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Here are some summer reading recommendations for middle schoolers


Kids across the country are heading into a well-deserved summer break, but parents may not want them to take a break from reading. I know I don't, especially given the learning disruptions during the early part of the pandemic and because, well, reading can provide a safe escape from everything going on in the world. If you've got middle schoolers or you know someone in sixth, seventh or eighth grade looking for a good read this summer, Afoma Umesi has ideas. She writes the blog Reading Middle Grade, and she joins us now from her home in Abuja, Nigeria. Welcome to the program, Afoma.

AFOMA UMESI: Thank you. Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: First, why are you reading so many books for kids? You're a grown-up.

UMESI: Yeah. To me, they just nurture my inner child. And I think for most of us, that age is so powerful. It's when you're getting to know yourself. It's when you're making new friends. You're having little bumps along the road - you know, your identity, friendships, peer pressure. It's such a powerful age. So with everything going on in the world, it's nice to open a book and know that at the end of the book, everybody will be fine. It's reassuring, it's very comforting, and it's where I like to be.

RASCOE: So, I mean, we want to help some parents out there who are going to have these kids. A lot of them may be at home just getting on the parents' nerves, and they're like, go read a book. What type of suggestions do you have first for girls who might be going through a lot of physical changes in middle school and grappling with a lot of stuff like that?

UMESI: Oh, yeah. Well, interestingly, there's one really great one that's just been released this year. It's called "Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins!" It's by Karina Evans. It is fantastic. The whole premise of the book is about Tahlia, who gets her first period. The only problem is that her mom is out of town. She's with her dad and her two teen brothers. So it's just her and her friend, who has not gotten her own period yet. And then they're going to stores, looking for tampons, trying to figure out how to put a tampon in, asking their neighbor. It's just - it's hilarious. It's relatable. And to top it all off, the next day is literally her school's pool party, and she must be there. But then she has this period, and she doesn't know what to do with it. So it's super relatable. It's so funny. You want to hug her at the same time and just, like, laugh at all the woeful mistakes she's making. So I think it's going to be a really good read for kids.

RASCOE: Oh, wow. No, that sounds - I mean, that would just be so tough. Like, not the pool party the next day.

UMESI: Oh, yeah.

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness.

UMESI: I know. And she has all these plans to, like, wear a bikini for the first time. So she thought this was her year to step up - alas.

RASCOE: So other than, like, just the physical changes kids are going through at this age, there's all this social pressure, too. And you have a reading recommendation about that - "Falling Short" by Ernesto Cisneros.

UMESI: Yeah, and it's extra special to me because it's about male friendships. It's about two boys, and they're best of friends. They've been friends since forever. They're both Latin American, and they have fathers who have issues. So one of them, his dad has an alcohol problem, and the other one, his dad wants nothing to do with him, really. He's not masculine enough for his father because he prefers books and he doesn't like sports. But Isaac and Marco - that's the two boys - they're determined to have a different year, especially in their first year of middle school. So Marco, who is the smart kid - he's saying this year he's going to get into basketball. Mind you, he's super short, very small. And Isaac, who's the basketball star, wants to pull his grades up, you know, to impress his dad, to make his mom happy. And so both of them are deciding to help each other reach their middle school goals. And it's just really heartfelt. And, of course, it comes back to them finding they don't need to define themselves by society's, you know, definition of what is smart enough or what is masculine enough.

RASCOE: And it's so important for boys, too, because I think a lot of times people will forget that boys go through, like, the social stuff and the cliques.

UMESI: Oh, yeah.

RASCOE: Sometimes boys can be reluctant readers. Are there are some other books that you would recommend to kind of get that middle grade, middle school boy reading?

UMESI: A recent one I loved is called "The Unforgettable Logan Foster." It's interesting because it's set in a world where it is accepted that superheroes exist. So he's a foster kid, and he's getting older, and he's worried that no one's going to adopt him. He's also on the autism spectrum, and he has a remarkable photographic memory. So these two people, a man and a woman - they come in, and they're interested in adopting him. But first of all, they take him in as a foster kid, and then he realizes that there's something a bit off about them. Like, the woman's tears look silver, and the man doesn't have a bed. He doesn't seem to sleep. Just when he's trying to put everything together, they get attacked by this supervillain who is coming after his new foster parents. So it starts this whole adventure, and we see how he's able to crack a really heavy scheme, actually, that's threatening to ruin their whole town. I won't say much else about it, but superheroes, lots of adventure, friendship. It's really fun.

RASCOE: That sounds like a really good book 'cause I love superheroes myself. So because we're talking about the summer...

UMESI: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...Even kids might need a beach read. What's that fun book?

UMESI: Oh, "Best Friends, Bikinis, And Other Summer Catastrophes." So from the title, you know, it's, like - it's hilarious. It's about this girl, Alex. She has a best friend called Will. They always spend the summer together. Will's mom, she has a concession stand at the community pool. So they hang out. They play. They get in the pool. They have fun. But this summer, there's a new girl, and she has a crush on Will. And Will seems to have a crush on her as well, and Alex is feeling threatened. She feels like their friendship is going to be lost because of this new thing budding between these two people. So she's hoping to keep him away from Rebecca, but at the same time, so much is happening, and Will is still gravitating toward Rebecca. She just feels like everything is moving so fast, moving faster than she's ready to catch up to. And it's just this lovely story of realizing that, you know, people don't have to be your enemy. Even if there's change happening, you can try to move with the change. And there's lots of summer vibes. They're at the pool all the time, it's hot, and they're doing summer jobs. It's just so much fun. I was just - I was hooked to that one.

RASCOE: That's Afoma Umesi, who writes the blog Reading Middle Grade. These are great suggestions. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

UMESI: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.