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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

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?

It's a Newbery winner, and I love it. Nothing But the Truth by Avi is a book that l I have either talked about or read aloud to my 6th grade class at the beginning of the school year, for Constitution Day, September 17.

The day falls within my First Amendment/Freedom of Expression unit about censorship, and it never fails to spark lively discussion. (This past fall, a great debate broke out about the football player who didn't stand for the National Anthem. I was happy to see my students were following current events and the news.)

In the novel, a ninth-grader named Philip Malloy breaks school policy and hums during the playing of the National Anthem. He does it in order to get transferred out of his English class because his poor grades are preventing him from trying out for the track team.

He never tells anyone the real reason he wants out; instead, he says that the teacher hates him.

The teacher, a highly regarded veteran, sends Philip to the office after giving him a couple of warnings. The boy's parents and the media pick up on her action as a "freedom of speech" breach, and events quickly spiral from classroom to national crisis.

Kids see it happen on social media all the time. Someone posts something, and the post morphs into a multi-headed beast of a story that rages out of control and can't be slayed. In the novel, readers see many versions of the "truth" unfold throughout the story. Who and what do they believe?

Digital citizenry, skepticism, reliable sources, facts and opinions, and research are all important topics and skills that we'll discuss in September. Where can students go to check facts before they post something on social media? Here are 10 recommended sites, courtesy of ISTE.

Meanwhile, I am about to send a second letter home to the rising sixth graders, recommending summer reading book titles that I have listed in the past.

I also have a stack of reports from this year's ARC Club, the Advanced Reading Craze Club of sixth graders who volunteer to pre-screen soon-to-be published books to see if they qualify for my FREADoom Classroom Library. Look for a summary soon.

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