger will make stomachs growl, and readers will quickly be transported into Mia’s world. We find out that Mia’s immigrant family is homeless, and they end up managing a not-so-nice motel together – all by the end of the first 7 pages!
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
What middle school reader doesn’t want to know about the world record for blowing up the most balloons with nostrils? And that’s just the first page! Ghost (real name Castle Crenshaw) is obsessed with sunflower seeds, and Reynolds uses that obsession to move readers from world records to Ghost’s father and his crazed meltdown. By the end of Chapter 1, students need to know what’s going to happen to Ghost, and they keep turning those pages to find out!
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
10-year-old Anjali struggles to understand why her mother joined the Indian freedom movement, especially since it changes her life in so many ways. Readers see her on page one with her “saffron ghagra-choli woven with real gold thread” and her assertive attitude and are shocked at the vandalism Ahimsa is committing. Kelkar’s vivid descriptions instantly help readers see and feel right along with Ahimsa, and they are hooked!
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
“’Before you agree to have Joseph come live with you,’ Mrs. Stroud said, ‘there are one or two things you ought to understand.’” This powerful first line hooks readers immediately and Joseph’s story continues to pull them in. Within the first chapter, readers begin to understand what it’s like for a family to adopt a teenager who’s committed a serious crime, gone to jail for it, and fathered a child. This book is filled with terrific descriptions and emotion, and readers will stay with it to the end.
Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper
Melody is unable to talk or walk. People around her believe she also can’t learn, but they’re wrong. Readers discover her frustration within the first four or five pages of this perennial favorite quick-start book. They are drawn in quickly by Draper’s masterful creation of Melody’s character, her choice of first-person narration, and her beautiful use of language.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jewell Parker Rhodes introduces readers to twelve-year-old Jerome and the bullets that killed him on page one. By page five, my sixth graders are running up to me to share their shock and outrage. And then Parker Rhodes takes them back in time so that they can get to know Jerome and his life in alternating chapters titled ALIVE and DEAD. Mesmerizing!
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
In the first paragraph of this quick-start book, thirteen-year-old Arthur Owens throws a brick at an old man known as the Junk Man. In the second paragraph, readers find out that he did it on purpose. And in the third paragraph, they discover that the Junk Man survived, and they’re hooked. In addition to a plot that kicks in immediately, Pearsall uses short paragraphs and 3-5 page chapters to move readers through this book and keep them turning pages – and it works!
Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald
Sometimes when students want a book that starts fast, it can be the format that fulfills that request. This book starts with Teddy in a coma from a football training camp injury. The question is whether that injury was a true accident or something more disturbing. This plot alone peaks students’ interests, but it’s the multimedia format that really creates a quick start. Greenwald includes newspaper articles, texts, interview transcripts, online forms, and Teddy’s thoughts. A class favorite!
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
Any book that includes the word ‘craptastic’ in the first sentence is destined to be a middle grade favorite! DasGupta uses great language and voice to grab readers’ interest right away. By the time Kiranmala’s parents disappear very early in the book, my students NEED to keep reading to find out what happens next. The action is fast and incorporates lots of facts about Indian culture which fit the plot seamlessly.
Cindy Christiansen teaches English at Larson Middle School in Troy, Michigan. This is her 10th year teaching, and her enthusiastic sixth and eighth grade readers and writers make each day exciting! She reads voraciously for fun and to talk about books with her students. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChristiansenLMS where she is inspired by all the passionate educators and authors sharing their wisdom daily.