The books I read in middle school were the ones that stuck with me. I’ve always loved reading, but middle school was the point where I became a true bookworm – when I’d wait eagerly for the next book in a series I loved, and tell everyone I knew all about my favourite stories, no matter how glazed-over their expressions got. I went to a couple of different middle schools, and in my second one, where I didn’t know anybody, I started spending the majority of break times in the school’s library (we had the bonus of a fantastic librarian, who always pointed me towards my next favourite read). The book series for middle schoolers had a special edge, a promise that you’d see beloved, familiar characters in a new situation – like meeting up with old friends.
Even at the ripe old age of 34, I still love reading books aimed at middle schoolers. In a scary world, book series for middle schoolers can be a beacon of hope – there are struggles to face and dangers to overcome, but the heroes and heroines of these stories always do what’s right, brave and necessary. We’re still in a golden age of children’s literature, and there are some fantastic recent middle school series that I’d recommend to readers of any age.
The Emily Windsnap Series
Everyone loves a good mermaid story, and the Emily Windsnap series is a very good mermaid story, with secret superpowers and plenty of magic. The story begins in the appropriately named The Tail of Emily Windsnap, when Emily discovers that she turns into a mermaid when she’s immersed in water. Soon, Emily is caught up in underwater adventures with other mermaids, and even encounters Neptune himself.
The Alex Rider Series
If you don’t fancy being a mermaid, how about a spy? The Alex Rider series, beginning with Stormbreaker, asks the question “What if James Bond was 14, and also not a completely terrible person?” Alex finds himself pulled into MI6 shenanigans following the mysterious death of his uncle, and in each story, has to take on a variety of horrifying supervillains with the help of some fantastically imaginative gadgets.
The Artemis Fowl Series
‘Die Hard with fairies’ is how I first saw these books described, and it’s hard to think of a better summing-up of this story of the rivalry (and eventually friendship) between a young criminal mastermind and a hard-nosed fairy police officer. The world-building in this series is unbelievably detailed, with the fairies’ home so well-realised that I get kind of sad when I remember that, actually, there isn’t a secret society of supernatural creatures living underground.
There’s nothing I love more than a good murder mystery, and Sharna Jackson’s recent series set in London is a great addition to the canon. Kid detectives Nik and Norva are out of school for the summer, when there’s a murder in the block of flats where they live – and they’re the only ones who can solve it, using a mix of smarts, instinct, and tech.
The Song of the Lioness Series
This classic series maybe drifts to the older end of the scale, but I tore my way through the Alanna books in middle school. Switching places with her brother, Alanna disguises herself as a boy and begins training as a knight in the first installment in the series, Alanna: The First Adventure. The world of Tortall is as immersive and exciting as Narnia or Middle-earth, and Alanna herself is a heroine to inspire every young reader.
The Tristan Strong Series
Published under the Rick Riordan Presents umbrella, the Tristan Strong series follows the titular hero, who accidentally ends up in the middle of a conflict between African and African American gods and legendary figures in the world of the Midpass. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the first book in the series, featuring appearances from many familiar figures, including the trickster god Anansi.
The Knights and Bikes Series
A gloriously silly, action-packed adventure, this series (which is, as of very recently, also a computer game!) follows best friends Demelza and Nessa, who explore the island of Penfurzy, uncover mysteries, and hang out with an irascible goose. Knights and Bikes is a great read for puzzle-loving kids.
The Sam Wu Series
As many stories have taught us, true bravery is when you’re afraid and do the thing anyway. Sam Wu is very afraid of a lot of things, including ghosts and sharks. We first meet him in Sam Wu Is Not Afraid Of Ghosts!, where Sam decides to prove to the school bully that he’s not as much of a scaredy-cat as everyone thinks. Aimed at the younger end of the middle school cohort, the Sam Wu stories are a lovely, relatable read for anyone who’s had to deal with childhood fears.
The Murder Most Unladylike Series
Did I mention I love murder mystery stories with awesome kid detectives? Because I do. And I especially love Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, 1930s schoolgirls who always seem to end up in the middle of a dastardly crime that only they can solve. If you’re sad that there’s never going to be a new Agatha Christie to read (guilty) then this series, beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, will fill the gap.
The Devlin Quick Series
A modern-day Nancy Drew, Devlin Quick is the daughter of a police commissioner who ends up solving crimes herself. Whether she’s tracking down a thief who struck New York Public Library, or dealing with fraud on a dinosaur dig, Devlin’s adventures are always exciting – and bring in enough forensic science to satisfy murderinos of any age.
The Apprentice Witch Series
Arianwen is an accident prone trainee witch who isn’t quite in control of her powers, and if that isn’t the best set-up for a fantasy series you’ve ever heard, I can’t help you. In this Diana Wynne-Jones-esque adventure series, Arianwen tries to make it as a fully-fledged witch whilst battling scary supernatural forces that threaten her newly-adopted town.
The Brightstorm Series
A fast-paced steampunk-style adventure, the Brightstorm series follows twins Arthur and Maudie, who take to the skies in an airship in an attempt to find out the truth about what happened to their explorer father. This is another richly-imagined world, with plenty of action and mystery to keep readers guessing.
The Beetle Boy Series
I can’t think of another series where beetles are the heroes, but in Beetle Boy and its sequels, we find ourselves in a world where creepy-crawlies are celebrated for the beautiful, fascinating creatures that they are. Darkus and his beetle friend Baxter have to find Darkus’s kidnapped father, and along the way, run up against the evil plans of a villain so horrible she’d make Roald Dahl cry.
Of course, these are just a small selection of the many brilliant middle school series out there, and we’re lucky enough to live in an era where more great books are coming every day. Whether you love fantasy adventure, tricksy mysteries, or upbeat contemporary, middle school series have something for everyone – and you’re never too old to read them.