Annalisa Palmer
February 05, 2015 2:00 pm

Middle school was a weird time for everyone, but the one constant comfort I remember during those years was books. I was blessed to have smart, loving English teachers who let me read whatever I wanted (within reason) along with our assigned reading.

I learned to love every book I read during those years, but a few stick out in my memory now that I’m a sophomore in college. So, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite books from middle school that definitely deserve a reread now that we’re a little older.

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Do you remember sobbing over this assigned reading book? Some people disliked it at first, because it was too “girly,” but when they powered through to the end, they cried with you (even if they didn’t admit it). The Pictures of Hollis Woods, written by Patricia Reilly Giff, will forever be implanted in my memory, and I think we all have a bit of Hollis in us. If you read this book, you’ll never forget how important it is to find just the right blue pencil to capture and draw just the right picture. There are many novels about orphans, but none is written as beautifully done as this one. With the spirit of a nomad and a wicked imagination, Hollis is the bird who can never stay in one place until she finds the nest she was born in. There’s a movie adaptation, but I’m not so sure that it captures the elegance of the book quite as I imagined it.

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

Sabrina and Daphne Grimm are orphans who have a long-lost connection to the famous Brothers Grimm. They eventually find their thought-to-be-dead grandmother, and she winds up being a wickedly awesome crime fighting nana. This series is super fun, and for those of you who like the show Once Upon A Time, then know that this book was the first to put all the fairytale creatures in one little town.

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

Because I have a special place in my heart for anything Kate DiCamillo writes, I had to include The Tiger Rising. DiCamillo epitomizes a wordsmith; honestly, I don’t know any other writer like her. This short but perfectly crafted novel features a young boy, Rob, who gets picked on at school by bullies and at home by his dad. He finds solace when he meets a caged tiger in the woods and a beautiful girl named Sistine. In a nutshell, it’s a Bildungsroman novel, but it reaches deeper than that. You just have to read it to feel DiCamillo’s magic.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

This book. Oh my goodness, this book is one of my all-time favorites. With Reynie, Sticky, Constantine, and Kate running alongside narcoleptic Mr. Benedict in his wheelchair, this book taught me to treasure intelligence and to be more adventurous. I’ll always remember that newspaper ad: “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?” YES! YES I AM! And that’s why you follow these four kids: because you’re special, just like them.

The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

House Jackson, his baseball buddies, and a cute little pug dog make up this story. They fly through life in their youthful ignorance, wishing for something to happen in their small town. Wiles makes this book wonderful by including little quotes from Walt Witman, the knowledge of an old man, and some pretty rad baseball references. You probably know Wiles from Each Little Bird That Sings, but this book is amazing, too.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks are a family of girls. There’s the responsible, practical Rosalind; stubborn, feisty Skye; dreamy, artistic Jane; and the shy little sister, Batty, who won’t go anywhere without her butterfly wings. The only man in the house is their father. One summer, they decide to go to the country, and when they do, the girls have a whale of an adventure. I read this book in 6th grade, and I’ll always remember wishing I had a big sister like Rosalind.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

You know the movie with Anna-Sophia Robb and Jeff Daniels, but do you remember the book? Opal, the main character, and her father, the Preacher, move into a new town. Not too long after the move, Opal meets an unlikely friend in the supermarket: a dog she aptly names after the store, Winn-Dixie. A novel about friendship, heartache, and coping with loss, Because of Winn-Dixie will stay with you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it again.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Looking back on this book, I realize it’s a lot like a book I read in high school, And Then There Were None, but really, it has a spirit of its own. Set in an apartment building with many a wacky character, the plot centers around figuring out who will be the heir to Samuel W. Westing’s million dollar fortune. Westing devised a game before he died, and each of the sixteen maybe-heirs is given $10,000 to play along. Whoever solves the puzzle gets Westing’s fortune and his paper company. It’s clever and fun and still a must-read.

George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl

George is a small boy who lives with his crazy, disgusting grandmother. To ease her grumpiness, George devises a secret panacea to cure his grandma, but everything goes wrong. Sure this book is super short, and you actually (probably) read it in elementary school, but it’s a good, short, fun read (especially for those of us with very little time).

The Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

I remember being crouched up on my grandma’s windowsill pouring over every sentence of this book. It was one of my first 300+ page books, and I loved every minute of it. Disneyland, holograms, creepy villains, cool grandpa dudes, and kids my age, what more could you want? If you haven’t read this, then you’ve missed a great one. It’s become quite the series, and although I haven’t read the third one, I’m sure it’s amazing. Side note: do you remember VMK (Virtual Magic Kingdom)? It was Disney’s online gaming program, and this book accelerated the program. Nearly every 13-year-old was on it until Disney phased it out, and you can re-live the glory days by reading this book again.

(Images via Amazon and via.)

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