Taking Up Space Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Speaking from my own experiences as a middle school teacher, these are without a doubt some of the most difficult years for kids. It’s the in-between stage where puberty is happening, friendships are changing, and kids start to pull away from their parents. Every child reacts to these situations in different ways as he/she tries to grapple for control of some aspect of life.

Taking Up Space, by Alyson Gerber, is an honest middle school novel about friendship, family and disordered eating.

This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed by the author (check out my thoughts on Braced), and I LOVE the writing style!

In Taking Up Space,Sarah is an eighth grade basketball player who dominates on the court, until puberty hits and she suddenly doesn’t know how to use her body the same way. She’s trying to fit in with the rest of the team, learning to cook for a YouTube competition with her crush, and dealing with her family insecurities. Using information from health class and her mom, Sarah tries to take control back by participating in disordered eating.

First, the writing style of this book is absolutely spot on for a middle school student. The vocabulary and sentence structure are grade level appropriate and don’t feel overwhelming. The descriptions are effective and easy to follow, making this ideal for younger YA readers.

Characterization of Sarah

Sarah is an extremely relatable character for middle school girls. She’s learning to navigate the waters of liking a boy and dating, trying to juggle being a good friend and needing a friend, and learning about herself as she starts puberty. Gerber has a gift of getting inside a middle schoolers head and putting their thoughts on paper.

Sarah shows readers true vulnerability through her challenges as she dives into the world of disordered eating. Her raw emotions will resonate with readers because every kid experiences them at one point. Her lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love are authentic and remind students that they are not alone with their feelings.

Themes

YA novels focus on themes that middle and high school students encounter in real life. Taking Up Space does a phenomenal job on hitting some really difficult themes for this age group.

Theme of family. From the beginning, we know that Sarah’s mom has a very different relationship with food than other parents. She only buys what she wants on a daily basis, and never cooks anything with lots of carbs. Sarah feels self-conscious about her mom, especially when her friends come over and they want to eat lots of junk food. She is unable to have open conversations with her mom about every day situations, let alone big challenges she’s facing. Sarah’s dad is a pillar of strength by taking Sarah out to eat, asking her for a grocery list, and listening to her problems. Without giving too much away, both of Sarah’s parents provide her incredible support and love that make a huge difference as she tackles her problems.

Theme of friendship. Sarah has two best friends, Ryan and Emilia, that she relies on throughout the book. As is typical for middle school girls, there is some drama between Sarah and Emilia over a boy. Emilia also turns into a mean girl towards Sarah by saying cruel comments to other girls on the basketball team. However, Sarah’s friendship with Ryan is truly a saving grace with her disordered eating. These situations reinforce the importance of friendship, and reminds readers that trust and honesty are vital to lasting friendships.

Disordered Eating

Middle school years are anything but easy. From raging hormones and worrying about friendship problems, surviving these years can be extremely challenging for many students. For the first time, teenagers are experiencing physical, emotional and mental changes all at once.

Sarah is one of these adolescents. She is looking for answers to problems she has never had before, and using information that she has easy access to. She really doesn’t realize that disordered eating can be harmful, showing her innocence that is typical of girls this age.

Usually, YA books focus on anorexia and bulimia, but this novel introduces readers to a different type of condition. For me, I had honestly never heard of disordered eating until reading this novel. Like other readers, we only really hear about anorexia and bulimia, so I found it extremely eye-opening to gain insight into the point of view of a student experiencing disordered eating.

Gerber approaches this subject with grace, honesty and clarity. The explanations are clear and can easily be comprehended by middle schoolers (which is not an easy task). Through Sarah’s voice, we feel her struggles and emotions, and can see how and why individuals turn to disordered eating as a solution. Readers will naturally feel sympathy towards Sarah and will accept her without judgement.

I recommend this book to parents, teachers, and counselors of middle and high school parents, along with students in grades 5-8.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Fadeaway Book Review

As a teacher, I always try to read a variety of book so I can make recommendations to my students. With the end of the year on the horizon, I have more time to read, so I made a fantastic Amazon book purchase. I’ve been a little out of the reading loop over the last year, so I really focused on new(er) releases. I usually have my tutoring students read a novel during our summer sessions and I wanted to find the perfect book for middle and high school boys. Not only did I read this perfect book, it just came out in March!

Fadeaway, by E.B. Vickers, is a realistic young adult novel about basketball, love and addiction.

Summary

Jake is a senior in high school who is the star of the basketball team with his fadeaway move. He has just won the state championship for his team, but instead of celebrating at his coach’s house he disappears without a trace. His little brother Luke, best friend Kolt, teammate Seth and ex-girlfriend Daphne play roles in trying to find Jake.

