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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

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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NPR Top 100 Teen Books: My Picks

NPR published a final list of top 100 teen books, based on audience voting on a pre-selected list.

Teen isn't tween, and I draw that line sharply in this blog. (My sweet spot is ages 10 to 12.5—the upper half of middle grade, if you go by publishing categories.)

Even so, these 10 teen titles were my choices in the initial voting (out of hundreds of titles). The number in parenthesis is the place they came in on the NPR final list. Eight out of 10 made it!

1. The Book Thief (10)
2. The Giver (11)*
3. Go Ask Alice (35)
4. Harry Potter series (1)
5. The Hobbit (5)
6. The Pigman
7. Stargirl (37)
8. To Kill a Mockingbird (3)
9. Tuck Everlasting (30)
10. The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

*They included the "series," but these titles are really companion books.

Go Ask Alice is definitely teen, not tween, and has a history of being censored in schools, along with some controversy over authorship and authenticity. (It's a work of pure fiction.) But, the book made a big impact on me when I read it in my teen years.
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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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