September 19: Middle Grade Book Talks

The book shopping overflowed into Monday this week, with 7th and 8th grade students getting the gift of selecting their own book of choice. Instead of the usual 5-10 minutes I’ve given students at the end of the period to look for a book, I opted to extend the browsing period to 20 minutes, much to the agreement and delight of students.

To start, I created a Pinterest board to highlight some of the titles I’d be sharing, then printed out and read reviews from several different websites of the books I haven’t read. On Friday, I chatted with the lovely Steve at Vroman’s and asked for his recommendations and then skimmed through the books I hadn’t read to a) see if the review matched the writing of the book and b) see if there was that hook that engages any reader: me or the students alike. Over the weekend (nursing what I can only hope is a sore throat and nothing more), I sat and read. And read.

What did I recommend?

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
Students in the past have recommended Anderson’s Sidekicked, so when I heard he would be at nErDcampMI and that he had a new book out, I had to give it a try. On a week long trip in Seattle, I sat and read his book on the Link light rail, chuckling to myself and looking like a crazy person (albeit one that really enjoyed her book).

Ms. Bixby

Reading in Seattle with a Piroshky!

A heartwarming story, Ms. Bixby’s last day shows the length that three sixth grade students will go to in attempts to recreate the Perfect Day of a teacher that’s one of The Good Ones: the teacher who makes school enjoyable, the ones you want to go back to and say hi to.

Anderson sported a very lovely tee that I wanted for my own when autographing the book, and he wrote that the students need to watch out for the toilet sharks. Shamelessly, I used that as a hook to get them to read the book. “But Ms. Lin, what’s a toilet shark?”

“Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.”

Frawsome shirt Mr. Anderson!

Frawsome shirt Mr. Anderson!

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Another title from my voyages at nErDcampMI, I likened this book to David Shannon’s A Bad Case of Stripes, only when things are said about the central character Elyse, words pop up on her arms stating exactly that. When young, Elyse sees words like “cute” or “adorable” on her arm, but navigating through sixth grade, things get a little tricky. She comes to find that often, it’s not so much what others say about her, but what she thinks of herself too.

Not surprisingly, students dove for this book when set free to shop (I had to jump aside!) and it’s one that will appeal to many going through life as a middle schooler.

Loving vs. Virginia: A documentary novel of the landmark civil rights case by Patricia Hruby Powell (Jan. 31, 2017)
In the small, close knit community of Caroline County, Virginia, two teens meet, fall in love and challenge the law forbidding interracial marriage in the 1950s.

Told in gentle verse that alternates between the perspectives of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, readers come to see how their love develops and become witness to the many challenges against their relationship. Strangers scowl and make comments when they’re together on a date. The sheriff follows Richard’s car as he drives home keeping a close eye on him and who he’s with. Interspersed with the verse are documents detailing the headlines during the civil rights era, a heightened call for justice and equality for all.

I told students I read this book because it reflects my life. My brother married his wife who is from the Netherlands and my sister married her husband who is from England. It is hard to imagine that their marriage would be considered illegal had not the laws been overturned — the most recent in 2000, which is not too long ago. Windows and mirrors. It’s important for readers to find books that reflect their worlds.


Bro & Claire


Tim & Sis

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
A book soon to become a major motion picture (directed by Steven Spielberg!)  this is one that adults and teens alike can share — especially if both are fans of the 1980s and video games.

The year is 2044 and the world is bleak. Resources have been depleted and living life is simply rough. The one saving grace is OASIS, a virtual world created by James Halliday who, upon his death, sets forth a challenge to users of OASIS: find the hidden easter eggs within OASIS and you get to take over my multi-million dollar empire.

Written with the utmost attention to detail, this is  a book steeped in reality with a great mix of science fiction. Referencing an array of old school video games and movies of the 80s, I found myself fact checking details and diving deeper into the world of gaming and films of my past.

The first video game easter egg. Truth.

The first video game easter egg. Truth.

One caveat: the novel is fraught with profanity but a mature reader will focus on the story arc which is fast paced and riveting.

Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs
A perfect tie in to the movie that’s just been released, this series of short stories may capture the attention of even the most reluctant reader. Continuing with the theme of the strange and peculiar, Ransom Riggs presents 10 stories that are utterly splendid to read.

Short stories find you, or do you find them?

Short stories find you, or do you find them?

Short stories have always held a spot in my heart. In the summer during my last year in high school, I chanced upon a series called, Best American Short Stories and fell in love. For the next 5 years, I proceeded to read each and every issue I could find. Having read them,  I attempted a story writing class in college where we discussed the mechanics of writing and how, often writing a shorter story was even more difficult than writing a longer one (microfiction!). Butler, Prolux, Jin, Diaz, Schoemperlin, Wolitzer, Moore, Jones…my library of the future will need a sizable shelf to contain this series.

The Reader by Traci Chee
In a world where reading is unheard of, Sefia has a book, the only clue to her missing aunt, the same item that led to the death of her parents. What is the rectangular item? What power does it contain?

A debut book that’s the first in a series, astute readers will notice the smudged sentences, ink stains blotting out words and the message cleverly hidden within the page numbers of the book.

Personally, I was fascinated by the premise: a world where reading is forbidden….now that would be terrible.