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I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

12 Clean New-ish Novels for Middle Schoolers

Middle School Novels

There's an unwritten rule imposed upon homeschool families that would have us all believing new novels are bad. Always. We're supposed to stick to classics, books written before the 1960s, and titles produced by Christian publishing houses. Only.

Trouble is, even some classics and older books have gruesome scenes, disparaging language, and questionable content. And on the flip side, there are many new-ish and contemporary works that are perfectly appropriate. 

Admittedly, a mother has to wallow in a lot of sludge to find the gems, especially when looking for titles that would interest older tweens and teens. (Don't even get me started with the books in the YA section of the library!) But while the task is difficult, it's not impossible.

With the help of a few trusted vetting sites, I've found a handful of exceptional reads for my middle schoolers. (Folks often confuse the term "middle grade" with middle school. "Middle grade" describes a book written for kids between the ages of 8 and 12. On the whole, these are books that feature characters between the ages of 10-12 and focus on themes of family and coming of age. "Middle school" is not a literary category. It refers to tweens and teens that have finished elementary school but haven't started high school. Kids in middle school are usually around 11-14 and are just beginning to explore life outside of their immediate circle. They are older but not yet ready for the complex stories and mature themes of YA books.)

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12 Clean New-ish Novels for Middle Schoolers #kidlit #cleanreads #readaloud

Here are 12 clean and captivating new-ish novels for middle schoolers. 


A Long Walk to Water

by Linda Sue Park

This is the story of two eleven-year-old Sudanese children living about 20 years apart. One common thread brings them both together...water. One of the stories is true and the other is a composite of the stories of many children suffering under third-world conditions.

Please note: A few of the scenes dealing with war and impoverished people can be a bit graphic for younger kids. A man gets shot and children suffer from starvation. That's why despite the publisher's suggested age range of 10-12 year-olds, I recommend this book for middle schoolers and above.


Listen to the Moon

by Michael Morpurgo

In this fascinating historical narrative, you'll meet the fictional sole survivor of the RMS Lusitania (the British ocean liner that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat during WWI) and the young boy who rescues her off a small island near the coast of England. Because of her untimely arrival, many of the islanders believe her to be a German and treat her accordingly.


Listening for Lions

by Gloria Whelan

This is the coming-of-age story of Rachel Sheridan, daughter of medical missionaries sent to South Africa by the church of England. When her parents die unexpectedly from the worldwide influenza epidemic, she is forced to leave her beloved South Africa, the only home she has ever known, and move to England. But this is not just any move, it's a twisted plot of deception.


Echo

by Pam Munoz Ryan

Recounting four stories of four different people across the world and across time, this book is an epic saga. Eventually, the stories converge to teach a valuable lesson about the power of music, forgiveness, friendship, and hope. Because a harmonica plays a vital role in the story and because the main characters speak with different accents, I highly recommend listening to this one on audio. I don't know if the print version will garner the same affection.

Please note: The first story of the book is a fairy tale that is loosely connected to the other stories. As with most fairy tales, it contains a witch and a few magical elements. 
 

Fever 1793

by Laurie Halse Anderson

This YA is a fictional retelling of the tragic events of the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793. Although the cover looks rather garish, the story is not. 

Please note: This one has mild romance themes throughout.

by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ally's been labeled many things: troublemaker, dumb, and weird to name a few. She's too embarrassed to admit that she can't read and so she develops many unhealthy coping skills to get by in school. After spending years hiding behind excuses, she meets Mr. Daniels, a substitute teacher who uncovers what's really going on. Ally is dyslexic. With his help, she not only learns to read but also learns what it means to be a true friend.

Please note: While the characters in this book are younger than middle schoolers, I think the themes of friendship, navigating mean-spirited behavior, and overcoming obstacles are perfect for older tweens and young teens. 


by Shannon Messenger

Sophie Foster has never felt like she belonged. After a freak accident when she was little, she could read minds. Turns out, that's not the only strange "power" that she possesses. Little does she know, she's actually an elf who's been placed among humans in order to protect them. 

Please note: This is the first of a nine-book series. I have only read this debut novel and can not speak to the appropriateness or lack thereof of the rest. While the story is very clean and doesn't possess any dark magical elements, there are some fantastical plot points. Also, in keeping with typical tween/teen behavior in traditional school scenarios, some of the characters are rude and cheeky to one another. 


