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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

My All-Star Read-Aloud Lineup to Start the School Year

A student wrote this note of warning to my incoming class of sixth graders. I keep it taped, front and center, to my desk.
A teacher friend who is switching grades this year asked me about good read-aloud books for middle grades. I’ll get to my all-star lineup in a moment, but my best advice, whatever you choose, is: “Hook ‘em and leave ‘em hangin’!“ Ham it up, then stop reading at just the right moment, and they’ll beg for more.

I know some people would rather listen to fingernails on a chalkboard than be plopped alone in front of a classroom full of adolescents, charged with having to entertain that tough crowd. Not me. Reading aloud is, by far, my favorite time of the school day (for my students, too, I hope). There’s a thespian ham in me, and I love that feeling when I look up from the page and see 30 kids hanging on my every word!

Before I get to those enthralling titles, let me put this misconception to rest: Sixth graders are not too old for read-alouds—even with Mom and Dad or older siblings.

Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of putting books into the hands and minds of tweens of all dispositions and skill levels, and read-alouds are a key to that success. At my school, kids know that, when they walk into Ms. Hopping’s room, I will read to them, and then they will read, too.

My mission to hook kids with the right books is unflagging, but I have also found that, when students reach sixth grade, a new level of maturity and readiness propels some of them headlong into the world of reading. At that special moment, I feel blessed to be there to guide the way.

However it happens, one of the most humbling and satisfying things that a parent can say to me is, “You got my kid to read. Thank you!”

If you’re a parent or teacher new to read-alouds, pick up Jim Trelease’s Hey! Listen to This for grades K through 4, and Read All About It! for fifth grade and up. These wonderful collections include ear-friendly short stories, chapters from novels, poetry, and even newspaper articles. If you never had the pleasure of hearing Jim speak passionately about reading (he retired in 2008), he still imparts wisdom and resources through his website.

So, what are some of my favorite read-alouds? Read More 
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Icefall, by Matthew Kirby

My Dad sure can tell a story! We’ll be on the edge of our seats one moment, wondering if he survived some brutal, post-war military exercise (and, duh, of course he did because he’s telling us the story, 60 years later...), and then laughing hysterically as he explains how he showed off for pretty Fräuleins on the German Alps (one hitch: the handsome American soldier didn’t know how to ski!).

I imagine author Matthew Kirby has a storyteller in his past. After reading his fabulous debut novel, The Clockwork Three, I was thrilled when my sister Lorraine came home from a middle grade author buzz panel at BookExpo America with an advanced copy of his second novel, ICEFALL.

Whoo boy. What a story!

Set in Medieval Norway, three Viking children have been spirited away to a hidden fortress for safety while their father defends his kingdom against an enemy warlord. The kids are in the care of trusted family servants and soldiers—or so they think. Winter is setting in (no small thing in the mountains of Norway). Supplies are low.

The plot gets spicy early with the arrival of the king’s special forces, a group of about 20 fearsome berserkers. Tagging along with the soldiers is Alric the skald, the king’s personal storyteller.

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The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby

Wow! Wow! Wow! This is the debut novel of Matthew Kirby and Wow! (I say again) it is terrific. It reminds me of so many stories, and yet the plot is unique. (My sister Lorraine passed along an ARC of Kirby's next book, Icefall, which I like even more; review coming soon.)

Three characters, Giuseppe, Hannah, and Frederick all live in a bustling, late-1800s port city bordered by McCauley Park, an area that has never been developed. Parts of the park are so wild that cougars still live there.

Each of the three characters needs something, and they can't achieve their goals without helping each other. Giuseppe (joo-SEP-ee) is a street musician who longs to return home to Italy. Fredrick is an apprentice clockmaker who wants to make journeyman (a step above apprentice) by creating the most amazing clockwork man (a type of automaton) the world has seen. Hannah has had to quit school to support her family as a maid in a fancy hotel. Her father is seriously ill, and she desperately needs money for the medicine to help him.

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