Did you know that research shows that students who report high levels of sense of belonging to the school environment experience positive educational outcomes?
This means allowing students to see themselves in their learning is more important than ever. This summer, our favorite summer reading picks for 5-9th graders features authors of different backgrounds, books that explore relevant social issues, and tackle challenges that middle schoolers may face in their every day lives. Read on for our top picks for middle schoolers!
5th Grade Reading List
What should our 5th graders be reading this summer? Don’t worry we have some recommendations!
Twelve-year-old Cici has just made a major life change – her family has moved to Seattle from Taiwan. The only thing she wants more than to fit into her new life is to celebrate her grandmother’s 70th birthday. Since Cici’s grandmother is still in Taiwan, she hatches a plan to surprise her parents by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to help pay for her grandmother’s ticket!
Cici navigates the blending of her Taiwanese culture and her new American identity with heart and bravery and author Lila LaMotte explores the minority experience as well as theme of identity, racial insensitivity and dealing with microaggressions. Artfully written, this book lends itself to being the jumping off point to discuss deeper issues like racism, anti-Asian sentiments, and inclusion.
Social justice is an increasingly relevant topic, and You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P.! is an excellent introduction for 5th-grade students. Tackling big issues like deaf culture and white privilege, this book takes students on Jilly’s journey of discovering she doesn’t know everything, and how to learn from her mistakes to do better. This is definitely a book that will spark discussions on a variety of pertinent issues in a way that is relevant and relatable for students.
This #1 New York Times Best Seller follows the story of 10-year old August Pullman, a normal boy in every way, except for his facial anomalies. As “Auggie” enters 5th grade in a mainstream school for the first time, he faces some of the same challenges that any 5th grader would face – making friends, fitting in, and being themselves. 5th graders are sure to see themselves reflected in the characters in this moving, engaging and heartwarming book. Bonus – The book has been adapted into a movie that students can enjoy alongside the book.
Inspire your 5th graders to get involved in saving the Earth with this beautifully illustrated book. Featuring the stories of 12 young activists from around the world from New York to Australia, this non-fiction book highlights how even kids can do their part to address the climate crisis. The gorgeous illustrations are a lovely addition and will surely captivate even reluctant readers.
This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work by Tiffany Jewell
Another great social justice book for middle school readers, This Book is Anti-Racist is sure to inspire the acitvist in our students. Presented in an accessible manner that meets students at their level, this book explores identity, history, taking action and responding to racism, and working in solidarity with others in four sections. Activities included at the end of each chapter also encourage students to get involved in doing anti-racist work – this is not a book for students who want to sit back and do nothing!
Starting at a new school is always hard – even more so when your new classmates don’t know much about your culture, values and history. In this captivating story, students learn more about Nakota culture through 11-year-old Siha Tooskin as he deals with challenges in fitting in at his new school. Bonus – If your students enjoyed this, they will surely love reading about more of Siha Tooskin’s adventures in the rest of the series.
Representation matters, and it is important to introduce our students to diversity and inclusion even in the books they read. In this groundbreaking publication, author Sarah Prager shines the spotlight on fifty people from the LGBTQ+ community who have made a difference in history. It is a great introduction to the accomplishments and achievements of LGBTQ+ people, and a way to help young readers understand more about their contributions to our community.
We’re cheating (just a little) with this recommendation, but if your students are struggling to even pick up a book during summer, Community in Crisis could change their mind about reading. Designed to meet anchor standards and supports Lexile range for 5th grade, Community in Crisis is the second series on the Read to Lead game-based learning platform. By working through each game in the series, students read the equivalent of 5,000 words, and interact with a diverse array of characters. Game-based learning is also a great way to drive student interest, and motivation. Sign up for a free account and get your students started with their summer reading program.
6th Grade Reading List
We believe belonging is the missing piece in the fight for diversity and inclusion. We know that research shows that students who report high levels of sense of belonging to the school environment experience positive educational outcomes. This means elevating Black and Brown voices, teaching culturally relevant content, and allowing students to see themselves in their learning is more important than ever. That’s why this summer, our favorite summer reading picks for 6th grade features authors of different backgrounds, books that explore relevant social issues, and tackle challenges that middle schoolers may face in their lives.
Now, let’s get to our recommendations for multicultural books for 6th grade summer reading!
