Education has long been a popular setting in mainstream media, both for inspiration and for entertainment. It has introduced us to famous teachers (Mr. Kotter, Mrs. Frizzle), famous schools (Ridgemont High, Rushmore, Wayside School, Hogwarts), and famous school-centric stories and shows (Wonder, South Park, Saved by the Bell). In each case, we watch with excitement, empathy, or humor, based on our own set of school experiences. And sometimes we get to relish the experience of seeing school (and the learning process) in a whole new light.
Here, we have gathered a list of titles for families who want some academic role models or lessons for their children, as well as a couple selections that simply offer a little scholastic comic relief. Reflecting a broad mix of real-life and fictional stories, the listings here prove that there are many different ways to learn and many different ways to teach.
Great Books with a Schoolroom Setting
The Year of Miss Agnes
Schoolteachers don’t usually last very long at this one-room schoolhouse in Alaska. Miss Agnes is different. Not only does she stick around for a year, she also makes learning relatable and enjoyable to the citizens of the remote village.
Adventures in vocabulary are in play in this story. A boy creates a new word for an ordinary object, and his creation catches on, much to the chagrin of his teacher and parents!
Strong community and deep friendships form in this fantasy novel. Love of words and learning propel the heroine to become an invaluable resource within her community.
This creative app taps into the user’s imagination and enthusiasm in true 21st century fashion. Videos, photos, drawings, and inventive challenges combine to inspire learning.
Kids’ Movies with Inspiring Academic Role Models
Akeelah and the Bee
A girl’s journey to a big spelling bee is supported by her community. At times she struggles to embrace her own intelligence and worth.
This documentary follows several competitors for the National Spelling Bee. Hard work, family, and big dreams are part of the equation that helps get these kids on the big stage.
On the Way to School
Most Americans have a simple way to get to school; a short walk, bike ride, or trip in a car or bus will get us there. For other kids around the world, it’s not easy, or comfortable, but it’s worth it because they desperately want an education.
The Miracle Worker
The story of Helen Keller and her teacher is beyond inspiring. Helen has no understanding of language or of interacting normally with family members. Through ingenuity, perseverance and patience, teacher Annie Sullivan opens up the world of words and language to her student. Annie is a testament to all teachers’ hard work. A must-see.
Determination and hard work are the life lessons strongly represented by the main character in this fine film. With the help of a kindly teacher, teammates and friends, the underdog Rudy fulfills his life’s dream. Definitely best for tweens and older, due to language, a death and sports violence.
Little House on the Prairie
The one-room schoolhouse in this beloved series is not the only location where education takes place. Pioneer children living on a farm learn a variety of practical tasks and life skills every day. History and geography are natural discussion topics when watching as a family.
Exhibiting a strong level of curiosity, the crew of Mythbusters sets out in each episode to prove an idea, sometimes an urban legend, sometimes an idiom like “a bull in a china shop.” There are often explosions, items being thrown into walls, or things launched skyward, all in the name of science and discovery.
More Mature TV and Movies About Academics
These titles have more mature themes and language, so they’re recommended for older teen audiences.
The mission at this school is to inspire and encourage teens at risk of dropping out. Celebrity mentors and teachers have their work cut out for them. Be aware: Strong language and personal circumstances mean this is best for teens and older.
Dead Poets Society
This classic is an inspiring coming-of-age story that celebrates creativity and a free spirit. There are mature themes and activities, so this is best for older tweens and teens.
Good Will Hunting
Ages 14+ (rated R)
This Academy Award winner demonstrates that academics can open doors for people from all classes (e.g., a working-class Boston youth), but you have to believe in yourself and want to walk through those new doors.
An idealistic high school teacher discovers the way to connect with her students is to help find their similarities. Her emphasis on really listening to her students is notable. The hip-hop soundtrack will appeal to teen viewers.
Stand and Deliver
Sacrifice and hard work are front-and-center in this inspiring movie. It is based on the story of a real math teacher who went to extreme lengths to teach his kids math, and eventually AP Calculus. The students struggle with life issues outside of school, but while in school they become driven and engaged. Real-life scenes can be rough, and the language is questionable at times, but relevant to the movie.
