Remember that look in your child's eyes the the first time she started to read on her own? Even though the novelty may have worn off your adolescent by now, with the right book in her hand she can rediscover the joy of reading. Does your child need a little convincing? We've searched high and low for new titles to entice even the most reluctant of middle school readers.

Our 2012 Summer Reading List

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby. Fourteen-year-old Portia Remini has always felt a little different but safe in the arms of her gypsy family. After her father disappears, she winds up at MacGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls. Upon her arrival, Portia has only two goals in mind: 1) Get out, and 2) Find her father. She trails a traveling circus, and uses her gypsy storytelling techniques to talk her way into a spot in their employ. She is soon folded into their close-knit family of so-called “freaks,” where absolutely no one is normal by traditional standards. Teenage readers will find a refreshing female protagonist in Portia, a quick-witted and resilient heroine who doesn’t find a prince, but does live happily ever after. (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $12.40)

101 Ways to Become a Superhero...Or an Evil Genius by Richard Horne and Helen Szirtes. There’s a reason why superhero movies are a staple at summer box offices…the want for superpowers is something kids (and many adults!) never outgrow. After taking in this summer’s crop of big-budget action flicks, your child can groom her superhero (or evil genius) alter-ego with the help of this handy how-to. Full of checklists, charts, and bulleted lists featuring ordinary household items and real-life training tactics, your kid will soon be on a journey from ordinary citizen to world-saving superhero or diabolical nemesis. Word of warning: Mild language may make it an iffy choice for readers on the younger end of the middle school spectrum. (Bloomsbury, $9.59)

The Roar by Emma Clayton. Ever since Mika’s twin sister Ellie vanished a year ago, his parents have been saying she’s dead. But Mika can still feel that twin connection they’ve always had, and he’s not convinced. In his world, all the humans live in a tiny habitable area, crowded and cowed, terrified of the animals that have been outlawed for fear of plague. Can kids fight the totalitarian regime and find out the truth? This gripping adventure pulses with excitement and sports well-written heroes of both genders. A heart-pounding summer read that can compete with a movie blockbuster! (Chicken House, $8.99)

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan. Is your teen tired of the vampires and dystopian tales that have defined YA lit in recent years? Spark your high schooler’s imagination with this electrifying thriller, centered around mysterious protagonist Daisy Jones, the new girl in school with a secret, supernatural gift. When Daisy finds herself and her friends wrapped up in paranormal activity, it’s up to her to exercise control of her power before it’s too late. The fast-paced narrative and a killer twist at the end will leave your teen sneaking a flashlight under the covers, unable to unhinge herself from the story as the plot unravels. Note: Available only in Kindle edition at this time but will be available in paperback July 10, 2012. (Open Road, $7.99)

Our 2011 Summer Reading List

The Witches' Kitchen by Allen Williams. This is a great adventure, full of fantastical characters, grounded by one frog's complete disbelief at what is happening to her! Though full of fairy tale elements, this is no princess tale. Perfect for kids into fantasy or video games who may not be into reading, yet. Williams' detailed and creepy illustrations pepper the pages like sketches in an explorer's journal. Nothing is commonplace in the wild, thorny landscape of the Kitchen. (Little, Brown Books, $13.25)

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve. London has been reduced to rubble by a battle between humans and an evolutionary offshoot called the Scrivens. When a dashing explorer arrives at the lab and asks for Fever's assistance on a project, she leaves the headquarters for the first time in her life and stumbles upon some dangerous secrets. Almost a coming-of-age story, but far more thrilling, this book appeals to middle schoolers with cinematic imagery, potent action, vivid characters and some well-placed wit. (Scholastic, $8.99)

Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan. All three different stories within this book prove that pockets of darkness can hold incredible treasure. Quirky, at times bleak, but always thoughtful, each story pulls the reader into a new world of expression, with inspiring images and visual details. A must for any aspiring artist's bookshelf. (Arthur A. Levine Books, $13.08)


The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout. The world has evolved, but mankind hasn't exactly kept up. Fisher is on his own and, with unlikely companions, he has to find a way to survive. This moving story will keep your middle schooler engaged from the first page to the last. This book has everything wanted for summer escapism: adventure, humor, heart, and giant parrots. The great pace can't hurt either. (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, $10.79)

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow. It's 1930s Berlin. Karl Stern comes from Jewish lineage, but shares his mother's fair features, which keep Nazi sympathizers off his back. When Karl begins lessons with boxer Max Schmeling, an undefeated champ with Nazi affiliations, he must struggle to keep his heritage under wraps. Here is a heartbreaking -- but also hopeful -- introduction to the chaos of Third-Reich Germany for students just beginning to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust. (Harper, $11.21) 

