MG Trends & the Most Anticipated Books of 2019: Books Between, Episode 68

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a teacher, a mom, and battling a cold this afternoon! So if I sound a little…off – that is why!

This is episode #68 and today I’m answering some questions about trends in middle grade and sharing with you some fabulous 2019 titles to look forward to this year!

Q&A – Trends in Middle Grade Fiction

Last month, my husband asked me some questions about trends in middle grade fiction. He teaches a class at Seton Hall all about trends in genre fiction and wanted some input on middle grade. So I thought I would share my responses with you. And I would be very curious about what YOU would answer.

1. What genres or subgenres do you believe are the hottest right now?

Well, it’s a format and not a genre but graphic novel memoirs like Hey Kiddo, Real Friends, and Be Prepared are still really popular. And also graphic novel adaptations of classics (like Anne of Green Gables) and popular novels (like Wings of Fire or Percy Jackson).  And again, not genre, but I see more books that are based on the core experiences of the writer. Those novels that draw on the real-life backgrounds of the authors like Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, Tami Charles’ Like Vanessa, and Supriya Kellar’s Ahimsa.  They’re not memoirs but they are books rooted in a very personal experience. To authors, I’d say – take those things that make you unique, that make you a bit quirky, that set you apart from most other people – and write THAT story. Like Kelly Yang taking the experiences of her family coming from China and running motels to write Front Desk. Jarrett Krosoczka writing the critically acclaimed graphic novel memoir Hey Kiddo about his life living with his grandparents after his mom lost custody of him due to drug addiction. Crack that door open and invite us inside.

2: What genres or subgenres do you believe are passé or overexposed?

I don’t know…. I wonder how long the unicorn and narwhal craze will last but that seems to live more in picture books than middle grade. Magical realism – or rather realistic fiction with a magical twist – doesn’t seem to be slowing down. You know – anything can be new and fresh with the right spin.  And also, authors from marginalized backgrounds are still underrepresented in just about every genre so those are stories that will likely have new points of view. I thought I was totally over zombie stories but Dread Nation popped up and whoa!!  I’ve never read a zombie story like THAT before!

3: If you had to predict, what genre or subgenre do you think is primed to be the next Big Thing in the next year or so?

I would say stories about immigrants, refugees, and the unique experiences of marginalized groups (especially by #ownvoices authors) will continue to be popular. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen an explosion of critically acclaimed middle grade stories like Alan Gratz’s Refugee, Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, and Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai among many more. We also have more and more books coming out that tell stories of police violence in developmentally appropriate ways like Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and Blended by Sharon Draper.  I’m also really excited about a new crop of middle grade #MeToo stories on the horizon like So Done by Paula Chase and the upcoming Barbara Dee novel Maybe He Just Likes You.

4: Any comments about where you see genre fiction heading?

In middle grade, like everywhere else,  #ownvoices books are still underrepresented  – everyone has a unique story to tell or a unique POV to offer.  EVERYONE. So my advice to authors, take the spark of your unique life experiences and let that burn throughout your story.  My advice to educators – scour those shelves to find a wider variety of books. Also – if you write for a YA/MG audience, librarians and educators are more and more eager to the ditch the old canon and form partnerships with authors. Look for opportunities like #KidsNeedMentors or reach out to your local schools and libraries.

Main Topic – Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2019

The last couple of episodes were all about looking back on some of the best that middle grade had to offer in 2018. (If you missed those, go check out episodes #66 and #67.)  But today is all about looking forward into the new year.  Last year, when I did our Most Anticipated MG of 2018, I went chronologically by month. But this year I’m going about it a little differently and discussing the new releases by category.  

First, we’ll chat about the new graphic novels coming up in 2019. And then we’ll talk about new releases from authors who debuted in 2018 and 2017 and see what they’re up to now. After that, I’ll give you a peek at some of the 2019 debut middle grade authors.  Then we’ll see what new books are coming out in favorite series and what sequels we have to look forward to. And finally, we’ll finish up with the 2019 releases from more established authors.

So, buckle up and get ready to add to your wish list. And remember – no need to go hunting for a pen and paper. You can find every book mentioned AND a picture of the available covers AND a link to pre-order them right on the Books Between post for this episode, #69, at MGBookVillage.com.  I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you. And as I’ve said before, I’ve come to really love pre-ordering – it helps out favorite authors and it’s like a little surprise to your future self.

Before we jump in, just remember that this is just a sampling of all the incredible books coming out this year. I’ll add some links to some other great resources in the show notes and on the website where you can find more complete listings of titles to browse through and the MGBookVillage website has a great release calendar so that’s one to bookmark for sure.

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111975.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2019

http://novelnineteens.com/books/middle-grade-books

https://mgbookvillage.org/2018releasedates/

http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2018/12/19-2019-middle-grade-books-to-have-on-your-radar/

https://www.readbrightly.com/middle-grade-books-2019/

https://www.bookish.com/articles/must-read-childrens-books-winter-2019/

http://www.popgoesthereader.com/target-audience-middle-grade/70-middle-grade-novels-i-cant-wait-to-read-in-2019/

Also – publication dates occasionally change, so just be aware of that. Alright, get your Goodreads tab open, or your library website pulled up, or your Amazon/Indiebound shopping cart ready, or ….. print out the show notes and bring it to your favorite local bookstore! Alright – let’s get to it!

2019 Graphic Novels

  • This January, Lincoln Peirce, the author of Big Nate, has a new graphic/illustrated novel series set in the middle ages called Max and the Midknights that looks really, really cute.
  • Also out on January 8th is Click by Kayla Miller – the story of 5th grader Olive who is having some trouble finding where she “clicks” in middle school. The sequel, called Camp, is being released this April so fans won’t have to wait long for the next one.
  • A fantasy graphic novel that Mel Schuit recommended I check out is The Chancellor and the Citadel by Maria Capelle Frantz so that’s on my radar now – and yours! Thank you, Mel!
  • On January 29th another Hilo is coming our way! Hilo 5: Then Everything Went Wrong. And on that same day the 5th Bird & Squirrel is coming out called All Tangled Up.
  • One graphic novel adaptation that has really piqued my interest is Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Tercerio and illustrator Bre Indigo. The classic is reimagined as a blended family living in modern-day New York City. I don’t think I’ve ever hit “pre-order” faster and will be eagerly stalking my delivery person on February 5th for that one!
  • My mailbox is going to be brimming on February 5th because I also HAD to preorder New Kid by Jerry Craft!  It’s about seventh grader Jordan Banks who loves drawing cartoons and dreams of going to art school. But his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school instead, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. Looks amazing!! 90-Second Newbery was singing its praises on Twitter last night and said this about it: “The amazing graphic novel New Kid by @JerryCraft should definitely be on everyone’s tbr list and it has a full-cast (and all-star cast) audiobook released at the same time….perfect for rich, nuanced convos abt race, class, identity, school systems, how we share books, code switching, starting new school, just so much!”   So, yeah… I’ll just wait here for a bit while you hit pause and go order that!
  • This August brings us Best Friends, the sequel to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends –  out on August 27th. And have you seen the cover? It’s Shannon at the top of a rollercoaster with this vibrant purple background. Love it, love it, love it!
  • And Dog Man fans (like my daughter) will be psyched this August because we are getting Dog Man #7: For Whom the Ball Rolls!
  • The seventh graphic novel adaptation of the Baby-sitters Club, Boy Crazy Stacey, illustrated by Gale Carrigan, will be out September 3rd. That’s one of those no-brainer preorders for my classroom library.
  • Also – I was interested to hear that R.J. Palacio is publishing her first graphic novel Wonder story this fall called White Bird. This one is Julian’s grandmother’s story about her life as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. So be on the lookout for that one September 3rd as well.
  • You want another don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it-just-preorder-it graphic novel? Guts – the long-awaited new Raina Telgemeier graphic memoir is out September 17th!!
  • September also brings the latest from Tillie Walden – Are You Listening.  The peeks I’ve seen of that online look incredible, so that one is definitely on my radar this fall.
  • And then….….. Drumroll please…… Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl!! Ahhhh!!  I knew it! That last page in Mighty Jack and the Goblin King was just too good not to be followed up with a joint adventure. Yay!
  • Jen Wang –  author of last year’s hit, The Prince & the Dressmaker, has a new graphic novel coming out in September called  Stargazing. This one draws on her personal experiences and is the story of two friends – Moon and Christine.
  • And this November we’ll get The Midwinter Witch – the third and final book in the trilogy that includes The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch.
  • And – wow, I’m just going to start saving up now for September because the graphic novel adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover is also coming out on September 24th!  It’s going to be a pancakes and ramen noodles for dinner kind of a month if I want to keep up with all these awesome books coming out!  (And I haven’t even gotten past the graphic novels!)
  • And…. I think, maybe, possibly.. that Amulet #9 (the final one of the series) will be released late this year. But I can’t find much info on it. No title, no date, no synopsis – nada! So, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will arrive in 2019.
  • Finally – another graphic novel to be on the lookout for later in 2019 is Twins by author Varian Johnson who you may know from The Parker Inheritance and illustrator Shannon Wright. The publication date isn’t yet announced, but apparently it’s about twin sisters struggling to figure out individual identities in middle school and it’s based on Johnson’s own childhood experiences as a twin.

New Releases from 2017-2018 Debut Authors

  • Early February brings us the second in Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series called A Sprinkle of Spirits and oh is that cover gorgeous!
  • And definitely snag a copy of the sequel to Jarrett Lerner’s EngiNerdsRevenge of the EngiNerds out on February 19th. It is EVEN FUNNIER than the first one. And that’s saying something!
  • Another book I’m looking forward to is Jen Petro-Roy’s Good Enough – about a young girl with an eating disorder.
  • Game of Stars by Sayantani DasGupta – the follow up to The Serpent’s Secret is out on February 26th.
  • And the end of February also brings us Bone Hollow  by Skeleton Tree author Kim Ventrella.
  • Also be on the lookout for The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras on March 5th. That sequel is getting rave reviews so it’s definitely one to add to your library.
  • Alyson Gerber, author of Braced, will have a new novel out called Focused. It’s about a middle school girl who loves chess and has been recently diagnosed with ADHD. Definitely a book a lot of my students will be able to connect with!

2019 Debut Authors

So – I’ll just say right now that I could have had an ENTIRE show just dedicated to the amazing middle grade debuts coming our way this year but at some point, I had to cut myself off.  So – I’ll include a link to the Novel19s website where you find many more middle grade debuts and discover some of your new favorite authors.

