Middle School to Young Adult Books

Theme: Problem Solvers

Breaking Through - (ISBN: 978-0618342488)

by Francisco Jimenez

Francisco tells the story of his arrival in the U.S. and his family’s struggle to make a life. Tempted by the American teens’ disrespect for their elders, Jimenez keeps his respect for his family and somehow manages to show employers his great desire to work and become a good citizen. Overwhelming obstacles face the family, but eventually, they all manage to continue their lives in a new country. Photographs seal the impact of this startling biography. Try Jimenez’ first book if you enjoy this, The Circuit.

Chasing Vermeer - (ISBN: 978-0439372978)

by Blue Baillett

Two students at the University of Chicago Lab School band together to try and discover the location of a missing Vermeer painting. This adventure-mystery story requires a lot of brain activity, since seemingly unrelated happenings gradually come together to point the way to the solution to the disappearance. Do you enjoy puzzles along with mysteries? Try and solve the mathematical puzzle of the pentominos along with putting together the rest of clues. How did your deductions match up with the outcome of the book?

Esperanza Rising - (ISBN: 978-0439120425)

by Pam Munoz Ryan

After being forced off the family ranch in Mexico because her father is killed, Esperanza’s family faces desperate times. Esperanza’s mother makes the decision to emigrate to the U.S. to escape family pressures in Mexico, and their lives change from being among the elite to being of the servant class. Battling the forces of evil uncles, a life-challenging illness, and a typically desperate adolescent romance, Esperanza emerges on top, in control of life and determined to go somewhere. What personal qualities does Esperanza draw on to overcome the stiff challenges she faces?

Make Lemonade - (ISBN: 978-0805080704)

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

LaVaughn plans to finance her dreams of college, her escape from the projects where she lives, by babysitting an unwed mother’s two very young children. Eventually, she has to back out of the job, which she ends up doing for free, because she needs to persuade Jolly, the desperate mother, to go back to school instead of taking free babysitting and free food etc. La Vaughn’s determination is sweetly echoed in the lilting poetry-like prose lines of the book; she knows she will both find a way to attend college and to also get Jolly on the right track. If you liked this book, you might enjoy its sequel, True Believer.

The Book Thief - (ISBN: 978-0375842207)

by Markus Zusak

Liesel solves the problem of her war-torn life by stealing books, learning to read them, and sharing them with others in this heart-warming and heart-breaking tale narrated by Death. Liesel has compatriots in her quest to bring the world of books to others, including her foster father, the mayor’s wife (who encourages Liesel to “steal” from her vast supply of tomes), and a young friend Rudy. Do you share your books with others? How often do you get to the library?

The Circuit - (ISBN: 978-0826317971)

by Francisco Jimenez

The Westing Game - (ISBN: B000R0VP7A)

by Ellen Raskin

True Believer - (ISBN: 978-0689852886)

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Activities for this Theme

Make an object art sculpture by combining old items in a new way. See below for ideas.


Is one of your big problems having enough spending money? Make a list of all the things you can do, and try to think of an angle to use your talents to help yourselves out. Get ideas here too.


Do you enjoy sequential books, movies, or TV shows? Try the 39 Clues book series by Rick Riordan and try to help find the elusive place where the family’s riches have come from.