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Cynthia Mathis
Cynthia Mathis
(Reno - United States)

Great Books for Middle School Book Reports

Great Books for Middle School Book Reports

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Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
 

The Story

It is 1914 and an alternate Europe is on the verge of World War I. The countries are divided into the Clankers, who rely on steam-driven fighting machines, and the Darwinists, who use scientifically-engineered animals as their weapons. The Leviathan is a great whale-like airship, the most impressive in the British fleet. Fifteen-year old-Aleksandar is an Austrian prince, on the run from his own people who have turned on him. Deryn Sharp is a British commoner and brilliant airman, who is perilously disguised as a boy in order to realize her dream of serving in the British Air Service. During the harrowing early days of the war, Alek's and Deryn's paths lead them aboard the Leviathan, on an unbelievable adventure that will change them both forever.

The Scoop

This is the exciting first book of a new series by the author of The Uglies. Teens who have studied WWI will find the details of the looming war similar to the real one: they both start with the assassination of an Austrian Archduke and his wife (who, in this case, happen to be Alek's parents). It isn't detailed though, and the news related to Alek by a third party. Younger readers may be confused by the political alliances between the countries and their motivations for joining the war, but they will be sucked into the non-stop action involving the young protagonists. Alek kills a soldier in self-defense, but the memory of it keeps him from committing a similar act later on. Deryn's bravery is remarkable, as are the lengths she goes to to do something she loves. Interesting discussions could come up about the use (albeit fantastical) of genetically engineered animals, and the role of women in the military. Because of the somewhat complex plot, this book is probably best suited for teens, or mature tweens.
 

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Sources of Light, by Margaret McMullan


 

The Story

The year is 1962 and fourteen-year-old Samantha and her mother are moving to Jackson, Mississippi following the death of her father in Vietnam. At first, Sam's primary concerns are fitting in at her new high school and getting to know the most handsome boy she has ever met. But in a town where blacks are prohibited from drinking out of the same public fountains as whites, Sam can't ignore the injustices around her. After she is given a camera as a gift, Sam learns to use it to reveal the truth of what she sees.

The Scoop

Sources of Light is a thought-provoking, worthwhile read about the the civil rights movement and the injustices of racism as seen through the eyes of a relatable fourteen-year-old girl. Samantha has always been told that people are the same, regardless of the color of their skin. But in a town where prejudice is the norm, Sam is initially torn between expressing her beliefs and her desire to be socially accepted. Eventually, Sam does the right thing in spite of the social consequences. After Sam's mom gives an art history lecture at an all-black college, they are persecuted with threatening phone calls. Their home is frequently vandalized, a dead cat is left outside their front door, and they are even threatened by the police. There are many honest descriptions of racist behavior and violent beatings of innocent black people. Sam has some difficulty accepting her mother's new boyfriend Perry. After the three of them help to register black voters, Perry is brutally beaten to death. Sam shares some kisses with the boy she likes. He comes from a racist family and Sam struggles with her feelings for him because of this.
 

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When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
 

The Story

Twelve-year-old Miranda lives a good life in New York with her mother, who is preparing to win big on a 1970's television show. Things begin to unravel when Mianda's best friend, Sal, gets beaten up. Miranda finds a series of hidden notes meant for her with information that no one but her should know and her house is broken into. When she pieces together the clues and finds out what it all means, it's something she could never have imagined.

The Scoop

This fantastic coming of age book has a Judy Blume feel, but with a twist of fantasy and an element of mystery. Although marketed to middle school kids, it is one of those rare gems that spans ages (but probably not for children younger than ten as there is a scene describing a homeless man getting hit by a car). The families in the book are loving, and the friendships are very realistic and, at times, charming. The main character is a good, smart and independent girl.
 

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Also Knows As Harper, by Ann Haywood Leal
 

The Story

Harper’s poetry means everything to her. Named after author Harper Lee, she loves the written word and can’t wait for the upcoming school poetry contest. Her father has left and taken his drinking problem with him, and her mother struggles to make ends meet for fifth grader Harper and her six-year-old brother Hemingway. When they are evicted and have nowhere to go and no one to help them, Harper must stay with her brother, missing school and fearing that the poetry contest is slipping away from her. When all seems lost and their situation feels hopeless, they must hope that the kindness of strangers will keep them afloat.

The Scoop

Much heavier and deeper than the cover would lead you to believe, Also Known As Harper is at turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. The precarious financial situation of Harper’s family, their eviction, loss of possessions, and eventual homelessness is sad to read about. Children of single mothers, who are left alone out of necessity, befriend and support one another. These good children make the best of dire situations and are resilient and resourceful. Harper’s father’s alcoholism, verbal abuse, and drunk driving are referenced often. The family’s loss of a sibling who died at birth is also mentioned, as is the death of a neighbor’s premature baby. A fatal car accident, as well as a tragic fire, affect minor characters and one character dies at the end of the story. The subject matter in this book is mature and deeply sad at times, and is probably not well suited for sensitive readers. Harper is a tough, responsible, and kind girl, seeming much older than her eleven years, and readers will rejoice when things take a positive turn for her and her family.
 

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The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis
 

The Story

Growing up in Chile, Neftali is a shy, dreamer of a boy who is constantly berated by his strict, demanding father. He hears poetry all around him and loves and collects words, beginning as a small boy. Neftali receives understanding and encouragement from his stepmother and uncle, disdain and disapproval from his father. As he grows older, he becomes aware of the plight of the indigenous Mapuche people and his writings reflect a theme of social injustice. Neftali starts using the pseudonym Pablo Neruda in order to hide his anti-government writings from his father and to protect himself.

The Scoop

Beautifully written, The Dreamer is destined to become a classic. Called a “fictional biography,” this story is based on the events of Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda’s childhood. Readers may wish to become more familiar with the poetry of Pablo Neruda after reading this story, and a sample selection of poetry is included following the author’s note. This powerful and poignant story is reminiscent of The Book Thief with its use of beautiful imagery and its accentuation of the importance and power of words. Writing is profound and poetic and illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story. The main character, Neftali, is belittled and disheartened by his negative and cruel father, and physical abuse is implied. Bullying at school also takes place, and Neftali struggles with stuttering. Animal lovers may want to know that a beloved swan dies at one point. Positive and supportive relationships with his sister, stepmother and uncle are nurturing to Neftali. Readers may be interested in learning more about the Chilean government and the plight of the Mapuche people, which Pablo Neruda was passionate about. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are important themes and would make for rich discussion material. Replete with noteworthy and thought provoking quotes, The Dreamer is a memorable and worthwhile read.
 

logo.jpegPlease visit StorySnoops.com for our full list of more than 50 great books for middle school book reports.