2023 Summer Reading: Middle School


Need suggestions for beach reading or books to bring to summer camp? Each of our lists — for all age ranges and including fiction, nonfiction, folklore, and poetry — includes thirteen selections (a baker's dozen!), all published 2022–2023 and ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.


Picture Books | Beginning Readers and Primary Grades | Intermediate | High School


Middle School

Suggested grade level for all entries: 6–8


Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis’ Secret Code by Rebecca E. F. Barone (Holt)

As Hitler rose to power, the Enigma Code became central to military operations, particularly the German naval strategy. France, England, and Poland needed to break the code, which required an extensive game of cat-and-mouse with Germany. Accompanied by occasional black-and-white photos, Barone’s suspenseful text introduces a sprawling cast of characters in an impressive feat of narrative nonfiction storytelling. 272 pp.

School Trip by Jerry Craft (HarperAlley/Quill Tree/HarperCollins)

In his third graphic-novel outing (New Kid, rev. 1/19; Class Act, rev. 11/20), thirteen-year-old Jordan and his friends (plus nemesis Andy) go on a class trip to Paris. Craft effectively uses brightly colored panels, speech bubbles, dialogue, and black-and-white sketchbook pages to portray the challenges of an overseas school trip for Black students as well as of this diverse group of students as a whole in navigating a new city and their own relationships. 256 pp.

The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto by Adrianna Cuevas (Farrar)

While working as a summer ranch hand in New Mexico, twelve-year-old Cuban American Rafa, who likes to lose himself in role-playing games, encounters what he believes is a ghost and has glimpses of alternate realities. He also must confront his own “ghosts” and deal with his fears in real life. A humorous, sensitive, and compelling story, with hints of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. 304 pp.

Freestyle by Gale Galligan; color by K Czap (Graphix/Scholastic)

The Eight Bitz dance crew has one more year together before they all go off to different high schools, and they’re determined to make the most of it. Galligan’s crisp, bouncy, cartoonlike style captures this graphic novel’s constant motion. The changes and challenges of middle school should resonate with many kids, and readers will cheer when protagonist Cory brings everyone together in a whizz-bang finish. 272 pp.

When Clouds Touch Us by Thanhhà Lại (Harper/HarperCollins)

This moving, empathetic follow-up to Inside Out & Back Again (rev. 3/11) observes another year of changes for Hà, now twelve, and her Vietnamese refugee family. Lại’s vibrant first-person poems reflect Hà’s anxiety and confusion as the family moves again and as adolescence looms. The 1976 setting — America’s bicentennial — reinforces the idea that Hà’s family’s experiences are as American as anyone’s. 256 pp.

Camp QUILTBAG by Nicole Melleby and A. J. Sass (Algonquin)

Two newbies at a camp for LGBTQIA+ youth (one lesbian and Catholic, one nonbinary and Jewish) form sometimes-bumpy relationships in a safe but not necessarily awkwardness-free space. There’s a heightened awareness that anyone might be romantically interested in anyone else — or might not. This engaging, intersectional, gently affirming novel should be valuable to young readers exploring their own identities or curious about those of others. 352 pp.

Calling the Moon: 16 Period Stories from BIPOC Authors edited by Yamile Saied Méndez and Aida Salazar (Candlewick)

These short stories about menstruation, featuring BIPOC main characters, focus on cultural celebrations, social stigma, gender identity, and the myriad physical and emotional changes taking place during puberty. The stories have broad appeal and are unified by a common thread of growing up. Issues related to race and gender, immigration status, and language diversity are set alongside culturally rich narratives about a singular and pivotal life event. 368 pp.

Holler of the Fireflies by David Barclay Moore (Knopf)

Twelve-year-old Javari is one of the few Black students at a STEM camp in West Virginia. After befriending a local kid, Javari is introduced to a community of Black people — Affrilachians — who have lived in the mountains for generations. Moore packs his narrative with difficult themes (e.g., racism, addiction, environmental degradation) in a novel featuring well-rounded characters, lively dialogue and action, and often beautiful sensory prose. 275 pp.

The Carrefour Curse by Dianne K. Salerni (Holiday)

In this spooky, dark, and utterly delicious tale, protagonist Garnet and her mother (both element-based magic wielders) must return to the childhood home her mother fled. Patriarch Jasper Carrefour is dying — and he may be trying to steal the life force of family members. Salerni sustains an atmosphere of menace; interconnected mysteries keep pages turning, and when they converge, the payoff is spine-chilling and satisfying. 224 pp.

A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat (First Second)

Santat’s graphic memoir focuses on a trip to Europe the summer before high school, which forces him reluctantly out of his comfort zone. His growth is treated with empathy and humor. His color palette emphasizes muted greens, browns, and nighttime shades; a variety of vertical and horizontal panels adds interest; and spare text supports the lively visuals. 320 pp.

Come See the Fair by Gavriel Savit (Knopf)

At the Chicago World’s Fair, orphan Eva meets the mysterious Mr. Magister, the self-described “Baron of American Magic.” Savit conveys the wonders of the fair and the grittiness of post–Great Fire Chicago as he gradually adds more threatening elements to the story, culminating in a thrilling chase sequence. Occasional sketchlike black-and-white illustrations add atmosphere to a novel that blends historical fiction, fantasy, friendship tale, and murder mystery. 336 pp.

A Long Way from Home by Laura Schaefer (Carolrhoda)

In this thought-provoking sci-fi novel, Abby, twelve, meets Adam and Bix, who are here on an urgent mission from the twenty-third century. Abby, pessimistic about societal and environmental ills, promises to help if they agree to take her with them. The quest story will keep readers engrossed, but Abby’s personal predicament (should she stay, or should she go?) is equally engaging. 280 pp.

The Language of Seabirds by Will Taylor (Scholastic)

Twelve-year-old Jeremy has kept his attraction to other boys a secret. Then on a beach vacation he meets Evan, and they begin a tentative and gentle romantic relationship. Taylor’s straightforward narrative uses text messaging, dialogue, and a limited-omniscient point of view to great effect. A warm-hearted story that affirms and celebrates a tender relationship between two boys. 256 pp.


From the April 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book: Summer Reading. For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

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