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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

Spontaneous Poems on the Power of Words

So, we were reading aloud the book Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech, and close to the end, there's a crushingly sad part. (I won't spoil it, but maybe you've guessed.)

A couple of students cried. Real tears.

One girl said, "Man, I'm cryin' over here!" Sob.

I was not the least bit surprised. Happens every time I read this book.

I said, "It's not an author's job to make you feel happy. It's an author's job to make you feel. That's the power of words."

Whoa. Floodgates. An energetic and excited conversation ensued, which the sixth graders eventually tied to our censorship unit at the beginning of the year. (Be still my heart!)

The gist of what they said, "Dictators don't want people to know things, and they keep information from people, and it's powerful."
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My ARC (Advanced Reader Craze) Book Club is Born!

Reading incentive: Three unopened boxes full of unpublished books, sitting on a shelf in very plain view.
Reading incentive: Three unopened boxes full of unpublished books, sitting on a shelf in very plain view.

A few days ago I put a bug in the ears of a couple of my most rabid readers. I told them I wanted to start a book club at recess for books that aren't published yet.

Aren't published yet? How is that possible? Like, we'd be the first ones to read them? grin

I pointed to three unopened boxes of ARCs—Advanced Reader Copies—and explained what ARCs are and why publishers and sometimes the authors themselves send them to book reviewers and bloggers.

I added that I had no idea what book titles were inside the boxes (knowing full well that last year's ARC box contained quite a few super hits).

I left the mystery boxes in plain sight on a shelf and let the ear bug go to work. I watched and listened for an hour or so as the whispers went 'round. still grinning
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Why I Love Banned Books

Which one has banned books? I didn't realize how much they really do look alike until my sixth graders got a little confused.
Which one has banned books? I didn't realize how much they really do look alike until my sixth graders got a little confused.

If you want to get tweens to read, forbid it!

It's really that easy.

So, every September, Banned Books Week helpfully opens the door to showcasing the many, many titles that have been ousted from schools. Together, we view and discuss a slideshow that showcases authors and their challenged books. (The American Library Association has a collection of materials.)

My tween specific list, presented in full conspiracy ("Shhh! They don't want you to know this stuff!"), is like catnip to sixth graders. This year, in particular, students expressed true shock and outrage! Indignity, even!

"What? Why?!" "Really???"
" I don't get it."
"But... that's a really good book!"
"I LOVE that book!!!!"
"But, isn't that book a classic?"

As a reading teacher, I couldn't be more pleased. Of the forbidden books that I introduce by author, plot, and title, the big reveal to students is that....  Read More 

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Check Out a Sixth Grader! And Other Creative Ideas on Teaching with Photo and Picture Books

My FREADom classroom library has a good selection of photo books and Caldecott winners to inspire future creatives.
Recently I attended the Buy Michigan Now Festival in the small, charming town of Northville. Always on the lookout for new books, sure enough, a title caught me eye and the charming, engaging author reeled me into his world.

Wayne Brillhart is a photographer and author from Hartland, Michigan. His latest story book, The Deer with the Purple Nose features some extraordinary photos of the state's indigenous wildlife. (Check it out on Amazon: The Deer with the Purple Nose.)

As a photographer, Wayne has traveled the globe, but he tells me that it was in his own backyard where he discovered stories to tell with his pictures. More than a collection of photos, The Deer with the Purple Nose is a fun mystery told from the point of view of Wayne's English setter, Purdy.

As Purdy attempts to solve the mystery of why Dottie the deer has a purple nose, the dog engages with all manner of Michigan wildlife: a groundhog, raccoon, chipmunk, and 10 species of birds. The storyline supports Rachel Carson’s idea that children have a natural interest in the world around them, but that interest needs to be cultivated and nurtured. (It's well worth exploring her book on the topic to learn more: The Sense of Wonder).

Okay, so I really like this message and this book, but the story is aimed at young kids. How can I use it with my sixth graders without them feeling like they're being babied? (Babying is like death for a tween.)  Read More 
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Dear 6th Grader Parents-to-Be: Summer Books!

An incoming 6th grader is already ready to roll.

Dear 6th Grade Parents,

In 6th grade, as children’s author Gary Paulsen says, we will “read like a wolf eats.”

I look forward to meeting everyone in the fall. In the meantime, here’s some information to digest over the summer about a subject dear to my heart: literature!

Reading will soon be a way for your emerging 6th grader to travel to some amazing places via my very own FREADom Classroom Library.

My best advice: make reading a daily habit.

Below are some books I strongly urge you to consider for your summer reading pleasure.  Read More 

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Battle of the Books: A Stampede to Read

Today was a rowdy day at St. Michael's school in Livonia, as fourth to sixth graders assembled and cheered en masse not for a sporting event, but for books! Today was the annual unveiling of the eight Battle of the Books (BOB) titles (listed below).