The majority of the story revolves around basketball. During summer ball in sixth grade, Coach Cooper tells Jake, Kolt and Seth that he plans for them to win state championships their senior year. He gives them an intense pep talk that ends with, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”This lays the ground work for Jake’s life on and off the court as he dedicates his life to football, basketball and baseball. Jake’s world is turned upside down when he suffers an injury and he starts taking prescription pain killers.

First, I have to say that I am in love with the cover! Just like the title states, some of the letters pop and others fade. I just think it’s super creative and eye-catching.

The structure of this story is similar to Wonder, in that it’s told from multiple perspectives, but almost every chapter alternates between the characters. Usually, I’m not a fan of this constant switching, but in this case it really helps build the suspense in the story and I couldn’t imagine it being written any other way.

Themes

My favorite aspect of this book is the portrayal of realistic relationships.

Friendship is one of the most prevalent themes in this story. That day in sixth grade, Kolt and Jake become best friends because they have connections. Kolt’s older brother is an addict and Jake’s father was an alcoholic. Kolt and Jake are the typical best guy friends we usually read about in YA novels, always looking out for one another and making teenage boy comments.

The romantic relationship between Daphne and Jake is the definition of teenage love: pure, honest and supportive. While we don’t see a lot of this relationship, the little glimpse that we get shows a realistic teenage love complete with binge watching Netflix, helping each other with basketball and homework, and being together as much as possible. They don’t have drama, but they do tackle some serious real life issues that lead to Jake breaking up with Daphne out of nowhere. Personally, I love that their relationship isn’t based on physical acts, but rather being there for one another.

Sibling love is an incredibly powerful theme throughout this book. Luke idolizes Jake, and Jake wants to be a great role model for his younger brother. The two of them keep the lines of communication open by writing back and forth in a notebook (which I LOVED). Luke is actively involved in the search for Jake, and gives information that helps spark a development in the case that Daphne and Kolt investigate along with the twelve year old.

While there are lots of different types of love in this book, there is one major concept that is deeply explored: addiction.

Vickers does an incredible job in describing many aspects of addiction. Readers learn how it starts, how Jake realizes he needed help, and the direction that Jake’s life will take in the future. Through Jake’s character, readers see that addiction can be hidden from those closest to a person and anyone can struggle with this disease (teenager or adult). The pressures Jake feels of not being enough will resonant with young adults who can relate to the stress of athletics or academics.

I recommend this book for young adult readers (especially boys) in grades 7 and up, and for parents of high school students.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Admissions Book Review

Like many, I was very intrigued by the college scandal a few years ago. From an educator’s perspective, I was curious how they were able to get away with all that they did. Of course, I was not surprised that lots of money was involved, but I was shocked that celebrities, including Lori Loughlin, were guilty. So when I saw there was a fictional book about the scandal, I knew I had to read it.

Admission, by Julie Buxbaum, is a dramatic and eye-opening story about privilege and social issues in America.

Summary

Chloe’s mom is a famous TV star and her dad is in finance. She’s living a very glamorous life in LA, attending an elite private school, preparing to go to prom with her crush and getting excited to attend her dream college. That is, until the FBI shows up at her house and arrests her mom in the college admission bribery scandal.

Analysis

The structure of the story alternates between past tense and present day, which took me a little while to get used to (I prefer the sequence of events to go in chronological order). Readers are literally thrown right into the story, creating an immediate sense of engagement.

The setting is modern day Los Angeles. I am a fan of the Housewives franchise and other reality shows, so I really enjoyed the descriptions of Chloe’s luxurious life.

I like how well-developed the characters were, and how authentic they all seemed. They each served a very specific purpose and helped move the plot along.

Chloe

I have to admit that as a reader I was going into this story with some bias based on my background knowledge of the scandal. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I sympathized with Chloe in the beginning of the text. She comes across as very innocent about the scandal events, and readers instantly believe and support her. However, throughout the story, she gets these little flashback memories relating to the scandal, and like any other teenager, she dismisses these thoughts.

One of my favorite aspects of Chloe is that the reader is reflecting and accepting right along with her. When I first meet Chloe, I felt for her. I wanted to give her a hug when her best friend stopped talking to her and her life spiraled out of control. However, as the truth slowly unravels, and Chloe accepts responsibility for her actions, I didn’t feel as bad for her. I was proud of her for how she handled her situation in the end (I can’t give too much away, but I personally feel made the right decisions). I gained a lot of respect for her as a character.