  • The Whispers is Greg Howard’s middle grade debut and one that has really caught my eye. Just listen to this description: “Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home.” Oooo…. This one is out January 15th.
  • If you are looking for a new book for younger middle grade readers – something along the lines of Ramona Quimby or Stella Diaz – check out Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternatch.
  • One book that keeps popping up into my radar is the middle grade debut of Padma Venkatraman called The Bridge Home about four children who discover strength and grit and family while dealing with homelessness. That one comes out Feb 5th so be on the lookout for that one.
  • Another debut that I have been dying to read is The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo!  Let me just read you the teaser: “Born in a dismal room in a pet store, Alastair the African grey parrot dreams of escape to bluer skies. He’d like nothing more than to fly away to a palm tree with his beloved sister, Aggie. But when Aggie is purchased by twelve-year-old Fritz, and Alastair is adopted by elderly dance-enthusiast and pie-baker Albertina Plopky, the future looks ready to crash-land.”  My step-mother had parrots when I was growing up, so this one in particular I really am interested in reading! So I’ll be checking my mailbox for that one on February 12th.
  • Another debut I am excited to read this year is Joshua Levy’s Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy! Since one of my goals this year is to introduce my students to more science fiction, a story about a school on a spaceship orbiting Jupiter would be perfect!
  • On March 12 we get Lisa Moore Ramée’s debut A Good Kind of Trouble about a girl who just wants to follow the rules. And sometime this spring we get rather the opposite in Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen by Niki Lenz. This one is about a “bully” who ends up living with her aunt who is a nun and tries to turn over a new leaf.
  • This March is the debut of Julia Nobel with The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane about a girl who gets shipped off to a British boarding school and finds a box of medallions that might just be connected to the disappearance of her father.
  • A graphic novel debut coming in March that looks fabulous is Red Panda & Moon Bear by Jarod Roselló. It’s about two Latinx kids who defend their neighborhood from threats both natural and supernatural.
  • And in late April is the first book in a new MG detective series called Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by Shauna Holyoak and a time-traveling action adventure that will transport readers to ancient Egypt called Jagger Jones & the Mummy’s Ankh by Malayna Evans.
  • Hurricane Season by debut author Nicole Melleby comes out May 7th and oh how do I want to read this novel!  On a recent #MGLitChat focused on the 2019 debut authors, the moderator asked, “What do you hope young readers take away from your book?”  And Nicole Melleby said the following, “ I want them to take away that they’re not alone, that they’re seen, that mental illness is hard but manageable, and that love may have its limits, but help comes in all shapes and sizes. Also that Van Gogh was a brilliant man.”  After reading Vincent & Theo last summer – uhhh…. gimme that book!!
  • Another great middle grade debut to look for on May 7th is Just South of Home by Karen Stong which is described as Blackish meets Goosebumps. The story follows a rule-abiding girl who must team up with her trouble making cousin, goofy younger brother, and his best friend to unravel a mysterious haunting in their tiny Southern town.
  • Also coming this spring is a book that I immediately knew I wanted to read. It’s called Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. (So, I was pretty much ALREADY sold by the Bowie reference.) The book follows Nova, an autistic, nonverbal, space-obsessed 12-year-old who is awaiting the Challenger shuttle launch and the return of her big sister, Bridget, as she struggles to be understood by her new foster family.  I was a 4th grader when The Challenger Disaster happened and vividly remember watching it happen live on tv, so I am really interested to see how that plays out in this book.
  • Another debut to look for early this summer is All of Me by Chris Baron – a novel in verse about a 13 year old boy who is dealing with a big move, struggles in his parents’ marriage, and his own body image issues.
  • So… if you are a close listener, you have probably figured out that I’m a sucker for books involving baking or cooking.  Maybe that’s why Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca just leapt out at me when I stumbled across it last month. This is a contemporary-fantasy retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream about an 11 year old Indian American girl whose father is a food writer and whose mother is a successful businesswoman. But when she adds some rather…. unusual (and maybe magical?) ingredients to her baking, things get out of hand. So look for that one on June 4th.
  • And if your kids are looking for a fun spooky read this summer, Ollie Oxley and the Ghost comes out on June 18th and looks really cute. It’s about a boy who moves to California and ends up becoming friends with a ghost from the Gold Rush era.
  • Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega is another paranormal middle grade coming this September and it’s described as Coco meets Stranger Things. So, uh… yeah…gimme that for sure!
  • Also coming out this September is The Light in the Lake by Sarah Baughman – a book about a young girl who finds herself caught between her love of science and her late twin brother’s belief in magic.

2019 Sequels and Favorite Series

  • Lion Down by Stuart Gibb is out on February 26th. The second in his FunJungle series and the follow up to Panda-monium.)
  • In March comes book five in The School for Good & Evil series: A Crystal of Time , a new Emily Windsnap novel called Emily Windsnap and The Pirate Prince, and another in the Fairy Tale Reform School series called Wished.
  • In March we also get a seventh Jedi Academy Book called Revenge of the Sis. This one starts a new storyline and is written by Amy Ignatow with Jarret Krosoczka illustrating. And an as yet untitled 8th Jedi Academy novel is scheduled for September 2019.
  • AND I’m really excited for the third BAT book: Bat and the End of Everything by Elana K. Arnold.  My daughter’s 4th grade class read the first book and they – of course! – fell hard for this series!
  • Jeff Kinney fans will be excited about Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid – a book told from Rowley’s point of view that is out this April.
  • And that month also brings us another Unicorn Rescue Society novel – The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande.
  • And my 9 year old is going to be thrilled when I tell her that Katherine Applegate’s sequel to The Endling is coming out May 7th. It’s called Endling: The First and is already in my cart.
  • The second book in Laura Ruby’s York series – The Clockwork Ghost is also headed our way this May and so is Another Fenway & Hattie book – In the Wild!
  • Natalie Lloyd’s sequel to The Problim Children – Carnival Catastrophe is due to be out June 25th.
  • And not quite a sequel but more of a spin-off, is Dough Boys by Paula Chase – author of 2018’s So Done. Characters Simp and Rollie are the leads in this novel told in two voices.
  • Also – Karina Yan Glaser’s third Vanderbeekers novel is coming this September – The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue!
  • And finally – just announced this morning – is Kate DiCamillo’s new novel coming September 24th – Beverly, Right Here. And if you guessed that this is the Beverly from Raymie Nightingale – then you are correct!  So now each of the three girls will have their own novel. By the way – if you haven’t seen it yet, the cover by Amy June Bates is stunning!! Those eyes…..

2019 New Releases from Established Authors

  • First up here is the book I am devouring right now – The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart which just came out on January 8th. And oh…. does this book live up to its hype! Brace yourself to hear lots more about this one later!
  • Also out this January is a book my friend Sandy has been raving about – The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, U.S.A by Coretta Scott King honor nominee Brenda Woods. Definitely need to check that one out!
  • This January readers will get a new Gordon Korman novel – Unteachables AND a new Andrew Clements novel – The Friendship War.
  • January also brings us the first book in the really incredible Rick Riordan Presents ImprintDragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. This is a space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. (By the way – if you have kids who love Rick Riordan’s novels or who love adventure books with a dash of humor and myth – then check out his Imprint site. I’ll include a link in the show notes so you can check them all out. From those lucky enough to read advanced copies, I haven’t heard anything but praise.)
  • Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas by Andrea Pyros is one to watch out for this February.
  • And another upper middle grade February release that caught my attention is a joint novel told in letters by Counting by 7s author Holly Goldberg Sloan and The Interestings author Meg Wolitzer. It’s called To Night Owl from Dogfish and it’s about two very different 12 year-old girls named Averie and Bett who are sent off to the same sleepaway camp in order to bond after their single dads fall in love with each other.
  • February also bring us another novel by Anne Urso (author of the critically acclaimed The Real Boy) This novel, The Lost Girl, is about identical twins Lark and Iris.  
  • On March 5th we get another Lisa Graff novel called Far Away about a girl, CJ, whose aunt is a psychic medium who claims that she carries messages from the dead.
  • And I’m really psyched for We’re Not From Here by Tapper Twins author Geoff Rodkey. This novel is also out March 5th and is about refugees from planet Earth who need to find a new home on a faraway planet. I had the opportunity to read an ARC of this one and it’s quirky and hilarious… and timely. Definitely add this one to your pre orders.
  • March also brings us another Rick Riordan Present’s book called Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. I’ve been hearing lots of great buzz about this one, so I’ll definitely need to pre-order a copy.
  • On March 19th we get a new Kevin Henkes novel called Sweeping Up the Heart and this one is the story of the spring break that changes seventh-grader Amelia Albright’s life forever.
  • In late March Natalie Lloyd fans will be treated to Over the Moon – a story about twelve-year-old Mallie who lives in a mining town where boys leave school at 12 to work in the mines, and girls leave to work as servants for the wealthy. But of course with that quintessentially Lloyd magic interwoven.
  • And another Cynthia Lord book is coming out this March! She is the author of Rules and A Handful of Stars. This one is titled Because of the Rabbit and is about a young girl who starts public school for the first time after being homeschooled.
  • Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is coming out April 2nd and a really interesting looking book called Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway will be released April 16th. It’s about a girl who has to save her aunt’s pie shop. I think this one would be  a winner for kids who enjoy shows like The Great British Baking Show.
  • In early May, we get to read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s next novel, Shouting at the Rain about a girl named Delsie who lives with her grandmother, loves tracking weather, and who starts to wish for a more “regular” family and life. You can’t go wrong with the author of Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys so… just pop this one in your cart now!
  • And another novel that is getting all kinds of early buzz is the latest from K.A. Reynolds called Spinner of Dreams. It’s being called “inventive, empathetic, and strange in all the best ways.”  Plus – it has a really otherworldly cover that I just want to stare at…
  • And finally – I know you all have heard me rave about this one before – but Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You is going to be AMAZING!  My students and I got the chance to read the first chapter and we were all already hooked. But let me give you a little taste from the teaser: “For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like? They don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.” I can’t WAIT!!

Phew!!  Alright – I am both energized and – I gotta be honest – a little daunted! But – I am reminding myself and I hope you’ll remember too that it’s not about a mad dash to read all of these books. But to give you a taste of what’s to come so you can match readers with books they might like and get them excited about new releases.

I hope you have a wonderful year reading and I would love to know – what are the books that you and your students are most looking forward to in 2019? You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

 

 

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(Some of the) Best MG Graphic Novels of 2018: Books Between, Episode 67

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a teacher in Central New York, a mom of two tween girls, and currently – all about the new Miles Morales Spiderman movie. It’s the lockscreen on my phone, my girls and I have the soundtrack set to shuffle in the car….and I already have plans to go see it a second time.  Into the Spiderverse is the most innovative and fresh and exciting movie I’ve seen in years. It’s some next-level stuff. Just – go see it!! And see it on the BIG screen!

This is episode #67 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade graphic novels published in 2018. On our last episode, I listed my top 25 middle grade novels of the year and I’ll include a link to that if you missed that episode.

I think it’s important at the outset when making a list of this kind to explain what “best” means to you. What are your criteria? Is that popularity? The Goodreads best of lists tend to veer in that direction. Is it literary appeal? That is more along the lines of say, the Newbery Awards. For me, an outstanding book has to fit three criteria:

  1. I couldn’t put it down. Meaning – it was immersive, it has flow, it kept me turning the pages.
  2. I can’t forget it. Meaning – it had some extra special sparkle. An unforgettable character, an intriguing setting, a ground-breaking format, or a powerfully poignant message.
  3. I think kids would like it. There are books out there marketed to middle grade readers (sometimes those big award winners) that adults love but kids don’t seem to latch onto as much. So I also try to be mindful that kids books are for kids. Not for me. I am just the conduit to getting books into their hands and helping them discover what they like.

Okay – let’s jump in!

Main Topic – The Top 9 MG Graphic Novels of 2018

#9: Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

51UC7FkO2FL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis full-color graphic novel is about a 7th grade girl named Dany. She has just started middle school and is pretty lonely. Her friends are in different classes now and have new in-jokes and stories that she doesn’t get anymore. So she’s feeling socially vulnerable when her eccentric (and loaded) great-aunt passes away and she ends up with the woman’s sketchbook. A magical sketchbook that will turn your drawing into real-life. So when Dany draws the head of her favorite anime character (uh yeah… JUST the head) and a super popular girl to be her friend, there are (as you can imagine!) some unintended consequences. This book is FUNNY but you won’t catch half the stuff unless you read the background texts – like the store names:  “Hot Topic” is “Cool Subject” and the indredients list on the food have some interesting things listed on them. This book is like a mix of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends with a touch of Suee and the Shadow with a little sprinkle of Amulet. If you have readers about ages 10 and up who like graphic novels about friendships and would be up for something with a supernatural twist, then this would be a great recommendation. And… I see Gudsnuk has a sequel in store as well!

#8: Mr. Wolf’s Class  by Aron Nels Steinke

511oq0yhbul._sx331_bo1,204,203,200_This graphic novel started as a webcomic and is a great option if you are looking for something for younger middle grade readers who’d enjoy a sweet, gentle story. And it looks like lots of sequels are on their way! Mr. Wolf’s Class is about the first day of 4th grade – for brand new teacher Mr. Wolf and his students. By the way, Mr. Wolf is a wolf and the students are… rabbits and frogs and pigs and… well, just suspend your disbelief over the whole predator/prey thing! The book includes a cool preview of each student the night before school starts  and then the day unfolds with short slice-of-life stories as we get to know each of the students and their teacher. A strength of this book is that the author clearly KNOWS what an actual classroom community is all about – the interactions of personalities. It feels really authentic in that way.  And uh… I can definitely relate to being late to pick my kids because I was distracted by a donut in the break room!

