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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

More ARC Reviews: Tweens Tell ME Which Books are "Suitable"

The moment I open a fresh box of unpublished books, a box that has been sitting around mysteriously in plain view to build anticipation and pique curiosity, I let my squad of volunteer have at it. A reading frenzy!

The sixth graders in my Advanced Reader Club (ARC) get to choose which books they want to read, screen, and recommend (or not) for my FREADom Classroom Library.*

But, not every review copy finds a reader and not every chosen book gets a review.

A great cover, an intriguing title, a favorite author, an exciting plot description, an addictive genre can all compel tweens to dive into a book. But will they sail through to the end? Or abandon ship?

Unchosen and unfinished books get tossed back into the box.

Here, in this third post on the 2017 selections, are seven books that made it past the first two hurdles—pick me, read me (ALL of me).  Read More 

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ARC Reviews: My Tweens Take on the World's Bestselling Author

The world's bestselling author, James Patterson. (Photo from Jimmy Books website.)

On JIMMY Patterson dot org, the middle grade website of author JAMES Patterson, who claims to be the world's bestselling author (350+ million sold, a Guinness record), the mission is clear:

We want every kid who finishes a Jimmy book to say, "Please give me another book."

That's one of my missions, too, of course, but it's easier said than done. Do "Jimmy books" measure up in the eyes of sixth graders? Three of my ARC (Advanced Reader Club) screeners weighed in on three titles under this relatively new imprint.

Here's what they reported to me, when asked if I should include the books in my ultra-picky FREADom Classroom Library (little space, niche focus on ages 10.5-12, books that are worthy and suitable).  Read More 

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The 2017 ARC Reviews Are In! Just in Time for Censorship Week

Two years ago, in 2015, I started the ARC, the Advanced Reader Club in my classroom, which quickly expanded to include other sixth graders, at all reading levels, and then, last year, even my principal!

My trustworthy sixth graders (and principal) were granted privileged access to advanced reader copies of books yet to be published (thank you, publishers, especially Scholastic) in exchange for telling me whether the books are suitable for my locally famous FREADom classroom library.

Beyond a mere book report, I hoped they would give me the thumbs up, thumbs down on putting a NEW book on my classroom shelves, likely in place of another OLD book since space is limited.

Suitable? What do I mean? What can sixth graders handle? What CAN'T they handle? Questions abounded, good ones, interesting ones... questions that we probe each year during our Book Censorship Unit in September. I love it.

As I start the new school year, I have a box full of ARC reviews from my former brilliant readers who are now seventh graders and thus out of my sphere of influence. THANK YOU, to all who voluntarily participated.

Now, with pride and uncertainty (I have not read all the books), I'd like to report to you, internet at large, their findings.

Which books are safe, intriguing, appropriate, WORTHY of my classroom library, which is resurrected and curated each year with painstaking care?

Let's start with a report from good student Leah...  Read More 
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The Last Surviving Novel: Summer Reading

What I mean by a high-interest article from Newsela.
What I mean by a high-interest article from Newsela.

Every June, I send the parents of the fifth graders—soon to be my sixth graders in the fall—a list of fiction and nonfiction books for summer reading. These can't-miss, super high-interest titles appeal to a range of tweens, specifically at ages 10-11. My speciality!

This year, my list contained one title, a novel. More about that book in a moment. The rest of the recommended reading section featured selections from an online service called Newsela.

The site features articles about current events and other topics, each one available to read at a range of reading levels (based on Lexile score). Students can self-differentiate by choosing their own reading level, and we can all annotate the text, sharing questions and comments. Call it social reading, a welcome approach since it's generally more fun to do things with others.

Kids take a quick, four-question quiz after reading an article, which allows me to automatically assess and track progress. The readings are short, and I assigned one article for every Monday over the summer. It started with Alex Honnold's first-ever free climb up El Capitan, the sheer cliff in Yosemite Park.

As for the lone novel on the list?  Read More 

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Return of the ARC (Advanced Reader Craze) Club!

I've already taught my class how to quickly evaluate books based on the cover art and copy. Let the reading frenzy begin!
As a blogger of books for tweens (ages 10.5-12, specifically), I spend my summers reading ARCs—Advanced Reading Copies—of upcoming books that aren't quite published yet. I try to sneak in a title or two during the school year, but time is precious when lessons are in session.

My goal is to find fresh books to add to my locally famous FREADom Classroom Library, a highly selective set that sixth graders can check out at will. I can't go by reviews or word-of-mouth; I have to read the books myself for levels of maturity, quality, appropriate themes, and tween appeal.