Chloe is defintely a relatable character. She sees herself as a plain girl, “nothing special”, that doesn’t really know what she wants to do in her next chapter. Chloe loves spending time with Cesar, a little boy, reading Harry Potter after school. She states multiple times that she is “not smart enough” to get into ivy league colleges and universities, and she has a hard time with the SATs. She doesn’t even know what to include in her college essay because nothing has ever really happened to her. Buxbaum truly captures the essence of a teenage girl with Chloe, the insecurities, avoiding grown up responsibilities and the inner dialogue of a girl with a crush.

Themes

This novel highlights a few specific themes that all relate around current social issues: privilege, family and expectations

Growing up, I would hear the word privilege and just knew it meant someone had money. In recent years, this term has evolved to mean so much more than that and this book tackles the concept in a way that speaks to young adults.

Shola, Chloe’s best friend, is Nigerian American and attends the elite private school on a scholarship. She works her butt off for her grades and hopes to go to a top college on a scholarship. Throughout the text, we see Shola ground Chloe and give her “reality checks” in a way that is respectful but eye-opening. She tries to help Chloe see outside her “bubble”.

While the book doesn’t use “privilege” a lot, it’s very easy to see the hints left by Buxbaum to alert readers. I feel this was tastefully done and encourages readers to reflect on what they see in their own lives.

Family is also another concept that is explored in this work. However, I believe that this theme can be broken up into two different thoughts: doing what’s best and supporting one another.

In truth, I can’t think of another book that includes one theme used in two different ways.

Chloe’s parents defend their actions by saying they “did what they thought was best”. They wanted to help their child. In typical situations, we would applaud parents for this belief, however, bribery and fraud are not to be commended. But, it does bring up the idea that parents usually want to do anything and everything to help their children.

As readers, we know that Hollywood is all smoke and mirrors, so when Chloe’s family came together during the scandal, it showed us that at the core of a family there is love. Regardless of how much someone can mess up, family is there to still love and support that individual. This is such an important message for teenagers to remember, because notoriously the teen years are a time when many mistakes are made.

Finally, as a teacher who has worked in affluent districts, there is absolutely an expectation put on students today. Every single grade matters because a student has to get into the best schools. This is clearly displayed in Admissions because it directly impacts a family’s social standing. This is not only seen in California, but across the country. There is real pressure put on students, as we see with the characters in the book, but there is also a pressure on parents. College has become a status symbol for many, and these expectations can be extremely heavy burdens on all involved.

I would recommend this book to parents of high school students and young adult readers.

To purchase this book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

My Name is Layla Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

As I mentioned in my last post, “10 Reading Comprehension Tips“, middle and high school students are living in a text heavy world. They need to have strong reading skills to navigate reading textbooks, emails, writing lab reports, etc. But, what happens when a student is a struggling reader?

My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, is a realistic depiction of a dyslexic middle school student.

Layla, or ‘munk to her mom and older brother, is an eighth grade student who struggles with reading and writing assignments. Her best friend Liza and her neighbor Sammy, help Layla through the ups and downs of middle school life.

Layla

Like all middle school students, Layla wants to fit in. She worries about what she wears on the first day of school, what the popular girl thinks, and she worries that her teachers think she lacks intelligence. She envies Sammy, whose family sits down for dinner together every night, since Layla’s mom is a nurse who works the night shift and her dad has been out of the picture for 12 years.

On top of all this, she has a secret that she doesn’t share with anyone. It takes her a long time to read. “The words hop around like any good bunny should, refusing to stay still so I can get a grip on what they mean.” (15). The pressure to read quickly in class and get through homework each night is a lot for this thirteen-year-old, and she is used to low grades. For writing assignments, she struggles to get ideas from her head, through her fingertips on a keyboard and in an email to her English teacher, Mr. McCarthy. Through her frustrations, she has learned how to cope by watching movie versions of books to assist her in getting through assignments.

As a middle school English teacher, I can honestly say that the depiction of Layla is incredibly accurate. She avoids reading aloud in class or participating so she doesn’t bring attention to herself. She will submit gibberish writing out of pure frustration and she relies on her best friend to help her navigate projects. Layla’s emotions of anger, confusion, fear, and self-doubt resonate with readers on multiple levels as the school year progresses.

Plot

I really enjoyed the multiple layers happening in this book. The main conflict is Layla’s reading difference, but there is also a fair share of minor conflicts as well. As with any teenager, there are internal conflicts about her mom working and her dad not being present (until later in the book), problems with friends that involve trust, and the innocent buds of a potential first romantic relationship with a boy. Teenagers take everything to heart and can be very sensitive to change, as readers see when Nick suffers an injury in basketball. This book touches on all of the important themes in a young adult’s life: family, friends, relationships, and self-image.

