3 Novels to Read with Middle School Students in Social Studies

By Jessica Hayes Literacy, History

When I first started teaching history, it was difficult for me to incorporate reading passages in a productive and interesting way. I remember looking at a section in my textbook and thinking “how can I keep my students on task when I can barely concentrate on this stuff?”

As a year or two went by, I learned that as a teacher you shouldn’t stick to your text for every little thing, and that there are often more interesting readings to be found on educational sites or recommended by colleagues. I have also found that students can actually become more engrossed in novel studies than in short passages. Historical fiction and nonfiction books can be effectively applied in the social studies classroom and help make content more meaningful and memorable. Since I teach middle school, I wanted to share three U.S. history related books that you can apply in your own room that students will enjoy.

1. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher
Paul Curtisbud-not-buddy-3

Subject: U.S. History

Time Period: The Great Depression

My kids love this book. It is historical fiction, and it has the right amount of humor to keep students engaged. While students follow the main character, Bud, through his journey of finding his father, they are also given glimpses into what life was like during the Depression. Some discussions can center around Hoovervilles, food-kitchen lines, forms of entertainment, and lives of white and black families during the time period.

2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyneboy-in-the-striped-pijamas-2

Subject: World History

Time Period: World War II

This book has been a classroom favorite for years now (it doesn’t hurt that it's also been made into a movie). I love how it is written from a German boy’s perspective. He mispronounces important people and places of this time period, so students have to use context clues to figure out what he’s saying. Once students figure out what these terms really are (and that the mispronunciations are really dark puns), this creates a good segue into activities to research more about the topic.

3. Al Capone Does My Shirts
by Gennifer Choldenkoal-capone-book-1

Subject: U.S. History

Time Period: Thirties/Great Depression

I was intrigued when I first saw the title for this book, and I thought it would be an interesting read for my students to read something around Al Capone. It didn’t disappoint. My students loved it! Even though this is another book set during the Great Depression, other topics can be discussed, such as scarcity of jobs, Alcatraz, autism, Al Capone, and other notorious gangsters.




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Jessica Hayes has been teaching for five years. She completed a bachelors’ degree in Social Science Education at Auburn University in 2009, and a master’s degree in English Education from Jacksonville State University in 2014. Recently, she has received her Instructional Leadership certificate. In her work as a certified trainer for Active Classroom, she builds curriculum maps and trains educators on using the program. In her spare time, she loves reading and learning new technology/productivity skills.