To Sir, With Love
This classic is another inspired teacher tale. Real-life issues such as class and race are addressed, while the teacher works hard to connect with and discipline his students so that they are ready and able to learn.
Research shows that summer brain drain is real — kids can fall behind academically during the long summer vacation. Here, 4 practical tips that can help.
By Jillian Chamberlain
It’s the time of year that teachers both look forward to and dread: summer vacation. Don’t let their sad smiles fool you, many teachers are just as excited for the break from the vigorous routine as the kids.
But deep down they know what’s going to happen to all the time and attention that they’ve given to their students. According to Marra DeGraff, GiftedandTalented.com’s Personalized Learning Ambassador, “Recent studies have concluded that students show little or no academic growth over summer and at worst may lose one to three months of learning – with the greatest loss in Math.”
A growing number of schools are giving students summer homework, taking a cue from Asian countries, where summer is not a two-month break from school but two months of mandatory school-at-home whereby teachers give piles of workbooks that kids need to finish by the start of the next semester. Even if your child’s school isn’t assigning extra worksheets or reading lists to help kids better retain their knowledge, there are four things that you can do this summer to help your kids return to school in the fall with the same level–or even more!–of knowledge that they left with in June.
Read, Read, Read!
Reading is a terrific way to keep kids’ minds engaged. If they’re avid readers, they’re probably already looking forward to the quiet days of summer reading.
And if they’re not excited about reading? Remember that a little reading is better than none, and try some of these tips to help boost their enthusiasm:
Choose books that match their reading level. Make a book list, or ask the children’s current or future teacher for a list so that the kids are reading quality books that are age appropriate.
Create a special space. Set up a reading nook and have snack and reading time each afternoon. Even if they’re a little too old for picture books, try to join them during this reading time, if your schedule allows. Pick up a novel or a magazine (but maybe not your phone), and you’ll not only keep them company, you’ll demonstrate for them just how relaxing it can be to immerse yourself in great reading on a long summer afternoon.
Join a community reading program. Most local libraries offer summer reading programs, often with milestones and prizes to help make reading more fun.
A week or two of an academic summer camp can let your child go deeper into the subjects they like, or discover something new to love. One SF Bay Area parent recently raved about a math camp and explained “my daughter, 14, hates school math. She likes puzzles… I was looking for a different kind of logic camp and Mathletes was the jackpot.”
A parent in Atlanta had similar comments about Discover Science Center, “My 6 year old had so much fun playing and doing experiments. She loved bringing home her final results and the lab journal they created and used to document their findings. She honestly didn’t even know she was learning.”
Kids can challenge themselves with a number of academic websites. Two to consider:
GiftedandTalented uses a combination of multimedia instruction and automated assessment of student work to personalize each student’s experience. In just 20 minutes, 3 times a week from home, kids can not only retain but also advance in math over the summer. They also have reading comprehension and writing courses. Get a 10% discount with code: LEVELUP.
Khan Academy is another popular resource that offers free video lessons in math, biology, art history, computer programing and more. Your kids can get extra help in areas where they’re weak and need to get ahead or branch out and study something new that intrigues them.
Take Educational Outings
Along with the traditional summer outings to state fairs, water parks, and roller coasters, fit in a few educational trips to keep your child’s mind active and the curiosity flowing all summer long. Start with the local art, science, and history museums, but don’t stop there. Have you always wondered how farms operate, how potato chips are made or what it was like to live 100 years ago? This is the perfect opportunity to plan outings to local places where your kids can get answers to the many questions that they have.
Want homework help? Solid study skills? Better test scores? Here, experts offer insights to help you find the right academic programs for your kids.
By Laura Quaglio
You’re diligent about driving your kids to soccer practice and piano lessons. But now that midterm grades are drifting in, you might be wondering if it’s time to consider adding academic enrichment to that list of after school activities. Not surprisingly, the educators we interviewed for this article offer a simple answer: Yes! But their reasons — and the added perks of after school academic classes, tutoring sessions, and camps — might help you decide to make the leap this year.
