I recently read Winston Churchill’s little volume Painting as a Pastime. Before he gets to the what and why of painting, he describes reading and the unique power books hold. They contain, he says, an
“infinitely varied store of knowledge and wisdom which the human race has accumulated and preserved, pride, even in its most innocent forms, is chased from the heart by feelings of awe not untinged with sadness.”
Then Churchill gets really depressing by encouraging us to think of all the books we’ll never have time for and all the tales we will never know. Books are treasures. Churchill writes,
“Peer into [books]. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands.”
While there is (sadly) not enough time to read every book ever written, don’t waste your time on worthless ones. This list contains classics — books that expound the universal themes of life, have stood the test of time, have to be read carefully and studied, and make you think.
You cannot make your child love reading. If you have a child who doesn’t enjoy reading, you can expose them to best books by reading aloud and taking the voyage of discovery alongside them.
This list is designed with middle school students in mind (don’t forget to check out our high school list). Although it isn’t exhaustive, these are some of my top recommendations and personal favorites from my own middle school homeschooling years:
28 Favorites Classics for Middle Schoolers
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1. Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
This is a fantastic play and one of Shakespeare’s most famous. It will spark interesting conversations about loyalty, government, and betrayal.
2. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The precursor to the famous Lord of the Ring trilogy, The Hobbit is a joy to read and is a perfect read-aloud for the entire family.
3. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
This is a book everyone should read since it will probably be unavailable in the next decade considering its subject matter. *Contains sexual content that might be a bit mature for some audience.
4. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Colorful, engaging, and imaginative, Jules Verne’s classic is a novel every middle schooler should read and enjoy.
5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
These stories hold a special place in my heart. Conan Doyle is considered the king of mystery and for good reason. *Some stories may be a little violent for some audiences.
6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This is Dickens’ lightest novel and one almost everybody has at least heard of. It is definitely worth reading (especially at Christmas).
7. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Most people are familiar with the Disney version; however, the original could not be more different. Despite this, your students will greatly enjoy it.
8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Better suited for girls, Little Women is one of the most well-read and well-known novels in the world due to Alcott’s moving story and relatable characters.
9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Possibly more famous than Little Women, I will always love this talkative, intelligent, redhead. Her predicaments and joys make wonderful reading.
10. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Based on a rather distasteful era of American History, this short novel brilliantly fictionalizes the Salam Witch Trials in a fascinating manner.
11. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Despite the fact that this story is hundreds of years old, its focus on knights and monsters and damsels in distress will appeal to boys and girls of any age. *Contains sexual content that may be a bit mature for some audiences.
12. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Huck Finn, best friend of Tom Sawyer, gets the spotlight in this hilarious coming of age story. *Contains some violence that may be a bit nature for some audiences.
13. The Odyssey by Homer
Every student should read this before college. Many books and movies are based on this epic that describes a man’s desperate attempt to reach his home. *Contains sexual content that might be a bit mature for some audiences.
14. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
This book series should go to the top of your book list. Each and every one is fascinating and enjoyable.
15. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque
The story of a young German private, this book will make your students think about different sides of World War I since the winners did not write this story. *Contains some violence that may be a bit mature for some audiences.
16. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Most people don’t know much about our Founding Fathers, so here is the autobiography of one of the most famous.
17. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
This incredibly moving novel tells the story of the impossible love between an Indian brave and a British girl despite the war raging between their people.
18. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Bunyan wrote this allegorical tale about Christianity while serving time in jail for refusing to stop preaching in England.
19. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
After reading this story, it is worth researching Hawthorne’s intentions for writing this novel that promoted the stereotypical view of the Puritans that remains to this day. *Contains some sexual content that may be a bit mature for some audiences.
20. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Another coming of age story, this novels focuses on a young immigrant woman trying to make her way in the new American West.
21. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Like some other books on this list, everyone should read this short story. It is an allegory of Communism and is the perfect precursor to Orwell’s novel 1984 (which every high schooler should read). *Contains some violence that might be a bit mature for some audiences.
22. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book has already been a part of cancel culture for a few years now, which is a sign it should be read by everyone. It is a beautifully touching story about racial issues in the 60s in the South. *Contains some sexual content that may be a bit mature for some audiences.
23. Beowulf Translated by Seamus Heaney
One of the earliest forms of literature, your boys will really like this epic poem of warriors and dragons and monsters. *Contains violence that might be a bit mature for some audiences.
24. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
This novel has sparked many film remakes and is worth reading purely for the cultural impact it made.
25. Poems by George Herbert
Herbert was an incredibly influential English poet who proved to be an example to future poets.
26. Sonnets by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s sonnets are some of the most beautiful and sweet ever written. Your students will probably recognize more of them than they think.
27. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Pirates, gold, sword fights, and battle ships. What could be more entertaining?
28. The Scarlett Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
One of my favorite books, this a sweeping romance and intriguing mystery set during the French Revolution.
29. The Wise Woman and Other Stories by George MacDonald
The only fairy tale on this list, the story is a fun, quick read that your entire family will like.
Read a good book and want to write about it?
Check out Grammar for Writers from author and professor Jonathan Rogers.
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