5 Books for Middle Schoolers

Have you been asked to help improve students’ reading scores in your music classroom? NAfME member Stephanie Cronenberg has found some reading materials for music classes appropriate for most middle school readers.

Cronenberg recommends reading each for appropriateness before recommending one to a student.

Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice, by Pat Lowery Collins, Candlewick Press, 2009.

Reading Level: Advanced Middle School Reader, Mature Content

Musical Content: Baroque compositions, Instruments and ensembles; Practicing musicians

Type of Book: Historical Fiction

In 1700s Venice, Antonio Vivaldi worked at a girls’ orphanage teaching vocal and instrumental music. The book paints a vivid picture of life in Venice, the prospects of young women with no families, and the young musicians who performed Vivaldi’s early compositions.

Both vocal and instrumental music are addressed as well as the composition, rehearsal, and premiere processes in Baroque society. The novel contains some mature content, including an unwanted teen pregnancy.

The Mysteries of Beethoven’s Hair, by Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley, Charlesbridge, 2009.

Reading Level: Average Middle School Reader

Musical Content: Classical period; Beethoven

Type of Book: Nonfiction—Biography and Forensic Documentary

This book details both Beethoven’s life and the scientific discovery made in the 1990s from hair cut from Beethoven’s head during his funeral.

This is a unique resource for integrating language arts, science, and music history. It is strongly recommended for any student musician also interested in science or for use in a cross-curricular partnership between music and science teacher.

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick, Scholastic, 2004.

Reading Level: Average Middle School Reader

Musical Content: Band and drumming; Practicing musicians

Type of Book: Contemporary Realism

Steven is certain that the best thing in his life is drumming and the worst thing is his little brother Jeffery, until his brother is diagnosed with leukemia.

Told from the perspective of a middle school boy, this engaging novel uses drumming vocabulary throughout. Steven stands as a model for any student who neglects practicing, and the book demonstrates how a love of music can help a student survive a difficult personal time.

The Mozart Season, by Virginia Euwer Wolff, Square Fish, 2007.

Reading Level: Average Middle School Reader

Musical Content: Violin playing techniques; Practicing musicians

Type of Book: Contemporary Realism

Allegra spends the entire summer after seventh grade preparing to be the youngest finalist in a statewide violin concerto competition. Along the way, she learns about music, her heritage, and the people around her. Filled with excellent musical explanations and written like a seventh grader talks, this engaging story has music woven throughout.

The book realistically presents learning a concerto from the first read-through to the final performance with an orchestra on stage.

My Life: The Musical, by Maryrose Wood, Delacorte Press, 2008.

Reading Level: Average Middle School Reader

Musical Content: Musical Theatre

Type of Book: Contemporary Realism

Two high school students are obsessed with a Broadway musical. Weekly, they secretly travel into New York City to see the show.

Although the musical content of this book is the weakest of this list, the novel is written by a former Broadway performer. Each chapter title is a song from a famous musical, and chapter subtitles provide the name of the show, year, lyricist/book writer, and composer. Teachers could plan a Broadway theatre unit around each chapter title. On the negative side, the characters lie and skip school.


Middle School General Music: The Best Part of Your Day, by Elizabeth Ann McAnally

Stephanie Cronenberg teaches eighth grade general music at Campus Middle School for Girls and is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

—Linda C. Brown, November 9, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)