#7: Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Unknown-5.jpegYou might be familiar with Thummler’s brilliant artwork from last year’s graphic novel adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. And if you haven’t yet gotten to that gem, bump it up on your TBR pile! This is her first solo graphic novel and I have a feeling we have a lot more in store from her! It’s the story of 13 year-old Marjorie who has been thrust into the responsibilities of running her family’s laundromat and taking care of her younger brother after her mother dies and her father has fallen into a deep depression. She is just barely hanging on and resisting the awful Mr. Saubertuck who wants to run them out of business and turn their building into a spa. But then… enter Wendell. He’s a young ghost  – young meaning new and young meaning died when he was young who winds up being pulled out of the afterlife world and into Marjorie’s life. He’s looking for.. meaning. And after a rocky start with Marjorie, does end up finding it. For me, the strength and charm of this book is really about the outstanding illustrations – the gorgeous pastel palette and the nuances of the wordless panels. And based on how this book is flying through my classroom, it clearly also has that all-important kid-appeal.

#6: The Night Door (Edison Beaker Creature Seeker) by Frank Cammuso

61UVuyGPlpL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and the Misadventures of Salem Hyde has really taken things to the next level with this incredible and hilarious new world he’s created.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who is afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids (and their hamster!) on a late-night “emergency” job where the two kids (and the hamster!) wind up going through a portal into a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of weird and cool creatures! This is one of those few books that has kids laughing out loud while they read it.  It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who love those two series, and want something similar, introduce them to Edison Beaker Creature Seeker.

#5: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

61cPaoCSDfL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI loved this graphic novel for a lot of reasons but one of them was that it features a friendship between a girl and boy that doesn’t ever fall into that trope of “well, maybe things are changing because you two really just have crush on each other!” Nope! It’s real, platonic – and has rocky parts – but it’s not a stepping stone to a love interest. And – thank you Hope Larson!  What it IS about is that one defining summer is a young teen’s life when you start to realize that your childhood is something behind you that you’re looking back on and you are entering a new era with new interests. Where music – and finding people that like the same music as you do – takes on heightened importance in your life. At least, for me it was like that. Maybe for other kids it’s sports or art or theatre.  But you start to find your people. And not just be freinds with the people who are in your class or happen to live next door. This graphic novel is about 13 year-old Bina whose best-friend and neighbor, Austin, is off to soccer camp this summer. So she ends up.. Binge-watching Netflix until her mom cuts her off. (Relateable!)  Also – it’s a little thing but I like the pale orangey-peach tones of the book, which one reviewer described as orange creamsicle.

#4: Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

51x1vUzCj2L._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI really, really loved her  two earlier Berrybrook Middle School stories – Awkward and Brave, but this one just might be my favorite. This one takes a step away from the intrigues of the art club and the school newspaper and focused on Jorge Ruiz, a big kid, a pretty-popular jock who nobody really messes with, who seems to have it all together. Until he realizes that he’s got a massive crush on Jazmine and his world is suddenly tilted.  This graphic novel really captures those quick relationship changes in middle school and that dynamic between texts and social media and how that influences and complicates face-to-face interactions. Sometimes novels totally leave out modern technology. I mean, half the time the problem in the book could be solved with a quick Google search or you know – maybe talking with the person that you’re having an issue with!  But Chmakova knows that technology might solve some problems but ushers in a whole host of other ones. Crush is another one of those graphic novels that is getting passed from kid to kid to kid in my classroom with a big enough waiting list I ordered a second copy. And – a bonus – kids don’t have to read the three books in the series in order. They each definitely can stand alone.

#3: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

61ePY6FO5EL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis graphic novel is loosely based on the author’s real-life experiences and her Russian-American background and that makes for a unique twist on a familiar setting for some kids – summer camp! 9-year old Vera is a Russian immigrant and we learn at the beginning of the novel, she doesn’t doesn’t exactly fit in with the popular crowd. Or really any crowd at all.  Her family is poor and their traditions and food are just enough “culturally off” to make her feel awkward among the girls she invites to a birthday sleepover that goes bad…. And oh man… how I felt for poor Vera that night! That’s some real-life cringe-worthy stuff though.  Vera desperately wants to fit in and finally convinces her mother to send her and her brother to a Russian summer camp sponsored by their Orthodox church where they will learn the Russian language and religion along with the typical summer camp things – like learning why you shouldn’t feed the wildlife and finding a comfortable place to poop! Brosgol’s illustrations are outstanding with a foresty green color palette.  And this book about the poor choices one can make in the quest for friendship along with that added layer of feeling like you don’t really belong enough in any culture makes this graphic novel feel like a blend of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Kelly Yang’s Front Desk. This would be a great recommendation for kids in about grades 4 or 5 and up.

#2: The Prince & the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

51pemn3j0vl._sx351_bo1,204,203,200_Oh how this book made me smile!!  It’s set in a 19th century-ish Paris where 16 year-old Prince Sebastian has a huge secret he is keeping from his parents – from everyone except for his trusted butler. He loves getting dressed up in fancy gowns and makeup and wigs.  Eventually he discovers a lowly dressmaker, Frances, who has shown she is willing to break societal norms – and secretly hires her to help him transform into a different, more glamorous person. But things go awry when Sebastian’s parents try to arrange his marriage and his alter-ego (and her designer) become the talk of the town. It’s like Project Runway meets Versailles with a twist of Cinderella. And I really, really want Disney to make this into a movie!  We need more books that go beyond the traditional gender norms so kids can both see themselves and also so that kids can see others not like them at the center of important and positive and fun stories. 

#1: The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (and others)

51J47VzqXdL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI was reading the last third of The Cardboard Kingdom after dinner one night. I may have mentioned before that we have a post-dinner reading routine of 20-30 minutes. All of us. And since the girls had taken over my prefered reading spot on the couch, I was off in the easy chair in the corner. Chuckling and smiling and just… reacting as I read it. And suddenly, Helena, my 9 year old, is reading over my shoulder, looming over me.  Then she’s sitting on the arm on the chair, her head pressed against mine to see every angle of the illustrations. Then she’s in my lap with her hands on the book slowing down my turns of the pages so she could absorb each panel. Until finally, I relinquished it to her and just said, “Start from the beginning babe. It’s all yours.”

I just happened to pick up this graphic novel right after I finished The Prince & the Dressmaker, and I loved the parallels between it’s main character, Sebastian, and the first character we meet here – The Sorceress!  The first section is told completely through wordless panels as we witness two siblings playing with a kiddie pool, a chair, and a bunch of cardboard boxes and how their imagination has transformed that into magic and adventure.  A girl peeking over the fence at them starts laughing and at first it breaks the spell and ends the game. But then she gets drawn into their world in her own unique way. And the story takes off from there – with each neighborhood kid bringing in their own personalities and quirks and their own imaginative spin on adventure.  There are knights and robots and banshees and beasts. And entreupreneurs. There are conflicts and battles. And quieter moments of understanding. The stories stack and intertwine and build and build to create an amazing collection of backyard adventures! And just as the kid’s adventures are collaborative – so is this book! Chad Sell is the illustrator but each section was crafted along with a different writer – Jay Fuller, David Demeo, Katie Schenkel, Manuel Betancourt, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Cloud Jacobs, Michael Cole, and Barbara Perez Marquez.  And somehow, those diverse authors and illustrators have captured that magical feeling of childhood where there’s boundless inspiration and freedom and when it’s good – acceptance and transformation of flaws into strengths and positive energy. It’s hard to describe the special magic of this book. But it gave me the same feeling as watching the new Spiderman movie I mentioned at the top of the show. A feeling of witnessing some of the best that collaboration has to offer – it’s some next-level stuff!

Well – you’ve heard from me and now I want to hear from you!  What graphic novels from the past year did you and the kids in your life love?  Which ones are really making an impact among your students? And which ones are you all looking forward to in 2019?   

You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or jump into the conversation on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.   

We’ll be back to our every-other Monday schedule starting January 14th and make sure you check out the next episode which will be all about the most anticipated middle grade books of the upcoming year.

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

 

 

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(Some of the) Best Middle Grade Books of 2018: Books Between, Episode 66

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! This is Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying my extra reading time over the holiday break and the chance to relax.

This is episode #66 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2018.

I’m a bit of a data nerd, and I have always been into tracking my reading – from my color-coded index card system in high school to my alphabatized Excel Spreadsheet in the early 2000s to now where I do a mix of Goodreads and a bullet journal. So looking back over the last couple of years since I started doing this show, in 2016 I read 60 middle grade books with 31 of those published in 2016. And my top three books of that year were Booked, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, and The Wild Robot. (You can find that list here.)

Last year, I read 79 middle grade with 55 of those published in 2017. A jump I will totally attribute to the intensity of being on the CYBILS committee. And my top three books of 2017 were Posted, Refugee, and Orphan Island and my top three graphic novels last year were Real Friends, Pashmina, and All’s Faire in Middle School.  (You can find the full list here.)

This year, I read 59 middle grade books with 41 of those released in 2018.

Before I start – a quick caveat. Selecting ONLY 25 titles was almost impossible.  I enjoyed just about every book I read this year, and I know each one will find it’s reader.  So how to choose the top twenty-five? I have two criteria – the writing is immersive (a book I couldn’t put down) and the story has that something special – unique character, an intriguing plot twist, or a thought-provoking theme (a book I can’t forget).  

And again this year, I decided to separate out the graphic novels so be on the lookout for another best of podcast soon featuring just the middle grade graphic novels.   

Okay, let’s get to it!  Here are my Top 25 middle grade novels of 2018:

Main Topic – Top 25 Middle Grade Novels of 2018

#25: Granted by John David Anderson

41hpsm-ci0l._sx321_bo1,204,203,200_From the author of the soon-to-be movie, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and last year’s amazing
Posted is this story about Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets – one of the few remaining fairies entrusted with the job of Granter – a fairy who ventures into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. Ophelia’s increasingly difficult quest to grant a little girl her wish of a purple bike will keep you turning the pages. And her reluctant friendship with the slobbery dog Sam – along with some other hilarious touches like Ophelia’s special song – will make this novel one you won’t forget.

 

#24: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

511OD4J9dbL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book – better than any I’ve read – captures the heat and the swelter of a scorching-hot drought-ridden summer. Our protagonist, Della, is feeling the weight of that and also the burdon of her mother’s re-emerging schizophrenia. But this novel is also laced with the sweetness of friendship and watermelon and hope and a touch of maybe magical honey.  

 

 

#23: Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen & Laurie Morrison

Unknown-2.jpegThis dual narrative novel is about Lauren and Sierra.  The two girls end up living next to each other and becoming friends when Lauren’s neighbors become Sierra’s foster parents.  As Lauren starts to become more aware of her priviledge, she comes up with a – shall we say “ill-advised” Robin Hood scheme that quickly starts to spiral out of control.  Watching Lauren and Sierra get deeper and deeper and deeper into that pit and wondering how on earth they were going to dig themselves out is what kept me turning those pages. And what makes this book unique and fresh was the strength of the two perspectives – Lauren’s chapters in prose and Sierra’s in verse.

#22: The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

51rHsGVmYkL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBelieve. Give. Trust. With those three magical rules passed on to her from her grandmother, Kate tries to grapple with the changes in her life. Divorce, faltering friendship, and her grandmother’s worsening dementia. Along with the typical difficulties of a 12 year old! I loved this book for its blend of beautiful prose and realism.

