The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan (You may recognize The Lightning Thief)
When I student taught in a 6th grade social studies class, I began a Greek mythology unit with all the expectation of being the first to introduce the subject. Rick Riordan had already beat me to it.
Riordan, previously a history teacher, decided to write a series influenced by Greek mythology. The series has become widely popular, increasingly influential to its readers, and is being made into a movie.
80% of my 6th graders were not only familiar with the main characters in Greek mythology, but they also knew the basic plots of various myths due to Riordan's fictional series.
These books will make the subject come alive to middle schoolers and encourage them to study the mythology behind the books on their own.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Don't be misled by the "preteen-esque" cover. This is not just a silly book filled with bubbles, giggles, and general nonsense. Spinelli once again displays a knack for finding new truths in the midst of the most ordinary life situations. Stargirl, the main character, demonstrates a faultlessly innocent character and is predictably punished for her naivete by the cruel world she lives in. However, merciful Spinelli allows Stargirl's unfailing goodness to overcome in the end, something we readers need to see on occasion. Spinelli always gives you a good ending, but rarely in the way you expect. More to come on him.
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Started by a novice writer at the age of 15, Paolini is now on the fourth book of the fantasy series and adored by the young audience he has since matured out of. Paolini creates a complicated fantasy world, comparable on a smaller scale to Tolkien's in its totality and independence. The reader experiences the ups and downs of fate for the young hero, Eragon, who has to take on a great responsibility during a dark time. Dragons, magicians, and a medieval setting keep the reader entranced, but this is not an easy read. You truly feel like you've accomplished something by the fourth book.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
I know, I know, it looks like a cutesie mousie bookie. Don't judge the content by the adorable cover and mesmerizing illustrations. It is a whimsical fairy tale, worthy of Hans Christian Anderson, and each word seems to be plucked from a magical tree of enchantment.....HOWEVER, DiCamillo has intertwined heavy themes throughout the sweet storyline that differ from your usual fairy tale stereotypes. You commiserate with the enemy, foul as he is at times, and are never quite sure what or who is good/bad. It is an important step for a young reader to take, into the land of complicated themes and ambiguous character roles. Highly recommended by me and...what is it, OH yes, Newberry something or another....