Four Fast-Paced, Captivating Middle Grade Books Any Student Will Love

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If you’re looking for a great story, where the main characters are relatable, look no further than the Orca Currents collection. These books are known as Hi/Lo readers: short, high-interest novels with contemporary themes written specifically for middle-school students reading below grade level. (Reading levels from grade 2.0 to 5.0. Interest level ages 10–14.)

There really is something for everyone in this collection. The wide range of topics that are addressed in these books includes: fitting in, racism, gender equality, technology addiction, bullying, and self-image. Both the topics and characters will appeal to many readers. The main characters are always down-to-earth, real people, that many middle-school students can relate to. Whether it’s the new student, the child with a difficult home life, or the one struggling to develop relationships with peers, these characters will help your students to grow. I’ve placed a number of these books into the hands of students, and each time, they come back asking for more.

Although the Orca titles are aimed at students reading below grade level, I recommend these books to all students. We can all enjoy a fast-paced, captivating read every now and then, and that is what is so great about the Currents series.

Here are a few that I’ve read, and loved, recently:

Wildfire by Deb Loughead (@northwoodtrails)

In Wildfire, Dylan tries to find the source of a series of mysterious fires. Once he is brought into the police station to aid in questioning a suspect, he can’t help but find himself consumed with solving the mystery. I particularly loved how quickly the mystery unfolds, which is only natural in a small Ontario town where everyone knows each other.

Classroom Connection:

There are characters in this story that would serve as strong talking points when learning about coping with stress, an important part of the health curriculum.

Running Behind by Sylvia Taekema

In Running Behind, Jake can't wait to compete in the cross-country championships, but when a key team member has to drop out, their hopes of winning take a hit. It’s a beautiful story that tackles the true meaning of friendship, and how it takes a team to make things happen.

Classroom Connection:

Classroom teachers could use this story to teach students that it is important and okay to ask for help when they need it. It’s also a great story to highlight the diversity that exists in family structure, and that there are times when you have to make decisions based on the needs of others, rather than yourself.

Unity Club by Karen Spafford-Fitz (@karen_sp_fitz)

In Unity Club, trouble starts brewing when a group home for at-risk youth opens up in Brett's community. She is the president of an after-school club that aims to make a positive difference in the community. The difficulties in being a leader cause her to question her ability to do the job. A number of important lessons are touched upon in this story, and I feel it’s an important one for students to read in this world of instant impressions they are faced with.

Classroom Connection:

This book would be great to read at the beginning of the school year. Any teacher trying to build community and an understanding of equal opportunity could use this as a read aloud.

Who is Tanksy? by Bev Katz Rosenbaum (@bevrosenbaum)

In Who is Tanksy?, fourteen-year-old Tanya is a very talented graffiti artist, embroiled in a school election. Being new to the neighbourhood, and as her artwork is controversial, she must remain anonymous.

Classroom Connection:

This story would be perfect to include as part of a unit on social justice and bringing about change. It keeps the reader questioning the characters, and it will cause students to take a different perspective when analyzing current issues in the real world.


Since jumping at the opportunity to become a Teacher-Librarian, Geoffrey Ruggero has transformed the Learning Commons at a Maple Public School into a modern learning space. His passion for reading and making inspires students to bring their learning to life in many unique ways.
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January 9, 2020
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