 

 

#21: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

512OEqiZhIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis middle grade coming of age novel tells the story of 8th grader Marcus Vega who ends up traveling to Puerto Rico with his mom and younger brother in search of the father who seemed to abandon them years ago. And yes, his journey is about discovering family, but it’s also about discovering his culture. This book is a beautiful homage to Puerto Rico and a story that captures the experiences of many kids with family connections that represent multiple languages and backgrounds.  It reminds me a bit of the graphic novel Crush with a twist of Torrey Maldonado’s Tight.

 

#20: The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

61+M5Z1q23L.jpgThis novel was not only unforgettable but it utterly changed the way I experience walking into a musuem forever. And to me – that is the mark of an excellent book. It makes you see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Frame-up is set in a real-life place – the Beaverbrook Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. And the art director’s son soon discovers that the paintings are…. alive. And they can travel into other paintings – which is completely fascinating when you consider that this museum includes art from different eras. And multiple paintings of the same person.  What the author does in this world is spell-binding. But things start to get dicey when suddenly the art director’s son and Mona, a young girl in one of the museum’s prized paintings, find themselves desperately trying to stop both an art heist and a plot to destroy their community forever.

 

#19: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

51zpTkmHcLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was a fun mix of humor and history intermixed with realistic depictions of issues that young people are coping with – like body shaming and eating disorders and figuring out that whole friendship thing while staying true to yourself and your values.  What made this book stay with me long after that last page was read was the main character, Tally, whose self-confidence and style and body positivity are inspiring.

 

 

#18: So Done by Paula Chase

41LCRf2z+AL._SX297_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis upper middle grade coming of age story centers around friends Mila and Tai.  The girls have spent the summer apart and as fall starts, it has become more and more clear that their friendship is sputtering out. And yes, part of that is typical things like finding new interests and more focus on boys, but there is this one massive secret hanging over both girls’ heads that threatens to not only destroy that friendship, but could destroy families, too.The slow, shocking reveal of what that secret really IS kept me turning the pages and what made this book stick with me so long afterward are the voices of the characters that are so fresh and unique and real!  During the first chapter, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other – and don’t think any adult is within earshot. Chase has this incredible knack for voice, and I cannot wait to see what other middle grade books she has coming our way!

#17: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

51NbyoNb6SL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJohnson has expertly woven together multiple storylines across two different eras that are beautifully fused together in the final chapters.  The main character, modern-day Candice, discovers a decades old mystery that takes her and the quiet bookworm boy across the street on a quest for a long-lost treasure. But to figure out the clues, they have to delve into some long buried town history that some folks would rather keep hidden. This book is rich with details and touches on topics that are not common in middle grade – like the end of segregation and its impact on black schools and the concept of passing. It’s beautifully written and if you have older middle grade kids who loved The Westing Game and who love mysteries, this is a great book to put in their hands.

#16: You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

41B5C2bSAUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAlex Gino’s second novel for middle grade readers is a sweet story about Jilly, White and hearing, who befriends a Deaf Black ASL user on a fandom website where they connect over their mutual love of a fantasy series. When Jilly’s new baby sister is born Deaf,  she and her parents struggle with which expert advice to follow and everyone makes some missteps along the way. Based on reviews from those in the Deaf community, Gino does seem to get that representation right. To me this book is one to have in your classroom or library because it shows one character’s pathway through learning about incredibly important but tricky topics like white priviledge, racism, micro-agressions, and abelism. And done in a way with warmth and heart.

#15: Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

515Byj+ku+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI’ll admit – this one almost got past me!  I was at school and had forgotten my book at home. And so on a whim, I picked up this book from my classroom library and promptly forgot that any other book existed and promptly fell for Stella’s sweetness and charm. Stella is a third grader, born in Mexico, but now living in Chicago with her mom and older brother. She’s struggling with being in a different class than her best friend, Jenny,  and dealing with the accompanying worries that Jenny might be forming a closer relationship with another girl. Stella is also figuring out where she fits in with her outgoing family since she is more quiet and is working through some speech difficulties. Three things stand out to me about this book – its utter realness, the excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, and also the fact that this novel intersperses Spanish in the most organic and well-executed way that I’ve ever encountered before. They pop up frequently and naturally, and yet I feel confident that most non-Spanish speaking readers can fairly easily figure out what those words mean from the context.

#14: Takedown by Laura Shovan

51lhPg+K-oL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI LOVE books that immerse me in a subculture – like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish. I was fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process in this novel. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the two main characters – Mikayla (known as Mickey) and Lev are written so vividly and honestly. Told in alternating point of view chapters, Mickey and Lev are each dealing with their own middle school difficulties of faltering friendships and dicey family dynamics. When they both wind up wrestling for the same elite traveling team, Lev needs to cope with having a new wreslting partner (a girl), and Mickey has to deal with a wrestling culture that isn’t exactly keen to accept her. How these two characters grow and how their stories intertwine have stayed on my mind – months later.

#13: Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

51nG51FFIIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother incredible story from a favorite author of so many of my students. Good Dog is told from the point of view of Brodie – a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our sweet, noble Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him.  I love this book for so many reasons – but mostly for how it quietly but powerfully connects with Gemeinhardt’s previous novel, The Honest Truth.  I don’t want to say more, but…. if you have a kid who has read and loved that book – give them Good Dog right after.

#12: Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

51Qo0bV-oNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is another novel that snuck up on me and then wouldn’t let go of my heart. For the last couple of years, my 5th graders and I have read Home of the Brave together as the first read aloud. This year I decided to have their book clubs centered around refugee and immigrant stories – with a focus on #ownvoices novels. And Escape from Aleppo was the only book club choice I hadn’t yet read – and so I read along with the kids in that club and followed their reading schedule and joined their discussions. And I completely agree with their assessment – this book is fabulous. It’s about 14-year-old Nadia, who we meet as her family is evacuating their home in Syria in an attempt to flee to Turkey. But in the carnage, Nadia ends up separated from her family and has to make her way through the city of Aleppo in a dangerous effort to reunite with them and to figure out who in the war-torn city she should trust to help her. What stands out to me most is the searing depiction of modern-day war and how much my students saw themselves in Nadia’s flashbacks to pre-Arab Spring Aleppo. Scenes were everything seems stable and Nadia is all about the latest episode of her favorite reality TV singing show and what color she should paint her nails. If you are looking for a companion book to Alan Gratz’s Refugee, this is an excellent choice. And one that will stay with you for a long, long time.

#11: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

41bpl0Wp5jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the much-awaited prequel to the much-loved and much-awarded, novel-in-verse The Crossover. This book is all about Josh & Jordan’s father – Chuck “Da Man” Bell. But – this is an origin story. So when we first meet him, he is just Charlie – an 80’s kid reeling from a family tragedy and trying to find his way forward and trying to find his smile again. When home becomes tense, he is involuntarily shipped off to his grandparent’s house for the summer where he starts to find that path forward. I loved this book for it’s awesome illustratations and all those great 80s references.

 

#10: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

51NmZ2v2BdL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgEsteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton, Haley – these six kids are brought to an abandoned art room each Friday, left on their own, and allowed to simply talk. And eventually – their stories unfold. Stories of deportation, of harassment, of parent death and incarceration. Of hope and of despair.  And by the end of that year, they have formed a bond and a vow to harbor each other. It’s Jacqueline Woodson so you know it’s gorgeously written, but it also speaks to a great need for empathy in our country right now. And I can attest that it’s not just one of those “important” books that kids don’t really like. It was one of the top requested book club selections and currently has a huge waiting list in my room, so I can vouch for it’s kid appeal.

#9: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

51s4JmcDnDL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOkay – this book creeped me the heck out! And it was glorious! This paranormal horror story is about a young girl named Ollie whose mom tragically died last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and rather raw.  One fall day, Ollie disovers this strange book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly battle to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. This book is so immersive and atmospheric and has one brilliant twist at the end that has me shuddering just thinking about it! Oh – and if you’re the type of person that isn’t at all freaked out by scarecrows – read this book and that will change.

#8: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Unknown-3.jpegThere has been sooo much love for this book this year – and if you haven’t yet read it, I will add my voice to all the others telling you…. it’s incredible.  This novel is about a young Pakistani girl whose dream is to finish her education and to become a teacher. But when her mother is struggling with depression after having her fifth baby – another girl – Amal ends up staying home to take of the household. And then, to make matters far worse, she ends up insulting a poweful man in her village and be forced into indentured servitude to work off her family’s debt to him. It was this section of the book and Amal’s complicated relationship with man’s family and other servants that was the most compelling to me.  Amal Unbound was the  middle grade pick for the 2018 Global Read Aloud and is worthy of a spot in any middle grade collection.

#7: Blended by Sharon Draper

41ddtlH41+L._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAs 2018 came to a close, I started scouring the social media feeds of readers whose taste I rely on to see what books from the previous year I may have missed. And by far the one that I kept bumping into… was Blended. And oh were they right to push me to read it! And…confession time – this is the first Sharon Draper book I have read! You may already know her work from Out of My Mind or Copper Sun.  This novel is about an 11-year-old girl – Izzy to her mom but Isabella to her Dad.  Her parents are divorced and every week Isabella has to switch – switch households, switch bedrooms, switch backpacks, switch expectations…. and sometimes feels like she has to switch identities. Her father is black and and lives a far more swanky lifestyle now and Isabella’s mother is white and their home definitely has a more casual vibe. I loved this book because I know how many students can relate to Izzy’s frustrations with parental tug-of-war and that awkwardness with people coming into their lives. But this book had so many more themes that will definitely strike a chord with kids today – racial profiling, school threats, micro-agressions, police shootings, and the myriad other things that make up children’s day-to-day experiences.

#6: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

41l+Ug74d7L._SY346_.jpgAhhh – this book!  I just…. Okay – plot first. This is the story of Zoey – a seventh-grader whose primary goals in life are to keep her two young siblings quiet and out of the way of her mom’s boyfriend and his father, to scrounge up enough for them to eat, and to stay completely invisible at school. But all of those things become tricky when her teacher pushes her to join the Debate Club after school. This book is about rural poverty, the nuances of the gun debate, domestic vioience… but the way those threads play out are not at all what I had expected – and so much better. This is the novel I wish I had read as a young middle school teacher when I thought that giving an hour’s worth of homework that required colored pencils, a ruler, and internet access was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  

#5: Front Desk by Kelly Yang
51HQ7BPwFaL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother stand-out debut! And every time I see another starred review or another reader gush about this book, it just makes me heart a little more happy. Front Desk is about Mia Tang whose family – recent immigrants from China – wind up running a motel under less than ideal circumstances. Mia’s expectations of life in America – juicy burgers, a pet dog, a yard, and big pool – differ A LOT from her true life, which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Her life is tough. But once she starts to harness the power of her writing, Mia starts to realize that even the big injustices in life can start to change. Front Desk was another fall favorite of my students and a perfect book club book.  And the last time I checked, it was offered through Scholastic for a great price.

 

#4: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Unknown-4.jpegWhen a sequel comes out to a book that you adored – characters who have found a home in your heart – it’s with trepidation that you crack open that cover and start a new journey with them. Oh but thank you Peter Brown because you did not disappoint and in fact…. I may love this story even more than the first. It’s hard to say anything without giving away the first book if you haven’t read it yet. (And if that’s the case – get on that!) But I will say that this sequel has more action, more human interactions, and therefore – more personal connections that kids can latch onto. And it deals with some big moral and ethical questions!  It’a a brilliant story with a touch of the Iron Giant, a sprinkle of The Odyssey, and a little dash of The Good Place.  

#3: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

51OH1565NkL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the story of Jermone – a young black boy playing outside his home with a small toy gun. A black boy who gets shot and killed by a police officer in the first pages and whose presence haunts the rest of the pages – and whose story – along with the other boys – haunts me still.  And I can see in my classroom the impact it makes on the young kids who read it. There are instantly caught by that first title page – “Dead” – and those first words – “How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching the ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.”  Jerome is the first ghost boy we meet, but later there will be Emmett Till and others who get to tell parts of their stories. This book was both completely immersive and has that quality of staying with you long after you’ve read it. And it’s a rare book that deals honestly with racism and police violence in a way that is age appropriate and clear.  And so many people have said, “This is an important book.” It IS – but don’t get it just because of that – get it and read it with kids because it’s an excellent book.

