Middle School to Young Adult Books

Theme: Personal Makeovers

Dreams from my Father - (ISBN: 0307383415)

by Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s memoir, written long before he thought of being president of the U.S., was an exercise for him, a search for the meaning of the legacy his African father left for him. Usually absent from Obama’s life, his father and his African family nevertheless hold a part in Obama’s developing identity as he struggles to understand how his disparate roots fit together to make him a complete person. After finally visiting Africa and meeting his father’s end of the family (his father already deceased), Obama comes to understand his role in both the African and the white communities of his mother’s family. The constant questioning Obama goes through throughout the book communicate that our identities are constantly shifting and reflective of our continuing experiences. Have you ever researched your own family roots?

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. Imagine what happens next in Esperanza’s life.

I am David - (ISBN: 978-0152051600)

by Anne Holm

David manages to survive his perilous escape from the only home he has ever known, the brutal prison camp where he grew up. He uses his wits and resourcefulness to augment the few scraps of food he manages to bring with him. Having never seen the world outside, the experience is filled with strange events and sights, but the vague goal of getting to Denmark pushes him on. Have you ever imagined what it would be like to escape from a brutal situation on your own? What resources would you use?

Make Lemonade - (ISBN: 978-0805080704)

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

LaVaughn plans to finance her dreams of college and 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 Alchemist - (ISBN: 978-0061122415)

by Paul Coelho

A humble shepherd leaves behind his comforting sheep fields to pursue the goal of finding treasure that came to him in a dream. On his way to find his fortune in Egypt, he meets many characters who offer him wisdom and the chance to find out if alchemy is really possible. Despite rough spots during his travels, he reassesses his original dream and succeeds in making his journey life changing. What goals do you have, and how do you adjust your day-to-day life events to help you follow them?

Deenie - (ISBN: 978-0385739856)

by Judy Blume

Hatchet - (ISBN: 978-1416925088)

by Gary Paulsen

Out of My Mind - (ISBN: 978-1416971719)

by Sharon Draper

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia - (ISBN: 978-0064405775)

by Esther Hautzig

The Whale Rider - (ISBN: 978-0143204381)

by Witi Ihimaera

True Believer - (ISBN: 978-0689852886)

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Activities for this Theme

Search the Internet for virtual tours of the lives of the characters in the above books, or enjoy web tours of the places where they lived.


Take a wilderness survival quiz to see how fit you are:


Which of the characters in the books above would you like to have for a friend? What qualities do you value in the people described in these books?