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Recommended Books for Lit Circles/Book Clubs in the Middle School Classroom

As a teacher, I am always working to grow professionally to give my students the best possible instruction in the classroom, but one practice that has been a common theme throughout all twelve of my years teaching is literature circles or in-class book clubs. Although the way I implement them have DRASTICALLY changed over the years, the idea of CHOICE of text, COLLABORATIVE discussion about the text, and COLLECTING thoughts about a text have been consistent.

Over the years I moved from calling what we did in class lit circles to in-class book clubs because I no longer assign students jobs and the students in general have more freedom. Here is how our in-class book clubs go now:

  • I book talk the options for book choices and have students list their top 3 on an index card with their name.
    • I have this process be completely silent because I really want students to pick the book they want to read not what their friend wants to read.
  • I then take the index cards and group them into groups of three to five depending on what books were chosen.
  • The next day, I have the students sit in their book clubs, and I give them the task of determining their reading schedule.
    • I give them the time period and ask the to come up with a schedule of pages to read by each book club meeting. Most groups then come up with a daily reading goal too, but they don’t have to.
  • I then give reading time every day, but we also do other class activities every day except on book club day on Mondays (I like to give the weekend before our meetings).
  • One thing I didn’t like about lit circles in my classroom was the unevenness of “jobs” during lit circles and how only one student was responsible for the ongoing conversation during meetings. So because of this my students have one simple task while reading: Come up with 5 open ended discussion questions or topics that they want to talk about during the meeting.
    • I also like to make a student-created word wall, so I ask them to write down any words that they find that they don’t know and figure out what they mean. They then share those in their group also and discuss them then put them on our word wall.
  • Some groups have a harder time chatting during group meetings, so I also have generic questions that will work with any book.
    • I also read along with them, so I can help with some chatting as well.
  • At the end of the unit, I will have them answer a few standards-based text-dependent questions about their specific book.
    • I share the standards ahead of time, and they are what we are working on and focusing on during class when we’re not doing book clubs.

Today, I want to share with you seven titles that have also been consistently successful for my students and eight new titles I added over the last couple of years that were hits. I highly recommend any of these for middle school lit circles or in-class book clubs (or classroom libraries!):

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

Flight #116 is Down by Caroline B. Cooney

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Dark Life by Kat Falls

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Trino’s Choice by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Do you do lit circles or in-class book clubs in your classroom?
What do they look like for you and your students?
What books do you recommend? 

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#MustReadIn2018 is hosted by Carrie Gelson at There Is A Book For That:

My #mustreadin2018 list is super ambitious this year including series and authors instead of just a list of titles, but so much of what I put on there are books/authors/series that I am so excited to read. As I explained when we first debuted the list:

“First, I have a few authors that I am going to try to read multiple books from because I either love their work, haven’t read anything by them, or am Skyping with them with my book club, so I just listed the author. Then, I made a list of books I really want to read either because my students love them or I just have wanted to read it for a while. Finally, I added a few copies of books that my students asked me to add to the list. All of this equaled a crazy list that I may not get through, but I love it!”

Without further adieu, here is my update!!!

I am super proud to say that as of today, I have read 12 out of 33 on my list: 

Eric Gansworth
“Don’t Pass Me By” from Fresh Ink 2/26/2018

I loved this anthology–it is a must get!

Alan Gratz
Prisoner B-3087 2/8/2018

Alan Gratz just knows what he is doing! He really breaths life into historical fiction.

Mitali Perkins
Open Mic edited by Mitali Perkins including her story “Three-Pointer” 3/17/2018

Another great anthology!

Gae Polisner
The Memory of Things 1/22/2018

I now know why everyone loves Polisner’s writing so much–beautiful!

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
“Confessions of a Black Geek” from Open Mic 3/17/2018
Two Naomis 3/27/2018

Two Naomis was a great story of dealing with change, and my book club and I cannot wait for the sequel!

Eliot Schrefer
The Deadly Sister  2/11/2018
Mez’s Magic 2/25/2018

Both of these are so different than the other Screfer books I’ve read, but they are both just as good!

Laurel Snyder
Swan 1/6/2018
The Longest Night 1/6/2018
Forever Garden 1/11/2018
Any Which Wall 1/13/2018
Seven Stories Up 1/14/2018
Bigger Than a Breadbox (reread) 1/15/2018
Good night, laila tov 1/16/2018
Orphan Island 1/17/2018

 

If you cannot tell, I really like Snyder’s stories. All kinds of them. I’m so glad I read even more of them because they just fill my heart.