#2: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

51DkEFaFGRL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is, I believe, the first sequel that Kate DiCamillo has ever written. And if this is the quality of a DiCamillo sequel then I hope she writes a TON more – because this book ripped me apart and put me back together again. And I mean that in the best possible way! This book is the follow-up to Raymie Nightingale and focuses on Raymie’s quirky friend – Louisiana Elefante. Lousiana’s grandmother wakes her up in the middle of the night, piles her into the car, and is off to face her reckoning with the curse that has hung over their family’s head. Well, they end up in a Georgia Motel run by a cranky lady – where Louisiana has to take on more than anyone her age should have to.  But also learns a lot about grace and the goodness of humankind as well. Raymie Nightingale was a book I liked pretty well, but nothing compared to this. It’s like this story sat in a rock tumbler until all the extra grit fell away and this sparkling gem emerged at the end.  

#1: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

51uRYls0EcL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was fast-paced, fresh, and had such a…. bite to it!  It’s the story of 6th grader, Bryan, who loves comics, who loves drawing superheroes, and who loves his mother and a life of no drama. His dad brings enough of that into their life. Money in their family is… tight. So he worries about that and worries about being perceived as “soft” – not tough enough. But then his parents, sort of… set him up with a friend – this neighborhood kid named Mike. And at first, Bryan resists. He gets  weird vibe from this kid. But then the boys bond over comics and Netflix shows and spend more and more time together. They’re tight. But that friendship turns toxic when Mike starts luring Bryan into skipping school, hopping the turnstiles in the subway…and worse. Tight is an exceptional books – raw and real. If you have kids who like Jason Reynold’s Ghost and who liked the Miles Morales Spiderman – this is the book for them!

Alright – those are my top 25 middle grades books of 2018. Now – I want to hear from YOU! What were your favorite reads of the last year and which ones should I make sure to read in the year ahead?

 

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!  If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

 

 

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(Some of the) Best Middle Grade Books of 2018: Books Between, Episode 66

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! This is Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying my extra reading time over the holiday break and the chance to relax.

This is episode #66 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2018.

I’m a bit of a data nerd, and I have always been into tracking my reading – from my color-coded index card system in high school to my alphabatized Excel Spreadsheet in the early 2000s to now where I do a mix of Goodreads and a bullet journal. So looking back over the last couple of years since I started doing this show, in 2016 I read 60 middle grade books with 31 of those published in 2016. And my top three books of that year were Booked, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, and The Wild Robot. (You can find that list here.)

Last year, I read 79 middle grade with 55 of those published in 2017. A jump I will totally attribute to the intensity of being on the CYBILS committee. And my top three books of 2017 were Posted, Refugee, and Orphan Island and my top three graphic novels last year were Real Friends, Pashmina, and All’s Faire in Middle School.  (You can find the full list here.)

This year, I read 59 middle grade books with 41 of those released in 2018.

Before I start – a quick caveat. Selecting ONLY 25 titles was almost impossible.  I enjoyed just about every book I read this year, and I know each one will find it’s reader.  So how to choose the top twenty-five? I have two criteria – the writing is immersive (a book I couldn’t put down) and the story has that something special – unique character, an intriguing plot twist, or a thought-provoking theme (a book I can’t forget).  

And again this year, I decided to separate out the graphic novels so be on the lookout for another best of podcast soon featuring just the middle grade graphic novels.   

Okay, let’s get to it!  Here are my Top 25 middle grade novels of 2018:

Main Topic – Top 25 Middle Grade Novels of 2018

#25: Granted by John David Anderson

41hpsm-ci0l._sx321_bo1,204,203,200_From the author of the soon-to-be movie, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and last year’s amazing
Posted is this story about Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets – one of the few remaining fairies entrusted with the job of Granter – a fairy who ventures into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. Ophelia’s increasingly difficult quest to grant a little girl her wish of a purple bike will keep you turning the pages. And her reluctant friendship with the slobbery dog Sam – along with some other hilarious touches like Ophelia’s special song – will make this novel one you won’t forget.

 

#24: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

511OD4J9dbL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book – better than any I’ve read – captures the heat and the swelter of a scorching-hot drought-ridden summer. Our protagonist, Della, is feeling the weight of that and also the burdon of her mother’s re-emerging schizophrenia. But this novel is also laced with the sweetness of friendship and watermelon and hope and a touch of maybe magical honey.  

 

 

#23: Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen & Laurie Morrison

Unknown-2.jpegThis dual narrative novel is about Lauren and Sierra.  The two girls end up living next to each other and becoming friends when Lauren’s neighbors become Sierra’s foster parents.  As Lauren starts to become more aware of her priviledge, she comes up with a – shall we say “ill-advised” Robin Hood scheme that quickly starts to spiral out of control.  Watching Lauren and Sierra get deeper and deeper and deeper into that pit and wondering how on earth they were going to dig themselves out is what kept me turning those pages. And what makes this book unique and fresh was the strength of the two perspectives – Lauren’s chapters in prose and Sierra’s in verse.

#22: The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

51rHsGVmYkL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBelieve. Give. Trust. With those three magical rules passed on to her from her grandmother, Kate tries to grapple with the changes in her life. Divorce, faltering friendship, and her grandmother’s worsening dementia. Along with the typical difficulties of a 12 year old! I loved this book for its blend of beautiful prose and realism.

 

 

#21: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

512OEqiZhIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis middle grade coming of age novel tells the story of 8th grader Marcus Vega who ends up traveling to Puerto Rico with his mom and younger brother in search of the father who seemed to abandon them years ago. And yes, his journey is about discovering family, but it’s also about discovering his culture. This book is a beautiful homage to Puerto Rico and a story that captures the experiences of many kids with family connections that represent multiple languages and backgrounds.  It reminds me a bit of the graphic novel Crush with a twist of Torrey Maldonado’s Tight.

 

#20: The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

61+M5Z1q23L.jpgThis novel was not only unforgettable but it utterly changed the way I experience walking into a musuem forever. And to me – that is the mark of an excellent book. It makes you see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Frame-up is set in a real-life place – the Beaverbrook Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. And the art director’s son soon discovers that the paintings are…. alive. And they can travel into other paintings – which is completely fascinating when you consider that this museum includes art from different eras. And multiple paintings of the same person.  What the author does in this world is spell-binding. But things start to get dicey when suddenly the art director’s son and Mona, a young girl in one of the museum’s prized paintings, find themselves desperately trying to stop both an art heist and a plot to destroy their community forever.

 

#19: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

51zpTkmHcLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was a fun mix of humor and history intermixed with realistic depictions of issues that young people are coping with – like body shaming and eating disorders and figuring out that whole friendship thing while staying true to yourself and your values.  What made this book stay with me long after that last page was read was the main character, Tally, whose self-confidence and style and body positivity are inspiring.

 

 

#18: So Done by Paula Chase

41LCRf2z+AL._SX297_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis upper middle grade coming of age story centers around friends Mila and Tai.  The girls have spent the summer apart and as fall starts, it has become more and more clear that their friendship is sputtering out. And yes, part of that is typical things like finding new interests and more focus on boys, but there is this one massive secret hanging over both girls’ heads that threatens to not only destroy that friendship, but could destroy families, too.The slow, shocking reveal of what that secret really IS kept me turning the pages and what made this book stick with me so long afterward are the voices of the characters that are so fresh and unique and real!  During the first chapter, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other – and don’t think any adult is within earshot. Chase has this incredible knack for voice, and I cannot wait to see what other middle grade books she has coming our way!

#17: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

51NbyoNb6SL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJohnson has expertly woven together multiple storylines across two different eras that are beautifully fused together in the final chapters.  The main character, modern-day Candice, discovers a decades old mystery that takes her and the quiet bookworm boy across the street on a quest for a long-lost treasure. But to figure out the clues, they have to delve into some long buried town history that some folks would rather keep hidden. This book is rich with details and touches on topics that are not common in middle grade – like the end of segregation and its impact on black schools and the concept of passing. It’s beautifully written and if you have older middle grade kids who loved The Westing Game and who love mysteries, this is a great book to put in their hands.

#16: You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

41B5C2bSAUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAlex Gino’s second novel for middle grade readers is a sweet story about Jilly, White and hearing, who befriends a Deaf Black ASL user on a fandom website where they connect over their mutual love of a fantasy series. When Jilly’s new baby sister is born Deaf,  she and her parents struggle with which expert advice to follow and everyone makes some missteps along the way. Based on reviews from those in the Deaf community, Gino does seem to get that representation right. To me this book is one to have in your classroom or library because it shows one character’s pathway through learning about incredibly important but tricky topics like white priviledge, racism, micro-agressions, and abelism. And done in a way with warmth and heart.

#15: Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

515Byj+ku+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI’ll admit – this one almost got past me!  I was at school and had forgotten my book at home. And so on a whim, I picked up this book from my classroom library and promptly forgot that any other book existed and promptly fell for Stella’s sweetness and charm. Stella is a third grader, born in Mexico, but now living in Chicago with her mom and older brother. She’s struggling with being in a different class than her best friend, Jenny,  and dealing with the accompanying worries that Jenny might be forming a closer relationship with another girl. Stella is also figuring out where she fits in with her outgoing family since she is more quiet and is working through some speech difficulties. Three things stand out to me about this book – its utter realness, the excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, and also the fact that this novel intersperses Spanish in the most organic and well-executed way that I’ve ever encountered before. They pop up frequently and naturally, and yet I feel confident that most non-Spanish speaking readers can fairly easily figure out what those words mean from the context.

#14: Takedown by Laura Shovan

51lhPg+K-oL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI LOVE books that immerse me in a subculture – like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish. I was fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process in this novel. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the two main characters – Mikayla (known as Mickey) and Lev are written so vividly and honestly. Told in alternating point of view chapters, Mickey and Lev are each dealing with their own middle school difficulties of faltering friendships and dicey family dynamics. When they both wind up wrestling for the same elite traveling team, Lev needs to cope with having a new wreslting partner (a girl), and Mickey has to deal with a wrestling culture that isn’t exactly keen to accept her. How these two characters grow and how their stories intertwine have stayed on my mind – months later.

#13: Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

51nG51FFIIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother incredible story from a favorite author of so many of my students. Good Dog is told from the point of view of Brodie – a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our sweet, noble Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him.  I love this book for so many reasons – but mostly for how it quietly but powerfully connects with Gemeinhardt’s previous novel, The Honest Truth.  I don’t want to say more, but…. if you have a kid who has read and loved that book – give them Good Dog right after.

#12: Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

51Qo0bV-oNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is another novel that snuck up on me and then wouldn’t let go of my heart. For the last couple of years, my 5th graders and I have read Home of the Brave together as the first read aloud. This year I decided to have their book clubs centered around refugee and immigrant stories – with a focus on #ownvoices novels. And Escape from Aleppo was the only book club choice I hadn’t yet read – and so I read along with the kids in that club and followed their reading schedule and joined their discussions. And I completely agree with their assessment – this book is fabulous. It’s about 14-year-old Nadia, who we meet as her family is evacuating their home in Syria in an attempt to flee to Turkey. But in the carnage, Nadia ends up separated from her family and has to make her way through the city of Aleppo in a dangerous effort to reunite with them and to figure out who in the war-torn city she should trust to help her. What stands out to me most is the searing depiction of modern-day war and how much my students saw themselves in Nadia’s flashbacks to pre-Arab Spring Aleppo. Scenes were everything seems stable and Nadia is all about the latest episode of her favorite reality TV singing show and what color she should paint her nails. If you are looking for a companion book to Alan Gratz’s Refugee, this is an excellent choice. And one that will stay with you for a long, long time.

