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Books for ESL Readers in Middle School

Finding the best books for middle school ESL students can be especially tough. You want to empower your students/children as English readers and not scare them away with difficult texts. But you also want books to be meaningful and enjoyable to read.

Below you will find a list of novels that should connect with intermediate readers. A number of them will be culturally relevant books that should also appeal to ESL middle school students. If you've had success with any of these books, please let us know down below in the comments.

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth

When twelve-year-old Seema moves to Iowa City with her parents and younger sister, she leaves friends and family behind in her native India but gradually begins to feel at home in her new country.

Also available in: audiobook | e-audiobook

When twelve-year-old Hugo, an orphan living and repairing clocks within the walls of a Paris train station in 1931, meets a mysterious toy seller and his goddaughter, his undercover life and his biggest secret are jeopardized.

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous journey from his home in Guatemala to his older brother in New Mexico after his cousin is murdered by a drug cartel.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Set adrift on the ocean in a small skiff as a newborn, twelve-year-old Crow embarks on a quest to find the missing pieces of her history.

A young Korean girl and her family find it difficult to learn English and adjust to life in America.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Also available in: audiobook | video

A family travels from the big woods of Wisconsin to a new home on the prairie, where they build a house, meet neighboring Indians, build a well, and fight a prairie fire.

Freak the Mighty by W. R. Philbrick

At the beginning of eighth grade, learning disabled Max and his new friend Freak, whose birth defect has affected his body but not his brilliant mind, find that when they combine forces they make a powerful team.

Holes by Louis Sachar
Also available in: audiobook | video

As further evidence of his family's bad fortune which they attribute to a curse on a distant relative, Stanley is sent to a hellish correctional camp in the Texas desert where he finds his first real friend, a treasure, and a new sense of himself.

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
Also available in: audiobook | video

A young Labrador retriever, a roguish bull terrier, and a sassy Siamese cat set out through the Canadian wilderness to make their way home to the family they love.

When her parents divorce, a sixth grader struggles to understand that sometimes people are unable to live together.

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

While waiting to leave Mars before it burns up just like the Earth before it, Liam and his friend Phoebe discover some facts about time and space and realize that the human race is just one of the races trying to survive in space.

Brian's Hunt by Gary Paulsen
Also available in: audiobook

Two years after having survived a plane crash into the Canadian wilderness, a sixteen-year-old returns to the wild to befriend a wounded dog and hunt a rogue bear.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Also available in: audiobook

The mysterious death of an eccentric millionaire brings together an unlikely assortment of heirs who must uncover the circumstances of his death before they can claim their inheritance.

Mutiny's Daughter by Ann Rinaldi

Behind the privileged walls of her new boarding school, Mary struggles to fit in, trying not to reveal the identity of her father, who has been in hiding since leading a mutiny. Rollicking adventures await Mary as she ventures out into London's crowded streets, desperately searching to see her father's loving face one more time.

Flush by Carl Hiaasen
Also available in: audiobook

With their father jailed for sinking a river boat, Noah Underwood and his younger sister, Abbey, must gather evidence that the owner of this floating casino is emptying his bilge tanks into the protected waters around their Florida Keys home.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Also available in: audiobook | e-audiobook

Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Also available in: audiobook

After being sold to a cruel couple in New York City, a slave named Isabel spies for the rebels during the Revolutionary War.

Twelve-year-olds Anikwa, of the Miami village of Kekionga, and James, of the trading post outside Fort Wayne, find their friendship threatened by the rising fear and tension brought by the War of 1812.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Also available in: e-audiobook

After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp. There she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Aspiring to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school's track team, gifted runner Ghost finds his goal challenged by a tragic past with a violent father.

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

A group of children, entranced with the study of Egypt, play their own Egypt game, are visited by a secret oracle, become involved in a murder, and befriend the Professor of the local junk shop.

Close to the Wind by Jon Walter

Malik and his grandfather are trying to flee a war-torn country on the last ship waiting at the port for those who can escape - but when the ship leaves only Malik is aboard, and he will need all his courage to survive in a new country.

Walking Home by Eric Walters

When sudden political violence gets their father killed and destroys their home in Kenya, siblings Muchoki and Jata travel hundreds of kilometers in a desperate search for their last remaining family.

The Journal of Ben Uchida by Barry Denenberg

Twelve-year-old Ben Uchida keeps a journal of his experiences as a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp in Mirror Lake, California, during World War II.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza and her mother are forced to leave their life of wealth and privilege in Mexico to go work in the labor camps of Southern California, where they must adapt to the harsh circumstances facing Mexican farm workers on the eve of the Great Depression.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Twelve-year-old Addie admires her older sister Meryl, who aspires to rid the kingdom of Bamarre of gryphons and ogres. Addie, on the other hand, is fearful even of spiders and depends on Meryl for courage and protection. When Meryl falls ill with the dreaded Gray Death, Addie must gather her courage and set off alone on a quest to find the cure and save her beloved sister.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Deza Malone, the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, accompanies her mother and older brother on a trip to find her father, an African American man who left to find work after the Great Depression hit. They end up in a Hooverville outside of Flint, Michigan, and her brother attempts to be a performer while Deza and her mother search for a home.

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