The False Prince trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The False Prince 3/4/2018
The Runaway King 3/13/2018
The Shadow Throne 4/3/2018

I LOVED this trilogy! I am pretty much forcing it on students now (luckily they like it!) because I need someone to talk to about all of the twists and turns. So good!

Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn
1/27/2018

My student said this was the first book where she saw her life reflected in a book, so I was happy to read it and talk to her about it. And it gave such great insight into my Egyptian students’ lives.

A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket
The Bad Beginning 2/14/2018

I read this because my students LOVE it, but it just wasn’t for me. Made me so cringy because everything was so unfortunate!

Stung series by Bethany Wiggins
Stung 4/1/2018
Cured 4/4/2018

Such a fascinating post apocalyptic series!

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
1/5/2018

I CANNOT wait for number 3!!! This series is definitely a favorite!

How is your #mustreadin2018 list progress going? What book do you most look forward to?

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Recommended Books for Lit Circles/Book Clubs with a Focus on Disability and the Body

Each semester, I focus a section of my college course on disability and the body. I choose this topic for literature circles quite intentionally. My class is divided into thirds for most of the class texts, but for the literature circles portion of the class, we use eight texts. For me, there is so much to talk about regarding disability and the body. Limiting myself to eight texts is difficult. In fact, I am dropping one (to be determined this month) to make room for a new text that I love, Little & Lion, so you will see nine texts listed below. When I choose books, I strive for representation of different types of disabilities. Further, I try to offer texts that help students consider aspects like body image. I hope the texts below are helpful to those who are considering a focus on this topic in their classrooms.

Also, after we read the texts, we talk about the different theoretical frameworks of disability, and we watch and discuss this video:

 

Here are the books I ask students to choose from:

Laurie Halse Anderson’s (2009) Wintergirls

We do our literature circles next week, but last week, a student who chose this book came up to me after class to say, “Wow. I have never read a book like that.” I’ve used this at the high school level, too, and it is always sparked insightful, difficult conversations.

Brandy Colbert’s (2017) Little & Lion

I am looking forward to adding this book next semester. I think it is going to offer a lot for students to talk about.

Sharon Draper’s (2010) Out of My Mind

This is a phenomenal book that is always well-received. I’ve taught this book multiple times, and every group has loved it.

Wendelin Van Draanen’s (2011) The Running Dream

A few years ago, I was sitting next to a man who was reading this on a plane. He turned to me and said, “Have you read this book? It’s really good.” I told him, “Yes, I teach it!” 🙂

R. J. Palacio’s (2012) Wonder

I can’t get enough of Wonder. I’ll buy every picture book, companion book, etc. that they produce relative to this text. It makes me want to be a better person.

Francisco X. Stork’s (2008) Marcelo in the Real World

Magic bottle up in a book. That’s what comes to mind when I think of this stunning text.

Eric Lindstrom’s (2015) Not If I See You First

I learned so much from this book. I always love the presentations that my students come up with for this text.

Holly Goldberg Solan’s (2013) Counting by 7s

Do you remember when this book came out? The blog world exploded. Everyone was raving about it. It turns out that five years later, the same happens in my classroom.

John Corey Whaley’s (2016) Highly Illogical Behavior

I listened to this book on audio at the end of last semester, and I immediately called my bookstore to ask them if I could switch out a book they’d ordered for me. I needed this on the list!

 

I’ve made an intentional decision not to label the books above by disability. While I find it important to highlight disability as a topic, I also find it important not to define a book by the disability featured within the pages. Further, not all authors choose to explicitly label the disability—at times, the actual disability is nebulous to readers. During class, we talk about the dangers of “diagnosing” characters when a disability isn’t named, and we also talk about the danger of a single story. One character’s experiences with a disability is not the same as another’s experiences. Further, we talk about authority and authenticity. Who has the right to write stories? For more on this, check out this Summer’s The ALAN Review psychology-themed issue, where some incredible YA authors discuss these issues in depth.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I look at the world through a learner lens, so if I am getting this wrong, or my thoughts are off, please push back.

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Popular books change quickly in a classroom depending on what is being talked about. Here are the books that are being talked about in our classrooms as of right now:

Kellee

These are the books being talked about in my middle school (6th-8th grade) advanced reading classroom right now:

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

If you’ve been checking out our IMWAYR posts, you know that I was just introduced to this series, and I could hardly contain myself when I got to school because I knew that students would love this series, and it’d for some reason had slowed now in popularity. Luckily, one of my readers picked it up, shared how she agreed with me, and now it is traveling through my classroom.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

I loved this book, but it wasn’t until students saw that it had won honors in the Newbery, Printz, and Coretta Scott King (and the tad bit of controversy surrounding it) then they started passing it around my classroom in 1st period that it truly became popular. Every student that reads the book freaks out about the end then wants to stay after class to talk to me about it and every student who has already read it wants to stay and talk about it too. That shows how powerful this book is.