#11: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

41bpl0Wp5jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the much-awaited prequel to the much-loved and much-awarded, novel-in-verse The Crossover. This book is all about Josh & Jordan’s father – Chuck “Da Man” Bell. But – this is an origin story. So when we first meet him, he is just Charlie – an 80’s kid reeling from a family tragedy and trying to find his way forward and trying to find his smile again. When home becomes tense, he is involuntarily shipped off to his grandparent’s house for the summer where he starts to find that path forward. I loved this book for it’s awesome illustratations and all those great 80s references.

 

#10: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

51NmZ2v2BdL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgEsteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton, Haley – these six kids are brought to an abandoned art room each Friday, left on their own, and allowed to simply talk. And eventually – their stories unfold. Stories of deportation, of harassment, of parent death and incarceration. Of hope and of despair.  And by the end of that year, they have formed a bond and a vow to harbor each other. It’s Jacqueline Woodson so you know it’s gorgeously written, but it also speaks to a great need for empathy in our country right now. And I can attest that it’s not just one of those “important” books that kids don’t really like. It was one of the top requested book club selections and currently has a huge waiting list in my room, so I can vouch for it’s kid appeal.

#9: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

51s4JmcDnDL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOkay – this book creeped me the heck out! And it was glorious! This paranormal horror story is about a young girl named Ollie whose mom tragically died last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and rather raw.  One fall day, Ollie disovers this strange book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly battle to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. This book is so immersive and atmospheric and has one brilliant twist at the end that has me shuddering just thinking about it! Oh – and if you’re the type of person that isn’t at all freaked out by scarecrows – read this book and that will change.

#8: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Unknown-3.jpegThere has been sooo much love for this book this year – and if you haven’t yet read it, I will add my voice to all the others telling you…. it’s incredible.  This novel is about a young Pakistani girl whose dream is to finish her education and to become a teacher. But when her mother is struggling with depression after having her fifth baby – another girl – Amal ends up staying home to take of the household. And then, to make matters far worse, she ends up insulting a poweful man in her village and be forced into indentured servitude to work off her family’s debt to him. It was this section of the book and Amal’s complicated relationship with man’s family and other servants that was the most compelling to me.  Amal Unbound was the  middle grade pick for the 2018 Global Read Aloud and is worthy of a spot in any middle grade collection.

#7: Blended by Sharon Draper

41ddtlH41+L._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAs 2018 came to a close, I started scouring the social media feeds of readers whose taste I rely on to see what books from the previous year I may have missed. And by far the one that I kept bumping into… was Blended. And oh were they right to push me to read it! And…confession time – this is the first Sharon Draper book I have read! You may already know her work from Out of My Mind or Copper Sun.  This novel is about an 11-year-old girl – Izzy to her mom but Isabella to her Dad.  Her parents are divorced and every week Isabella has to switch – switch households, switch bedrooms, switch backpacks, switch expectations…. and sometimes feels like she has to switch identities. Her father is black and and lives a far more swanky lifestyle now and Isabella’s mother is white and their home definitely has a more casual vibe. I loved this book because I know how many students can relate to Izzy’s frustrations with parental tug-of-war and that awkwardness with people coming into their lives. But this book had so many more themes that will definitely strike a chord with kids today – racial profiling, school threats, micro-agressions, police shootings, and the myriad other things that make up children’s day-to-day experiences.

#6: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

41l+Ug74d7L._SY346_.jpgAhhh – this book!  I just…. Okay – plot first. This is the story of Zoey – a seventh-grader whose primary goals in life are to keep her two young siblings quiet and out of the way of her mom’s boyfriend and his father, to scrounge up enough for them to eat, and to stay completely invisible at school. But all of those things become tricky when her teacher pushes her to join the Debate Club after school. This book is about rural poverty, the nuances of the gun debate, domestic vioience… but the way those threads play out are not at all what I had expected – and so much better. This is the novel I wish I had read as a young middle school teacher when I thought that giving an hour’s worth of homework that required colored pencils, a ruler, and internet access was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  

#5: Front Desk by Kelly Yang
51HQ7BPwFaL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother stand-out debut! And every time I see another starred review or another reader gush about this book, it just makes me heart a little more happy. Front Desk is about Mia Tang whose family – recent immigrants from China – wind up running a motel under less than ideal circumstances. Mia’s expectations of life in America – juicy burgers, a pet dog, a yard, and big pool – differ A LOT from her true life, which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Her life is tough. But once she starts to harness the power of her writing, Mia starts to realize that even the big injustices in life can start to change. Front Desk was another fall favorite of my students and a perfect book club book.  And the last time I checked, it was offered through Scholastic for a great price.

#4: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Unknown-4.jpegWhen a sequel comes out to a book that you adored – characters who have found a home in your heart – it’s with trepidation that you crack open that cover and start a new journey with them. Oh but thank you Peter Brown because you did not disappoint and in fact…. I may love this story even more than the first. It’s hard to say anything without giving away the first book if you haven’t read it yet. (And if that’s the case – get on that!) But I will say that this sequel has more action, more human interactions, and therefore – more personal connections that kids can latch onto. And it deals with some big moral and ethical questions!  It’a a brilliant story with a touch of the Iron Giant, a sprinkle of The Odyssey, and a little dash of The Good Place.  

#3: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

51OH1565NkL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the story of Jermone – a young black boy playing outside his home with a small toy gun. A black boy who gets shot and killed by a police officer in the first pages and whose presence haunts the rest of the pages – and whose story – along with the other boys – haunts me still.  And I can see in my classroom the impact it makes on the young kids who read it. There are instantly caught by that first title page – “Dead” – and those first words – “How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching the ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.”  Jerome is the first ghost boy we meet, but later there will be Emmett Till and others who get to tell parts of their stories. This book was both completely immersive and has that quality of staying with you long after you’ve read it. And it’s a rare book that deals honestly with racism and police violence in a way that is age appropriate and clear.  And so many people have said, “This is an important book.” It IS – but don’t get it just because of that – get it and read it with kids because it’s an excellent book.

#2: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

51DkEFaFGRL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is, I believe, the first sequel that Kate DiCamillo has ever written. And if this is the quality of a DiCamillo sequel then I hope she writes a TON more – because this book ripped me apart and put me back together again. And I mean that in the best possible way! This book is the follow-up to Raymie Nightingale and focuses on Raymie’s quirky friend – Louisiana Elefante. Lousiana’s grandmother wakes her up in the middle of the night, piles her into the car, and is off to face her reckoning with the curse that has hung over their family’s head. Well, they end up in a Georgia Motel run by a cranky lady – where Louisiana has to take on more than anyone her age should have to.  But also learns a lot about grace and the goodness of humankind as well. Raymie Nightingale was a book I liked pretty well, but nothing compared to this. It’s like this story sat in a rock tumbler until all the extra grit fell away and this sparkling gem emerged at the end.  

#1: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

51uRYls0EcL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was fast-paced, fresh, and had such a…. bite to it!  It’s the story of 6th grader, Bryan, who loves comics, who loves drawing superheroes, and who loves his mother and a life of no drama. His dad brings enough of that into their life. Money in their family is… tight. So he worries about that and worries about being perceived as “soft” – not tough enough. But then his parents, sort of… set him up with a friend – this neighborhood kid named Mike. And at first, Bryan resists. He gets  weird vibe from this kid. But then the boys bond over comics and Netflix shows and spend more and more time together. They’re tight. But that friendship turns toxic when Mike starts luring Bryan into skipping school, hopping the turnstiles in the subway…and worse. Tight is an exceptional books – raw and real. If you have kids who like Jason Reynold’s Ghost and who liked the Miles Morales Spiderman – this is the book for them!

Alright – those are my top 25 middle grades books of 2018. Now – I want to hear from YOU! What were your favorite reads of the last year and which ones should I make sure to read in the year ahead?

 

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!  If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

 

 

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#HappyPottermas Part 2, Bridging the Gap: Books Between, Episode 64

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! And welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love for a lifetime.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a teacher, and recently – staying up way too late wrapping presents and watching cheesy Netflix holiday specials like The Princess Switch and The Holiday Calendar. And apparently losing my voice a bit – it seems a tad scratchy tonight.

I believe in the power of the right story at the right time to transform you into a different kind of reader. And a different kind of person. And Harry Potter is that one series that seems to have accomplished that for so many.

In today’s special #HappyPottermas episode you’ll hear some clips from a variety of kids, parents, educators, and authors about what Harry Potter has meant to them.

And then I’ll share with you a conversation with one of the founders of #HappyPottermas and the MGBookVillage website, author Jarrett Lerner and – David Marsh – and educator and the creative force behind the LEGO Batman Book Talks on YouTube.

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions

  • Katelynn Giordano (@Mrs_Giordano), 6th Grade English Teacher
  • Stephanie Lucianovic (@grubreport) –  author of The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral  and Hello Star
  • Rajani LaRocca (@rajanilarocca) – author of Midsummer’s Mayhem and 7 Golden Rings
  • Jazz Anders (@snazzsinclair) – student, Kid YouTuber Snazzy Reads
  • Amber Stivers Anders – library aid, Jazz’s mom
  • Karen Chow (@KChowrites) – author, contributor at MG @ Heart

Jarrett Lerner & David Marsh – Interview Outline

 

Our special guests this week are author Jarrett Lerner and educator David Marsh. We talk about the influence of Harry Potter, our favorite books, the movie adaptations – among lots and lots of other things!

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

  • Introductions
  • How Harry Potter first came into our lives
  • Growing up with Harry Potter
  • Skipping the beginning chapters of The Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Favorite characters
  • Pottermore
  • Favorite book
  • Movies vs. Books
  • Adult appeal of Harry Potter
  • Harry Potter merch
  • Harry Potter sorting
  • Prizoner of Azkaban movie
  • DtqAMiAVAAAoyAY.jpg-large
    David’s Harry Potter swag!

 

Links:

Jarrett Lerner on Twitter – @Jarrett_Lerner

David Marsh on Twitter – @Davidmarsh80

The Harry Potter books

Pottermore website

Tight (by Torrey Maldonado)

The Bicycle Spy (Yona Zeldis McDonough)

Skylark and Wallcreeper (Anne O’Brien Carelli)

Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

We’re Not From Here (Geoff Rodkey)

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!  If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

 

 

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#HappyPottermas Part 1, A Conversation Across the Pond: Books Between, Episode 63

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! And welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love for a lifetime.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two tweens, a 5th grade teacher, a Ravenclaw, and celebrating all things Harry Potter this month! I believe in the power of stories to give us the language and situations to help us identify and make sense of what is wonderful in our world. And give us the words and the way to fight against the injustices we see. And few books do that better than Harry Potter. Across generations parents and educators who grew up inspired by Rowling’s stories are sharing the books with the children in their lives.

In today’s episode you’ll hear some short clips from a variety of librarians, and parents, and educators, and authors about how much the series has meant to them.  And the special moments in their lives that were made a little more magical by Harry Potter.Ds2bST1XcAABnFm

And then I’ll share with you a lenghtier conversation from across the pond where I chat with two of the founders of #HappyPottermas – Annaliese Avery from Suffolk in the UK and Lorie Barber from Chicago in the U.S.

Defintely check out #HappyPottermas on Twitter and all the Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And I really would love to hear YOUR thoughts about Harry Potter as well So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast later in December, just check out the link posted in the show notes, which includes very quick and easy instructions on to submit an audio clip to me. And I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions

 

 

Funk Harry Potter Wedding Cake
Josh Funk’s Harry Potter wedding cake!

Annaliese Avery & Lorie Barber – Interview Outline

Our special guests this week are Annaliese Avery and Lorie Barber – two of the founders of #HappyPottermas!  We talk about Harry Potter inspired advocacy, the challenges of friendship trios, and the our thoughts about the new Fantastic Beast movies.

