I love to read aloud to middle grade and high school students. There’s a belief that once they get out of elementary school, students don’t want to be read aloud to. This is a complete myth. I’ve spoken before on ways to get teens and tweens to get engaged with reading, and being read aloud to is another way that can bring great books to the forefront of their minds.
One strategy I apply is to read aloud Choose Your Own Adventure stories and ask the class to vote on which path they want the characters to take. This creates some interesting “debates” in the library, but it does make library lessons much more interesting. I also enjoy reading aloud for selfish reasons: I simply like doing it. I like doing voices, I like trying to make the students jump at scary moments, and I like to show them that I’m not too cool for school — a mindset that many students adopt when they hit 12 or 13.
There’s also a lot of evidence to show that reading aloud to older students carries with it many benefits. It can help improve vocabulary and reduce anxiety, just to name a few. Here are eight amazing novels that I have really enjoyed reading aloud to the students in the library over the past few years.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Set in England during a brutal winter where the Channel has frozen over, allowing dangerous wolves from Europe to cross over, this weird and wonderful novel has it all: evil family members, daring rescues, edge-of-your seat chases, and a dark energy that permeates its very core. It has some of the best villains in history, in my opinion, and young heroines that don’t take any nonsense. This classic begs to be read aloud with dastardly voices for these amazing characters.
Rules for Vampires by Alex Folks
I read aloud this amazing book consistently to our 11-year-old students. It, too, has amazing villains, beautiful illustrations, a wonderful hero, and a dark, eerie setting that is filled with laughs and even more thrills. The beauty of this book is that it’s one that sticks with you long after reading it. When I read it in our library lessons, our students are absolutely transfixed — there is a nice twist in the first chapter that always surprises them. This is part of a fantastic series that everyone should be reading.
Tyger by SF Said
Reading this book aloud is like transporting the reader and its listeners to the streets of London and beyond. When Adam discovers a tiger in a London rubbish dump, he’s astounded, but this is no ordinary tiger. This is a mythical beast that’s being hunted. As Adam and his friend Zadie uncover the truth, they realise that it’s much more than the tiger’s life that’s at stake. This is a beautiful, mystical novel that is really powerful to read aloud — another one that doesn’t leave your mind long after reading.
The Book of Secrets by Alex Dunne
Swimming in beautiful Irish mythology, I read the first chapter of this to our 11- and 12-year-old students consistently. It truly has some really creepy characters that I’ve never heard of before, ones that have existed for centuries in Irish folklore that obviously didn’t make it over to Canada. I love this novel, as do our students. It features some amazing characters who embark on a journey to save their siblings and solve the mystery of what can only be described as an invasion of strange and sometimes terrifying creatures.
Fight Back by A.M. Dassu
AM Dassu is a master at cutting to the core of the matter. Her first novel, Boy, Everywhere, should be required reading in schools, and Fight Back is just as crucial. This is a novel that depicts an unspeakable act and the brutal repercussions that occur afterwards. It’s a novel that will hook its readers from page one, because you know you’ll want to be involved in the lives of these characters and defend them as they bear witness to and endure Islamophobic abuse at the hands of the ignorant and hateful. This is a powerful story my students and I both loved.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This one is a no-brainer. Got kids who claim they hate reading? I’ll give them this or Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down every time. And every time they’ll come back asking for more. It’s faster than the last ten seconds of a tied basketball game. It’s got tons of heart and has rightly been recognised for its originality and effectiveness at describing heartbreak and determination in a unique and accessible way. I love reading books in verse aloud. This one plants its seeds in the minds of students early and never lets go.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
I read this aloud over the pandemic via video link chapter by chapter to our students (with permission from the publisher and the author). I had a bunch of thank you emails from parents after doing so. This is another powerful must-read that brings to light racial injustice and white violence against African Americans. Reading this aloud was hard to do, if I’m being honest, but it’s one that I think every child should hear. Ghost Boys won our Book Award in 2018, and deservedly so. It’s one that never goes off our most-popular lists month after month.
When I See Blue by Lily Bailey
Lily Bailey is a wonderful author who pours her life into every page. This is the story of a boy named Ben who is struggling with OCD, just as Lily sometimes struggles in her real life (and is very open about in person and online). We had Lily visit our 11-year-old students months ago, and they still talk about it. When I See Blue, as I write this, has consistently been more popular in our school than Heartstopper. I love Heartstopper, of course, but I never thought another book would outpace it the way this one does. I read it aloud to our students, it has sunk in, and the school has responded by becoming obsessed with it. And rightly so.
There are hundreds of other great books to read aloud, but there are the ones I consistently go back to time and time again, because they are amazing.
Looking for even more? Check out 15+ Outstanding Recent Read-Aloud Books for Middle Schoolers.