For starters, kids everywhere can benefit from being immersed in a supportive environment where they will have their individual needs addressed and met. Just look at how much colleges “sell” their small student-teacher ratios, and you’ll see how appealing it might be for your child to be one of, say, 10 students, instead of 30 or more kids vying for a teacher’s attention.
Also, as parents, we know that practice equals progress. It’s why we invest in soccer camp and piano lessons. And though our kids “could” practice penalty shots and major scales on their own at home, or we “could” do that with them, chances are it’s not going to happen. And if it does, it may not be pretty.
The big difference between choosing an academic enrichment program (instead of enrolling kids in sports or the arts) is that many of us don’t know where to begin or what questions to ask. Because we know how vital our kids’ minds are, we’re afraid to foray into this area at all. Before we can sell our kids on the idea, we need to have confidence in our decision.
For some expert guidance, we turned to three experts for their insights into the different types of academic classes, camps, and tutors available to kids:
Darrell Dela Cruz, the education coordinator of Communication Academy in Cupertino, California, whose goal is to help students develop confidence in their communication skills, which can help them be more confident and successful in all aspects of their lives
Abby Hunt, director of brand and communications at Wyzant, the nation’s largest online market site for finding tutors and coaches for learners of all ages
Winnie Wong, PhD, founder and director of instruction at EDNova Academy, in San Mateo, California, which aims to inspire, guide, and nurture the next generation STEM leaders and empower students with knowledge so they can choose who they want to be
Before we get to the questions you might want to ask of any academic program, let’s take a quick look at some of the main differences between tutors, camps, and classes.
Tutors, Classes, and Camps: Some Key Points
Each of these types of academic enrichment offers its own unique benefits. “If you need help in a very specific subject, you’re not always going to find a tutor right down the street,” says Hunt. The same is true of local classes or camps. That’s why Wyzant offers connections to 80,000 tutors, many of whom are willing to offer online lessons and support. Tutoring also provides a highly customized approach, allowing each child to receive the full attention of one instructor.
On the other hand, taking academic classes in a small-group setting teaches kids to work together cooperatively, to communicate as a group, and to listen to different viewpoints and ideas from different students. Classes result in steady improvement over time. “To cultivate a good habit, you have to take time,” says Dr. Wong. Classes also allow students to learn about a particular subject matter and then build upon that knowledge steadily.
Camps, though, will immerse kids in a topic, giving them a very strong foundation of knowledge, says Dela Cruz. “Kids are preparing, practicing, presenting, and receiving feedback, all within a short period of time,” he says. This provides them with tangible results quickly — and leads to the formation of strong bonds between the kids and their instructors and fellow students, since they spend so much time together for several consecutive days.
Classes generally result in steadier improvement, and kids will retain the concepts for longer because they continue to practice over time. One suggestion? If your kids take a camp and enjoy it, consider enrolling them in weekly classes or at least following up with another camp, which can serve as a refresher course so they won’t lose what they have gained.
Questions to Ask Instructors and Program Directors
When you’ve narrowed down what type of program you’d like to try, consider asking some or all of these questions to help you find a location that’s a good fit for your family.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Many after school educators share a common frustration about the school system: that it causes kids to focus on failure. “Failing is not the opposite of success,” says Dr. Wong. “It’s the way to success. If you don’t fail, you won’t learn anything and be able to improve.” Her approach is to instill a sense of curiosity into her students and give them the tools to glean information about any subject from the internet and experts in the field.
Other locations may focus on “teaching to the test” — helping kids pass or improve in a particular standardized test or in a certain topic such as a Common Core subject. If you’re looking for your child to make quantitative improvements in test scores, that may be the right avenue for you.
And different tutors — even those referred by the same service – will each have their own unique approach to sharing their knowledge, offering support, and measuring success and improvements.
Be sure you find a location and instructor whose teaching philosophy matches your parenting philosophy and academic goals. Think of it this way: If you want a good key lime pie, you’ll be happier going to a bakery that specializes in it than you would if you visited a cupcake bakery and explained your recipe for pie.
When will I see an improvement in grades and test scores?