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

  • Introductions
  • How Harry Potter first came into our lives
  • The origins of #HappyPottermas
  • Harry Potter ushering in a golden age of children’s books
  • Harry Potter fueled activism
  • Flawed characters & friendship trios
  • Teaching Harry Potter
  • Complicated characters in Harry Potter
  • The Crimes of Grindlewold / The Fantastic Beast movies
  • The Harry Potter books vs. the movies
  • The Cursed Child
  • Sorting in Schools
  • Harry Potter in the UK vs. Harry Potter in the U.S
  • Looking at Harry Potter through a critical lens

Some pics from Lorie’s classroom!

Links:

Annaliese Avery on Twitter – @AnnalieseAvery

Lorie Barber on Twitter – @BarberChicago

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 12.27.54 AM.png

Jess Lifshitz on Twitter – @Jess5th

The Harry Potter Alliance

A Monster Calls

The Harry Potter books

The Cursed Child

Pottermore website

Closing

Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  Remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun and remember to send in your own audio submission for a future episode.

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

 

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Launching a Community Book Club & a Conversation with Harper and Maggie: Books Between, Episode 62

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! And welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to incredible stories. I believe in the power of books to bring communities together. And my goal is to help you connect your children and your community with fantastic books and share inspiring conversations with the people who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and glad to be back with you after a short hiatus to focus on school and supporting some local candidates in the mid-term elections! Before this year, I had NEVER done any phone banking or canvassing, but after being inspired by so many of YOU – I knew I had to get off my bum and get to work.

This is episode #62 and Today’s show is all about promoting literacy in your community.  First, I’ll share some advice about launching a community book club based on my experience starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. And then I’ll share a conversation with Harper & Maggie, two young girls who’ve launched Books & a Blanket – an organization to promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Before we get started, I have a BIG announcement that I am delighted to tell you about!  For the whole month of December, Annaliese Avery and Jarrett Lerner and myself fromDs2bST1XcAABnFm MGBookVillage are teaming up with Lorie Barber and Erin Varley to bring you #HappyPottermas – a month-long celebration of all things Harry Potter! There will be daily Twitter prompts and all the 9pm EST Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And…. I’ve got some special guests lined up for the December episodes of the podcast to talk about the Wizarding World.  And I would love to feature YOU on the show as well. So if you have THOUGHTS about Hogwarts, Snape, the books vs. the movies. If you have OPINIONS you want to share – I really, really want to hear what you have to say!  So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast, just check out the link posted in the show notes, and I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – Launching a Community Book Club

This week I’m sharing some things I’ve learned about launching a community book club based on my experiences starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. But whatever type of book club you might already have going or are considering starting – whether that’s a ProjectLIT club or not – I think you’ll get some good ideas from today’s discussion.  And – just know that every document I mention (flyers, surveys, discussion guides, etc…) are all available for you to download right in the show notes and on this episode’s post at MGBookVillage.org. And all of them are editable so you can download and adjust them however you need.

Today I’ll be talking about the difference between ProjectLIT and other traditional community book clubs, including the pros and cons of each. Then I’ll share some ideas about how to prepare to launch your club, some ideas about how to decide what books to read and how to get copies of those books, how to get students and the wider community involved and excited, and then I’ll get into some specifics about planning meetings and hosting a community-wide book celebration.

That’s a lot to cover! So let’s dig right in!

What is the difference between a traditional book club with community involvement and a ProjectLIT Community Book Club – and what are the pros and cons of each?

ProjectLIT is a grassroots literacy movement with community book club chapters all over the country. As of this week, there are now 592 chapters. Their goal is to increase access to culturally relevant books and promote a love of reading in our schools and communities. Each spring the ProjectLIT team consults with chapter leaders and announces a list of 20 books from middle grade to YA that include topics that will generate lots of discussion and bring awareness to issues in our society. Since this is the second year, there are now 40 books to choose from. The books feature characters from a wide variety of backgrounds and are usually #ownvoices – written by authors who share the marginalized identity of the main character. For example, some ProjectLIT books are Amina’s Voice by Hena Kahn and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Some of the YA choices are Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. ProjectLIT is all about bringing together a community to discuss the big ideas put forth in these booksand to encourage students to take a leadership role in planning community meetings and doing community service projects to promote literacy. It’s beyond just a book club that might meet to read and discuss books.  If you want to know more about ProjectLIT, their founder, Jarred Amato was a guest on this podcast on episode 54. So, if you are bb54featureconsidering whether or not to launch a more traditional book club in your school or to be a ProjectLIT chapter, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind.

Cons:

  • The book choices are more limited. There are about 20 middle grade titles to choose from and about 20 YA, but I found that the middle grade titles weren’t all the best fit for my club which is geared toward 4th and 5th graders. For example, the March graphic novels are listed as middle grade but I decided to not offer that as one of our choices since it seemed more like a middle school fit.  I’m really hoping that the book options next year will include some lower middle grade titles to expand the choices for elementary kids and to include a variety of reading levels for older students, too.
  • Many of the titles are newer so they are only available as hardcover which makes it financially challenging. And students are less familiar with them so you might need to do some book talks and sampling to get them really pumped about reading them.
  • If you advertise an event as ProjectLIT, it does need to be one of the approved titles. You can mix things up but it does make it more complicated. And if you are trying to make your book club ALSO connect with other things like Battle of the Books or March Book Madness, it is a little bit limiting in that way.

PROS:

  • The book choices ARE amazing! Long Way Down, Amal Unbound, The First Rule of Punk, Ghost, The Parker Inheritance – truly – these are fabulous reads!!
  • Yes, they are new. But that also means that most kids haven’t already read them. I know when I’ve attempted book clubs with really popular books that have been out for awhile, some kids didn’t come because well – if they were interested in the book, they’d already read it. Newer books pull in those readers who will be literacy DhM7H6RV4AAXvH0-1leaders. Those kids who want to be on the cutting edge and draw in the rest of their peers and community with their excitement.
  • You have an amazing supportive community who are all working toward the same goals and really eager to help make your life easier by sharing ideas and resources. If you need discussion questions for Towers Falling – they are already done! There’s a wonderful Facebook group, a Sunday Twitter chat, and a weekly newsletter emailed to you. So, you are not in it alone. And because of that, there are great opportunities for clubs to collaborate and maybe Skype with other groups reading the same book to discuss beyond their community and to get ideas from each other.

How can I prepare my launch to make the book club successful?

Doing some work ahead of time can really help get your book club started off on the right foot and get some community behind you from the very beginning. One of the first things I did was to decide who I might strong-arm into, I mean…. invite to partner with me. In most schools there are at least a couple book lovers who would be down with helping out. At my school – that would be the amazing Kelly. So I emailed Kelly – who was totally excited about launching a club at our school!  Sometimes you just have to ask people. Then I emailed our local public librarian, the PTO, our principal, and let them know about the awesome new club for kids that was coming soon.

Then, I needed to decide how often we would meet, when, and where.  And that really depends on two main factors – time available at your school or library. And YOU!  Because honestly – you are the one who needs to be the main force in making this work. So just…decide and promote the heck out of it!  Since our school day starts early, a before school time was not going to work. So I decided to offer the club to 4th and 5th graders after school from 2:10 to 3:15. The reason I went with 3:15?  Because that’s the time that Drama Club and the Book Cooks let out so I decided to be consistent with them so parents wouldn’t be confused about pick-up times. I also decided to go with Thursdays to avoid those other club days as well.  Now, I will say – I’ve had to do some push back against getting sucked into meetings on Thursdays. But I am holding firm. I don’t want the job to get in the way of my actual work – expanding literacy and love of reading in my school. So if there is a meeting on a Thursday? I’m not going. I’m with the kids doing THAT important work.

The next thing to decide is how many books you want to read throughout the year and when you want to hold a community-wide celebration of those books. Again – this all depends on YOUR availability and how many books you think you can get.  Maybe you start small with just 4 books and 4 events. Maybe every other month works for you. Since I have no chill whatsoever, I decided to go for once a month but to use our first month of school to let everyone get settled and start promoting it, and then officially launch in October.  Kudos to ANYONE who can jump start something the first month of school – I just can’t quite manage the logistics of that. So – cut yourself some slack and give yourself a month head start.

After looking at the calendar and our school schedule, I decided that our community-wide celebrations would be the first Saturday of every month from 10am to 11:30am. I went with this for a few reasons –

  • Everyone seems to already have things in the evenings and I really wanted parents and adults to be able to come. Our school gets out at 2:10 – very few adults can make it at that time if we had after school events.
  • Sundays are often tough for some people in our community because of religious observances in the morning so I wanted to avoid any conflict there.
  • I wanted it to be early enough in the day so that it didn’t wreck people’s entire day. They can come, enjoy, and then have all the rest of Saturday do whatever they want.
  • The first weekend of the month tends to avoid most major holidays.

That being said – there is absolutely no possible way you can accommodate everyone’s schedule and avoid hockey tournaments and dance recitals and the plethora of other obligations people have. So – no worries!  If kids can’t come to the Thursday after school meetings, they are always welcome to just attend the celebration event! And if they can’t attend the community celebration, they are still welcomed wholeheartedly to the after school meetings. And if November doesn’t work out – come join us when your schedule frees up in the spring!  I really try to make it as socially and emotionally easy to join us as possible – whenever they can.

Okay – so once you’ve decided the meeting days and when your community book club celebrations will be – figure out a place to meet.  We meet in my classroom after school because I know that location will be available and I am not inconveniencing anyone else. And we meet in the school library for those Saturday celebrations. I had considered meeting at the local public library, but opted for the school library for a couple reasons – one, I am familiar with that space and have access to it so I can set up the night before. Perhaps you are noticing a theme here – make it as easy as possible for YOU. Also, I want the school and our library to be a literacy hub for the community.  And I wanted access to the technology in that space – Promethean Board and Chromebooks. And the public library didn’t have those options and the students and I were comfortable with our school’s space and technology.

Alright, so your prep phase should include the Who, When, and Where. Who – figuring out who will help you and who you will reach out to to let them know the amazingness that is coming. When you will meet with students and when you and those students will host the community book club celebration. And where -the location of these meetings.

How do you decide which books to read?

Picking awesome and interesting books are what’s really going to get people excited.  And I recommend letting kids have some ownership of that process. Kelly and I decided to pick the first book ourselves so we could do some work ahead of time to get copies and then have the kids vote on the other middle grade ProjectLIT choices.  You might decide to have the students pick from a list you provide or have them pick every other month so there is some variety but also honors student choice. We launched our book club with Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. For us, this seemed like a good start for a few reasons. It was one of the books with an easier reading level and being in New York, our families have many personal stories about 9/11 that this book club would give them an opportunity to share. So I’d recommend picking a really high interest book to start that will get a lot of support in your community.

During our first after school meeting, I had the students do a book tasting of 15 ProjectLIT books that I thought would be a good fit for our 4th and 5th graders – Ghost Boys, The Wild Robot, Amal Unbound, Wonder, The Crossover, Rebound, Booked, Ghost, Patina, Sunny, The Parker Inheritance, The First Rule of Punk, Wishtree, and Refugee.  Perhaps you could give some choices that align with your goals and that ensure a variety of perspectives.  So – I had scrounged up multiple copies of each book and printed out evaluation forms. (Those are available to download right in the show notes!) Kids sat in groups of about 4 and examined and previewed about 3 books at a time.  Just like any other book tasting, I encouraged them to look at the cover, read the teaser material on the back cover or inside flaps, and read the first page. And I framed this for them as – don’t JUST think about what YOU like. Think about what books you like and what titles you think would be important and interesting for our community to discuss.  So – then they voted on their top choices. I had intended this to be done on a Google Form (which I will share with you) but our internet went down so we went old school and they wrote down their lists and we tallied them up. The seven books that got the most votes were The Wild Robot, Wonder, Amal Unbound, Ghost, Sunny, Wishtree, and The First Rule of Punk. And… I’m not gonna lie. I was a tad heartbroken that a certain book I really, really wanted to read with them didn’t quite make the cut. BUT – I had committed to honoring their choices. Also – Sunny was chosen but NOT book 2 of that series (Patina), so I just decided to go with it since each book can really stand on their own.