It’s never easy to be the new kid in school but what about one of the few kids of color in a prestigious private school? Follow Drew in this laugh-out-loud funny and important coming of age story from New York Times bestselling author Jerry Craft. Bonus – this book follows Jerry Craft’s first book, New Kid, which follows Jordan around through similar struggles as a new kid at a private school.
Students may be aware of the issue of undocumented immigrants in the US, but in Efrén Divided, they see the reality that American-born children may face when someone in their family is deported. Giving readers insights about the many struggles Mexican-American families face in a way that is heartfelt and moving, this book is sure to spark many important and meaningful conversations among middle schoolers. Bonus – The author’s website includes a free comprehensive resource guide for Efrén Divided.
Kira-Kira tells the story of Katie’s experiences as a Japanese-American growing up in a small town in rural Georgia in the 1950s, where looking different comes with very real consequences. In this touching tale, author Cynthia Kadohata expertly explores themes such as racism, grief, prejudice through the lens of a young girl. This book can also serve as a launchpad for discussions around anti-Asian hate, workplace discrimination, and other similar contemporary issues.
A beautifully written memoir in verse form, Brown Girl Dreaming tells the story of Jacqueline Woodson growing up as a Black American in the 1960s. Through compelling poems, Jacqueline recounts grappling with the remnants of the Jim Crow laws and the impacts of the Civil Rights Movement. This book is both an excellent way to introduce students to poetry as a form of story-telling and dig into discussions around current social movements such as Black Lives Matter and social justice issues.
Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet, by Valentina Camerini (Author), and Veronica Carratello (Illustrator)
You are never too young to make a difference. That’s the main message in Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet, an unofficial biography of Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old climate activist. An easy and inspiring read that will encourage young readers to start taking action to address climate change, this book includes a glossary of important dates in history related to environmental issues and a section on how students can get involved to save the planet.
Approaching sensitive topics such as change and bullying with humor and innocence, Accidental Trouble Magnet is the first book in the Planet Omar Series. Featuring a young Muslim protagonist, this book takes readers on the ups and downs of navigating a new school, making friends, and more, all while sharing snippets of life as a Muslim. With superb illustrations that keep the story moving forward, this is a great option for reluctant readers. Bonus – Follow Omar on other adventures through the rest of the Planet Omar series.
What happens when a 12-year-old Black boy is killed by a police officer for playing with a toy gun? Ghost Boys explores difficult but timely themes like racism, police brutality, and gun violence in a way that is honest yet age-appropriate for middle schoolers. This book is a poignant read that will prompt students to delve further into social justice issues. Bonus: This book included discussion questions for students to reflect on the story and relate it to their own lives.
The Stonewall Riots are an important part of LGBTQIA+ activism, and this gorgeously illustrated book explores some of the events before, during, and after the riots. Presented in a unique way that features newspaper reports, objects, and pictures from the time, Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets shares information about the LGBTQIA+ movement in an easy-to-digest and informative way. A great introductory read for students which showcases an often marginalized community, this book is a must if you are looking for diverse books for middle school.
Students struggling to even pick up a book during summer? Read to Lead: Community in Crisis is an excellent way for students to keep reading while playing games. Designed to meet anchor standards and supporting Lexile range for 6th grade, Community in Crisis is the first series on the Read to Lead game-based learning platform. Students read 5,000 words and interact with diverse characters in each game in the series (there are 12 games in all!). Game-based learning is also a great way to drive student interest and motivation, especially during summertime. Sign up for a free account and get your students started with their summer reading program.
7th Grade Reading List
There are so many good choices out there for middle school summer reading this year! To help you cut through the clutter, here are our top choices for 7th grade summer reading.
In A Place to Belong, students have the opportunity to learn about a lesser known time in American and Japanese history following WW2. The book follows a young Hanako who is bewildered and hurt. America, the only home she’s ever known, has forced her family to move to Japan in a post WW2 world. The country is in shambles, making Hanako feel as though she could crack under the pressure of it all until she learns about the ancient tradition of kintsukuroi- fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever. Students will learn to understand and empathize with realities of war, and the power of overcoming adversity in this heart felt book.