Theme of Family

Today, families come in all shapes, sizes and forms and I really like that Marder Gentin chose to focus on a non-traditional family structure. Readers see Layla’s mom work overnight shifts, catching some sleep during the day to just repeat the routine again. She takes on extra shifts whenever she can in order to provide for her children, yet she will show up to basketball games and the first day of school when her children need her support. While Layla and her brother do have freedom after school, neither one of them takes advantage of this and continue to do homework, go to basketball practice and socialize with friends without getting into trouble. This maturity and self-reliance teach readers that being independent is important in life.

While no family is perfect, readers can empathize with Layla’s desire to have more family around for holidays, like Sammy’s. Or to have a mom that is very actively involved in her school life, like Liza’s mom. However, through her interactions with her friends, readers are reminded that each family has their own problems even if the outside world does not see them. For many teens, this nugget of wisdom is important because they don’t realize others may feel the same way they do.

Theme of Friendship

Friends are without a doubt the most important aspect of a teenager’s life, according to them. Establishing and maintaining true friendships takes time and effort on all parts, along with honesty. Typically, in YA books I find that there is often a backstabbing or betrayal between friends that causes a conflict. That doesn’t happen in My Name is Layla. In fact, Liza is an incredibly kind young lady (I hope my daughter has a Liza for a best friend in middle school). Liza knows that Layla struggles, but instead of ignoring this, Liza offers assistance to her friend wherever and however she can. From reminding her what class they have, or being partners for an in-class assignment, Liza takes Layla under her wing and supports her friend. There is never any negative comment made and Layla always feels comfortable.

Sammy. Ah, if there was ever a character I wanted to hug for being a good kid, it’s Sammy. His obvious crush on Layla isn’t the normal teenage kind. He truly likes Layla for who she is and wants to help her in his own way. I LOVE that he has the courage to ask Layla on a date to the basketball game and doesn’t leave her side when Nick gets injured. He mentions the Learning Center at school in the hopes of giving Lyla support in English. Through it all, Sammy is right there to help his neighbor (and girlfriend!).

Learning Differences and Dyslexia

Every single child learns differently. Some students show their struggles more than others, which is why there are always those that manage to “get by” in elementary school and part of middle school, but at some point someone notices.

Mr. McCarthy was Layla’s someone. He saw past her coping mechanisms and reached out to his school’s administration and helped create a plan for Layla (after a MAJOR plot twist that I refuse to mention). There were clues along the way that McCarthy was onto Layla, but she continued to plug along just “getting by”.

As I said before, teenagers worry about what others think of them. They never want to be “different”, especially at this stage. Layla is no exception to this because she cringes at the thought of going to see Mrs. Hirsch in the Learning Center.

What I LOVE about this book is the realistic way Marder Gentin has captured a teenager’s feelings when dealing with a learning difference. Readers experience the incredible emotions and thoughts that students cope with on a daily basis. As adults, we are reminded that these feelings need to be addressed when offering help to students. Anxiety and fear are incredibly consuming at this age, yet we need to provide the proper support.

Teachers like Mr. McCarthy and Mrs. Hirsch literally change lives.

Free Curriculum Guide

As always, my teacher heart gets insanely excited when there are resources to extend themes and learning in books. I will admit, I’m very picky with curriculum guides for my middle school learners, but this one is absolutely perfect! Not only is it aligned to the Common Core, it hits on all major teaching points for middle school English. There are plenty of discussion questions that can be used in small groups or whole class, it includes a few different activities for students (even some writing ones), a character chart with adjectives and practice with textual evidence and making inferences and drawing conclusions! AND, it’s also *FREE* on the author’s website! Pure perfection!

Never have I read a young adult book that hits on so many real-life issues for teens with so much accuracy. I highly recommend this book for parents and students in middle and high school, especially those with learning differences. Students will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

To purchase this book head over to Amazon.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.

Project Dandelion: Resistance Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

Being a book blogger over the last few years has given me some incredible opportunities to work with indie authors. I’ve had the privilege of following the developments of trilogies and series.

Project Dandelion: Resistance, by Heather Carson, is the third installment of a YA dystopian series that shows the importance of friendship and determination.

The story picks up where we last left off from Project Dandelion: Reentry (Book 2). Katrina is at the resistance base with her friends and her father. We witness the characters train and prepare for military missions to continue to fight in World War 3 to continue to defeat the enemy.

This book definitely has more of a military feel to it than the others. The setting is on a military base and the plot revolves around missions. The story also explores the reality of military life for children and significant others of soldiers.

