If you are looking for a book to read for your book project, or just for fun, this is the right place. I will list books that are appropriate for my students and that I think they will find interesting.
You many use the Table of contents to the right to jump to a title that interests you or just browse through the titles.

Freak the Mighty

By Rodman Philbrick
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Synopsis: Freak the Mighty is about the son of a murderer who is big and intimidating. The summer before his eighth grade year starts, Max meets an unlikely friend: crippled Kevin whose intelligence far outstrips his body moves in next door. This unlikely duo of two freaks become quick friends who go on quests together and team up to become “Freak the Mighty” and are praised at school. Max’s father gets out of jail and kidnaps Max, then Freak comes to the rescue and saves Max from impending death at his father’s hands. Max shows his gratitude to his friend by writing their adventures in a book.
Why I like this book: Max is lazy, and doesn’t think he likes to learn. That is until Freak comes along. Freak is a genius with a physical disability called Morquio’s syndrome. Freak has a way of speaking that my middle schoolers love. Examples include: “unvanquished truth” (p. 3); “good for whacking mastadons, probably” (p. 6); “optimum darkness occurs at oh-three-hundred hours” (p. 56); “remembering is just an invention of the mind” (p. 141). These phrases and many more help the reader get a little laugh out of things that Max writes about. Although the sentence structure and Freakspeak (as we call it) are very fun, my favorite aspect of the book is the figurative language. Philbrick does some great work with hyperbole. metaphors, similes, personification, and others. For example, “Tripping over cracks in the sidewalk, ants in the sidewalk, shadows, anything” (p. 6). This is a perfect hyperbole for middle school kids whose bodies are growing out of control. Philbrick uses similes and metaphors very cleverly, sometimes he even combines them together for a really fun sentence: “They were always trying to throw a hug on me, like it was a medicine I needed” (p. 1). This book is great fun to read, especially out loud.
Why it is good for students to read: The real benefit of this book is that it has many lessons that are good for students to learn. It teaches kids how to judge people for who they are inside, not what they look like on the outside. It helps kids realize how it can feel to be made fun of. Max and Freak are both made fun of a lot in this book, and you can see how it hurts them. It also shows how you can get over pain that other people cause you.

Touching Spirit Bear

By Ben Mikaelson
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Synopsis: Cole Matthews is used to getting his way in life, a fifteen year-old bully in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who thrives on taking advantage of others and thinking he can get off the hook for behaving badly. After he beats up a kid at school, he joins the Native American Circle Justice group and his punishment is that he will be banished to an island in southeastern Alaska for one full year. While there, he encounters a spirit bear, which is a type of black bear. This is a story of his recovery and struggles in dealing with his life as a bully. This is a great book for students to read. There are some edgy parts, like the description of Cole beating Peter and his attitude about it and the part where Cole get beaten by the spirit bear. After Cole is beat up, he can hardly move and must eat whatever is around him to survive. He eats a mouse.
Why I like this book: Cole eats a live mouse.
Why it is good for students to read: I know that it is highly unlikely that they will be banished to an island, but the part that makes it connect for them is that if they are punk kids, many will ostracize them and not want to have anything to do with them. Another appropriate aspect of the book is that Cole claims he is not afraid of anything. He admits to being afraid of jail, but only barely. As these seventh graders are starting to grow, heal quickly from physical pain, and are searching for independence, they can identify with Cole. This book also fits the description of what a problem book should be according to Donelson. First, Cole’s parents are rich, but they are divorced and his home life sucks. Michaelsen also uses colloquial language when he tells Cole’s thoughts. Although Cole gets beaten to within an inch of his life, he does not die. He realizes finally that he must pay for his crimes, and does so willingly. It is not a happy ending, but people are not free from consequences in this life. Kids often think all is well as long as they don’t get caught. Cole teaches that the only way to live life is to suffer the consequences of your actions.

Animal Farm

By George Orwell
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Synopsis: Manor Farm is owned and operated by Mr. Jones (not me). The animals hear of a dream by one of the prize pigs, and after he dies, they rebel and take over the farm. Napoleon becomes the leader of a leaderless society, where all are equal.
Why I like this book: I like reading dystopian novels. Dystopian novels tell the story of a society that is supposed to be perfect, and almost everyone in that society believes it is perfect. Dystopias are about the people that do not like how the society is and make an effort to change things. I also like satires, because they poke fun at what is taken for granted.
Why it is good for students to read: You need to know how to think for yourself. This book helps you see how bad things can get when we don't make decisions for ourselves, but let other people make the decisions for us. No matter what it is in life, you need to figure things out for yourself: school, relationships, politics, religion, everything.


