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“Mature Poop”

In my middle-grade novel Poop (don’t giggle), the main character’s journey is one of finding his maturity. He goes from a ten year old boy who believes that the world is out to get him to realizing that not only is the world indifferent to him, it requires him to take action. Liam’s development is in contrast to his estranged father who is an example that age and maturity are not necessarily correlated. But what exactly is maturity? It’s an abstract concept worth an hour of class discussion. With that in mind, here is how maturity is presented in Poop along with some questions to get the conversation going. (Once the giggling dies down that is.)

Maturity is your view of the world

One of the ways we can assess our maturity is through our view of the world. Do we consider ourselves to be the center of the universe? If so, then we are immature. Likewise, understanding that the world is neither for or against us is a hallmark of a mature personality. Ask your students how important they think they are to their inner circle and to the world at large.

Maturity is putting the needs of others in front of your own

Parents are by default considered mature because they are responsible for the well being of their children. We recognize that taking care of other people, especially when it takes something away from yourself, is an earmark of maturity. It’s remarkable when this trait for charity develops without the presence of children though. Ask your students for examples of times where they put the needs of someone else before their own.

Maturity is doing what you fear

It’s no secret that life often puts the thing you fear most directly in your path. Overcoming your fears and pressing on, in acceptance of being scared, is another sign of maturity. Think of the heroes that we praise for doing the right thing when everyone else was too scared to act. This can be anything from a fear of public speaking to a fear of walking alone at night. A mature person knows that they have the tools to face what is uncomfortable. Ask your students to share a time when they overcame their fears.

Maturity is owning up to your faults

Ask a toddler to admit something they did wrong and what do you get? Without fail, they will give you excuses and distractions. Being able fess up to your own mistakes is a huge part of maturity. No one is perfect, yet we all seem to want to project that we cannot make mistakes. Perhaps it’s a fear of punishment, or maybe it comes from pride, but we have all diverted the truth at some point. Ask your students about a mistake that they made and then lied about. Then ask them what happened and if they eventually had to confess.

Maturity is constant improvement

Growing up means knowing your flaws and being open to correction and improvement. A mature adult knows that growth and change is a constant part of life and works with it rather than against it. Ask any great artist and they will tell you that they still aren’t as good as what they wished they could be. The best athletes never stop practicing and the greatest minds never stop thinking. There is no stopping point and that’s the point of being an adult. Ask your students what they need to work on.

Maturity is trying again after failure

Fear of failure cripples far too many people, which is ironic, because young children never seem to care if they fall down. Being a mature person also means not avoiding failure. Sure, you may have to take care of a scraped knee, but maturity means accepting that failure is a part of growth and experience. Avoiding failure, by being a perfectionist, is actually a refusal to engage with life. After all, many of the great achievements of mankind came only after significant failure (just look up the story of inventing the jet engine.) Ask your students about a time they learned from their own failures.

More questions for your students:

What other traits do you imagine a mature person possesses?
Why is maturity important?
What could you do today to act more mature?

Though it’s an abstract concept, maturity carries with it enough identifiers to allow us to measure ourselves against our own potential. I hope that this has given your students a lot to think about and discuss and, hopefully, reminded a few adults about their own life choices as well. The great irony in creating a middle-grade novel called Poop is that everyone automatically assumes that I am both immature and witless, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like how Liam learns important life lessons from a talking pile of you know what, it’s oftentimes the most juvenile aspects of life that provide the greatest opportunities for maturity to blossom.

You’re now free to giggle.

Author: A.J. Cosmo
Published September 12th, 2016 by Thought Bubble Publishing

Summary: Poor Liam. On the very first day of fifth grade, in a strange new town, and a large new school, he interrupts everyone to bolt out and into the girl’s bathroom. There, down in the far stall, in pain from a horrible stomach condition, he meets a new friend: Poop. The cheery little guy says he’s there to help Liam through a tough time in his life. But what does Liam need help with? And who, in their right mind, would want Poop for a friend?

About the Author: A.J. Cosmo is the writer and illustrator of over thirty children’s books including the best selling The Monster That Ate My Socks and I Don’t Want to Go to SchoolPoop is available online or by asking your local bookstore. Say hi on twitter @ajcosmokids or at

Thank you A.J. for this post! Maturity is something that is always a necessary conversation in middle school! Also, thank you to Chris from Thought Bubble Publishing for getting us in touch with A.J.


