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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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The Goldilocks Rule: Choosing a Book That's Just Right

My sixth graders started a Word of Mouth wall to share their favorite titles—totally their idea.

Goldilocks had the right idea: Sit in the chair that is just right. Eat the porridge that is just right. Find a bed that is just right.

So... “Goldilocks” is my number one rule for reading: find a book that is just right for you.

Why number one? Because making good choices is the first crucial step to falling in love with reading. If kids enjoy a book, they’ll voluntarily try another one. And another one. A negative experience derails that happy train.

The Goldilocks Rule sounds simple, yet following it is a struggle for some of my sixth graders. An adult who knows a kid well can offer guidance, but one of my goals is to help kids discover “just right” books on their own. It’s an empowering quest made easier by these detective tips, which you could demonstrate using a book that’s unfamiliar to kids. Read More 

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My Carrots-and-Sticks (Gotta Have Sticks!) Reading Incentive Program

Leave a comment or email me if you'd like a copy of my Book Buddies reading incentive contract.

At times, getting tweens to read is like bleeding a stone. Sometimes, you just have to cram books down their metaphorical throats and make them read. You just do.

That’s the sticks half of my carrots-and-sticks reading incentive program and, say what you will about bribes and rewards and force feeding, it’s worked well for me for the past 20 years.

I call the program Book Buddies—corny, I know, but books are our friends (I tell my students) and a local business called Buddy’s provides the carrots in the form of coupons.

My biggest stick is: The program counts toward their grades. Here’s how it works.


Each September, my students sign a contract to read a minimum of one book per month from October through April. That means everyone must read at least seven books at their reading level. That’s seven whole books. For the whole school year. And for some kids, that’s a struggle, believe me.

For each book completed, students will fill out a verification slip with their name, the book title, the author, and a parent/guardian signature.

At orientation night at the beginning of the year, I speak to the parents at great length about reading. I give them some ideas for discussing books with their children—a great family dinnertime conversation. Christopher Paul Curtis in The Mighty Miss Malone would call this “Chief’s and Children’s Chow Chat”!

Of course, the kids are welcome to pledge and read as many books as they like each month. Last year, one girl logged an astonishing 119 titles. My classes as a whole (85 students) read 1,752 books!

I have actually had parents call me to complain that their kids were reading too much and not getting chores or homework done, or not getting enough sleep. Other kids aim a little higher than they can reach with their monthly goals. That’s why I make those goals eligible for negotiation and adjustment, even though the contract is a “legal document.”

That sounds like a stick, doesn’t it?
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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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A Top 17 List: Sixth Graders Read, Rank 1,752 Books

When you want to know what books kids like, ask some kids, right?

This past school year, I did more than ask. We listed, tallied, and ranked all the books everyone in the class read from September to May. The results, listed below, surprised me a bit in terms of which books kids choose to pick up.

First, the raw data. Last year was impressive: 85 students read 1,752 books. One young lady accounted for 119 of those titles! Of the top 10 readers, four were boys.

To compile the data, I asked the 85 sixth graders to rank their 10 favorite books from the titles they read, from 1 (top choice) to 10. Some students had only read seven books (the minimum required by my Book Buddies incentive program), so I told them to add three titles they enjoyed in fifth grade.

We awarded a book one point for each time it appeared on someone’s top 10 list. If a book appeared as one of the top three on a list, we gave it two bonus points.

The students insisted on being able to list a whole series, instead of one book, as a choice. So, just like the individual titles, I awarded points for a series mention and created a mixed list—single titles and series.

I now present you the finalists in order of popularity. I’d be curious to hear from other sixth grade teachers how our list compares to yours and from sixth graders about their thoughts on the list.
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