Our 2010 Middle School Summer Reading Picks

The Game of Sunken Places by M. T. Anderson. Your kids have probably read a book where children arrive at a distant relative's house in the country, only to discover all is not what it seems. But they've never read a book quite like this one. This deliciously suspenseful, oftentimes creepy, and surprisingly funny fantasy hurtles forward from the very first sentence, keeping even the most reluctant reader guessing until the final page. The plot centers around two boys, Gregory and Brain, who travel to an uncle's remote Vermont mansion and discover an ancient board game that plays out in the real world—revealing its spaces as the game progresses. At stake? Only a centuries-old feud between two spirit nations, fighting for control. The boys must dodge ogres and befriend trolls as they negotiate the dark reaches of the heavily forested property and race to win the game before their time runs out. A gripping summer read for any reader. (Scholastic, $6.99)

Forest Born by Shannon Hale. The fourth installment in the Books of Bayern, a series by the acclaimed author of Princess Academy, this adventure blends the kind of strong heroines and inventive storytelling that make modern fantasy tales a success. Rin is "forest born," and can sense the language of trees .. but she senses other powers in herself that could turn her toward evil. When Rin accompanies the Fire Sisters Isi, Enna, and Dasha to protect the kingdom from the threat of a powerful usurper, she must learn to use her powers, or risk letting them use her. A great read with a hefty dash of friendship, romance and excitement, this series is sure to delight. Start with the first book, The Goose Girl, for an added treat! (Bloomsbury, $12.23)

Scat by Carl Hiaasen. What do an orphaned panther cub, a wounded soldier returned from Iraq, a Floridian swamp, a missing biology teacher and a would-be arsonist all have in common? They're all part of Carl Hiaasen's latest eco-thriller, Scat. When the despised Mrs. Starch goes missing during a fiery field trip to Black Vine Swamp, Nick Waters suspects Duane Scrod Jr. (aka "Smoke") is involved, and he intends to get to the bottom if it all. Meanwhile Drake McBride, a businessman as oily as his trade, decides to drill for oil in Black Vine Swamp, endangering the protected wildlife in his search for "black gold." Several plots converge into one gripping story that will delight both teens and adults. Hiaasen's wickedly witty prose and exceptionally entertaining plot twists don't distract from his timely and relevant message, which is what ultimately makes this book so captivating. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $8.99)

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. With World War II in full swing, the Carver family decides to get out of the city and relocate to a small oceanside village. But something about their new house just isn't right. The cat who followed them home seems somehow human and the cobwebbed garden of statues just beyond Max's window seems to shift ever so slightly... or is that just his imagination? Soon Max, his sister Alicia, and their new friend Roland learn of a mysterious death that took place in the house and a dangerous being called The Prince of Mist. Full of spare, evocative writing and a pounding plot, this page turner from the author of the international sensation Shadow of the Wind feels deep, gentle, and frightening at the same time. For a mature middle school reader, it's a winner. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $10.52)

The Case of the Gypsy Good Bye: An Enola Holmes Mystery by Nancy Springer. This is a great little mystery; the final book of a series featuring the brilliant and courageous Ms. Enola Holmes, who works sometimes in competition with, and sometimes in cooperation with, her more famous brother. Enola also happens to be just 15 years old, making her a perfect heroine for pre-teen girls. In this case, Enola is searching for the missing Lady Blanchefleur del Campo, while also trying to decipher a mysterious message from her estranged mother, and dodging her overbearing brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock. Smart writing takes the reader deep into a dark and elegant Victorian England. The vocabulary is tricky, and may require a couple of trips to the dictionary, but the reader is rewarded with a wry and deliciously witty tale. (Philomel, $10.19)

Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman. This book is a great guide to transitioning from middle school to high school, and pre-teens soon to bridge that gap will appreciate the very realistic look at one girl's struggle to fit in, be herself, and do the right thing. Charlie Heaney wants to start her high school career with a clean slate (read: without the influence of former "frenemies.") The year starts out well, she makes a new group of friends and scores a freshman column in the school newspaper. But it turns out drama isn't completely unavoidable, and when she discovers dangerous hazing rituals on the Lacrosse team, she is faced with a difficult moral decision. Told in candid and humorous first-person narrative, this is one protagonist any adolescent can identify with. (Putnam, $12.23)

