BLOGS  >  APRIL 25, 2022

Reading Middle Grade Novels for Professional Development


In middle school, students are searching for where they fit in, determining who they are, experiencing rapid development, and dealing with unique and complex challenges. As a middle school teacher, I am always looking for ways to understand and connect with my students.

Reading middle grade literature provides insight into the emotions and experiences of middle school students today and can serve as an inexpensive, effective, and flexible professional development for middle grade teachers and administrators to complete independently or in groups.

Independent Professional Development: Choose middle grade books that relate to students you have, topics or situations you see often in your classroom, circumstances that you are unfamiliar with, and/or books that students recommend. Use some of the questions below to guide your reading.

Group Professional Development: Read middle grade books with colleagues to provide opportunities to talk through adolescent experiences and the impact adults have on them without having to share personal information about students or teachers. Beginning these conversations about fictional characters can lead to developing relationships where it is easier to have these critical conversations about real situations.

Questions to Consider

What factors outside of their control impact the character’s actions, feelings, and how others treat them? How might similar factors impact students that you teach?

What uniquely middle school experiences do you see that mirror situations in your students/ school? What can you learn from them?

How do adults in the book impact the character? Would you do things similarly or differently? What can you learn from them?

Book Suggestions: These books enable the reader to see the world through the eyes of a middle school student today and explore the distinct challenges they face.

Maybe He Just Likes You
by Barbara Dee

This book gives insight into implications of sexual harassment on a middle school girl and the impact the adults had on the situation. Barbara Dee has also written many other books that capture the essence of what it is to be an adolescent that I recommend, such as My Life in the Fish Tank and Violets Are Blue.

Black Brother, Black Brother
by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This book shows how racism, colorism, bullying, and microaggressions impact a middle school boy. The book also provides examples of how the actions of some adults further harm him, while others support him.


The Shape of Thunder
by Jasmine Warga

This book explores friendship, grief, mental health, and the impact of gun violence in schools. This book is unique in how it shows the reader the fear students may have about school shootings.


How to Become a Planet
by Nicole Melleby

This story provides insight into the raw emotions and experiences of an adolescent who has depression and anxiety and the therapist, tutor, and friends who show her compassion and understanding.


The Deepest Breath
by Meg Grehan 

The novel is written in verse and is a quick, but powerful, read that shows insight into how an adolescent might feel as they are exploring their sexuality and learning more about themselves.

More Book Suggestions 

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Kasey Short
Director of Studies and Eighth Grade English Teacher
Charlotte Country Day School

Kasey Short enjoys sharing her ideas from the classroom and writes frequently for various educational outlets. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a Bachelor of Arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University. She is currently the Director of Studies and eighth grade English teacher at Charlotte Country Day School.

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