Scythe and Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

This series was read in our teacher book club which means that there were teachers other than me singing its praises as well. Then Neal Shusterman came to visit Orlando and a bunch of my students went to see him. Between these two aspects, and just how gosh darn good the series is, there are many kids suffering until September 2019 with me.

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

Hurt Go Happy was our class read aloud last year, so my students who didn’t have me last year but are in my 7th and 8th grade class were invited to read Hurt Go Happy in preparation for our class read aloud this year: Rescued by Eliot Schrefer. Because it is so intense and has so much to talk about, the students who have read Rorby’s book can’t stop talking about it.

Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

Since this series came out, it has been a hugely popular series, and it keeps getting new readers. I can’t wait to read it also to see what the big deal is.

Embassy Row series by Ally Carter

Very much like Land of Stories, this series just keeps getting new readers because every person that reads it has to talk about it and talks their friends into reading it.

Always: Rick Riordan, Raina Telgemeier, Marie Lu, Kazu Kibuishi

In the eyes of my students, they can do no wrong.

Ricki

These are the books my college students are raving about:

Refugee by Alan Gratz

This book has not made it back to my desk. Every time a student reads it, before that student turns it in, another asks to borrow it immediately. It is passing from hand to hand. I love this book, so I am thrilled it is so well-received. I think I’ll be adopting it as a required text next semester.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Angie’s book continues to be a hot item in my class. It is a required house book (read by a third of the class), but many of the other students have read it.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

A student in my class gave a wonderful book talk for this one. I haven’t read it yet, but I am aching to do so. He is a tough critic, and he raves about it.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

I didn’t realize that so many of my students had read Scythe, so many requested this one. I dug it up from my bookshelves and brought it in, and it has been passed from student to student.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

My student devour Jason’s books. I booktalked this one last semester, but I haven’t needed to do so this semester. Everyone book talks it for me!

What are the popular books in your classroom right now?

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We’ve all had that student: “Miss, I don’t like to read!” or “Reading is so boring!” And we just cry a little inside because they don’t know what they are missing. So to help with anyone struggling to find the just-right book for one of their students, we’ve created this fun list of recommendations:

1. For kids who say they like video games not books:
 
Insignia by S.J. Kincaid
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

2. For kids who say they like movies not books:

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
Legend by Marie Lu

3. For kids who say they like sports not books:

Booked by Kwame Alexander
Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña

4. For kids who are really interested in the future and technology but say they don’t like to read:
 
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
Bot Wars by J.V. Kade

5. For kids who say that books are boring:

Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
House Arrest by K.A. Holt

6. For kids who are interested in conspiracy theories and read about them on Reddit & Tumblr but say they don’t read fiction:

Masterminds by Gordan Korman
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

7. For kids who play D&D or Magic but say they don’t like to read:
 
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson

8. For kids who love humor and list Adam Sandler as their favorite actor but say they don’t like reading:

TeenBoat by Dave Roman
Winger by Andrew Smith

9. For kids who say they like music not books:

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

10. For kids that are in the musical at school and say they don’t like to read:

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

11. For kids who only want to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid:

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
Cosmic Commandos by Christopher Eliopolous

12. For kids who love Marvel movies but says they don’t like to read:
 
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope

13. For kids who watch TruTV or Pretty Little Liars but say they don’t like to read:

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer
Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

14. For kids who love drama but say they don’t like to read:

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

15. For kids who are history and WWII buffs but don’t like to read fiction:

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Septys

16. For kids who are interested in survival but say they don’t like to read:
 
Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelson
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

17: For high schoolers who liked The Outsiders in middle school but say they don’t like to read now:

Kids of Appetite by David Arnold
Trino’s Choice by Diane Gonzalez Bertrand

18. For kids who say nothing is ever going to be as good as The Hate U Give or All American Boys:
 
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

19. For kids who are interested in the immigration debate but say they don’t like to read:

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

20. For kids interested in learning about mental health yet say they don’t read fiction:

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

What are your go-to gateway books?

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I cannot believe Trent is four! Time is flying so quickly! He is going into pre-kindergarten next year, he is starting to read sight words, he knows all of his letter sounds, and he is just so inquisitive! I am so proud of the awesome kid that he is.

