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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

My ARC (Advanced Reader Craze) Book Club is Born!

Reading incentive: Three unopened boxes full of unpublished books, sitting on a shelf in very plain view.
Reading incentive: Three unopened boxes full of unpublished books, sitting on a shelf in very plain view.

A few days ago I put a bug in the ears of a couple of my most rabid readers. I told them I wanted to start a book club at recess for books that aren't published yet.

Aren't published yet? How is that possible? Like, we'd be the first ones to read them? grin

I pointed to three unopened boxes of ARCs—Advanced Reader Copies—and explained what ARCs are and why publishers and sometimes the authors themselves send them to book reviewers and bloggers.

I added that I had no idea what book titles were inside the boxes (knowing full well that last year's ARC box contained quite a few super hits).

I left the mystery boxes in plain sight on a shelf and let the ear bug go to work. I watched and listened for an hour or so as the whispers went 'round. still grinning
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Why I Love Banned Books

Which one has banned books? I didn't realize how much they really do look alike until my sixth graders got a little confused.
Which one has banned books? I didn't realize how much they really do look alike until my sixth graders got a little confused.

If you want to get tweens to read, forbid it!

It's really that easy.

So, every September, Banned Books Week helpfully opens the door to showcasing the many, many titles that have been ousted from schools. Together, we view and discuss a slideshow that showcases authors and their challenged books. (The American Library Association has a collection of materials.)

My tween specific list, presented in full conspiracy ("Shhh! They don't want you to know this stuff!"), is like catnip to sixth graders. This year, in particular, students expressed true shock and outrage! Indignity, even!

"What? Why?!" "Really???"
" I don't get it."
"But... that's a really good book!"
"I LOVE that book!!!!"
"But, isn't that book a classic?"

As a reading teacher, I couldn't be more pleased. Of the forbidden books that I introduce by author, plot, and title, the big reveal to students is that....  Read More 

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Check Out a Sixth Grader! And Other Creative Ideas on Teaching with Photo and Picture Books

My FREADom classroom library has a good selection of photo books and Caldecott winners to inspire future creatives.
Recently I attended the Buy Michigan Now Festival in the small, charming town of Northville. Always on the lookout for new books, sure enough, a title caught me eye and the charming, engaging author reeled me into his world.

Wayne Brillhart is a photographer and author from Hartland, Michigan. His latest story book, The Deer with the Purple Nose features some extraordinary photos of the state's indigenous wildlife. (Check it out on Amazon: The Deer with the Purple Nose.)

As a photographer, Wayne has traveled the globe, but he tells me that it was in his own backyard where he discovered stories to tell with his pictures. More than a collection of photos, The Deer with the Purple Nose is a fun mystery told from the point of view of Wayne's English setter, Purdy.

As Purdy attempts to solve the mystery of why Dottie the deer has a purple nose, the dog engages with all manner of Michigan wildlife: a groundhog, raccoon, chipmunk, and 10 species of birds. The storyline supports Rachel Carson’s idea that children have a natural interest in the world around them, but that interest needs to be cultivated and nurtured. (It's well worth exploring her book on the topic to learn more: The Sense of Wonder).

Okay, so I really like this message and this book, but the story is aimed at young kids. How can I use it with my sixth graders without them feeling like they're being babied? (Babying is like death for a tween.)  Read More 
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My FREADom Library Rises Again!

Sometimes books just grab you, and you can't help but peek inside. A big *thanks* and a *hug* to my classroom library summer work crew.


Two years ago, I started this Readalicious! blog with a post about the ritual of rebuilding my FREADom classroom library every school year. It's a daunting task of unpacking, sorting, shelving, and cataloguing that never fails to remind me of why I love books.

This year, I am grateful for the help of one of my incoming sixth graders and two former students. These motivated girls worked doggedly for hours! I’m going to have the most organized library I’ve ever had!

They started with the easy stuff—series books and folklore. Then, they put my biographies in alphabetical order by subject and my historical fiction in timeline order (not that the books will stay that way for very long!).

When they got to the nonfiction section, which is growing in response to the common core initiative, progress slowed a bit. They separated books into categories: U.S. history, presidents, science, geography, ancient history, world history, wars, and miscellaneous. I loved listening to them discuss and debate which books belong in what category.