By Scott Westerfeld
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Synopsis: Another dystopian novel, this book centers around the change that happens when kids turn 16: they become pretties. They don't just start to look like pretty people, they have an operation that makes them pretty. The operation sands down their bones, puts smart plastic in their faces, and makes everyone gorgeous. Everyone younger than 16 are uglies. They wait with great anticipation for the opportunity to get an operation and move to New Pretty Town, where life is one continuous party. Tally plans on all this, until she meets Shay. When Shay runs away, Tally must decide if she is going to be a pretty or stay an ugly for the rest of her life.
Why I like this book: This book helps expose the misconception that beauty is all that matters. It is an exagerration of our current situation here on earth. Topics range from beauty to pollution to waste to oil dependence, and they are all important issues to learn about. Also, it does keep you paying attention the whole time, and you will like that it never slows down.
Why it is good for students to read: You are at a time in your life when it seems like only your looks matter, but there is more to you than your physical appearance. I hope that this book helps you see that.

Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life

By Russell Freedman
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Synopsis: This biography is about the dance Martha Graham who danced almost until she died. She was a fiery woman who excelled at her craft.
Why I like this book: I thought it was interesting to see what she was like. Modern dance is pretty neat, and you learn a lot about its origins by learning about Graham, one of the greatest dancers ever.
Why it is good for students to read: If you are interested in dance, I think you will like this book. There are a lot of neat pictures, as well as descriptions of her dances. The best part about it is Freedman's and Graham's poetic descriptions. This book will help you be a better writer yourself.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution

By Ji Li Jiang
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Synopsis: Ji Li is a little girl getting ready to enter the 7th grade when Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution was pushed in Communist China. Ji Li must choose between what she has been taught in school and what her family believes. She must eventually make that in life, not just in her mind. She sees horrible atrocities that tear families apart and make children report their parents to the police.
Why I like this book: As you know, I lived in Russia, which also had a Communist government for about 70 years. They did similar things and since I was there after the Iron Curtain fell, I am interested to see how people viewed their Communist countries when they were under their thumb. Ji Li did an excellent job of showing the confilct between what she knew was right, and what seemed to be right. There was a very thin line that the government walked and that people around her walked. She was tormented when she was unable to decide who to trust and what to believe in.
Why it is good for students to read: When you are so young, it is very confusing to live. So much goes on around you and people are not always truthful with you. This book helps give you hope that you will be able to make the right decisions in your life. You can, even though it seems like everything is stacked against you.

The Giver

By Lois Lowry
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Synopsis: This is the story of Jonas, a twelve year-old boy who is shouldered with a heavy responsibility. He will be the receiver of memories. He is a thoughtful boy who spends the first chapter figuring out the correct description of how he feels. The community he lives in is devoid of agency. The leadership makes all the choices for the community. They choose who will marry whom, what their jobs will be, who will have kids, and announces rules and regulations daily over a loudspeaker. As Jonas is trained, he learns how to deal with the memories of pain and happiness. He also learns how to transmit the happy memories to Gabriel (a slow developing child). The Giver and Jonas develop a plan to give the memories to all the people in the community, so that one person is not burdened with them all anymore, but Jonas must leave immediately to save Gabriel’s life.
Why I like this book: This is another dystopian novel that focuses on how bad life can get when we give all our power to one person. Jonas is too kind-hearted to be burdened with all the thoughts of every other person. That is too much for one person to be able to handle.
Why it is good for students to read: Students need to learn how to live their own lives, and this is another book that teaches them to do that. You are the one who decides the course of your life. You cannot afford to let that fall into the hands of someone else.

