The California Reads Committee offers teacher-approved quarterly book recommendations for multiple age groups. View all recommendations for Grades 6-8.
Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish
By Pablo Cartaya
One boy’s search for his father leads him to Puerto Rico in this moving middle-grade novel, for fans of Ghost and See You in the Cosmos.
Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you’re only in the eighth grade, you’re both a threat and a target.
After a fight at school leaves Marcus facing suspension, Marcus’s mom decides it’s time for a change of environment. She takes Marcus and his younger brother to Puerto Rico to spend a week with relatives they don’t remember or have never met. But Marcus can’t focus knowing that his father–who walked out of their lives ten years ago–is somewhere on the island.
So begins Marcus’s incredible journey, a series of misadventures that take him all over Puerto Rico in search of his elusive namesake. Marcus doesn’t know if he’ll ever find his father, but what he ultimately discovers changes his life. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.
Publish Date: August 21, 2018
By Jewell Parker Rhodes
An instant New York Times bestseller
An instant IndieBound bestseller
The #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick
A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Only the living can make the world better.
Live and make it better. Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.
Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.
Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.
Publish Date: April 17, 2018
The Poet X
By Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers – especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, whom her family can never know about.
With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So, when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
Publish Date: March 6, 2018
The First Rule of Punk
By Celia C. Pérez
A 2018 Pura Belpré Author Honor Book
The First Rule of Punk is a wry and heartfelt exploration of friendship, finding your place, and learning to rock out like no one’s watching.
There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.
The real Malú loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malú finally begins to feel at home. She’ll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!
Black and white illustrations and collage art throughout make The First Rule of Punk a perfect pick for fans of books like Roller Girl and online magazines like Rookie.
“Armed with a microphone and a pair of scissors, this book is all about creating something new and awesome in the world. Malú rocks!” –Victoria Jamieson, author and illustrator of the New York Timesbestselling and Newbery Honor-winning Roller Girl
Publish Date: August 22, 2017
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
By Steve Sheinkin
“Sheinkin has made a career of finding extraordinary stories in American history.” ―The New York Times Book Review
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an astonishing underdog sports story―and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin, it’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.
Jim Thorpe: Super athlete, Olympic gold medalist, Native American Pop Warner: Indomitable coach, football mastermind, Ivy League grad
Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.
This thoroughly-researched and documented book can be worked into multiple aspects of the common core curriculum.
Publish Date: January 17, 2017
The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition
By Reyna Grande
Award-winning author Reyna Grande shares her personal experience of crossing borders and cultures in this middle grade adaptation of her memoir, The Distance Between Us—“an important account of the many ways immigration impacts children” (Booklist, starred review).
When her parents make the dangerous and illegal trek across the Mexican border in pursuit of the American dream, Reyna and her siblings are forced to live with their stern grandmother, as they wait for their parents to build the foundation of a new life.
But when things don’t go quite as planned, Reyna finds herself preparing for her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years: her long-absent father. Both funny and heartbreaking, The Distance Between Us sheds light on the immigrant experience beautifully capturing the struggle that Reyna and her siblings endured while trying to assimilate to a different culture, language, and family life in El Otro Lado (The Other Side).
Publish date: September 6, 2016
Save Me a Seat
By Sarah Weeks, Gita Varadarajan
From award-winning author of Pie, Sarah Weeks, and debut author Gita Varadarajan, comes a story that shows us the beautiful ways our lives end up being much more similar than we ever imagine.
Two boys – one white, one Indian American – gain strength from each other from afar as they struggle to navigate middle school, family, and friendships.
Publish Date: May 10, 2016
As Brave As You
By Jason Reynolds
Kirkus Award Finalist
Schneider Family Book Award Winner Coretta Scott King
Author Honor Book
When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires—literally—in this “pitch-perfect contemporary novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) by the winner of the Coretta Scott King – John Steptoe Award.
Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck, Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he hides it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).
How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.
Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?
Publish Date: May 3, 2016
A Night Divided (Scholastic Gold)
By Jennifer A. Nielsen
A Night Divided joins the Scholastic Gold line, which features award-winning and beloved novels. Includes exclusive bonus content!
With the rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her family suddenly divided. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, yet she can’t help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Gerta concludes that her father wants her and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
Publish Date: August 25, 2015
By Alex Gino
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl. George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy. With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
Publish Date: August 25, 2015 | Resources: BE WHO YOU ARE
By Betsy Cornwell
Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have pushed her into a life of dreary servitude. When she discovers a secret workshop in the cellar on her sixteenth birthday—and befriends Jules, a tiny magical metal horse—Nicolette starts to imagine a new life for herself. And the timing may be perfect: There’s a technological exposition and a royal ball on the horizon. Determined to invent her own happily-ever-after, Mechanica seeks to wow the prince and eager entrepreneurs alike.
