Check out this FREE downloadable printable list to help your sons track their reading throughout the middle grade! It’s based on my popular book list 60 Classic Books for Middle Grade Boys, but has even more awesome book ideas!
Here’s a preview of what the first page looks like!
Both boys and adventure-loving girls will love these classic books about high adventure, funny talking animals, mysteries, and more!
To download this FREE pdf, click on the link below!
St. Maximilian Kolbe is truly a saint for day modern-day Catholics to admire and emulate. From his successful media outreach work to his missionary work to his sacrificial death, St. Maximilian Kolbe lived a life of charity and love. This exciting new graphic novel from Sophia Institute Press brings St. Maximilian Koble’s story to life with high quality illustrations and photographs of the saint.
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The Whole Story
Most Catholics are familiar with St. Maximilian Kolbe’s dramatic sacrificial death as Auschwitz: so much so that he is often known as The Saint of Auschwitz. But this graphic novel delves deeper and follows the thread of Maximilian’s life from childhood to death. Through St. Maximilian’s remembrances in concentration camp, you will learn about Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s work establishing the Militia of the Immaculata, establishment of Catholic magazines and newspapers, missionary work in Japan, and more. As I read The Saint of Auschwitz, I was blown away by how much a young priest with tuberculosis accomplished in his short life.
Inspiration for Today’s Teens
This graphic novel will powerfully motivate tweens, teens, and even adults to live life with joy, charity, and a missionary zeal in the spirit of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I think most tweens will be fine with the level of intensity. St. Maximilian Kolbe’s story is sad and intense; fifteen days in a bunker waiting to die of hunger and thirst is a horrifying death. But his choice to embrace this death out of charity for a stranger and his joy in suffering is an inspiration that today’s youth will respond to with enthusiasm.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of “Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz” from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Step straight into Medieval England as you open Shadow in the Dark, the first volume in a brand new series by Antony Kolenc. With a meticulous attention to the historical setting and thoughtful insight into Medieval Catholicism, Kolenc weaves a fascinating and exciting tale. The story begins with young Xan’s dramatic conflict with a band of robbers, which results in Xan losing his family, memory, and feeling of identity. While packing in plenty of action, what makes Shadow in the Dark really stand out among middle grade historical fiction is Xan’s insightful search for the meaning of his suffering and journey of faith.
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What is Identity?
12 year old Xan loses his memory completely at the beginning of the book which leads him to question who he is, and seek a purpose in life. Although most tweens and young teens don’t have to deal with amnesia, they will identify with Xan’s quest to define himself and his place in life. A major theme in Shadow in the Dark is Xan’s quest for identity. He looks to his new “family” of monks at Hardwell Abbey for assistance in his search.
A wise nun tells him: “If you find our purpose- where you fit into this new life of yours- then you will find your joy again.” One of the monks suggests that Xan may find meaning in learning to read and write and study. Later, Xan begins to see himself as an integral part of God’s plan for the Abbey: the boy who can solve the mystery. When Xan begins to see himself as following God’s plan, he begins to find peace. This message about identity being found in your vocation, in doing God’s will, is a great one for young teens to read!
Meaning in Suffering
Twined with Xan’s search for meaning is his struggle to understand his own suffering: why did his parents die? Why did he lose his memory? Difficult questions, and Shadow in the Dark doesn’t give a trite answer. Eventually, with prayer and thought, Xan accepts that his parents are in heaven and, in a way, better off, though he will always miss them. As he sees his purpose in God’s plan for the Abbey, he begins to glimpse meaning in his own suffering. The question of suffering is another great subject for tweens and teens to begin to ponder, since this is an inevitable question in any Christian’s life.
Bullying and Friendship
When Xan joins the other orphan boys at the Abbey, he immediately runs afoul of the bully, John. Shadow in the Dark does a wonderful job depicting Xan’s initial attempts to avoid trouble and eventual rise to the occasion to protect the younger boys. Even better, Xan later works as a peacemaker and gives John a role in solving the Abbey mystery. In the end, Xan and John are striking up a friendship.
Reading Historical Fiction Critically
Although I loved Shadow in the Dark as a whole, there are a few points parents may want to be aware of for an advance discussion with their children. Author Kolenc definitely agrees with this; he provides a handy preface that encourages his young readers to notice historical differences in practice and attitude and evaluate whether these differences are positive or negative. For example, there’s one old monk who has special permission from his Abbot to engage in self flagellation to unite himself with Christ’s sufferings. The other monks emphasize that this is a “dangerous” practice and only to be undertaken with special permission from a religious superior.