The Clique

By Lisi Harrison
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Synopsis: Massie and her pals run Octavian Country Day School (OCD). Claire (nearly a hippy) moves in to Massie's pool house from Florida and can't imagine spending more than $50 on anything. Massie's clique can't imagine spending any less than $100 on any clothing item. The story is about Claire trying to fit in with the Clique. The extremes tend to come together, rather than the clique adopting Claire's style or Claire completely becoming one of the clique. It ends with Massie and Claire realizing that they can exist close to each other, even if they don't particularly like each other. I don't think that it is appropriate for class reading though because it is very light. In other words, there is not much that we could discuss. Also, I don't think that it would be appropriate since it doesn't really teach that what Massie does to exclude others is wrong. It does, however, teach that Claire can fit in with the cool girls if she just lowers her standards and lets other people dictate how she should act. That is not what we want to teach our kids. I think the 7th graders I teach are not mature enough to realize that they should not idolize these girls, even though they already do.
Why I like this book: Well, this book wasn't really up my alley, but I think most of the girls will like it. I have never really liked these snobby books, but that is just my personal taste.
Why it is good for students to read: You guys deal with this stuff every day. There are groups of people that think they know everything and rule the school. You don't have to conform to them to be happy. Your happiness is based on who you are inside. Remember that.

Death Wind

By William Bell
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Synopsis: This nonfiction narrative explains a first-hand account of the Barrie Tornado, which struck the city in 1985. It tells the story of Allie, who ran away from home after learning that she was pregnant. She left, only to return a day later, on May 31, just in time to see the Tornado destroy her hometown. The author, William Bell, is a teacher in the town of Barrie, who witnessed the destruction firsthand. He says, as an author’s note, “Death Wind is dedicated [to those who suffered and helped clean up the aftermath of the storm]” and that there were many who needed to hear the story.
A 17 year-old skateboarding phenomenon, Razz is an unlikely friend with the brainiac Allie. There is an incident with a rival skateboarder, who attacks Allie, and subsequently gets beat up by Razz. Allie and Razz arrive at Barrie just as the Tornado is striking. They see the rival skateboarder get taken by the tornado, and then they see the destruction of their town.
Why I like this book: This book shows that anyone who wants to can write a book and be an author. William Bell is just a teacher like me, but I found this book by an obscure publisher at my local library. As an English teacher, I naturally have aspirations of being a writer, and this book shows that I can.
Why it is good for students to read: Here in Utah, we don't have many natural disasters. Most other states do have something, though. Earthquakes in California, tornadoes in the south, and hurricanes on the east coast. It is important to be able to see some of what happens in a natural disaster. It helps you to have compassion for those that are displaced because of something completely out of their control.


By Jerry Spinelli
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Synopsis: All is going great in Leo’s life: he is the director of the school’s hottest TV show, he is friends with plenty of popular kids, and everyone wants to be part of his show. And then enters Stargirl. Yeah, that is her name. This new girl who has been homeschooled up until her sophomore year mystifies the whole school. She especially disturbs Leo, who can’t help but be attracted to her.
This story shows the cycle of feelings that the school feels for a new girl to the school: bewilderment, admiration, frustration, disgust, and hate. More importantly, it shows the struggles Leo faces as he tries to decide if he wants to spend his life with a girl that is despised by the rest of his class. Does Leo sacrifice his popularity to be with his crush, or does he sacrifice his love life to fit in with the rest of his classmates?
Why I like this book: Stargirl would be a good companion piece to any book about growing up and the challenges that come with it. It does not hide any of what happens. Spinelli is very truthful about what Leo and Stargirl experience because of their strangeness. Stargirl is someone we should all emulate, but we are too afraid of our peers to dare to be ourselves.
Why it is good for students to read: Important lessons about learning, life, and love are applicable to all ages, but most especially to young adults. Boys and girls alike will find lessons on bullying, love, sportsmanship, relationships, friendship, and trust.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

By Avi
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Synopsis: Charlotte Doyle is a British girl in the 1800s who follows, a couple months after her parents, her family to America. She is booked on a ship that is less than desirable. She soon finds out that the crew has tried to keep anyone from getting on the ship so that they can have a mutiny against the evil captain. Charlotte must eventually join the crew or join the captain. Her choice will guide the comfort of the rest of her life. This is a true adventure story, and is full of suspense.
Why I like this book: This is a fun book to read. Charlotte is a spunky little girl who is determined to do whatever it takes to make her life easy and comfortable. Then, she realizes what trust and companionship are, and she becomes willing to trade everything she has for what she really wants. It is also interesting to learn about the things that sailors do when they are out on the sea for months at a time.
Why it is good for students to read: By reading this book, you will learn about the British customs of the 19th century. You will learn about ships, class systems, customs, society, and much more. This will help give you a basis for many of the novels you will read in high school and college. It is a good preparation for you.

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