Publish Date: August 25, 2015 | Resources
Fish in a Tree
By Lynda Mullaly Hunt
A New York Times Bestseller! Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the troublemaker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.
Publish Date: February 5, 2015 | Resources
By Katherine Applegate
In her first novel since winning the Newbury Medal, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.
Publish Date: 2015
Brown Girl Dreaming
By Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.
Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Publish Date: August 28, 2014
Misadventures of the Family Fletcher
By Dana Allison Levy
The start of the school year is not going as the Fletcher brothers hoped. Each boy finds his plans for success veering off in unexpected and sometimes disastrous directions. And at home, their miserable new neighbor complains about everything. As the year continues, the boys learn the hard and often hilarious lesson that sometimes what you least expect is what you come to care about the most.
Publish Date: July 22, 2014 | Blog
Batman Science Series
By Tammy Enz and Agnieszka Biskup
When it comes to fighting crime, technology is Batman’s greatest weapon. From his gadget-packed Utility Belt to his high-tech Batmobile, the Dark Knight tackles Gotham’s criminal underworld. But does any of his gear have a basis in reality? Or is it merely the stuff of fiction? Batman Science uncovers the real-world connections to Batman’s tech and much of it will surprise you!
Publish Date: January 1, 2014 | Resources
The Real Boy
By Anne Ursu, illustrator: Erin McGuire
National Book Award Longlist 2014
Bank Street Children’s Book Committee
Best Book of the Year
On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy named Oscar. Oscar is a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the village, and spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.
But now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the forest will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.
Publish Date: September 24, 2013
Diego Rivera: Artist for the People
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Diego Rivera offers young readers unique insight into the life and artwork of the famous Mexican painter and muralist. The book follows Rivera’s career, looking at his influences and tracing the evolution of his style. His work often called attention to the culture and struggles of the Mexican working class. Believing that art should be for the people, he created public murals in both the United States and Mexico, examples of which are included. The book contains a list of museums where you can see Rivera’s art, a historical note, a glossary, and a bibliography.
Publish Date: February 5, 2013
By Pat Schmatz
Travis is missing his old home in the country, and he’s missing his old hound, Rosco. Now there’s just the cramped place he shares with his well-meaning but alcoholic grandpa, a new school, and the dreaded routine of passing when he’s called on to read out loud. But that’s before Travis meets Mr. McQueen, who doesn’t take “pass” for an answer–a rare teacher whose savvy persistence has Travis slowly unlocking a book on the natural world. And it’s before Travis is noticed by Velveeta, a girl whose wry banter and colorful scarves belie some hard secrets of her own. With sympathy, humor, and disarming honesty, Pat Schmatz brings to life a cast of utterly believable characters–and captures the moments of trust and connection that make all the difference.
Publish Date: September 13, 2011
One Crazy Summer
By Rita Williams-Garcia
In this Newbery Honor novel, New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.
Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer. This moving, funny novel won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.
Readers who enjoy Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham will find much to love in One Crazy Summer. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern’s story continues in P.S. Be Eleven. Supports the Common Core State Standards
Publish Date: January 26, 2010 | Resources
Richmond Tales: Lost Secrets of the Iron Triangle
By Summer Brenner
Brenner’s place-based novels for young readers are full of landmarks local kids know and character types they have been exposed to. Through a kind of magical time-travel, the two children who are the heroes of the tale are transported to different stages of the history of the city of Richmond starting with the Native people who lived there first, through the early settlement and World War II era. Finally it foresees a hopeful future that the children themselves can create. A wonderful, readable tale for all age groups. (Brenner’s latest novel, “Oakland Tales,” is equally as interesting and is currently being used in Oakland classrooms.
Publish Date: June 18, 2009
By Margarita Engle, illustrator: Rafael López
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit. Two seventh-graders who have always been misfits decide to do something about it with the approach of the student council elections. When the they team up to form a new political party, their platform bans name calling-and the impact on the school and their own lives is a surprise to all.
Publish Date: 2001 | Resources
By Laurence Yep
Newbery Honor Book Dragonwings by Lawrence Yep takes readers on an adventure-filled journey across the world. Inspired by the story of a Chinese immigrant who created a flying machine in 1909, Dragonwings touches on the struggles and dreams of Chinese immigrants navigating opportunity and prejudice in San Francisco.
Moon Shadow only knows two things about his father, Windrider: he lives in San Francisco and used to craft beautiful kites.
One day shortly after his eighth birthday, Cousin Hand Clap arrives with a letter from Windrider asking Moon Shadow to join him in San Francisco. When Moon Rider arrives in America he learns that his father makes a living doing laundry and dreams of building a flying machine just like the Wright Brothers. But making this fantastical dream a reality proves to be no easy task, as intolerance, poverty, and even an earthquake stand in their way.
Publish Date: January 1, 1975