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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 Kid Who Wants to Tell You Something

So, I’m in my 26th year of teaching and I guess that means I’ve taught a lot of kids, seen a lot, done a lot, been through a lot. Many moments stand out: amazing, sad, touching, frustrating, mundane, hilarious….

The business of a classroom, first thing in the morning, is a relatively routine moment – teachers greeting, students organizing for the day. As any teacher will tell you, part of that routine is The Kid Who Wants to Tell You Something.

I’ve heard all kinds of things during that time:

Ms. Hopping, my cat had kittens.
Ms. Hopping, I went to the book store and got a boxed set of Harry Potter.
Ms. Hopping, my dog was hit by a car.
Ms. Hopping, did you see the Michigan State game yesterday?
Ms. Hopping, we won our hockey game last night, but there was a fight in the stands. Ms. Hopping, my cousin is getting married and I’m in the wedding!
Ms. Hopping, I'm going to Disney World over Easter Break.
Ms. Hopping, I went to the Tiger game last night.
Ms. Hopping….

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A World Without Fish?

Some of my sixth graders read nonfiction books exclusively, soaking up facts in their brain sponges, but for the majority, I have to do a little force feeding. And yet...





Like what?
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The "Rock Star" President

At the beginning of every school year, one of my student survey questions is:

“If you could talk to any person from history, who would it be? What three questions would you ask?”

Out of 64 students in my 2013 class, 13 chose Abe Lincoln—more than any other historic figure, including good old George Washington (tied for runner-up, with eight votes).

Why is Lincoln such a history rock star for tweens?

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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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Hooked on History: Going for the Small Story

I am a die-hard history fan—gobbling up nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and historical fiction alike. Other than literature, it’s my favorite subject to teach, and I try hard to rub some of that passion off on my students.

Jim Murphy's An American Plague (a Newbery Honor Book! a Sibert award winner! a National Book Award finalist!) is an excellent nonfiction book that deserves all those accolades. It's about the deadly yellow fever epidemic of 1793 that struck Philadelphia, then the capitol city of the new United States of America.

I loved it and planned to use it to talk about current events and the science of staying healthy (the H1N1 flu epidemic was in full scare). But, I was having trouble getting kids to read it.

What they told me was, “We want to read a story.” How could I argue? They wanted to read!!!

Then, a student clued me in to a "y'gotta-read-this" book on the same historic epidemic.

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