Sometimes you just have to swim against the tide. This story expertly weaves the struggles of neurodivergence, mental health, adoption, and loss in an engaging, digestible format for 7th graders. Twelve-year-old genius, Willow Chance is obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions and finds it comforting to count by 7s. Her life was mostly quiet and happy alongside her adoptive parents until it was suddenly turned upside down with the death of her parents. Your class will learn from and celebrate with Willow as she learns to endearingly push through her grief to find a diverse surrogate family in the wake of her heartache.
In this collection of eleven short stories, author Gary Soto draws on his own experiences as a Mexican-American growing up in California to share captivating anecdotes about life as an adolescent. These stories take readers through a whole gamut of emotions – some are funny, some sad, some dramatic – but they all have a lesson to share around themes such as growing up, dealing with challenges, and friendships. This book is excellent for students who are struggling to read longer novels!
7th grade can be a confusing time for kids – navigating friendships, having “first crushes,” discovering self-expression. Goodbye Stranger explores these themes and more through strong characters and authentic storytelling that will draw in readers. This book is also well-poised to kick off conversations with students about using social media and texting responsibly and the consequences that their actions have, not just for them but others around them as well.
The New York Times Book Review describes George as “timely, touching…[and] the most right-now book imaginable.” Following the journey of Melissa, a transgender girl whom the rest of the world sees as George, this book is an insightful read for anyone who has ever felt different. It is an excellent starting point to explore issues such as gender, acceptance, and the trans community and the struggles they face. A must-read!
What does an environmental defender look like? Like any one of us! In One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet, author Anuradha Rao highlights a diverse selection of youth activists worldwide working to save the environment. These stories of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are all doing their part to save the Earth are sure to inspire and motivate students to take action.
Twelve-year-old Shayla just wants to get through 7th grade without getting into trouble, but she quickly realizes that some things are worth breaking the rules for. In this genuine and relatable novel, students explore complex themes like right and wrong, social justice, racism, and more — a coming of age story set against the backdrop of bigger societal issues. A Good Kind of Trouble is a suitable starting point for students to have deeper conversations about current events, the Black Lives Matter movement, and their own role in dismantling harmful systems.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Education is something most of us take for granted in the US, but not in Pakistan. In the autobiographical I Am Malala, the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai recounts her experience of being shot by the Taliban when she stood up for her right to be educated. This book provides good context to the conflict and oppression in the Middle East while highlighting the importance of women’s rights and education. Students are sure to be inspired by Malala’s journey and her continual efforts to stand up for what she believes in!
Winner of multiple awards, including the 2021 Newbery Medal, When You Trap a Tiger weaves Korean folklore with magical realism in this compelling read. Readers get glimpses into Korean culture and history while delving into themes like grief, identity, and family history. This is sure to be a favorite among students who enjoy fantasy, unique storytelling, and will leave them questioning what’s real and imagined!
Some kids might have a hard time even picking up a book during summer, and that’s where Read to Lead: Vital Signs could come in handy. Designed to meet anchor standards and catered to the Lexile range for 7th grade, Vital Signs is the second series on the Read to Lead game-based learning platform. Not only do students read approximately 5,000 words by working through each game in the series, but they also interact with diverse characters and learn more about a variety of career options. Game-based learning is also a great way to drive student interest and motivation. Sign up for a free account and get your students started with their summer reading program.
8th Grade Reading List
It’s critical for students to “see themselves” in classroom materials, including in summer reading lists. That’s why, for our 8th grade reading picks, we’ve included books by people of color, and that feature diverse characters from a variety of backgrounds. We’ve also selected works that explore relevant social issues, and highlight the challenges that middle schoolers face in their lives.
Without further fan fare, our 8th grade summer reading recommendations!
This coming of age story follows two unlikely friends, shy and softhearted Charlie and the school’s rugby star, Nick. The pair become quick best friends, but Charlie starts to wonder if there might be something more between them or if he’s just imagining things. Students will recognize the different ways love and relationships interact through Charlie and Nick’s friendship. BONUS – This is a four part installment!
How do you fit in when the color of your skin makes you stand out? In this eye-opening book, author Sharon G. Flake explores themes of colorism, self-esteem, bullying, and trying to fit in from the perspective of a dark-skinned African American girl. An excellent coming of age story that is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever felt like they have been treated differently because of superficial characteristics, The Skin I’m In will definitely show readers what it means to love the skin you’re in.