Emotional Cliff Hanger Conclusion
Although I loved the emphasis on identity and meaning in suffering, and Xan grew a lot over the course of the book, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual journey! In the poignant conclusion, Xan witnesses the Abbot forgive and spare the life of a bandit. This bandit not only tried to kill the Abbot, but is also responsible for the death of Xan’s parents and many others. The Abbot, with infinite wisdom and holiness, extends forgiveness and touches the bandit’s heart, moving him to repentance. However, Xan, furious still about his parents’ deaths, feels no forgiveness towards the man who is responsible. Clearly, Xan still has a long way to go on his spiritual journey! Hopefully the second volume will follow soon so we can find out how he learns to forgive!
Great for the Middle Grades
5th-8th grade tweens and teens will enjoy this masterfully constructed historical fiction novel. There’s adventure, there’s mystery, there’s justice, there’s friendship. Xan is a relatable hero grappling with common coming of age problems. The overall positive depiction of a medieval Abbey as a center of learning and charitable works is refreshing and inspiring. I look forward to seeing the future volumes in this series!
In turbulent mid-nineteenth century Europe, a young English girl is summoned to visit her dying grandfather, the Grand Duke of Letzenstein. Letzenstein is a fictional tiny European country, clearly inspired by Luxembourg. The young girl is Catherine Ayre, a lonely orphan. Her visit is to determine the future of a country on the brink of revolution. The Crystal Snowstorm is the exciting introduction in Meriol Trevor’s magnificent Letzenstein Chronicles.
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An Authentically Catholic Series
Meriol Trevor was a prolific twentieth century Catholic author. Originally from England, she helped in Italy during World War II as a relief worker. She eventually converted to Catholicism and wrote a wide variety of books for children and adults. Several of her children’s books have been republished in recent years by Bethlehem Books.
Meriol Trevor is that rare Catholic author whose books inspire virtue and love for truth and beauty so subtly you almost don’t see her trying. Like its inspiration Luxembourg, Letzenstein is a predominantly a Catholic country. Catherine Ayre gets to enter a city and country imbued with Catholic culture and art. She gets to encounter a variety of Catholics: some who strive to live their faith and some for whom faith is a facade. Tweens and young teens will appreciate the authenticity of Trevor’s depiction: there are corrupt Catholics, even corrupt clergy, in Letzenstein. But there are also Christ figures and repentant sinners who will lay down their lives to protect the innocent.
Trevor is truly a master of gently nudging her readers towards the path of virtue. The good characters in Letzenstein are compassionate and admirable, and the villains are slippery and scheming. No young reader wants to imitate devious Julius; everyone loves Rafael le Marre, the repentant sinner.
Exciting, but not just about the Action
The Letzenstein books certainly do have plenty of action. You will find daring escapes, fast-paced pursuits, clever disguises, sieges, and schemes and plots galore. Yet Trevor manages to avoid any graphic violence. Further, she manages to portray the villain’s acts of violence as truly deplorable and revolting.
Really, the LetzensteinChronicles are about relationships: between friends, relations, rivals, families. Each character leaps from the page as if alive. Trevor is such a master storyteller she leads the reader to feel deeply invested in the fate of her characters. She tells each story from the viewpoint of a 10-12 year old child, which draws her readers into the story in a compelling way.
The Letzenstein Chronicles are very clean with no sexual content. There is no graphic violence or foul language. On the other hand, there is some light alcohol use. Remember this is a European book by a European author so children drinking a little wine is culturally normal. There is one episode where an adult character is given drugged alcohol by the villain in an attempt to extract information. This perfidy is portrayed as very reprehensible behavior on the villain’s part.
A Treasure Worth Finding
I highly recommend The Letzenstein Chronicles for 9-14 year olds. They also make a wonderful read-aloud for 3rd-6th graders.
North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book is a fantastic resource for Catholic families. Written by Bonnie Way, the Koala Mom, this is a creative and well-researched activity book. It provides both biographical information on eight Catholic men who were martyred for their faith in seventeenth century North America and fun activities.
