If you are like me, you are always in search of the BEST novels to share with your classroom. Nurturing a love of reading is a passion of mine, but every school year brings a new mix of reading interests and appetites. One of the biggest challenges is finding books and novels that motivate my hard to reach students.
I’m a firm believer that my uninspired readers simply have not yet found a book they love. Offering the right choice of novels, with characters and settings that students can relate to, is the most effective way to engage hard to reach readers.
Novels with relatable themes are much easier for disengaged students to read and understand. Identifying concepts like character traits and the author’s purpose become more clear when the story matches a familiar background. Novels that help students grapple with their own experiences and empathize with characters have the ability to spark a lifelong love of reading.
The list below features 5 of my favorite books for hard to reach students. I’ve created novel study units for each one because I use them all regularly. Keep these titles in mind the next time you are looking for that special book to engage your middle school students, particularly those from challenging backgrounds.
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Wonder is a story about Auggie Pullman, who is a 10 year old born with a cleft palate and Mandibular dysostosis. His mother had homeschooled him through elementary school due to all of his medical treatments, but the story picks up with him joining his classmates in the 5th grade. Auggie and five other narrators share the story of his start of the school year at Beecher Prep and the challenges faced because he doesn’t look “ordinary” like everyone else he encounters.
Novels like Wonder help students be more empathetic of one another. Empathy is a skill that is difficult to teach, but essential in helping middle school students relate more thoughtfully to one another. Check out my Wonder Novel Unit on TPT.
The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt
The Lottery Rose is about a young boy named Georgie who is removed from his mother’s home and taken to a boy’s home because he is abused by her boyfriend. It is a story about how he has to heal in order to move on in his life and survive. This novel will truly change you as a teacher and the mindsets of your students as they grapple with the idea that we often have no idea what another person might be experiencing in their personal life, but is imperative that we are empathetic and understanding as human beings. You can find my Lottery Rose Novel Unit on TPT.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Maniac Magee is the story of a boy who’s parents die in a fatal train accident. Shortly after, he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who do nothing but argue. This arguing forces him to run and not stop until he finds the best possible place to live. It is in an unlikely place and with a family who does not look like him, but will definitely provide him with the love he needs to survive. Your students will love reading about how Jeffrey takes challenges head on, and through struggling, finds what he is looking for. You can find my Maniac Magee Novel Unit on TPT.
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick is an amazing story about the power of friendship and how it can transform even the hardest life situations. Your middle school students will love reading about how Maxwell and Kevin go from being outcasts due to scenarios out of their control to the dynamic duo known as Freak the Mighty. It is a great back to school novel to teach about the theme of friendship and what it truly means to be a good friend. Check out my Freak The Mighty Novel Unit on TPT.
Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
Missing May is the story about a girl who is adopted/taken in by her Aunt May and Uncle Ob. Six years later, her Aunt May dies in the garden unexpectedly, leaving Summer and Ob alone and struggling to go on. This novel shares how sometimes we truly have to grieve the loss of someone in order to move on, and also that sometimes what we think we need isn’t meant to be. This novel is told from Summer’s perspective, which gives students the opportunity to take on a novel from the first person narrative view. Check out my novel unit for Missing May on TPT.
While these novels all deal with some form of loss or personal obstacle, these are topics many of our youth are familiar with. Some have lost a parent, a grandparent, a close relative or friend, and there is peace in knowing they are not alone. They struggle to read novels that they can’t connect with, so it is imperative that we as teachers find them materials that are more relatable.