After that, I matched each book to a month – putting the two Jason Reynolds books (Ghost then Sunny after each other later in the year since their reading levels were more challenging) and timing Wishtree so our celebration would fall close to May 1st since that date plays a big part in the novel. So, as you schedule the books, think about what seasonal connections you might make and consider putting those more challenging books later on in the year. Also – some books will be available in softcover later in the year, so you might want to schedule those then to reduce costs.  Speaking of costs….

How do you get copies of the books?

This is the big challenge. Ideally, you want to gather enough copies for each student who wants to participate AND some extras for those in the community to borrow as well. (But that’s not always possible.) So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask students to purchase the books themselves if they are able (I have this listed on our permission slip for each month’s club and having families that are willing and able to purchase books for their child helps free up funds to get books for other kids)
  2. Ask the PTO/PTA for funding – our PTO actually approached ME to attend a meeting and share the goals of the club.  Not only did I get more families interested in joining by talking to their folks, they gave us $250 for books! So definitely seek out your PTO!
  3. Take advantage of Scholastic points and perhaps ask teachers in your building to donate some copies. Not all of our books were available through Scholastic, but we had several members of the staff donate copies of Towers Falling because it was only $4!
  4. Try doing a Donors Choose project!
  5. Apply for grants! Right now, Kelly and I have a grant submitted that would totally cover the cost of the remaining books – so cross your fingers for us!
  6. Ask local businesses and organizations for support! Our local Lions Club is really receptive to opportunities to support the schools. And those local businesses and organizations might be EVEN MORE into it when you invite them to read the books with you and come to the book celebrations. I also make sure to thank all our donors by name during the meeting and you can also have a few “Sponsored by” flyers around as well.
  7. Collaborate with your school library and the local public library. They can often gather copies for you that kids and the community can check out.  The library right down the street from our school has a special display for our book club with our monthly flyer and the books stacked right underneath it available to check out.
  8. Start an Amazon Wishlist and share that link EVERYWHERE – in your email signature – in a newsletter – on social media… Ask friends to share it with their friends and family who might be looking for an opportunity to support a great cause.

How do you get students and the community to join your book club?

Alright – now that you’ve built something amazing and have everything organized and have a plan to get those books – you need to build that excitement so kids will come and continue coming!  And the community will read the books with you and come to the celebrations. Let’s start with the kids:

  • I think the single most effective thing we did was at the beginning of the year, Kelly and I went into all the 4th and 5th grade classrooms with a stack of the book options and gave a quick book talk of each one and passed them around for the kids to look at. And then we passed out the permission forms.  After that, I make a quick visit at the beginning of each month to do a quick chat about the upcoming book and pass out those permission slips so you know who is coming and if they need a copy of the book. (And an editable copy of that slip is right in the show notes for you to download.)
  • Wherever your school promotes events – on the morning announcements, in a newsletter, on a school calendar… get the club mentioned!  About once a week, I make an announcement reminding the kids to come to our weekly meeting AND reminding folks to come to the upcoming Saturday celebration. Our school also has a weekly news show – The Minoa Morning Messages – and some of our members made an appearance to promote the club and announce the next book.
  • Be visible! Last year I spent a lot more time in my classroom whenever I could but this year I am making more of an effort to hang out by the buses at dismissal and say hello to kids not in my class during lunch. I have been surprised by how many kids approach me during those casual times and ask about the book club or see me and suddenly remember their permission slip! If out of sight means out of mind, then you‘ve got to literally be in their sights. And each of those encounters builds interest and awareness among the other kids (and staff) who observe those conversations!

So – how about getting the staff and community to come to your celebrations?  That can be a bit trickier, but I do have some ideas for you:

  • Have the students invite them!  Each month, students help design an invitation and I print off a bunch of copies. Then we get some envelopes and personally invite every single member of the staff – not just classroom teachers, but secretaries, TAs, custodial staff, lunch monitors, the superintendent – everyone!  One student even Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.57.50 PM.pngsnagged the mail carrier on his way in and handed him an invitation! I also give students multiple copies of the invitation – and the digital version for them to invite family members. We also branch out and invite folks at the town hall, the mayor, the fire chief. And based on their suggestions, I drive around and post flyers in areas they think would be a good idea – like the post office or the fire department or the local pizza shop.
  • Another way to get the staff involved is to email them and ask them to read the book and come to the celebration. And last month, we had some extra copies of Towers Falling, so some of the kids just walked around after school and asked the staff if they wanted to borrow the book and talked up how good it was. And of course, included an invitation tucked into the front cover.
  • Harness the power of social media! Our club has both a Twitter account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and an Instagram account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and are both nice places to showcase what the students are doing and share those awesome pictures of your events. And if you are on the social media platforms that parents and kids already use, it makes it easier for them to tag you and start to build awareness among the community. Have a social media presence also makes your club Google-able. You could also make a website, but that’s definitely an in-the-future step for us.
  • Make a display and put it in a high traffic area in your school! Last month, I finally realized I needed to make a display of some kind because people kept asking when the next book club was and what books we were reading next. So having one place they can look is really helpful both to be informative and to also serve as an advertisement!DsJMe6UVsAAH56p.jpg

How do you run the student book club meetings?

One thing that I did on a whim was to start our very first meeting with a quick get-to-know-you activity. I definitely didn’t know all the students and I’m certain they didn’t know each others’ names, so we did a quick round of “When the Cold Wind Blows”. Basically each kid takes a turn standing in the center of the circle and says their name and something about themselves. Like, “My name is Corrina and I like Harry Potter!” And if that applies to you, you stand up and move like the wind to another seat.  That went over so well, that each month, when we have a new mix of students, we start with a new ice breaker. During that first meeting, I pass out the reading schedule (and yup – that’s right online for you!), and we start reading together! Sometimes we listen to the audio book and sometimes Kelly and I take turns reading it out loud. For the meetings after that first one, we take the first 10-15 minutes to discuss the reading we did last week – talking about any confusing parts, big ideas, connections, questions, favorite parts, or favorite quotes… and then I read aloud or we listen to the audio book for the next 20 or so minutes. And the last 20-30 minutes is planning time. This is when the kids take care of invitations, come up with discussion questions, trivia questions, brainstorm new ideas together – and basically take care of all the things that come up when planning an event. After that, we pack up and I escort the crew down to the main hall to be picked up and take that opportunity to connect with parents and answer any questions. So basically, our after school book club meetings are discussion, read together, plan together.

How do you host a great community book club celebration?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was going to work out at ALL. The Saturday morning of our first event, two things happened that did not bode well.  First, despite the fact that I had requested the room through the proper channels and filled out all the school-required paperwork, the library was locked and NO ONE with the key was available. Okay – so we just relocated to my room, and I scrambled to get the space organized. Second – several of the kids and staff had volunteered to come in early at 9:30 to help me set up and it was 9:50 and NO ONE was there but ME. And I thought – well…. I’ll just hang out here and grade papers and eat the cider and muffins I brought myself. But – then…. EVERYONE showed up!! And our final count was over 40 people and it was an amazing event!  So – here is the schedule we followed.

  • First – ask for some volunteers to bring in drinks and snacks. We had cocoa (a BIG hit!), cider, donuts, and muffins. Kelly and I brought in some and parents had volunteered to supply snacks and drinks, too.
  • When people arrived from 10:00 – 10:20, there was a sign-in sheet, and we had an Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.01.28 AM.pngactivity set up at each table for them to complete when they came in. For Towers Falling, we supplied big pieces of paper and markers, and had people create their own Social Units diagram. For our next read, The Wild Robot, we’re planning on a build-your-own-robot craft. I think having something fun to do for the first 15 minutes as people arrive is a good idea since families want to get a snack and everyone wants to chat anyway.
  • From 10:20-10:30 I welcome everyone, give a brief introduction – go through the agenda, explain what ProjectLIT book clubs are all about, show pictures of the book club in action that I’ve been taking throughout the past month, and give thanks to the organizations and donors and volunteers that have helped us out. It’s a quick power point, and I’ll drop a link to that in the show notes if you want to use it for your events.  Also, as each person arrives, we hand them a half-sheet copy of the agenda with an exit survey stapled to the back to we can get some feedback.Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.33 AMScreen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.26 AM
  • From 10:30-10:50 is Group Discussion time!  Students pass out a discussion guide with six questions they’ve developed.  And each group takes about twenty minutes to chat about the book! These could be general questions like, what character could you relate to the most or what scene stood out to you? Or they might be specific to the novel, like “Why do you think Dejá’s father didn’t want her to learn about 9/11?”  For this particular book, we also asked the adults in each group to share where they were on 9/11 and what were their experiences and feelings on that day.Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.59.19 PM.png
  • From 10:50-11:15 is trivia! I created an online quiz based on the trivia questions that the kids made using the website Kahoot – which was lots of fun!  You do need access to a device though, so traditional trivia is fine, too!  We had everyone break up into teams of no more than 6 and then the top team each won a prize of a full-sized Hershey’s Bar, the second place team each got a Hershey’s mini, and the 3rd place team each got a Hershey’s kiss. That trivia game and those little prizes were such a HUGE hit – and the competition was quite fierce!  I’ll drop a link to that Kahoot if you want to check it out.
  • From 11:15 – 11:20 – We drew prizes!  We were lucky enough to have some community members and parents donate books and a few small gift cards to Barnes & Noble and a local yogurt shop. So at the beginning of the meeting, we had a student in charge of passing out tickets and then we just drew names at the end of the meeting.
  • From 11:20 – 11:30 is cleanup!

A few things I would change – we forgot to explicitly ask people to fill out the surveys and return them to us. Oops! And I forgot to take a big group picture! Next time, I’d also make sure that at least one of the book club kids were seated at each group. We also didn’t get DrHDC6pU4AA_-9kas many community members who weren’t directly connected to the school as I had hoped. So, we are going to keep reaching out! And our next steps are to do more community service events like book drives and to find ways for the students to be literacy advocates in other ways in our community.

So, overall – it was REALLY successful and a TON of fun! Our new principal came – even though he hadn’t technically started until the following week! We had almost all the book club kids come with at least one family member – including bringing older siblings who were former students which was wonderful!  About six staff members came, including one with her new baby.

I was truly overcome with the passion and excitement and generosity that our community showed. And really – all I did was provide an outlet and an opportunity for kids and the community to express their passion for reading and literacy.

I know, if you decide to start a community book club in your school, you won’t regret it!   And if you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to chat more with you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or reach out on Twitter or Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. And if you have some suggestions or tips about how to run a successful community book club – I’d love to share your ideas so we can all learn from each other!

Maggie & Harper from Books and a Blanket – Interview Outlinebooks_and_a_blanket_1_blog.jpg

Our special guests this week are sisters Maggie & Harper – founders of Books and a Blanket!  We talk about the origins of their project, their favorite books, and how you can help them promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Take a listen…

Books & a Blanket

What is Books and a Blanket and how did it get started?

How has Books and a Blanket changed from when you first came up with the idea?

How do you get all the books and blankets? And do you accept both used and new?

What are your plans for the future of Books and a Blanket?

How do you decide who gets them?

If our listeners wanted to get involved and help you out, what could they do?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life?

We have a lot of teachers and librarians listening. What is something you want them to know?

What is something you wish teachers did MORE of?

What is something you wish teachers did LESS of?

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Links:

Books & a Blanket website – https://booksandablanket.com

Books & a Blanket on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

 

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein)

The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)

Penderwicks at Last (Jeanne Birdsall)

The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)

The Candymakers (Wendy Mass)

Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend)

The Land of Stories (Chris Colfer)

Rick Riordan

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)

Closing

Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  I hope you’ll head over to BooksandaBlanket.com to help support a great cause.

And remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun.

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.

 

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