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Focus on Courage and Charity
The eight North American martyrs are inspiring men who vividly demonstrated both the great commandments in their curtailed lives. Each martyr possessed such a burning love for God that they risked their lives to spread the Gospel to the Native Americans and First Nation people of Canada and the United States. Often tortured and persecuted, they willingly returned to their mission fields and the American people they loved until their deaths. In North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book, the selfless life of each martyr is described briefly but with sufficient detail to inspire twenty first century children with a admiration for what these men endured for their faith.
A Great Unit Study Resource
In addition to the stories of these martyr’s lives, North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book contains plenty of mazes, crosswords, word finds, decoding, and writing prompts to emphasize the important information. The book is divided into each sections, each with a biography and activities, making it a perfect unit study or saint a week book for the summer months. I also think this book would be great to keep an 8-12 year old occupied on a long road trip or vacation.
A Catholic Activity Book
The neatest thing about this book is its originality: a specific Catholic martyr themed activity book? Who’d have thought! At $15.00 for a 130 page activity book, it’s even very reasonably priced! Would I change anything? I might add color photos and more images in general, but overall this is a well-done and worthwhile activity book for the 8-12 year old crowd.
I received a free copy of North American Martyrs Kids Activity Book from thekoalamom.com in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.
Looking for more books for middle grade kids? Check out my lists for Boys and Girls!
Here’s a list for the boys: those 8-12 year old middle grade boys with their burgeoning desire for adventure and love of facts. There are a lot of classic adventure stories on this list, tons of exciting historical fiction, some mysteries, some fantasy, and some humor. All these books are good, clean fun that parents can feel confident handing to their sons to peruse (or devour, depending on the kid).
The books on this list are generally arranged by difficulty level with the easiest books coming first.
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Are their actually bears on Hemlock Mountain? In The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Jonathan finds out when he ventures up the mountain alone in this easy to read, exciting story.
Beverly Cleary’s Henry and Ribsy books are simple but humorous stories about one of the best-loved plots in children’s literature: a boy and a dog.
A crippled boy, a wise monk, a journey, an adventure. The Door in the Wall is a great historical fiction novel with themes both about trusting God and pushing oneself to personal heroism.
McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm is a collection of hilarious tall tales. McBroom has a large, happy family and a miraculous one acre farm. Boys crack up at these tall tales.
In the tradition of Charles Dicken’s Prince and Pauper, The Whipping Boy is a story of swapping places. A funny, exciting story of an unlikely friendship.
Clyde Robert Bulla wrote the perfect chapter books for 8 year olds: exciting historical fiction stories complete with illustrations to hold interest. Riding the Pony Express and The Secret Valley are two favorites with boys.
Boys who enjoy mysteries will love The Boxcar Children Books. These four caring siblings help solve problems while always looking out for one another. The first 19 books in the series were written by the original author and are the ones worth buying.
Freddy is a pig-of-all-trades: detective, football player, politician, lawyer. Thesetalking animal stories are classics of the innocent, humorous older variety.
The Happy Hollisters are a large, cheerful family who love to help others. As they travel around the world, they solve mysteries, make friends, and always smile. Lots of clean outdoor family fun in this series. See my full review here.
Prince Martin Wins His Sword is the first in this quartet of books written in the time-honored epic style of the Iliad. These great books inspire courage and loyalty. Read my full review here!
Red Sails to Capri is a thought-provoking story about superstition and truth. It’s also gently humorous in places, describes a truly inspiring friendship between two young boys, and a great introduction to Italian culture.
In this Newberry Medal winner, a cricket, a mouse, and a cat form an unlikely friendship. The Cricket in Times Square truly captures the flavor of New York City.
This adventure story by Ian Fleming of Bond fame is always a hit with boys! In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a family heads off on a trip with their magical car; along the way they’ll encounter dastardly villains and some scrumptious French desserts.
In the same style as her more famous Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her husband’s childhood in Farmer Boy. Boys will enjoy this account of life on an American farm with all the requisite animal training and feasting.
Owls in the Family is a hilarious boyhood memoir from naturalist Farley Mowat. My kids laugh until they cry at the escapades of Farley and his two horned owls, dogs, gophers, pigeons, and other animal friends.
Follow My Leader is a heart-warming classic about a young boy who is blinded in an accident. As he adjusts to life without vision, his family and friendships are his anchor. This book is great for building awareness about disabilities, blindness, and guide dogs.
Five for Victory is the first in Hilda Van Stockum’s beloved Mitchells series. This World War II era American family must pull together to build a victory garden, help their mother, and, maybe, capture a spy.
