It is that wonderful time of year when school starts again. It is my absolute favorite time of year. There is something about it that just makes everything seems new, and all your goals seem possible. Maybe people who haven't been on a school calendar for their entire lives feel like this in January?
Last year I started a reading program where all the students in my middle school got 40 minutes once a week to read whatever they wanted to at school. This year we are increasing it to two days a week, which is exciting. The kids have responded overwhelmingly well to it, but there are always students who struggle to find a book that interests them. Here are ten books that I recommended last year that got great positive feedback.
The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros
"When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are."
by Hena Khan
“That was forever ago! We’re in sixth grade now. You need to get over it.” Soojin sighs as if my entire middle school future depends on performing a solo in Ms. Holly’s Blast from the Past production. I don’t let her see how much I agree with her and how badly I want the spot.
Amina's Voice is a wonderful story of an everygirl who is growing up Muslim in America. She learning to figure out life as a sixth grader. Why are friendship groups shifting and changing? Amina is a lovely character who is super relatable. I read this book in one sitting.
Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
“Everyone is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it’s stupid.”
This is one of my favorite Middle Level books ever! I have read this a few times and it never fails to choke me up. Ally's perseverance and strength of character just shine.
by Cece Bell
"And being different? That turned out to the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”
The great thing about graphic novels is that they so easily lend themselves to differentiation. El Deafo can be read as a surface story, or deeper as a search for friendship and acceptance, or deeper as a story about figuring out who you truly are.
by Wendelin Van Draanen
“Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss...." He turned to me. "But every once in a while, you find someone who's iridescent, and when you do, nothing will ever compare.”
This book is so cute. The same events are told from two points of view. What happens all depends on how you look at things.
by Kwame Alexander
“Never let anyone lower your goals. Others’ expectations of you are determined by their limitations of life. The sky is your limit, sons. Always shoot for the sun and you will shine.”
Ah, the obligatory book about sports. Not my favorite genre. Maybe because I wasn't a sporty kid? But wait. The Crossover goes so far beyond "sports are cool" and into sports as a metaphor for life. All at an accessible level and told with beautiful verse.
by Thanhha Lai
“Life is easy and hard, beautiful and ugly.”
Books in verse are a surprising hit with reluctant readers. Minimal text, quick reading times, and high interest stories make them a great starting place. Occasionally, a student balks at the look of poetry but I find it I read a page aloud to them they very quickly catch onto the rhythm of the story and want to read it on their own.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick
“I address you all tonight for who you truly are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, and magicians. You are the true dreamers.”
This book has a great story and lots of beautiful illustrations. It always seems sad to me that after a certain point we don't get pictures in our chapter books.* After you get past the young reader stage I guess everyone just assumes that the text can do all the work. And maybe it can. That doesn't mean that it has to...
*Pettition for fully illustrated YA edition (a la Harry Potter) Like, I was thinking of Strange the Dreamer or The Night Circus and now I want this badly.
Better Nate Than Ever
by Tim Federle
“'Holy Dance of the Vampires, no! ' (Instead of cursing, we shout out the titles of legendary Broadway flops.)”
Nate is adorable and enthusiastic and this book is a funny breath of fresh air. And if you need that "Middle School Approved" stamp this was the number one book listed by seventh graders at my school when asked what their favorite book read in the last year was.