February 25, 2021

5 Books Middle School Students Should Read Before High School

GoGuardian Team
Illustration of a cat sitting on a line of books

As National Read Across America Day approaches on March 2, 2021, there's no better time than now to introduce your young readers to titles that can help fight the discrimination they see all around them. Discrimination in the classroom is a real hardship many students in this country face daily. To help them fight prejudice and the unconscious bias behind it, here are our top five favorite anti-discrimination books for middle school students about to enter high school. Keep in mind these titles are great for adults, too!

1. Harbor Me

In this fiction book, six young children from different families and diverse backgrounds face different daily life struggles. The children are sent to the old art room in their school each week so they can connect and talk with one another. They end up opening up about their lives, struggles, triumphs, and sadness about injustices they each face.

This book by Jacqueline Woodson does a great job of displaying what injustice can look like for Black and Brown kids today, even for kids who have little to no experience of it in their day-to-day lives. In this sense, Harbor Me is an excellent way to break barriers for young readers on the journey toward becoming anti-racist.

2. The Undefeated

In this book for middle schoolers and high schoolers by Kwame Alexander, readers get the chance to take the journey into the lives of American greats, including Serena Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and Langston Hughes. Kadir Nelson, 2020 Caldecott Medal winner, beautifully illustrated this book with images set with Kwame Alexander’s gorgeous poem about Black legends throughout U.S. history. The result is something of pure beauty for young readers and adults alike. In addition to this heartfelt poem about the change-makers, Alexander also includes small biographies about them. The Undefeated is a great way to introduce movers and shakers of the past century to young learners who may not already know about the people featured.

3. American Born Chinese

In this graphic novel for young teens by Gene Luen Yang, teachers agree Yang does a highly effective job of revealing the microaggressions Asian students face at school and elsewhere in their communities. It’s a personal and touching look at how powerful these hateful messages can be and how they can wreak havoc on the mind and soul — if you let them. American Born Chinese opens up something else that is hardly ever discussed in the classroom: there are many kinds of racism and prejudice we as a nation and community need to fight against to change for the better. Not all people of color are the same, and this book by Yang is a great first step into understanding that truth.

4. Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice

This riveting book for young adults by Bryan Stevenson focuses on how people of color are more likely to be wrongfully convicted by the U.S. justice system. It covers the hardship and pain the wrongfully convicted experience and what they must go through to get the justice they deserve. It is clear the author is passionate about making a change in the world by presenting these stories, and Stevenson does not miss a beat when relating these stories to young readers. Teens and tweens will become engrossed in this book.

5. Brown Girl Dreaming

Another Jacqueline Woodson book, this memoir of poems retells her childhood in the 1960s and 1970s in South Carolina and New York. Her poignant and emotional storytelling captures her personal journeys through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Readers of all ages — children, teens, and adults — will be moved by the poetic narrative about Woodson’s experiences and struggles through self-discovery. This book has been called a “memoir-in-verse” as it straddles the world between memoir and poetry.

We hope you and your students enjoy the titles we have recommended here for National Read Across America Day this year. We’d love to hear your recommendations as well! For more book suggestions for Black History Month and beyond, check out these 15 must-reads.