According to Hunt, research showed that students generally see one grade improvement in the class (in grades K through 12) for 8 hours of tutoring. That means four 2-hour sessions or eight 1-hour sessions — whatever combination. And that was across all subjects. However, keep an eye out for other less-quantifiable improvements, too.
“Kids will develop their own curiosity. They will be challenged and frustrated, but they will learn how to resolve that in their own way with a lot of support. And they’ll want to learn more. Although good grades are important to maintain, it is not our main focus. We aim to assist in cultivating a learner who sees pass grades. We want our students to appreciate and value the process of learning. We believe knowledge is power. Good grade is a natural by product of proactive learning. If they cultivate their curiosity and build a strong foundation for learning, the grade will come in.”
Many establishments actually promise to raise standardized test scores or report-card grades by the session’s end. If you don’t see an improvement in any way after a few weeks, ask the instructor why. If they don’t have a response that satisfies you, consider seeking a new instructor who is a better fit.
How large are class sizes?
“The main benefit of a tutor is that one-to-one interaction with an expert,” says Hunt. Some tutors, though, might offer small-group instruction at a reduced rate. And sometimes tutoring is offered online.
Many academic classes and camps welcome slightly larger numbers, but they usually keep groups small enough for kids to enjoy the perks of both private instruction and group communication. For instance, at both EDNova Academy and Communication Academy, class sizes typically max out at 12 kids.
These student-teacher ratios mean that instructors can “learn how students think,” says Dr. Wong. Some kids will rush to finish a task and overlook important details. Others won’t take risks so they don’t challenge their limits. She tries to identify kids’ strengths and weaknesses, then help each child get their weaknesses “out of the way.” This is much easier for an instructor to do if they have a smaller number of kids in their class. Think about what you want your child to get out of the instruction and just how much one-on-one is really necessary — or whether they’ll do just fine in a bigger group.
How will you communicate with parents and schools?
“We like to talk to parents about what they’re looking for,” says Dela Cruz. For instance, if a child is in a public speaking or debate class, the parent might want the child to work on being louder or speaking more clearly. Then the instructor will keep that in mind when working with that child.
“A tutor should be communicating with the parent to create a curriculum,” says Hunt. This should be based upon what the goals are and how the child learns, whether it’s a hands-on approach, reading a text, watching videos, or a combination. Parents, too, should communicate with the instructor, she says. “Where do you think the child needs help first? If you’re not sure, ask their teachers at school. The more coordination between the teacher and parent and tutor, the better the experience will be.”
What takes place in a session, class, or camp?
For EDNova Academy students, education is project-based. For instance, for nine or 10 weeks, kids might focus on 3D printing. Not only will kids learn how to make something using this technology, they’ll immerse themselves in the subject. They will research the history of 3D printing and why it has become popular. They’ll learn what it is used for and brainstorm possible uses for it in the future. “They will learn they can print a 3D kidney or a 3D chocolate,” she says. “That kind of thing really sparks their interest in learning. They say, Let me find out more!”
Also be sure you understand the overall time commitment. The classes at Communication Academy are usually held once a week for 8, 10, or 12 weeks, while camps run Monday through Friday in two 3-hour sessions (one a.m. and one p.m.), with kids being able to opt for one or the other or to stay for both. At EDNova Academy, kids spend 3 hours per week with their after school instructor (divided into two sessions).
The best way to learn about the curriculum — per day or per session — is to go over it with the instructor. Will your child be able to raise their standardized test scores by a certain number of points after 10 weeks? Does the school expect your child to attend on a long-term basis, as they would if they were, say, taking voice lessons? Will the instructor also be doing breakout sessions in unrelated areas (such as a volleyball break during coding camp)? You and your family need to find the best fit for your time frame and end goals.
Will there be homework?
Some programs require about 30 minutes of homework per week, just to reinforce principles. Others may require some prep work, as in practicing a speech to deliver for the next class. Still others require no homework at all. For instance, kids attend Dr. Wong’s program for an hour-and-a-half twice a week, so she only gives them extra work if they request it.
