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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

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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The Yankee Book Swap Game!

Stymied! Which book gift to unwrap? And will she hang onto it or will the next player purloin it?


How to exchange classroom gifts any time of year without spending a penny!

My students wanted to exchange gifts this Christmas, but I didn’t want to lose class time for literature or pressure anyone into spending money. Rather than say no, I took their request as a challenge: How can I make gifting meaningful, fair, fun, and money-free?

Borrowing an idea from some east coast in-laws, I came up with a Yankee Book Swap game (alternately called a White Elephant or Thieving Secret Santa Game). Here’s how we do it—and this year's most coveted titles. Read More 
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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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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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