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“Using Your Personal Real Estate to Create Characters, Setting, and Conflict”

One of the trickiest things for me, as a writer, is figuring out where to begin. I imagine it could be a challenge for students, too. So many decisions to make as you begin… Who is the main character? What does s/he want? What are their obstacles? Secret desires? What is important to her/him? What are they willing to sacrifice to protect what is important?

I have learned to tackle these questions by first taking stock of my personal real estate. By personal real estate, I mean the things that I own, things I know as much if not more about than anyone else. I’m not talking about property or anything that is tangible, but your own personal experiences, personality traits, interests, values, and lessons learned.

A couple of years ago, I was about to take a “Write A Novel In Six Weeks” class at UNCW. I was not sure of what to write about, but I kept rolling ideas around in my head. One morning I awoke with a name in the forefront of my mind, Mango Delight. I thought, what a ridiculous name! I’d feel sorry for a person with a name like that. Of course, with a name like Fracaswell Hyman I automatically empathize with those saddled with a strange name. As we all know, kids can be cruel, especially if there is something different about you that they can latch on to. My name made me stick out like a sore thumb. At the beginning of each school year, I would cringe when the teacher would make several attempts at pronouncing my name while taking attendance. When I would finally raise my hand and offer the correct pronunciation, the giggling would begin. Then the teasing would commence with several amusing distortions of my name, my least favorite (because I was a chunky boy) was “Fat-caswell.” That one stuck for years.

So, it only seemed natural for me to identify with a character with a weird name like Mango Delight. This was territory I knew intimately, hence real estate that I owned. I also decided to make this character a female, since I didn’t want to make the story autobiographical, changing the sex gave me a healthy amount of distance that allowed me the freedom to let my imagination fly and create an original story.

Next up, what does the character want? This is a hugely important step. What a character wants drives your story. I thought back to what it is that I wanted when I was in middle and high school. I remembered that I had friends yes, but no one who would claim me as their best friend. I wanted to have and to be a best friend and was always trying to figure out how to acquire and become one. The chemistry of friendships is complicated and something everyone struggles with at some point in their lives–even as adults.

I had recently lost a very good friend. It was a wound I was still tending, and so I decided to let Mango start off with a bestie, lose that relationship, and then try to find her way to, not necessarily replacing that friend, but gaining some understanding as to what kind of friend she wanted and what kind of friend she wanted to be. Once you know what a character wants, the obstacles will fall into place if you as the writer let yourself become ruthless. Yes, you love and care about your character, but you have to commit to putting him/her through the wringer to get what s/he wants. There is nothing more boring than an easy path to success, at least not when it comes to reading, so keep coming up with as many obstacles as possible and make each one more challenging than the one before.

Giving a character a secret desire and then making it public reveals something that is important to him/her that they can’t easily back away from. As a kid, I always wanted to be an actor. I’d see kid actors on sitcoms or in movies and something inside me knew that I could do that, but I never shared this desire with anyone.

In middle school, I watched from the sidelines as other students auditioned for the school plays, rehearsed and then had their moments in the spotlight during production. Even though my desire was strong, I was too shy to stand up in front of anyone and sing or try to act. I decided to have Mango share the same trait. Her secret desire was to be a singer, something she did well, but never in front of anyone.

In the book, Mango is set up by her ex-bestie to audition for the school play. It is a mortifying moment for Mango, to get up in front of an auditorium full of students and do the thing she’d only do alone in her bathroom. Yes, singing in front of people was just as scary as taking a shower in front of the entire school. So, how to get Mango to not run away and let her ex-bestie’s dirty trick succeed…? I looked into my personality trait real estate and decided to share my stubbornness with Mango. Yes, sometimes being stubborn can get you in a lot of trouble, but at other times it can lead to success. Stubborn folk won’t give up when faced with a dare or a challenge. So, Mango draws on the stubborn side of her personality and sings in public for the first time and it pays off. The payoff leads her to a place outside of her comfort zone, a lead role in a school production.