Either way, Dr. Wong recommends talking to your kids about what they are learning and letting them teach you. Kids love to share what insights they have gained and surprising facts they learned, especially if these are things that their parents don’t already know! Plus, teaching will help your kids reinforce what they learned – but that can be our little secret.
What qualifications do your instructors have?
Meet with your child’s intended instructor before signing up for a course, class, workshop, or camp. Dr. Wong advises seeking a program whose owner, founder, and/or director is passionate about what they do and has significant experience in the subject matter. “I do math and science and engineering and technology because I’m a domain expert in these,” she says. “I don’t teach subjects that I don’t know.”
It’s also helpful to sit in on a class and listen to the teacher’s method of instruction. A person may have a master’s degree in a subject but not be great at conveying what they know to others – particularly young people.
Also, try to assess the person’s actual degree of expertise. “Just because someone took a few classes doesn’t mean they’re an expert,” adds Hunt. “Some people want a certified teacher. But I also think grad students are really good.”
Another tip from Hunt: “If possible, get a background check. Most tutors elect to have them, and any of our students can ask any of our tutors to get one.”
Does your program offer any other perks?
Will kids make connections in their field of interest, for example, or will they be able to compete in, say, a debate? Just as some martial arts schools go to competitions, so do some academies for math, debate, or writing, to name a few. Because of Dr. Wong’s university connections, some of her students have been able to visit expos and workshops at University of California, Berkeley. Consider which extras would be most beneficial and appealing to your child when looking for an academic program for them. But don’t get sidetracked by this. Remember your primary goals are just that: primary.
Can I attend an open house?
Once you’ve narrowed the field to a few potential candidates, the best way to choose an academic program is to pay a visit in person. Many academic programs invite families to tour their facilities, sit in on a class, meet the instructors, and gain other insights into the program. Some even hold formal “open houses” each year. This can help parents and kids get an idea of whether their child might fit well with the program and other students. (It’s also great practice for attending college open houses in the future.) If you do get to attend such an event, talk with parents and current students, as well as the staff. Find out why other families like the location, and ask which instructors they favor and why. (But keep in mind that your child’s experience may be different, even with the same educator.) If there’s not an upcoming open house at a program you’re considering, ask the director if they can set up a similar visit for you and your kids.
How can I help enhance what my child is learning?
Always remember that you are and will always be a key player in your child’s education. Trust your gut about what’s right for your child when choosing a program— and when choosing to opt out of one and try another. And above all: Be your child’s biggest proponent and cheerleader.
“I recommend not always explaining what kids did wrong,” says Dela Cruz. Schools are notorious for sending home papers marked up with what is incorrect. So children hear enough of that already. “The kids worked hard on this, they see those red marks, and they feel they have failed,” he says. What can parents do? “Look at what your child did right and tell them that first,” he advises. Then look at what they need to improve on, and treat it as that: the next logical step toward their next success.
If your middle schooler hasn’t fallen in love with reading, take a look at this list of books. From fantasy to nonfiction to movie stories and more …
Getting your child to read can be a matter of simply putting engaging material in front of them. My personal strategy is to pre-read books with my son’s taste in mind, then put only the best books in front of him. Not only does this ensure my tween has compelling (and appropriate) reading material, but it also gives us plenty of things to talk about around the dinner table. Consider trying out lit in many forms — graphic novels, Kindle books and good old fashioned paperbacks.
Here’s an intriguing roundup of everything from end-of-the-world tales to mysteries to nonfiction. You just might find a title that will entice your middle school child to start turning pages (whether paper or electronic) immediately!
Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic Books for Middle Schoolers
Dystopian literature is a popular Young Adult genre that is typified by a society unlike our own with unsettling or unpleasant living conditions that must be overcome. Post-apocalyptic novels are set in a period after a world-changing cataclysm. Here are a few in this category to consider if your tween likes games and TV shows that are a little darker.