Falling behind a couple of years ago, I decided to take a risk and entrust this job to my best readers. I decided to give them books, unread by me, to evaluate for their peers. As I set out the crisp titles, to my glee, a READING FRENZY broke out!!!
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Dear Parents of Rising 6th Graders

Every June, I send home a letter for parents of my next year's class of 6th graders. On the first day of school, 2016, we'll have something to talk about, something in common, even if the tweens just do a few of these stay-sharp summer activities.

The reading list is at the core, a bit different each year and designed to provide a wide range of genres and levels—something to appeal to every kid.

Dear 6th Grade Parents,

I look forward to meeting everyone in the fall. In the meantime, here’s some information to digest over the summer.

First, a subject dear to my heart - literature! It is impossible to overstate the importance of reading. So, in 6th grade, as children’s author Gary Paulsen says, we will “read like a wolf eats.”
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Poetry? Fun AND Cool?

Yep, it's true. The key: Everyone loves a surprise. Close an envelope, tell kids there's something really amazing in there, and then give them strict instructions NOT to open it. BAM! They're hooked.

I adapted my ultra-successful poetry unity from this Poem in Your Pocket activity, by The Poetry Society of America.

Each sixth grader chose an envelope, sealed shut, from one of eight piles. Then, they had to wait ALL WEEK to open it. I caught many of them holding their envelopes up to the light to try and get a peek at what was inside.

One mom told me that she was duly chastised for trying to open it early: "Mom, we are NOT allowed to open that until Friday!" Here's how that long and suspenseful week unfolded.
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The Kid Who Wants to Tell You Something

So, I’m in my 26th year of teaching and I guess that means I’ve taught a lot of kids, seen a lot, done a lot, been through a lot. Many moments stand out: amazing, sad, touching, frustrating, mundane, hilarious….

The business of a classroom, first thing in the morning, is a relatively routine moment – teachers greeting, students organizing for the day. As any teacher will tell you, part of that routine is The Kid Who Wants to Tell You Something.

I’ve heard all kinds of things during that time:


Ms. Hopping, my cat had kittens.
Ms. Hopping, I went to the book store and got a boxed set of Harry Potter.
Ms. Hopping, my dog was hit by a car.
Ms. Hopping, did you see the Michigan State game yesterday?
Ms. Hopping, we won our hockey game last night, but there was a fight in the stands. Ms. Hopping, my cousin is getting married and I’m in the wedding!
Ms. Hopping, I'm going to Disney World over Easter Break.
Ms. Hopping, I went to the Tiger game last night.
Ms. Hopping….


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The ARC (Advanced Reader Club) Reviews Are In!

What's next for the ARC readers?

Last year, lightning struck when I figured out the time-efficiency equation that is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing, as many of you know, means farming out to the general public a request for ideas, actions, or input that one person alone cannot possibly undertake.

I was that person. Faced with the perpetual challenge of keeping up with my ever-growing my to-read stack, which dwindles only slightly in summer and then mushrooms during the school year, I started an ARC: Advanced Reading Club in my sixth grade class.

The idea was to recruit my very best readers to help me prescreen, rate on a scale of 1 to 10, and review boxes of ARCs—advanced reading copies—from publishers and independent authors and filter out the definite "no's" (zero) while raising to the top the "yes, yes, yesses! (10's)" The first task was to determine if a book is "appropriate" for sixth grade (we talked about that a lot) and, secondly, merits a coveted spot in my FREADom Classroom Library.

The program launch was an enormous success, with the excitement and enthusiasm spilling over into the general population such that there was a bit of a feeding frenzy each time I opened a box. (Seriously! Read that earlier post!)

I promised to get back to you about what last year's ARCs found. Here's a selection of the very first reviews, in the words of the sixth graders, who clamored to be "the first!" to read books that hadn't yet been published. (But, now they are now!)
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Spontaneous Poems on the Power of Words

So, we were reading aloud the book Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, and close to the end, there's a crushingly sad part. (I won't spoil it, but maybe you've guessed.)

A couple of students cried. Real tears.

One girl said, "Man, I'm cryin' over here!" Sob.

I was not the least bit surprised. Happens every time I read this book.

I said, "It's not an author's job to make you feel happy. It's an author's job to make you feel. That's the power of words."

Whoa. Floodgates. An energetic and excited conversation ensued, which the sixth graders eventually tied to our censorship unit at the beginning of the year. (Be still my heart!)

The gist of what they said, "Dictators don't want people to know things, and they keep information from people, and it's powerful."
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