Great Books for Sixth-Graders

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For years, Charlie Reese has been making a wish. She wishes for it every day in hopes that it will one day come true, but suddenly finds herself in the mountains of North Carolina living with distant relatives. That’s when she meets Wishbone, a stray dog, and a neighbor boy named Howard. As her new home proves to be different than she could ever imagine, Charlie learns about what family really means as she becomes closer with her aunt, uncle, Howard and Wishbone. Sixth graders will enjoy this story, especially if they love animals, but also for its powerful family messages and heartwarming storyline.

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Jack Phillips has a condition that leaves him allergic to sunshine, preventing him from living a normal life and going outdoors. He finds solace in shadow jumping — jumping from rooftop to rooftop at night — yet things take a turn for the worse as his condition deteriorates. His father is a scientist, and is the only person who can help improve Jack’s health, but he’s missing. With help from his friend, Beth, Jack works to find his father. Along the way they find shocking information about his dad’s past, and Jack needs to find the courage to uncover the truth. This is a wonderful book for sixth graders as it covers challenging topics in a way young readers can understand and learn from, while keeping them engaged in the story with plot twists and likable characters.

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Though she knows a little bit about her Japanese heritage, Japanese-American Skye has never really put much thought into where she comes from. That all changes when her Japanese cousin Hiroshi suddenly comes to America. Now that he lives right down the street, Skye is forced to confront where she came from. Meanwhile, Hiroshi is going through his own battles as he deals with living in a new country and attempting to learn English. Can these two cousins, so similar in many ways and so different in others, learn to find some common ground as the kite-flying contest at the Washington Cherry Blossom Festival approaches?

This easy read with a few nice twists includes themes of love, compassion and understanding a clash of cultures.

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“The List” tells the story of a terrifying future where the people who live in the city of Ark are only allowed to use a set list of 500 words. The only people who are allowed to use more than these 500 words are the Wordsmith and his apprentice, a young girl named Letta. However, things suddenly change for Letta when her master dies and she is promoted to Wordsmith. All at once, she uncovers a dangerous plot, learning of a plan that will take away the power of speech from the people of Ark for good.

This story reminds readers about humanity’s role in protecting speech, and that words hold a lot of power, which can be used to help or hurt. This book is a well-crafted page-turner as well as a commentary on censorship and the role of language in our culture.

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Julian, a science-minded and emotionally sensitive boy, is trying to bring his positivity to a difficult situation: his family, two moms and his sister, has moved to Maine, but their plans to open a bed and breakfast are thwarted soon after they arrive. Julian suffers from anxiety but deals with it through his special connection with astronomy. Much of the story uses Julian’s “uni-sensor” abilities, an almost extrasensory connection he has with others, to reveal more about the other characters. He befriends a grieving neighbor, and the two develop a special bond. Julian is a thoughtful, engaging narrator who makes it easy to connect and empathize with his experience in dealing with family issues.

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The eccentric charm and sweetness of “The Language of Spells” is captivating for young readers and a reminder that there is magic all around us. This lyrical story offers a spellbinding adventure about a dragon, Grisha, who lives in a world that has forgotten how to see him. He becomes friends with Maggie, a girl who believes she is ordinary. Magic itself chooses the pair to solve the deep, threatening mystery of where all the dragons have gone. The author isn’t afraid to weave in sad elements, but these themes are age-appropriate in this sentimental novel that focuses on the power of friendships.

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In Dave Eggers’ “The Lifters,” a 12-year-old boy named Gran ends up in a new town as his father attempts to make a new life for his family. However, Gran learns there’s a secret in the town of Carousel. A magical power is carving tunnels beneath the town, and houses are falling into those tunnels. The only hope is a secret force of “lifters” who can save the day.

This whimsical storyline has a fast-moving plot, and the chapters are short, making it an easier read for sixth-graders. All of the characters grow as they delve into the unfolding mystery in which everything around them is different.

Expert Commentary

“By sixth grade, most children will be skilled at reading and selecting their own books. However, to the extent you can influence that selection as a parent, teacher or caregiver, the impact is still meaningful. Stories that feature multiculturalism, complex plots and increasingly advanced vocabulary are highly recommended.”