Eating disorders don’t just affect girls and women; boys and men can also suffer from them. In this important book, author Samuel Pollen writes from his own personal experiences about a boy who suffers from anorexia. Addressing serious issues like disordered eating and mental illness, The Year I Didn’t Eat is equal parts humorous, heartbreaking and hopeful. This book can serve as a springboard for timely conversations with students around diet culture, coping with mental illness, and the importance of having supportive networks.
What do you do when your government decides that your identity no longer exists? Indian No More is set during the Civil Rights Era against the backdrop of the Indian Termination Policy, which aimed to “assimilate” Native Americans into mainstream American culture by dismantling tribal sovereignty. Exploring a part of history that is often overlooked, this book authentically portrays themes such as racism, identity, and heritage in an authentic and engaging way. A heartfelt story that will leave students pondering what it really means to be “American”.
Comicbook lovers are sure to enjoy Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel that masterfully weaves the stories of a Chinese-American, a Chinese immigrant student, and a character from Chinese fables together in an entertaining story. American Born Chinese takes on topics like racism, embracing one’s heritage, self-acceptance, and dealing with insecurities in a funny and enjoyable way, which will make it a hit among students. Bonus points for the unexpected twist that will take readers by surprise!
Being a teenager is tough enough, but things get even tougher for Nevaeh Levitz when her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, and she’s forced to confront her biracial identity. Author Natasha Diaz expertly tells the tale of a girl who has to confront the privilege she’s born with, how she finds her voice and uses it to advocate for people around her. This beautifully written novel is sure to tug at readers’ heartstrings and encourage them to reflect on their own positions in society.
The ABC’s of LGBT+: (Gender Identity Book for Teens, Teen & Young Adult LGBT Issues) by Ashley Mardell
Knowledge is the key to understanding and acceptance. The ABC’s of LGBT+ is a resource for anyone who wants to learn more about gender identity and sexuality. With its own dictionary and glossary, this book is a great starting point for LGBT+ people and allies seeking to better understand this marginalized community. Perfect for students who may be going through phases of exploration, self-discovery, or even just wanting to empathize and broaden their perspectives of people different from themselves.
The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change by Barbara A. Lewis
There’s no rule that you have to be an adult to change the world – The Teen Guide to Global Action is just the book students need to get started on their journey to be changemakers in their communities. With a diverse collection of stories about real-life youth “Difference Makers”, this book is sure to inspire students. It also includes suggestions on how they can help solve community problems, and create a real impact in the world. The ideal summer read to motivate students to get involved in activism and social justice issues!
Our recommendation for reluctant readers is not really a book, but it’s a surefire way to get them reading! Read to Lead: Vital Signs, the second series on the game-based learning platform, is designed to meet anchor standards and is catered to the Lexile range for 8th grade. With each game completed, students rack up approximately 5,000 words read, all while interacting with diverse characters and learning more about different careers. Game-based learning is also a fantastic way to drive student interest and motivation. Get your students started with their summer reading program by signing up for a free account!
We hope this summer reading list encourages students to explore diverse books, expand their minds, and open themselves up to new perspectives. These multicultural books for middle schoolers that feature diverse viewpoints will surely inspire and engage them to keep reading during summer.
9th Grade Reading List
Being a teenager is tough, even more so in 9th grade, when it feels like the adults “just don’t get it”. That’s why it’s critical for students to see themselves reflected in classroom materials, including in summer reading lists.
Our summer reading list for 9th grade features a variety of BIPOC authors and diverse characters from a variety of backgrounds. We’ve also selected works that explore relevant social issues, and highlight the challenges that new high schoolers face in their lives (because who couldn’t use a little extra help navigating the first year of high school?)
Now, let’s get to the 9th grade summer reading recommendations!
Deepfake explores the realities of cyber security and social media, challenging students to be critical of what they post, consume and believe online. The book centers around Dara and Will, Greenpoint High’s biggest overachievers. They’re in an intense competition for the title of ‘valedictorian’ until a video of Dara accusing Will of cheating on the SATs goes viral. The only problem? Dara swears she never said any of those things even though she’s clearly pictured in the video. Your students will learn the dangers and complexities of misinformation on the internet, making this a great jumping off point for critical thinking discussions.
