Diverse Books That Reflect Our Communities

It’s critical for students to “see themselves” in classroom materials, including in summer reading lists. That’s why we’ve included books by people of color, and that feature diverse characters from a variety of backgrounds in our summer reading list for 8th grade. We’ve also selected works that explore relevant social issues, and highlight the challenges that middle schoolers face in their lives (because who couldn’t use a little extra help navigating middle school?)

While we would love for our students to read all the books on this list, we recommend letting students choose a few that pique their interest. Why? Because book choice is key to student agency and motivation.

Now, let’s get to the 8th grade summer reading recommendations!

Heartstopper,  Volume 1, Alice Oseman

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!

The Skin I’m In, by Sharon G. Flake

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.

The Year I Didn’t Eat, by Samuel Pollen

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.

Indian No More, by Charlene Willing Mcmanis

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”.

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang 

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!

Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz

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!

Vital Signs, Read to Lead

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.

Have a must-read recommendation for 8th graders? We’d love to hear from you!

About Read to Lead

Read to Lead uses the power of game-based learning to empower middle school students to build literacy, life, and career skills. Teachers can sign up for a free account to get started!