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Finding More Challenging Books for Middle School Students


Original at: benleto via Compfight cc

I need your help.

In the coming school year I will be teaching 7th grade for the first time after 3 years of teaching 8th. My school district as a whole has been very focused on increasing text complexity in the reading our students do, so as I have been keeping track of my summer reading for my kids, I have been noticing that the Lexiles of many of the books I know my students enjoy are quite low compared to the recommend Lexile range that students should be reading (970 – 1120) in order to be college and career ready by 12 grade, based in the Common Core.

I KNOW that Lexile is not an exact science.
I KNOW that not everything my students read needs to be a stretch text.
I WON’T prevent a student from reading something they are interested in based on the Lexile.

However, I would love your book recommendations for middle school students that do have a higher Lexile (950 or above). I realize that I can search for their list, but I would prefer recommendatiosn from YOU… real living breathing teachers, librarians, and readers.

My students and I thank you!!


  1. Watsons go to Birmingham is 1000L.

  2. My friend @jasontolen suggested some series: Encyclopedia Geographica, Fablehaven, Septimus Heap, and The Ranger’s Apprentice

  3. Love your blog! I’ve gotten a lot of feedback through the years from teachers and librarians who’ve used my novel THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LARRY with seventh graders. It’s often taught alongside WALDEN or with modules on consumerism and advertising. Hope this helps – good luck! Best, Janet Tashjian

  4. One that I do with my 7th graders that is more on a 9th grade level is Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals. It is a memoir (which they don’t read enough of) by Melba about her experience as being one of the Little Rock Nine. The kids LOVE this book! I worked at a Title 1 school with a few more discipline issues and I NEVER had a kid leave the classroom while reading this book. They were enthralled with it and knowing it was a memoir they had to know what happened to Melba. The only thing you have to think about is in chapter 2 there is two paragraphs where she talks about ALMOST getting raped and how she doesn’t even know what that means. She really doesn’t go in-depth so I have never had an issue teaching this to my kids. GREAT book! I then wrap up teaching the unit by having the kids read some of the Freedom Writers journal entries and we watch the movie. The unit really focuses on segregation and whether it still exists today in education.

  5. I should’ve also mentioned some others, sorry! “Dracula” is great for 7th graders. You will probably need to help scaffold it but they love it! “The Giver” is usually done in 7th grade, however my school does it in 8th grade. :( I have been wanting to teach “Fever 1793″ and it looks like the kids would like it! I just don’t have the funds yet for the books. “Speak” is really good but also has a questionable scene that you would want to look at and see if your kids/parents would be ok with it. “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers would be a GREAT book to do too and you could look at the justice system in America and get the kids discussing it. “Tangerine” by Edwin Bloor is about bullying. I have not read “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli but I know lots of teachers love it and use it in their classroom. “The Skin I’m In” is also really good and pretty much on their grade level for even independent reading. That’s all I can think of right now off the top of my head… :) We try to focus on some short stories at my school but I am looking to practice more of what I have read and try to add more literature circles in the classroom.

    • Thanks Amy. I am familiar with a lot of those books, but I have never read “Warriors Don’t Cry”. I’ll definitely put it on my list!

      My school tries to focus on short stories too, but I have discovered that I can use a piece of a novel much like a short story, and then the kids who enjoy it most might pick up the whole novel. I’ve never done lit circles, but they’ve been at the back of my mind for a few years…


  6. I nominated you for a Liebster award! Check out my post at for the details! :)

  7. Hi Laura,

    Great blog! It’s so good to see school districts focusing on increasing text complexity. I completely agree with this! I’m part of a team that publishes CSI Literacy, a family of evidence-based resources for teaching comprehension, vocabulary, oral language, writing and fluency to middle years students, using challenging hard-copy and digital texts.

    When developing the resource, we knew that to create engagement, we needed interesting, real world content-oriented texts. So we decided to make the texts challenging, sometimes above the instructional reading age of the students – for two reasons. Students like challenge, as long as they’re not left to face it without support. And pedagogically we believe that without challenge there won’t be acceleration. The key to bringing more of our students to proficiency and above is to offer them challenge with the support of a rich pedagogy that combines teacher modelling and explicit teaching, strong interaction and reflection and a gradual release of responsibility to the students who must strive to demonstrate competence. Then we will have our metacognitive student!

    We are in the process of developing new editions of our CSI Literacy kits for grades 6, 7 and 8. These new kits will support the teaching of the Common Core.

    You’d probably also be interested in our CSI Literacy Chapters, a series of 25 high-interest, challenging hard-copy books and interactive e-books. The following titles cover several content areas and have lexile measures of 950 or above: Underwater Worlds (980L), Who Did It? (1070L), What a Mess! (1040L), Atolls (1060L), Ice Pilots (970L), Infinity (970L) and The Man Who Changed the World (950L).

    Check out or email me for more information :)



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