Like last year, I let Trent be part of choosing the books we would share. If you look at the top left photo, that was us trying to narrow it down. He kept adding more then stopping to read books. It was so hard to get down to ten (and you’ll see we only kind of got down to ten). And this list would have probably been different if I’d asked him yesterday or waited until tomorrow (and this isn’t the books I thought he’d choose), but I let him have complete control.

So without further adieu:

Ten(ish) of Trent’s Favorite Books as of his Fourth Birthday

(In no particular order)

1. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin & James Dean

Trent says he likes this book because “I like all of it. I like all of the parts like singing.” Then he started reciting the book. I really believe that having the song that goes along with books really sucks him into the book.

2. Baby Monkey Private Eye by Brian Selznick & David Serlin

Trent says he likes this book because “I like all of the stories. And it is funny. Baby monkey can help!” I agree with Trent! Baby Monkey is such a silly book but it is also way funnier and deeper than you first expect it to be.

3. Triangle by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Trent says he likes this book because “I like his short legs. And he walks past triangles and shapes. And then there’s squares. Then triangle is running.” This book was an instant favorite in our house. The perfect Klassen illustrations, the humor, and the repetition definitely help.

4. Hi, Jack! by Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli

Trent says he likes this book because “I like Jack taking her bag. But Jack is bad. But when he gives back her purse he’s good.” Trent finds this book hilarious! I think it is going to be a great early reader.

5. Boo Who? by Ben Clanton

Trent says he likes this book because “I like Boo flying. I like Boo hiding.” He roots for Boo all through this book.

6. Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton

Trent says he likes this book because “I like his turtle. And I like when you sing it to me.” This book has been around Trent’s whole life. It is a go-to when we sing or read something.

7. Go Dog Go! by P.D. Eastman

Trent says he likes this book because “I like them going to the party in the tree.” Go, Dog, Go! was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I love that Trent loves it, too.

8. Space books! Including anything Star Wars, Oh No, Astro! by Matt Roeser & Brad Woodard, and Earth! by Stacy McAnulty

In addition to wanting to be a ghost when he grows up, Trent also wants to be an astronaut. Trent says he likes space because “I want to go in space because I want to. I like going to space. I like Mars and the moon. I like the moon because I want to go to the moon.” I also highly recommend a Moon in Your Room if you have a space fan.

9. King Bidgood’s In the Bathtub by Audrey Wood & Don Wood

Trent says he likes this book because “he doesn’t get out of the bathtub because he says get in. He says come in.” This audiobook has singing it in. I really think that music is something that Trent definitely gravitates towards. He also loves the illustrations and points out all of the silly things going on in the bathtub.

10. The Little Shop of Monsters by R.L. Stine

Trent says he likes this book because “I love the monsters because they have horns. And I like listening to it because I love it at the end.” I am so glad I randomly found this audiobook on Hoopla, but I know that when our 9 weeks with the library book ends, I’m going to have to buy this one because it is a pretty constant listen in my car.

Honorary. One Lonely Fish by Andy Mansfield & Thomas Flintham

Trent says he likes this book because “I love it eating the fish.” And I love that this is the first book that he completely reads alone.

Which books are we missing in our lives?

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I read so many wonderful books this year, that I decided that I needed two posts to highlight them!
Today’s post will focus on middle grade and young adult novels that I read this year and loved.
Each title will have a publication date listed as these are all favorites I READ in 2017 though they may have been published before or are coming out in 2018.

Favorite Fifteen Middle Grade Novels

 

 

Posted by John David Anderson (2017)
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (2017)
A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold (2017)

 

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (2017)
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (2016)
Stealing Our Way Home by Cecelia Galante (2017)

  

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart (2017)
Refugee by Alan Gratz (2017)
House Arrest by K.A. Holt (2015)

  

Knock Out by K.A. Holt (2018)
Alex Rider: Never Say Die
by Anthony Horowitz (2017)
Ethan Marcus Stands Up by Michele Weber Hurwitz (2017)

  

FRAMED! by James Ponti (2016)
Patina by Jason Reynolds (2017)
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood (2012)

Favorite Fifteen Young Adult Novels

 

 

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson (2016)
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (2017)
The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu (2011-2013)

  

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (2016)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017)
The Border by Steve Schafer (2017)

  

Scythe by Neal Shusterman (2016)
The Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman (2007-2014)
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (2017)

  

Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2017)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)
Little Monsters by Kara Thomas (2017)

  

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (2013)
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (2016)
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (2016)

Favorite of the Year

 

March: Book One, Book Two, and Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
(2013-2016)

What were your favorite middle grade and young adult novels that you read in 2017?