Trouble picking books??? Who, me?

Believe it or not, I’m having a hard time judging the appropriate level of books from online blogs and book reviews! Broad naming categories such as YA, middle grade, middle school, intermediate, etc. have left me reading some novels that are either too simplistic or too difficult for the average middle school student. That said, since I’ve always been one to focus on the interest level of students rather than on a published reading level I’ll mention these two recent reads, and hope they aren’t read by most students until high school!  Both books are easy reads, however the topics are mature, sensitive, and probably not developmentally appropriate for students under age 14.

  • Shine, by Lauren Myracle – I love the story of Cat and the young lady she becomes as this novel progresses.  Set in the rural North Carolina, the setting of this story is key to the plot lines and twists, and in truly creating a rich experience for readers.  Shine starts with the story of a hate crime, but expands to explore addiction, poverty, sexual aggression, and family relationships.  If your child is reading this book – you should be too!
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone – I loved this book!  I’m fond of books written in verse, as well as books with multiple narrators, so this was a win-win for my literary senses.  The sexual content and descriptions were necessary to the story, but definitely put it as a high school read on my criteria list!  That said, it’s a perfect book for a teenage girl who is struggling with issues of self-confidence, peer pressure, and fitting in.
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A snag in my reading …

Over the past week I have actually started and abandoned three separate books – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (don’t ask), Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, and The Poisoner’s Handbook … by Deborah Blum.  It’s frustrating to me because I am typically not one to leave a book mid-stream, and have been very reluctant to do so. I’ve started and re-started, I’ve picked back up, I’ve tried something new to break up the reading, and I still cannot commit to any of these books.  All three books were either highly recommended, or I was reading for a specific purpose, and that has led to my determination to continue on.

This morning, however, I thought back to the lessons we teach our students on abandoning books and really started to question myself.  I know when I love a book everything else in my life tends to get pushed aside and I could stay up all night to find out more!  In these three books I have built no relationship with the characters or people described, I have no commitment to the storyline, and would do anything else rather than read.  But even greater than that,  I thought about all the other books in my T-B-R pile and all the intriguing book reviews and recommendations I read daily.  There are too many books out there for me to give these three books any more of my precious reading time, and for that simple reason I am letting go!

Darth Paper Strikes Back

I found myself engrossed in book #2 of the Origami Yoda series.  Not a personal genre favorite of mine, but highly recommended (and I needed a break from the civil war book!) I only wish I had the opportunity to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda first so I would know the characters and the back story.

Thinking about my take-aways from The Book Whisperer, I know exactly the students who I would love to hand this book to.  Star Wars fans?  Absolutely.  Creative/artistic kids?  Absolutely.  Students who are overwhelmed with too much text on a page?  Absolutely. Students who love comics or graphic novels?  Absolutely.  I could go on, and on, but more about the book …

The first book in this series was about a 6th grader named Dwight and his advice-giving, origami, finger puppet of Yoda.  This book continues the story, but now it’s Dwight and Origami Yoda who are in need of assistance, and the students of McQuarrie have taken up the charge – all except Harvey and his origami Darth Vader, a/k/a Darth Paper.  Darth Paper is insulting, possibly evil, and the root cause of Dwight and Origami Yoda’s troubles!

Darth Paper Strikes Back is written as a case file, with more than ten different students offering his or her perspective on Dwight and Origami Yoda.  There are numerous entries from Tommy, and a few with Kellen, but it’s in the offerings of the other students where the readers truly see the story of Dwight and Origami Yoda.  Two case examples:  Lance writes, “Origami Yoda and Exploding Pizza Bagels of Love” while Cassie’s entry is entitled, “Origami Yoda and the Body Odor in Wonderland.”

For readers to successfully navigate this book, they must not only read the text, but also follow the drawings, diagrams, and comments written in the margins, all the while tracking which narrator is telling the story at any given point.  Also, if a reader isn’t familiar with Star Wars, it might be difficult to understand many of the references and innuendo – but for those Star Wars enthusiasts, and those up to the challenge of navigating the textual features, then this is the book for you!

Here is the Amazon link to Darth Paper Strikes Back, written by Tom Angleberger. (He also narrates this how-to on making your own Darth Paper.)

The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller has been on my to-be-read list for quite a long time, but only recently came into my hands. Mrs. Miller teaches 6th grade and is highly respected by all educators as a guru who remains in the classroom fostering a love of reading for her students!

I read this book in one night, but know I will return to it again and again. While valuable for teachers and other educators, I believe many parents would find it helpful in understanding upper elementary and middle grade readers. I actually found my copy on the shelves of my local library, so it should be fairly easy for you to get a copy of as well.

Mrs. Miller discusses many of her ideas about students as readers, including her worries about:

  • Developing readers (a/k/a struggling readers) and says, “…these students have the ability to become strong readers. They may lag behind their peers on the reading-development continuum, but they are still on the same path. What they need is support for where they are in their development and the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure.” (p.25)*
  • Dormant readers (a/k/a reluctant-readers) feel that “Reading is work, not pleasure. Without support for their reading interests and role models who inspire them to read, these students never discover that reading is enjoyable.” (p.28)
  • Underground readers are “… gifted readers, but they see the reading they are asked to do in school as completely disconnected from the reading they prefer to do on their own.” (p.30)

Donalyn Miller’s premise is simple … children will become readers if we give them ample time to read, help put interesting books in their hands, and model for them what a reading life looks like! She highlights how to recapture lost instructional time during the day** and how to repurpose a few “traditional” classroom activities with independent reading. Her book is practical, straightforward, and has challenged me to reflect on what literacy looks like across a school building.


(*)In thinking about developing readers, I keep coming back to this quote from Kylene Beers which I’ve happened on repeatedly over the past few weeks. “Do I think reading books is the only way to help struggling readers? Of course not! Sometimes I suggest reading more books.”

(**) In thinking about repurposing time I was reminded of this post by Howe Elementary School Principal, Matt Renwick. Matt is a true literary principal and has many ideas worth stealing!

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller at Amazon

Wonder

The term mandibulofacial dysostosis doesn’t often come up in children’s novels, but it is the heart of a fabulous book entitled Wonder.   This is the story of Auggie, a soon-to-be 5th grader who will be attending school for the first time at Beecher Prep.  Auggie has been home-schooled, due to years of surgeries and medical fragility, but that is about to change!   Check out this awesome video book trailer.

While this book is about Auggie’s 5th grade year, it’s certainly also a book about disability, human nature, and friendship!  Written from the viewpoint of multiple narrators, the story lives and re-lives various events through the eyes of those involved.  Wonder  is a book many parents should read alongside their children, as the perspectives are varied and the lessons are many.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway comes early in the book, but is repeated throughout …. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”  Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.

Wonder is written by R.J. Palacio.  The Amazon link is here.

I read after I posted this morning that the July Twitter Bookclub will be based on the book Wonder, and there’s a free book giveaway today and tomorrow!