By the Great Horn Spoon! is a Gold Rush era novel by Sid Fleischman, who has a talent for humorous adventures. A boy and his butler set out to make their fortunes and general comedy ensues.
The Redwall books are always a favorite with middle grade boys. Mice, badgers, and other forest animals engage in epic quests, battles, and feasts.
Homer Price by Robert McCloskey is clean, old-fashioned small town fun. Homer captures bank robbers, helps the stuttering town sheriff, and makes hundreds of donuts in this comedic classic.
In Snow Treasure, a group of Norwegian children and their families come up with a daring plan to smuggle their country’s gold out of Norway- right under the Nazi’s noses! This is a tale of courage that is loosely based on a true story.
The Green Ember is the first in a fantasy series by a Christian author. These tales of a rabbit’s quest and journey are reminiscent of Narnia and Redwall.
The Good Master describes Jansci’s happy life in Hungary, which is stirred up when his family takes in his wild cousin Kate. This is a great story about family relationships, Hungarian Catholic culture, and family love changing a person.
The Singing Tree is the sequel to The Good Master, and a truly beautiful and memorable story about World War II. Not at all a typical war novel, this book focuses on the toll the war took on the tiny Hungarian town where Jansci’s family lived. Jansci’s family illustrates incredible Christian compassion as they open their farm to townsfolk, refugees, distant relatives, orphan children, and even a group of Russian prisoners of war.
The Chronicles of Narnia is, of course, a must-read for middle grade children. I believe in reading them in the original publication order: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first, then Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and last of all The Last Battle.
The Winged Watchman is a fantastic World War II historical fiction adventure about the underground movement in Holland. Despite the suffering and poverty of life under Nazi rule, one boy finds courage to be a hero and save a downed RAF pilot.
Big Red is just one of many wonderful outdoor adventure books by Jim Kjelgaard. These books are at once action-packed and exciting while also inspiring an appreciation for the beauties of nature and all animals. Irish Red, Outlaw Red, Snow Dog, and Stormy are all favorites.
Tintin, boy reporter, is always finding himself drawn into hair-raising escapades by his cast of quirky friends Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and Thomson and Thompson (with a p). Funny and clean, these do contain some very inventive “cussing” along the lines of “billions of blue blistering barnacles in a thundering typhoon.” There is also some alcohol abuse by Captain Haddock, portrayed as a negative habit.
King of the Wind is the story of the origin of a great grandsire of Arabian and Thoroughbred horses: the Godolphin Arabian. It’s also the story of a quiet boy who believed in this horse despite the superstition that his markings were bad luck. Master writer Marguerite Henry captures the atmosphere of Morocco in a powerful way.
Adam, after losing his father and dog, sets off on a journey across England, determined to find them. Adam of the Road is an enjoyable historical fiction book depicting life in 13th century England, especially for a wandering minstrel.
Shipwrecked on an island with a wild stallion, Alex must rely on his wits and courage to help them both survive. The Black Stallion is a timeless adventure story about the special friendship between a boy and a horse.
The Toothpaste Millionaire is a great introduction to the concept of entrepreneurship. Two middle schoolers envision and develop a successful toothpaste business.
The Melendy children have boundless curiosity and creativity. These four siblings work as a team whether building a dam to make a swimming pond, planning a play, or adopting a sibling. The Four-Story Mistake and Then There Were Five have great themes about sibling relationships and older adoption.
In My Side of the Mountain , Sam feels stifled in the city. He decides to move to the mountains and live alone. Can a boy survive alone and forage for food in the wilderness? Maybe with a little help from a peregrine falcon!
Beorn the Proud is an exciting story about two countries and two faiths colliding when a Viking boy and an Irish girl meet. This is one of Catholic Publisher Bethelehm Books‘ Living History Library, all of which are excellent historical fiction titles for this age range!
Enemy Brothers is a thought-provoking historical fiction novel about World War II. Amidst the turmoil of World War II, an English boy who was kidnapped as a baby and raised in Germany is recovered by his birth family. Thoroughly indoctrinated in Nazism, Max hates his family at first. But their Christian love and patience win him over eventually.
Red Hugh is Irish historical fiction about a Prince of Donegal who heroically resisted English oppression of Ireland. This is a nail-biting novel of intrigue and adventure.
Based on what is known of the dog who accompanied Lewis and Clark, SeaMan is an account of westward exploration through a lovable Newfoundland’s big black eyes.