In the meantime, I kept busy at the book repair and weeding station. Deciding which of my old "friends" to jettison in order to make room for new titles is very, very difficult for me. Among the new acquaintances are three books I highly recommend. Read More 
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Top 20 Books for Ages 10 to 12.5 (Whittled from NPR's Top 100 Books for Ages 9-14))

I love NPR's Top 100 Ultimate Backseat Books for tweens. I also love that the responses to the list are so passionate and insightful (don't skip the comments!). It's a wonderful feeling when books and reading generate animated dialogue.

I do sympathize with one commenter who said she wished reviewers would fill in more detail, especially when it comes to age appropriateness. The NPR lists spans a Grand Canyon of development—ages 9 to 14. (They generated a separate book list for teens, which I blogged about last year.)

In my sixth grade class, I navigate a tremendous, tumultuous gap in maturity among 11 years olds—let alone between 9 and 14. That's the nature of the tween beast.

When selecting reading material for my FREADom classroom library, I carefully assess issues with language, violence, death, religion, and more on a case by case basis. Adults in a child's life need to be aware of what children are reading, and that's part of my mission.

That said, my number one goal is to put good books in the hands and minds of tweens. So, I decided to narrow down the list and recommend one or two books in each category that I have personally read and that are suitable for ages 10 to 12.5—my sweet spot. I went for variety, including books that appeal to both boys and girls and, in some cases, that I know to be incredibly popular with my tween crowd.

Choosing wasn't easy (all of the books are worthy), but here's what rose to the top.  Read More 

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My FREADom Library Gets a Reality Check

My FREADOM classroom lending library is back in action! Teenagers Sam and Maddie and a very hard-working sixth grader from last year, Maggie, put in a full day's work to help me set up the entire book center anew. Thank you, ladies!

This year, I removed a gigunda box of books to make room for new titles—more nonfiction (for Common Core informational reading), the latest award winners, and favorites from the giant stack I've been reading all summer.

Marrying Books to Make Them Multiply

I played a lot more matchmaker this year—pairing nonfiction and historic fiction titles on the same topic. Once kids are mouth-agape about a subject, I plan to keep producing variations and fresh takes for them to gobble up.

A timely nonfiction book, in the face of this summer's severe drought, is Jerry Stanley's photo-documentary Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp, which I wed to the historical fiction book Out of The Dust, by Karen Hesse. Hesse's title was #7 in popularity out of all the titles my students read and ranked last year.
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How to Speed Date a Book

Okay, that's a squirmy title for a middle grade reading blog, but after having lunch with a friend who speed dates, I decided it was the perfect description of what I do on my first day of literature class.

I begin with a declaration: “Literature class, it’s speed dating time!”

Silence. Nervous glances are exchanged, a few questioning smiles, some giggles escape, girls and boys visibly lean farther away from each other, but no hands go up, no one questions the teacher or her odd statement.

I'm confident: My sixth graders are willing to go on any adventure with me. Right? So, I repeat, “It’s time for speed dating. Does anyone know what that is?”

This year, a brave girl raised her hand and explained: "People talk for a short time to see if they like each other. Then, when a bell goes off, they move on to new people."

Exactly! (Tee hee.)

That's when I spring it on these brand new sixth graders that they are about to speed date. But, I add with a deliberate pause, their dates aren't boys and girls (sighs of relief). They will be dating... books!  Read More 

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My FREADOM Library is Ready for Action

This Readalicious! blog sprouted from my FREADOM lending library—books for tweens I've read and highly recommend. I always wonder: Which books will see the most action this year?


It’s a late August ritual that I look forward to every year. I set up my entire FREADOM classroom lending library anew, unpacking the titles carefully put away in June. I reluctantly toss a dozen that are worn beyond even duct-tape repair and add fresh titles into the mix, including the books I've reviewed on this blog (see left column).

This year, the ritual took a couple days, including a marathon six-hour session yesterday, made manageable enjoyable when three students showed up to assist. These helpful kids were sixth graders last year. They wanted to make sure the incoming sixth graders have a nice, inviting library to peruse! Even sweeter, two of my helpers (both boys) are what some publishing experts would call “reluctant readers.”

Hmmm, I wonder. How "reluctant" can they be if they're volunteering a summer vacation day to help their former literature teacher organize her library? Perhaps my plot to get books into the hands of sixth graders is working!

Take a closer look at the photo, and you’ll see a few surprises. Read More 
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