By the time I got to high school, I found the courage to try out for a school play and was cast in the chorus. It was daunting, but I had found my tribe. Now that my secret passion was public, I happily became a member of a group of kids that shared my interests. They were a great group whose desire led them to staying long hours after school rehearsing, time at home learning lines and songs and dances. These kids were as dedicated to theatrical productions as athletes were to their sports. With no grades or other rewards at the end they committed themselves just for the opportunity to do the thing they loved along with others that shared their passion. Yes, this was a piece of real estate that I knew tons about and I wanted to share how great these kids were, the ups and downs and challenges of learning to perform, and how important it is to follow your dream no matter how scary it can be at first.

Once I was confident in the real estate I shared with my main character, I was free to let my imagination fly and present her with obstacles, predicaments and other characters that would challenge her and make her a character worth rooting for.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy says, and I’m paraphrasing, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t have to go farther than my own backyard.” Good advice for when you’re looking to create a fresh new character. Explore your own emotional and experiential real estate; there are treasures to be found if you dig deep enough.

About the Book:
What happens when your BFF becomes your EFF . . . EX-Friend-Forever?
When seventh-grader Mango Delight Fuller accidentally breaks her BFF Brooklyn’s new cell phone, her life falls apart. She loses her friends and her spot on the track team, and even costs her father his job as a chef. But Brooklyn’s planned revenge—sneakily signing up Mango to audition for the school musical—backfires when Mango not only wins the lead role, but becomes a YouTube sensation and attracts the attention of the school’s queen bee, Hailey Jo. Hailey Jo is from a VERY wealthy family, and expects everyone to do her bidding. Soon Mango finds herself forced to make tough choices about the kind of friend she wants to have . . . and, just as important, the kind of friend she wants to be.

*“Hyman marries traditional tween elements with a fresh and original plot, and his multicultural cast sparkles with individuality and authenticity. . . . Hyman’s supporting characters, both kids and adults, are vivid and dynamic. Mango is as delightful as her middle name indicates, and middle-grade readers will easily recognize their own experiences in her friendship struggles. This is Hyman’s first novel; here’s hoping it’s not his last.” Booklist (Starred review)

“[T]he characters . . .  are deftly crafted, and their relationships play out in ways that carefully avoid cliché. . . . Mango’s supportive family is also well drawn, particularly her comforting Jamaican immigrant father and her no-nonsense, former athlete African-American mom, who’s a loving but demanding figure. Kids who’d settle for making it through middle school unscathed but still dream of shining in it will find a kindred spirit in Mango.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Thank you to Ardi for connecting us with Fracaswell!



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Highly Illogical Behavior
Author: John Corey Whaley
Published: May 10, 2016 by Dial

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Lisa.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.

Ricki’s Review: I didn’t expect this book to hit me quite as hard as it did. The summary was compelling, and I enjoyed reading the first few chapters, and then I became personally invested in the characters’ lives. There are many complex emotions within this text. Because of the alternating perspectives, I’d be rooting for Lisa in a chapter and then feel like a jerk because I was betraying Solomon. And then I’d wonder if rooting for Lisa meant that I was also rooting for Solomon, in a way. This book makes readers question their values and consider ethics. I’ll be thinking about this one for quite some time.

Two other things I love about this book: 1. Solomon’s parents are great! I love when a YA book features good parents! 2. Sexuality is discussed in the book, but it isn’t the only (or main) feature of the book. This goes along with my belief that books that feature discussions about sexuality need not be purely focused on sexuality.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I am a big advocate for literature circles that consider mental health. I think that placing texts like these in conversation allows us to consider the complexity of mental health issues. Some great texts to include in these literature circles follow: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. A discussion of these titles would foster incredibly rich discussions about phobias, depression, anxiety, and suicide. In my opinion, we must have these conversations with our students.

Discussion Questions: Do you think that Lisa “did the right thing” throughout the text? Were all of her decisions selfish, or could some of them be considered simultaneously selfless? Can a decision be selfish and selfless at the same time?

We Flagged: “We’re just floating in space trying to figure out what it means to be human.”

Read This If You Loved: (Many of these are listed above.) Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Reality Boy by A.S. King, Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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The Explorers: The Door in the Alley
Author: Adrienne Kress
Published April 25th, 2017 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is filled with adventure and danger. There are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, famous explorers, a risk-averse boy, and a girl on a mission. Not to mention secrets not meant for the faint of heart. But if you are feeling bold, or maybe even a little italic, and if you enjoy derring-dos (and doing dares), this just might be the story for you.

