Virginia Reader's Choice: Suggestions for Middle School Readers

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

Last week I had the pleasure of witnessing an innovative use for a web cam—book discussion! Spotsylvania school librarians at Chancellor, Freedom, Post Oak, Spotsylvania and Thornburg Middle Schools combined forces, and their own excitement, to virtually bring students together in a way that otherwise would require buses and permission slips. The event, “Cookies and Conversation,” allowed students to discuss books with participants at other schools while eating cookies in the comfort of their home library. 

The books on the agenda were the middle school reading list for this year’s Virginia Reader’s Choice ( This annual list, sponsored by the Virginia Reading Association, is used throughout the state and culminates in April when participating schools vote on their favorites. Statewide winners are announced in May. The titles for the older students are frequently well-written books that don’t have wide readership. Sometimes because of unusual subject matter and sometimes because the cover is awful! 

“The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had” by Kristin Levine falls in the bad cover category. When Harry “Dit” Simmons’ hears a new kid is coming to town, he can’t wait to meet him. Only one problem, “he” turns out to be a she! Dit is bitterly disappointed by gender differences, but the rest of the town focuses on her color. Somehow the two become friends and Dit starts to question things he’s always accepted. Like why blacks and whites can’t go to school together and how they can be treated as if there were different laws for both. The students enjoyed this wonderful story of two brave teens and recalled some unlikely friendships of their own. 

The Underneath“The Underneath” by Kathi Appelt is the story of a stray cat, in desperate need of a safe place to have her kittens, and a dog, chained under a porch, with a desperate need to love and be loved. Gar-Face, Ranger’s owner, is an evil man, and would love nothing more than kittens for fresh alligator bait. Ranger does his best to keep them safe, but cats are curious creatures and one wanders too far putting everyone at risk. This book evokes a visceral response in almost everyone who reads it. It’s well-written with great characters and nail-biting drama, but don’t let the cute animals fool you! Older elementary and above is the perfect age for this one.   

Shooting the MoonThe 8th grade students really enjoyed “Shooting the Moon” by Frances O’Roark Dowell. 
Jamie firmly believes her father, the Colonel, is perfect and that military life is where she belongs. Until her brother is sent to Vietnam. Instead of writing letters home, he sends rolls of film which Jamie learns to develop. In the darkroom, she uncovers vivid images of the harsh realities of war; images that contradict everything she’s ever been taught. Jamie is left bewildered until another soldier helps her find her place again. 
The London Eye MysteryHow could his cousin Salim just disappear from a crowded ride? In “The London Eye Mystery” by Siobhan Dowd, Ted, who has Asperger’s, has a theory—spontaneous combustion! Since he’s the only one who believes that idea, he sets out to find his cousin and ends up playing detective with his sister Kat. That’s only Ted’s first step outside his comfort zone in this wry mystery with likeable characters.