The Great Wheel chronicles the adventures of an Irish lad who ends up in Chicago helping build the first Ferris wheel for the Chicago 1893 Exposition.
Bush Boys on the Move is part of a wonderful series by an Australian Catholic priest. Sadly out of print, these are worth buying used.
Johnny Tremain is one of those classic historical fiction war books boys love. This book follows the events leading up to the American revolution through a silversmith apprentice’s eyes.
In The Sign of the Beaver, a 13 year old frontier boy, already scared to be home alone, loses the family rifle. He finds unexpected help, friendship, and wisdom from the nearby Indian tribe.
The Small War of Sergeant Donkey is a story of small heroisms in Italy during World War II. A fascinating story about a young boy and a diminutive donkey, this book brings attention to a little known part of World War II: American action in Italy.
North to Freedom is another World War II novel: a classic about a boy who has spent almost his entire life in concentration camp and escapes. Thought-provoking and touching story that makes the reader appreciate freedom and peace.
The son of American diplomats, Henry has spent most of his life outside his homeland. This quirky boy returns home for a summer in small town America, and general mayhem ensues. Henry Reed, Inc. is a classic “summer” book that keeps readers laughing throughout.
In The Mysterious Benedict Society, four exceptional children are recruited to defeat a psychopath bent on using mind control to gain world domination. This book is full of puzzles and mystery. Read my full review here.
Tom Playfair: Or Making a Start is in the classic school story tradition, but with a Catholic twist. This book is the beginning of a trilogy written by Father Finn, a Catholic priest, inspired by the boys at his boarding school. These wholesome stories encourage sports, friendship, Latin, and virtue.
In The Great and Terrible Quest, a near feral boy finds himself swept up in mission to find the true king. This book has an amazing mystical undertone combined with an action-packed quest and a sprinkling of mystery.
Outlaws of Ravenhurst is one of those inspiring historical fiction Catholic books I believe every child should read for perspective. Set during a time when hearing Mass was a rare joy, this exciting story sheds light on persecution in Scotland.
The Good Bad Boy is a simple book in the school story tradition, describing the 8th grade year of a Catholic school boy. This book gives a positive depiction of Catholic private schools as they once were, rich with Catholic culture and tradition.
The Hobbit is, of course, a classic that all middle grade boys should read. Tolkien’s books about the struggle between good and evil are timeless and important.
The Trumpeter of Krakow is Newberry Award winning historical fiction book set in 15th century Poland. A young boy and his family must protect a precious crystal from a mad tartar villain. A little slow in the beginning but the excitement builds as the story goes.
Little Britches is the first in a fantastic American memoir by Ralph Moody. In this first book, Ralph and his family settle out west and Ralph learns to ride and be a real help to his father. Great father/son relationship depiction.
Animal lovers always enjoy Lad: A Dog by Terhune. This clever collie protects his family from robbers. Based on Terhune’s own experience with his pet collies.
The Ruins of Gorlan is the first in the popular Ranger’s Apprentice series. Will is disappointed at first to be apprenticed to a quiet ranger instead of a bold knight, but soon learns that there is more than one way to serve bravely. This fantasy series has great friendships, lots of adventure, and a little humor.
Where the Red Fern Grows is another classic dog story that every boy should read. This is a great tale of loyalty, friendship, and making the right decision even when it’s difficult. Note: sad ending.
Banner in the Sky is a great story about a teenage boy who is determined to honor his father’s memory by climbing the great Citadel mountain. Can he succeed where his father died trying?
In The Red Badge of Courage, a young soldier runs away from battle. Later, he conquers his fear and rejoins the army, hoping to be wounded to erase his cowardice. This is a heavy novel dealing with war, death, and psychology.
Midshipman Quinn is a collection of four novels starring a young English midshipman fighting in the Napoleonic wars. Septimus Quinn’s quirky, clever personality adds humor this wartime historical fiction novel.
Coming up on its 150 year anniversary, Treasure Island is as exciting now as it was at its first printing. This tale of pirates, treasure, betrayal, and greed is a true adventure novel.
The Eagle of the Ninth is a fine historical fiction novel by Rosemary Sutcliff. It follows Marcus, a Roman youth who is determined to uncover the mystery of what happened to his father’s legion. Skillful writing and attention to detail really bring Sutcliff’s novels alive. Read my Guide to Sutcliff for clarity about which of her novels are appropriate for children.