Matched by Ally Condie
In a world rigidly controlled by the “Society,” young people at age 17 are matched (by the powers that be) to their life partner. Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander, but sees that an outcast named Ky was a discarded possibility. This sends her on a journey to question the choices made for them and how little control they have over their futures. It’s the first in a three-book series that Disney purchased for future film production.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Teen Thomas wakes in a service elevator being lifted into a harsh world populated only by other boys his age. They have to survive within a courtyard surrounded by a maze with walls 50 feet high and dodge the monsters that lurk in it. When they don’t progress fast enough, the stakes get higher. This has been made into a hit movie and is the first of a trilogy, so there’s plenty of reading available.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
The setting: an alternate world where everyone grows up looking average until they get mandatory life-changing cosmetic surgery when they reach age 16. But physical perfection comes at a mind-numbing cost. A band of rebels fights against the ruling overlords to be who they are no matter how they look. This is a great book for pre-pubescent kids already feeling the pressure to look a certain way. It’s the first in a series of four novels.
This isn’t your mother or father’s sci-fi. Today’s futuristic YA novels are more complex and look beyond simple travel to (or life on) another planet. Or they look to the future of our own Earth, where new technologies craft our societies and how we live. If your tween is all about high-tech stuff and enjoys movies like Ender’s Game, this is a category of fiction that encourages them to explore their imaginations.
Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans
Michael and a group of teens were born in a hospital while a new medical devices were being tested — and now they all have superpowers. Vey can manipulate electricity. He has Tourette’s and is being raised by a single mom while on the run from the corporation trying to collect the kids. He makes friends with more super kids and they confront the evil Dr Hatch. Four books have been released of this gripping seven-novel series.
Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith
The sci-fi Escape from Furnace series borders on horror and is perfect for tweens who dig The Walking Dead and Attack on Titan. In the distant future, Furnace Penitentiary, a fictional highly secure London prison for troubled teens, is buried a mile beneath the earth and is guarded by creatures in gas masks and deformed howling beasts. Chills ensue as the teens try to escape unjust sentences and monsters.
Feed by MT Anderson
This science fiction novel falls under the new class of cyberpunk. Set in the near future, people have brain implants called a “feed” that is a pipeline to an advanced and aggressive Internet. Corporate ads, social media, and online chats consume the brain while corporations run America. Teens enjoying Spring Break on the moon begin to question the system and try to break free of the feed.
Fantasy Books for Middle Schoolers
For tweens who have an interest in supernatural shows and movies, YA fantasy covers a wide swath of subjects. From vampires to werewolves, fairies to witches, angels to ghosts, there is a wide array of books and authors to choose from — and best of all, many come in a series that will keep them reading.
The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
Set in New York City, this series starts with City of Bones. It’s considered urban fantasy and involves a set of young teens. Demons have invaded the world, and part-angel part-human Nephilim, called Shadowhunters, hunt them down and protect the world. Fifteen-year-old Clary doesn’t know she’s a Shadowhunter, but soon finds out and discovers her world has werewolves and vampires as well. It is a gripping series.
The Secret Watchers by Lauren Klever
A rare YA fantasy with a male protagonist, this series starts with Visions where 14-year-old Owen Ryer visits a pawn shop and happens upon an old watch that unlocks a gift to sense dark energy and evil. Now he has to figure out how to support the greater good while dealing with homework, bullies, and other challenges that high schoolers face. Owen is an unintentional hero that will inspire your teen reader.
Echo’s Revenge by Sean Austin
Everyone likes a good video game, and 14-year-old Reggie draws the admiration of fellow teen gamer Claire. A new game monster ECHO-7 is released into the real world by game developers, and this fantastical creature is now going after the top gamers and taking them out. Reggie has to learn to apply his online gaming skills into real-world adventures to keep his fellow gamers safe. Great for gamers that hate to read!
This may be one of the easiest ways to lure your tween into reading: Get them to investigate their favorite movie in book form. While a number of the above have been adapted into movies, most of those listed below became popular after they hit the big screen. Leverage your kids’ interest in the characters to get them reading.
Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
If your tween ever wondered exactly how Katniss came to be so good with that bow, the trilogy of books offers lot more back-story on her (and Peeta’s and Gale’s) childhood in District 12. There’s a lot more story than even four movies can show, and these books are great reads.
Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
The Divergent movie didn’t have enough screen time to truly explore the strange and dangerous world Tris grew up in, the books do so quite nicely. And once your tween hits the halfway point of book two, they will be shocked to find out the real story of how Chicago came to be the land of factions and what waits beyond Amity and that imposing fence. This is one you may enjoy reading along with them!
Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
The Percy Jackson movies were fun, but the books may help your tween pick up knowledge to ace a class on mythology. There’s enough story there to keep them reading all summer long. Riordan wrote seven primary novels about Jackson and his pals, plus five supplementary books and three graphic novels. The cast of characters suits male and female readers alike.
Mysteries for Middle Schoolers
If your tween is a fan of the shows Sherlock and Elementary or could never stop solving Blue’s Clues as a toddler, mystery may be a great genre to unveil for them. Some of these mysteries are whodunits where crime takes a darker and more lethal turn, while other books involve less deadly crimes. A good mystery can be quite the page-turner to keep your tween reading and engaged.
Heist Society Seriesby Ally Carter
This one is fun because the female heroine is both criminal and crime solver. Katarina was raised in a family of highly skilled cat burglars, but then she chooses to leave the family business. When her dad is suspected of stealing a painting from a dangerous mobster, his life is on the line. Katarina and her crew of teen accomplices must find the painting to save her dad. There are three novels and counting.
Young Sherlock Holmes Series by Andrew Lane
Picture Sherlock as a teen in Victorian England solving crimes as a young rogue. The series begins with 14-year-old Holmes investigating mysterious deaths. The second installment has him investigating whether John Wilkes Booth is alive and well in England. Intrigue and adventure accompany the teen prodigy as he develops his investigative skills across the UK, Russia and even China.
Echo Falls Mystery series by Peter Abrahams
A YA series by a best-selling writer of crime novels for adults, these books are genuinely thrilling and perfect for tweens. Ingrid is a busy girl and a big fan of mysteries, but when her shoes are left at a murder scene, she has to retrieve them without implicating herself. Ingrid must solve the murder of the town’s resident loon while sorting out the strange undercurrents she never noticed in her small town. You may want to read it too.
Nonfiction Books for Middle Schoolers
Not every kid digs fiction, and that’s okay. There are a ton of great reads on the nonfiction shelves, from biographies to how-to’s to historical accounts of great events. This is a genre to experiment with, so explore your local library’s generous nonfiction section. Below are a few suggestions to get you thinking about what true-life things your tween may like.
We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist
This memoir by a Paralympian who lost a leg at age 9 to Ewing’s Sarcoma is surprisingly hilarious. He’s been unlucky in love since middle school and goes back to talk to each of his former girlfriends to find out why he’s so clueless and where he went wrong. In addition to being a compelling coming-of-age story, this book explores Josh’s cancer struggle, what it’s like to have lost a limb, and how he found the courage to compete as a Paralympian.
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L Swanson
This slice of American history vividly describes the race to capture John Wilkes Booth. Swanson used rare manuscripts, as well as interviews with those who pursued Booth, to explore the 12-day manhunt that ran from the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., across Maryland and into Virginia before they caught Lincoln’s assassin. Your tween will impress their Social Studies teacher with knowledge gleaned from this book.
I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson
This is a survivor’s account of life in a concentration camp. The author was 13 when her family was sent by Nazis to the Jewish ghetto and then to Auschwitz. She details living at the camp, wearing the yellow star, and being forced into labor, as well as how her experience strengthened her faith. Bitton-Jackson’s survival tale is moving and poignant, and it brings to life this terrible and important chapter of history.
Whether reading entertaining novels, visiting museums or attending academics-focused summer camps, make sure your tween makes the most of summer by keeping their brain active!
Those of you located in the Bay Area should look into Journey Across Time’s Marco Polo Camp in Palo Alto. Children are taken on a 10-week journey through time as they read and learn about art, culture, languages, and history through a unique, hands-on, role-playing summer camp experience for kids ages 8 to 13. Storytelling and role-playing historic events are a great way to immerse your children in reading historical literature, while also keeping them entertained all summer long!