This timely and poignant read follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who lives her life between two worlds, her poor neighborhood and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. Starr finds it difficult to navigate with ease between these two alternate realities but her fragile balance is shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of a friend at the hands of a police officer.
Students will get a narrative, first-hand account of everyday life and issues in current America. This book is a great class-wide conversation starter.
The story of a Puerto Rican teenager set against the backdrop of the late-1960s civil rights movement for Latino self-determination, The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano brings to light the struggles of an often overlooked community. Author Sonia Manzano deftly explores themes such as activism and finding one’s voice while giving readers insight into the lives of the Puerto Rican community in the US. This is a great coming of age novel that is equal parts funny, poignant and inspiring – a must-read!
Life on 145th Street, Harlem isn’t what you’d expect. In this collection of ten stories, award-winning author Walter Dean Myers paints a multi-faceted picture of life as Harlem’s residents experience it. Different characters tell tales of struggle, love, injustice, bravery – the good and the bad laid bare for all to see. This book is sure to engage readers who struggle with longer novels, and is an excellent gateway for discussions about issues that affect marginalized communities.
A book that is sure to become a favorite of graphic novel lovers, The Magic Fish relates the story of Tiến, a Vietnamese-American boy who grapples with how to come out to his family. Author Trung Le Nguyen uses beautiful illustrations to seamlessly weave together past and present, and fairy tales and reality, in an enjoyable and poignant read. This novel explores themes of family, queerness, and love in a way that is heartfelt, meaningful and genuine, and bound to resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to connect with their family, or had a secret.
Genuine and relatable characters, a captivating storyline, plus humor and heart thrown in – If I Ever Get Out of Here will be a hit among 9th graders, for sure! Readers follow Lewis “Shoe” Blake who lives on the Tuscarora Indian reservation as he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and finds joy and connection in rock ’n’ roll. This is an engaging coming-of-age story that tackles a variety of issues like poverty, racism, and standing up for yourself, while educating readers about the complexities of life as a Native American.
Life in America can be difficult, unfair and unjust, particularly if you’re Black. This page-turner opens with protagonist Tracy Beaumont trying to get her innocent father off death row, when her brother gets accused for the murder of a white girl. A powerful exploration of systemic racism, mass incarceration, and the failings of the criminal justice system, This Is My America will open students’ eyes to the world they live in. A relevant read, particularly in the context of social justice and BLM movements, this book is definitely a top recommendation.
The gripping journey an American-Filipino teenager undertakes to discover the truth about his cousin’s murder, Patron Saints of Nothing will have readers hanging on to every page. Taking on difficult topics like grief, drugs, privilege and more, this book provides a glimpse into issues affecting the Philippines and the immigrant experience of being neither-here-nor-there. This is an impactful and meaningful read that 9th graders are sure to appreciate, and can be used to open discussions about more mature themes.
Our youth can change the world, and this book tells them how. Be a Changemaker is a definitive guide for students who are interested in creating change in their communities and positively impacting others around them. Filled with inspiring stories of youth changemakers around the world, as well as practical tips on building teams, planning events and pitching ideas, this book is likely to become the handbook for youth changemakers everywhere. The ideal summer read to motivate students to get involved in activism and social justice issues!
Struggling to get reluctant readers to even pick up a book? Read to Lead: After the Storm is not a book, but it sure will get students reading! After the Storm is the third series on the game-based learning platform, and with each game completed, students rack up approximately 5,000 words read. It’s designed to meet anchor standards and is catered to the Lexile range for 9th grade, in addition to allowing students to interact with diverse characters and learn more about different careers. Game-based learning is also a fantastic way to drive student interest and motivation. Get your students started with their summer reading program by signing up for a free account!
Inspiration and engagement are crucial to keeping students reading during summer. We hope these multicultural books encourage them to explore diverse books, expand their minds, and open themselves up to new perspectives.
Summer reading lists are a wonderful starting point to encourage students to explore diverse books, expand their minds, and open themselves up to new perspectives. We hope that these multicultural books for middle schoolers that feature diverse viewpoints will inspire and engage them to keep reading during summer.
What are your top picks for 5-9th graders this summer? We’d love to hear from you! Share your top picks below in the comments section.
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