I LOVE this magic ooh-and-ahh moment, described in last year's Battle of the Books post, especially because it's immediately followed by a stampede to read as teams vie to absorb as many facts as they can in preparation for the February competition.

This year, after serving as a judge for a long time, there's a ME in team. On top of my Quiz Bowl and Green Team activities, I'm coaching an eager team of eight sixth graders from three classes—so eager, that they've already whipped through a couple of the short books, even before our first official team meeting. Heck, we don't even have a name yet!*

Girls and Boys, Reading Together?

My soon-to-be-named team is a 50-50 mix of boys and girls, which is exciting because the past years' winners have split sharply down gender lines (pretty common in the tween years). Five years ago, an all-girl team of excellent readers won the competition as fourth graders, and then fifth graders, and then (with everyone futilely gunning to topple them!), again as sixth graders. A three-peat! After the super girls graduated out of the arena, different all-boy teams won for two years in a row.

Who will be next? A mixed team, I hope. My mixed team!

BOB is a friendly competition, of course, designed to maximize the fun in reading, so I plan to keep practices and lunch meetings fun and light, with lots of games and laughter. I think of those lunch meetings as a book club, a social reading experience that's as important for the friendships as it is for the learning. I've created a bookmark for each team member, with their name and the eight titles on it, as a personal souvenir of their reading journey.

My only concern is that they're reading too many books too early. I know. That's a problem? But, with the competition a few months off, I'll have to make sure they don't forget the details, so I'm already in full coach mode, preparing practice drills and thinking about strategic scrimmages.

Our Eight BOB Books

Looking at this year's list, I find a few titles I haven't read in a while and it seems geared a little more to the lower grades (with one noted exception), and that's fine. More kids will read more of the books, and have fun doing so. Here's what's at the top of our to-read list for the next three months, with a few early thoughts.
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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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How Do Sixth Graders REALLY Feel About Reading and "Devices"?

What am I going to do with two computers and 32 kids per class? Nothing, on a daily or regular basis. I use them mainly when kids need technology to accommodate learning issues such as motor dyspraxia, an inability to use fine motor skills; the computers dictate written lessons.
Forget the stereotypical image of a “born digital” kid permanently attached to a digital device, fluent in all things technological. Here’s my reality, with data from the sixth-grade trenches at St. Michael School in Livonia, Michigan.

Let me start by reiterating that tweens are not teens; older tweens are not younger tweens. I know from experience and observation that the 10 to 12.5 age group has unique circumstances and challenges when it comes to reading with technology (or not).

This year, for a deeper dive, I introduced an anonymous attitude survey, in addition to my annual reading interest survey. The attitude survey measures how my three fresh classes of sixth graders (96 of them) feel about print versus digital reading, including their use of digital devices (or not).

They took this online survey a couple weeks ago in computer class, which has one computer per kid. (My classroom has only two computers for student use.) What I learned from the results is that tweens generally have some level of access to devices—tablets, ereaders, desktops, laptops, smartphones. But, on the whole, they don’t own the devices or use them frequently (yet).

In my classes, many tweens tend to get their first cell phone or (if they’re lucky) smart phone and perhaps a tablet at Christmas time. Tweens with older siblings tell me that they are at the bottom of the totem pole and often get pushed off the family computer. So, in response, I give out any online assignments far in advance and include a back-up plan to allow students to complete computer work before or after school or at lunch time, if necessary.

Here are the results from this year’s survey, for data geeks, along with some interesting and thought-provoking comments about reading, for those who (like me) make that their mission. Read More 
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My FREADom Library Rises Again!

Sometimes books just grab you, and you can't help but peek inside. A big *thanks* and a *hug* to my classroom library summer work crew.

Two years ago, I started this Readalicious! blog with a post about the ritual of rebuilding my FREADom classroom library every school year. It's a daunting task of unpacking, sorting, shelving, and cataloguing that never fails to remind me of why I love books.

This year, I am grateful for the help of one of my incoming sixth graders and two former students. These motivated girls worked doggedly for hours! I’m going to have the most organized library I’ve ever had!

They started with the easy stuff—series books and folklore. Then, they put my biographies in alphabetical order by subject and my historical fiction in timeline order (not that the books will stay that way for very long!).

When they got to the nonfiction section, which is growing in response to the common core initiative, progress slowed a bit. They separated books into categories: U.S. history, presidents, science, geography, ancient history, world history, wars, and miscellaneous. I loved listening to them discuss and debate which books belong in what category.

In the meantime, I kept busy at the book repair and weeding station. Deciding which of my old "friends" to jettison in order to make room for new titles is very, very difficult for me. Among the new acquaintances are three books I highly recommend. Read More 
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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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