The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel. When a magical artifact boding of danger arrives in the sleepy seaside village of Canberra Docks, 13-year-old Ariel knows her world is about to change. After two mysterious strangers kidnap her, Ariel unwittingly starts on a quest that will lead her to the truth of the artifact's cryptic message and introduce her to a few unlikely friends along the way. Featuring talking stones, clairvoyant trees, and one very mischievous ghost, this fast-paced tale of adventure and courage is sure to suck readers in from page one. Endearing characters and plenty of action and suspense make it a great read for boys and girls alike. For those who fall in love with The Farwalker's Quest, don't miss its equally exciting sequel, The Timekeeper's Moon. (Bloomsbury, $7.99)

Our 2009 Middle School Summer Reading Picks

The Prince of Fenway Park by Juliana Baggott. It's been a seriously long time since the Red Sox won a World Series. Eighty-six years, in fact. Rumor has it they're cursed, and twelve-year-old Oscar Egg can relate, because he feels like he's cursed, too. When Oscar is foisted off on his usually absent dad for the summer, he finds out that the curse is real, and that the secret to breaking it lies somewhere below Fenway Park. Oscar's dad and the rest of the Cursed Creatures have been doomed to live out life below the park until the curse is broken. Strange thing is, Oscar knows he's the one to break it... This book is a homerun for any kid, girl or boy, with an interest in baseball. But Baggott hits it out of the park with a tight plot, fantastic characters, and a riveting story full of suspense. Even if sports are of no interest, your child will find it hard to put this magical book down. (HarperCollins, 2009, $16.99) 

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem . Lucy dreams of becoming the next Jane Goodall. Her mom is the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, so you'd think she'd have her pick of adventures. But instead of allowing her to explore the exotic world around her, Lucy's mom restricts her movement to school and the ambassador's residence. Sick of living under strict rules, Lucy sneaks off to a local music club and the unthinkable happens...she gets kidnapped. Can her passion for life in the African bush and her knowledge of the animals that live there help her escape? From sleeping in trees to avoid a pack of screeching hyenas, to a close encounter with a pride of lions, this slim book will keep your middle schooler's heart racing, while providing a fascinating glimpse into a far-flung part of the world. (Chronicle, 2009, $16.99)

The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem. 14-year-old Medford Runyuin has never quite fit in on the island where he washed ashore as a baby, where Useful things are valued above all else and Useless things that serve no practical purpose (like seabirds, fun, and artistic expression) are scorned and sometimes forbidden. He is training to become a Carver, but can't help himself from creating beautiful embellishments that are not only Useless, they are Unnameable. And in the island syntax where cows are referred to as "Great Horned Milk Creatures," the Unnameable is a serious threat. When a stranger arrives on the island, trailing chaos behind him, the insular island community will have to confront the unnameable in this engaging page-turner that introduces questions of aesthetics and growing up, with plenty of unique characters and plot twists to keep readers guessing until the very last page. (Harcourt Children's Books, 2008, $16.00)

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. Charmain Baker is smart. But because her parents have sheltered her from absolutely everything, she doesn't know how to do anything by herself, except eat (huge piles of pasties and pies) and read. When a distant relative gets ill, she's nominated to watch over his house until he recovers. Trouble is, the distant relative is a wizard. Charmain finds herself in a house with invisible hallways, talking rooms, and mysterious spell books. Full of quirky twists, interesting characters, and unusual plot turns, this sequel to the very popular Howl's Moving Castle, is a cozy read to stick in a pocket and curl up with when the mood strikes. Imaginative and delightful. (HarperCollins, 2008, $17.99)

Peeled by Joan Bauer . Hildy Biddle is the go-to reporter for The Core, Banesville's high school newspaper. When a break-in and a dead body materialize, the town's fears of a long-abandoned haunted house begin to stir up all sorts of speculation, and Hildy is on the case. Throw in a less-than-ethical town newspaper reporter, a group of greedy developers, a cute new boy in school, and a possible ghost, and you've got a kid-friendly journalistic romp that's fit for front page news. (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2008, $16.99) 

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Gregory Maguire. Three siblings have been surviving on whatever food and water they can scavenge after a natural disaster leaves them stranded. With their parents gone and only a distant cousin there as guardian, the humble party distracts themselves with the cousin's story of the skibbereen, also known as tooth fairies. The story details the growing pains of one orphaned skibbereen named What-the-Dickens, as he learns of a skibbereen's life mission: to deliver wishes to humans. On his adventures, he makes the acquaintance of a house cat, a bird, a tiger, a lonely boy, and a fellow skibbereen named Pepper, who teaches him love, friendship, and the ins-and-outs of the job. This quirky story from the author of Wicked makes for a fun summer read, while also encouraging readers to make deeper thematic links between two story lines--great practice for the literary analysis to come in high school. (Candlewick, 2007, $8.99) 

May 5, 2010