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that starts with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)

This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and also a girl on a rescue mission.

About the Author: Adrienne Kress is a writer and an actress born and raised in Toronto. She is the daughter of two high school English teachers and credits them with her love of both writing and performing. She also has a cat named Atticus, who unfortunately despises teeny hats. Look for her online at, and follow her on Twitter at @AdrienneKress.

Review: I love when narrators break the fourth wall if it is done well, and you’ll learn really early on that it is done well in The Explorers. This hilarious narrator takes us on this adventure with Sebastian, a character that very logical people will relate to, and Evie, a character that people who are bored unless they are on an adventure, will relate to that is filled with more action, adventure, and danger than I thought would come out of this little book. But don’t worry, the narrator keeps it light with funny chapter titles and footnotes. All of this combines to make a book that I loved quite a bit because it is just the perfect balance of adventure, humor, friendship, and mystery. Although, I must warn you about the cliffhanger–WHOA! I’m still recovering. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Door in the Alley has many opportunities to be a mentor text including discussing footnotes and breaking the fourth wall. Not many books use either of these yet The Door in the Alley uses both quite well. Discussing these will also lead to a perfect conversation about voice. Normally voice is saved for first person books but because we have a narrator that although not a character in the story definitely has a voice, it would be interesting to talk to students about how that worked in this book.

Discussion Questions: What do you think is going to happen in the next book?; Why do you think the author chose to have the narrator break the fourth wall and speak with you, the reader?; Sebastian and Evie are quite opposites, and normally they would seem like an odd pairing; however, they seem to work perfectly together–what do you think each of them brings out in the other?; Evie is searching for her grandfather because he is in trouble, but what is she truly searching for?; What do you think Sebastian’s parents are thinking right about now?!

Flagged Passages: “In all the confusion, with the pig and the teeny hat and the zigzag man, he had completely forgotten about the thing he had been trying to forget about. In one way, it meant he had done an excellent job at avoiding it up until now; on the other, it meant hat his guard had been down. For, sure enough, the man had turned down an alley. The only alley that existed on the street. That connect to another street. And there was only one thing down that alley.

Sebastian approached it with caution, his expression slowly morphing into one the pig had been wearing all the time. Terror. He stood at the end of the dark passageway and peeked his head around the corner only to see the man standing right by the door. And right under the sign that read…

The Explorers Society.” (p. 18-19)

Read This If You Loved: The Wig in the Window by Kristen KittscherFRAMED by James PontiLoot by Jude Watson, Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford, and other mysteries where kids have to solve a problem because adults won’t listen to them

Recommended For:

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Visit the Other Stops on the Blog Tour: 

Date Blog URL
24-Apr Live To Read
25-Apr Imagination Soup
26-Apr Mom and More
27-Apr Pandora’s Books
28-Apr Mommy Ramblings
1-May The Lovely Books
2-May Batch of Books
3-May Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
4-May To Read, or Not To Read
5-May Grandma’s Cookie Jar
8-May Good Reads with Ronna
9-May Geo Librarian
10-May Life By Candlelight
11-May Jumpin Beans
12-May Always in the Middle
15-May Librarians Quest
16-May The Book Wars
17-May Middle Grade Mafioso
18-May Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
19-May Tween You & Me
22-May Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
23-May Mundie Moms 
24-May The Write Path
26-May Beach Bound Books
29-May Middle Grade Ninja
30-May Night Owl Reviews
31-May Cracking the Cover 
1-Jun Jenni Enzor
2-Jun Literary Hoots
5-Jun From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors
6-Jun The Winged Pen
7-Jun Operation Awesome
9-Jun Bloggin’ ’bout Books
12-Jun YA Books Central
13-Jun Ms. Yingling Reads
14-Jun MGMinded blog
15-Jun Smack Dab in the Middle
16-Jun Swoony Boys Podcast
19-Jun Book Foolery
20-Jun Unleashing Readers
21-Jun Kit Lit Reviews
22-Jun The O.W.L.