Nova

by Chuck Black

Loosely based on the early life of Moses in Scripture, this is the story of young Daeson Starlore, nephew of the king...or so he thinks. A chance encounter with a Starcraft mechanic reveals the truth about Daeson's ancestry and forces him to make a decision that will change his world and the lives of his true people--the lower class Rayleans--forever.

To be honest, many Biblical retellings feel heavy-handed and overly preachy. This is a rare exception. It is the first in a four-part series. I've not read the other three titles but have no doubt they keep with the author's conservative stance on kid lit.

by Wendy Mass

When four very different children are selected to compete in a national candy-making competition, they each assume Logan, the candy maker's son is a shoo-in to win. But when someone tries to steal the secret ingredient from the candy factory, fingers start pointing in everyone's direction, even his.

This is a multipersepectivity story, meaning that the events of the book which take place over the course of three days are repeated over and over again but from the perspective of a different character each time. It's divided into five sections each representing the viewpoint of one of the four main characters, with the final section cycling back to the first and most prominent of the characters. With each retelling, the author reveals more of the plot and takes many unexpected twists and turns. That said, the first section felt rather slow because so many of the important details were intentionally left out.
by Margi Preus

This is the true-ish story of Manjiro, a 14-year-old boy who is lost off the coast of Japan with several of his fishing companions. They get rescued by the "barbarians" of an American whaling vessel. Manjiro makes quite an impression on the captain and is given the opportunity to go to New England and establish a new life. After years in the States, however, the boy longs to return to his native land. But will they accept him now that he's been "polluted" with western ideals?


The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stuart

This is a very clean adventure story about four orphans who are assembled by the mysterious Mr. Benedict. As children, they alone can infiltrate the lair of the sinister Mr. Curtain and stop him from brainwashing the world.

Please note: This is the first of a five-book series. I have only read this debut novel and can not speak to the appropriateness or lack thereof of the rest. 

by Andrew Peterson

When the Fangs of Dang threaten to rule not just his family but all the people of his land, young Janner Igiby along with his siblings Tink and Leeli must travel across the dark sea to find the lost jewels of King Wingfeather. Along the way, they encounter secrets that will change their lives forever. 

This is the first in a four-part series. My kids and I have read and loved all four books.  


Books for tweens and teens are becoming increasingly abysmal, filled with inappropriate language, graphic sex scenes, and general hopelessness. Wading through the muck to find books that are both clean and captivating can feel overwhelming, especially for moms who have voracious readers. 

But take heart, there are a handful of authors dedicated to writing stories that don't push envelopes or sidestep morality. These twelve titles are proof of that.

For more books for middle schoolers or to check out the ones I'm personally vetting, be sure to follow (not "friend") my tween book club shelf on GoodReads.  

17 comments:

  1. All the ones you mentioned that I've read before are family favorites. So I'm excited to try the ones we haven't read! :) I've definitely found very objectionable content in kids books written before 1960...just sayin'.

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    1. Me too. I hope you enjoy the others on the list!

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  2. Thank you for this list. I'll add one or two to my tweens summer reading list!

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  3. Excited to get these for my teen!

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  4. Met Chuck Black at Mache & attended his session. He's the real deal! I'm excited my daughter is old enough to start reading his stuff.

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    1. I met him at MACHE too. I got to chat with him over dinner. I love the fact that he put so much of his pilot/military experience into the Starlore series.

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  5. Mind reading snd magical powers are not “clean”. It’s new age. New age is one of the biggest forces trying to suck our children in. I hope you look into this for yourself.

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    1. Everyone needs to decide what "clean" means to them. That's why I was purposeful in putting all the disclaimers in my reviews. If mind reading in a fiction book makes you uncomfortable, you are always welcome to not read books with mind reading in them.

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    2. AMEN! We need to be so careful not to invite new agey evil into our minds. That said, thanks for the booklist :)

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  6. thank you thank you thank you jamie...i look forward to all your book suggestions and appreciate so much all the time and effort you put into making these options known. im so grateful for your insight, i find it most helpful and complimentary to my own views.

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    1. I'm so glad you find my book lists helpful. Thank you so much for the encouragement!

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  7. Thabk you so so much!!

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  8. Thanks for the list. I'm always looking for new books. If you're ever looking for books for your middle school kids, don't underestimate their ability to appreciate old literature. My 11 year old son loves David Copperfield and Pride and Prejudice. Especially on audio it can really help them learn to "hear" the language correctly so that they can appreciate the jokes.

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    1. We actually read lots of classics. My middle schooler is reading Hounds of Baskerville right now. I just wanted to pull together a list of clean new-ish titles for moms because these are the ones that are lesser known to all of us.

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