**Thank you to Josh at Random House Children’s Books for providing a copy for review and hosting the blog tour!**


Yearly, starting with 2012-2013 (and excluding 2013-2014), I have shared the most popular books in my classroom library:

From 2011-2013, I taught an intensive reading class with students who had not been successful on the state reading test; however, since 2014, I switched to teaching advanced reading, an elective that students choose to be in (and I still get to work with my striving readers through being reading coach–a win/win!). In the past, I shared the top books from all students who checked out from my classroom library which included my class as well as students from the three intensive reading teachers; however, I really wanted to see what the top books my students checked out this year, so I pulled a report showing just that. I currently have 3,428 titles in my classroom library, and 623 of them were checked out this year. Today, I am happy to share with you…

The most checked out books of 2016-2017 from my 6th-8th grade classroom library
**My Mock Newbery/Lunch Book Club did not check out through the same system. To see what they read, check out their posts:
Mock Newbery | Lunch Book Club**
**My students also didn’t check out from my library for their  in-class book clubs at the end of the year. They books they chose to read were:
The Maze RunnerSave Me a Seat, Stormbreaker, Point Blank, Locomotion, Trino’s Choice, Dark Life, Wolf Hollow, Jeremy Fink an the Meaning of Life, Kimchi & Calamari, City of Ember, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Touching Spirit Bear, and Wig in the Window**

15. The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

14. nine, ten by Nora Raleigh Baskins

13. The Tapper Twins go to War by Geoff Rodkey

12. The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

11. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

10. Old School by Jeff Kinney

9. HiLo: The Great Big Boom by Judd Winick

8. HiLo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick

7. All Fall Down by Ally Carter

6. The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

5. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

4. HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

3. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey

2. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

1. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

I’d also like to share the #16-27 titles because they were all tied!

Escape from Lucien by Kazu Kibuishi

Double Down by Jeff Kinney
Dream Jumper: Nightmare Escape by Greg Gunberg
Prince of Elves by Kazu Kibuishi
Teen Boat!: The Race for Boatlantis by Dave Roman
The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher
The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Bot Wars by J.V. Kade
Legend by Marie Lu
See How They Run by Ally Carter
Wonder by R.J. Palacios
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

What an interesting mix this year! I always love pulling the stats because even though I do status of the class consistently, I can never guess all of the top checked out books. I knew the Amulet series, HiLo series, Dog Man, and The Honest Truth would be on here though–they were passed around! Numbers 13, 7, 5, and 1 were also on our state list (SSYRA), so it was not a surprise to see them.

I also love seeing graphic novels on the list. Graphic novels are very popular with ALL of my readers. I think it is a myth that only nonreaders or struggling readers read them. So many of my students adore reading them (as do I!). I think there are many reasons why graphic novels are favorites: helps students visualize, fun to read as many of these students have only found reading to be a horrible chore, and colorful! Graphic novels are something I truly believe will help students love reading more and become better readers, and if you look at how much these students are reading and increasing in their reading ability, I think they back me up. (To see more research about the importance of graphic novels, check out my graphic novel teaching guide with Abrams.)

What books/series do you find to be most popular with your middle school readers?
Have you found success with the books I listed above?
Have you read any of the books I’ve listed? Did you enjoy them?

I hope this list of books helps point you in the direction of some texts that your readers will truly love!



The Hate U Give
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Ricki’s Review: I don’t know where to begin with this very special book. To give proof of my love for it, I will share that this book is on my Adolescents’ Literature course syllabus for next year. It is the book that I am most excited to teach. My research concerns multicultural young adult literature, and I have read a lot of books that interrogate issues of race. When this book was hyped, I knew I had to read it, but I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as I wanted it to be. It was everything and more. The characters feel real, and the pacing is fantastic. The author beautifully captures dialogue and life in ways that will grab readers’ attention. It has a strong message without feeling didactic. Teachers will find much to talk about with this text.

You might notice that this book has a 4.66 average rating on GoodReads. I don’t know of any book with that high of an average rating. I am not one to buy into ratings, but I think this extremely high rating shows that this is a book that really resonates with people. If you plan to read one book this year, pick this one. 

Kellee’s Review: When I first heard about The Hate U Give at ALAN in November 2016, Jason Reynolds said it was going to be one of the most important books of our time. Then I started hearing about it being bid on by all of the major publishing houses. Reynolds’s recommendation mixed with the hype made me want to pick it up, but then I also was so worried that it wouldn’t live up to this hype. But it does. It lives up to it all. I have nothing negative to say about the book. It is poignant. It is thought-provoking. It pushes boundaries. It makes white people have to look at race a way that they may not have considered before. It is REAL. It is rough. It is truth. I think Thomas did a phenomenal job writing a narrative of truth that just lays out there the problems with race in our society in a way that no one can deny or argue; it just is. I think their story makes everyone more aware and more empathetic. I finished a month ago, and I still am thinking about Star and Khalil and Natasha and Kenya and Star’s family–I just didn’t want to stop being in their lives. I cannot say any more how phenomenal this book is. Pick it up if you haven’t. (And the audiobook is so brilliant if you want to listen to it.)

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask students to analyze the varied themes of this text and dive deeply into discussions of each (power, economics, race, etc.). Then, they might create a civic video essay—one that considers a social issue and provides steps for social action to raise awareness for the viewing audience.

Discussion Questions: How does the author craft dialogue? What might other writers learn from her work?; What messages does the text reveal? Which messages are less obvious but implicit in a reading of the text?; What connections does this text have with the world today?

Flagged Passage: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

Read This If You Loved: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Recommended For:

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A lunch book club meeting in the library one day

After we finished our Mock Newbery experience, my lunch book club needed a new direction. My students said they definitely wanted to continue the book club.

  • I liked having lunch book club because we all read the same book. We could support each other through the sad parts, and share the happy memories when something good happened. -Maria
  • I liked book club very much because I got to talk to other kids in the school who were reading the same book as I am. -Ashley
  • My favorite part of lunch book club is being able to talk with other people who have already read a book or are currently reading it. You get to talk with people and discuss it, which makes me understand the book even more. -Emily

We discussed three options to continue:

  1. Everyone just reads whatever and we talk about books in general.
  2. HARRY POTTER! There are so many students in the group that are reading his books for the first time.
  3. Author Skype Visits

After much discussion, we decided on #3 (though some students did choose to only continue reading Harry Potter).
We then looked through Kate Messner’s so helpful list of authors that are kind enough to do free school Skype visits. From this list, we chose four authors we were really interested in reading more of and chatting with:

  • Dan Gemeinhart because The Honest Truth was on our state list for 2016-2017 and Some Kind of Courage had been on our Mock Newbery list, so most of the kids in the club have already read his books, but there was also his newest, Scar Island, we could read.
  • August Scattergood because one student adored Glory Be that she read in elementary school and shared with the group how much she liked it. I also pushed for them to pick a historical fiction author to get all of the genres covered in the four visits.
  • John David Anderson because Ms. Bixby’s Last Day had been on our Mock Newbery list and had been a favorite, and I am a huge fan of his other books which I book talked, and they were interested in them.
  • Kristen Kittscher because The Wig in the Window had been a HUGE hit in my classroom last year and many of them had read it in my class last year, and they shared it with the students who hadn’t read it, and they definitely had to know how the mystery ended.

And we were so lucky that ALL OF THEM were available at some point before the end of the year, and it even worked out to one per month February through May. I then went about purchasing all of the books using a grant I received for middle school book clubs, and we began reading one author a month.

If you have ever been part of an author Skype visit, it is so amazing to see what wonderful questions the students come up with and equally fascinating to hear how the authors answer them. Some examples: With Dan Gemeinhart, we discussed “the parent problem” in middle grade and young adult literature as well as how he crafted his chapters in The Honest Truth; with Augusta Scattergood, we discussed the inclusion of diverse characters as well as her choice to add quirky exclamations in Making Friends with Billy Wong; with John David Anderson, we discussed the hero’s journey including Star Wars and Harry Potter and how he’s written so many different genres; and with Kristen Kittscher, we discussed her planning (or lack thereof) and her characterization.

Each Skype visit was different and after each one the students raved about the opportunity, and I want to second their excitement: We are so lucky to be able to spend any amount of time, much less almost an hour, with each of these authors!

  • My favorite part of Skype visits is that we got our burning questions answered. Many readers have questions and they can only speculate, but we love reading so much that we get to talk with them. I feel as if we have become friends with the authors. -Emily
  • I enjoyed Skyping with the different authors and learning how each of them wrote and planned a story. I loved reading the books and seeing the difference between the types of styles and genres each author wrote in. -Sarah


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