This is the first novel that Katrina is not in constant survival mode, and readers see a different side of her. She’s in a state of transition. She’s not allowed to have an official boyfriend (until she’s 18), she has strong feelings for James but doesn’t feel comfortable in the role as a military wife (she won’t be baking anytime soon).  Personally, I feel as though she is trying to figure out her place in this new world. She doesn’t feel ready to be an adult and start a family, but she also doesn’t want to be a solider. Emotionally, Katrina is caught between being a young woman and her father’s daughter, which is by means no easy task.

The relationship between James and Katrina intensifies on an emotional level in this book. Like typical teenagers, they try to sneak in some alone time when they can, but they are never successful because Katrina’s dad is always around, or has his friends on the lookout. This was actually quite comical and made me smile whenever the two were interrupted.

Like the other books, this one also features the theme of friendship. Katrina and her friends have become like a family throughout their experiences together, and they continue to be loyal in their friendships. This loyalty contributes quite a bit to the action in the plot, making this book a total page turner.

Just like the first two books, I read this one in about 24 hours. There were a few plot twists that I honestly didn’t see coming, and I was unable to make any accurate predictions, which I loved. The writing style flows well with vocabulary that doesn’t feel overwhelming, which makes it perfect for a young adult reader. There are a few choice words used, and there is some mature content (a pregnancy), so I would recommend this book for grades 8-12.

To purchase the book click here.

Book review of Project Dandelion Book 1

Book Review of Project Dandelion Book 2

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

7 Books That Turn Tweens into Readers

Over the last ten years I have worked with hundreds of students and their families. As a reading teacher and tutor, many parents tell me their child does not like reading, and my response is always the same. “That’s because he/she hasn’t found the right book yet.”

Below is a list of my personal book recommendations that have turned my students in grades 6-8 into readers.

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth. This will forever and always be my number one book recommendation to students who are not fans of reading. This book sucks readers in and never lets them go. It is filled with action, plot twists, physical fights, guns, friendship, and not mushy-gushy teen love. The writing style is fantastic for tweens because it’s simple enough to flow easily, but complex enough to keep them engaged. The vocabulary isn’t too difficult and there is the perfect amount of dialogue. **There is some mature content that is inferred.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. To me, this will always be a staple of classic children’s literature. This is a great novel to help kids transition into YA books in terms of length, writing style, and vocabulary. Readers will get immersed in a fantasy world that they will wish existed. There are Quidditch matches, a mystery to solve, a three headed dog and magic waiting for readers to experience.

3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Whenever I summarize this book for my students, I call it the boy version of The Hunger Games. Readers follow the story of why a group of boys (and a girl) are all brought to the same place with no recollection of the past. The sentence structure is a great mix  that helps the story flow without exhausting readers. From the first page this novel will hook readers as they try to put the pieces of a puzzle together.

4. Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. Capturing the attitude and reality of a middle schooler is not an easy task, but Steven’s character is truly a reflection of a typical eighth grade boy. The characterization is flawless and will have readers laughing and crying as Steven deals with his eighth grade year, jazz band, and his little brother who is battling cancer. The dialogue between characters and inner voice of Steven will immediately connect with tween readers.

5. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Greek mythology that comes to life in modern day, complete with mythical creatures and just the right amount of sarcasm, makes this a favorite with my students. The exciting fantasy elements and engaging plot events allow readers to get lost in a world without getting overwhelmed by a too much complexity. The writing style is clear and the author does a great job of making the plot easy for readers to comprehend. I’ve literally ordered every book in the series for my classroom library because my students requested them.

6. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Even though this text is a little dated, the overall premise still captivates readers. This text is challenging, with advanced vocabulary and sentence structure, but there is so much detail with back stories that students are still able to comprehend the plot.  This book is perfect for students who like mysteries and are looking for a challenge.

7. Psion Beta by Jacob Gowans. Sammy is just like any other 14 year old boy. Except that he’s a fugitive. And he has powers. Readers follow Sammy’s journey as he is trained with the latest technology to fight, complete missions and engage in rigorous training. The writing style is spot on with a plot that is exciting and anything but predictable. This is the only series in my classroom library that had a waiting list because it really is just that good.

Also see My 10 Favorite YA Novels for more book suggestions.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) who offers virtual reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here. 

Ultimate List of Books with Movies for Grades 4-8

One of my favorite teaching techniques is to incorporate videos to help students with reading skills. The visual component gives readers support with reading comprehension, analyzing theme and characterization, comparing/contrasting, and more.

Reading and watching film versions of books is not just a classroom activity. It can be done as a family activity at home as well. Parents and children can take turns reading a story aloud every day, every night, during snack time, etc. Once the book is finished make it a family movie night with some popcorn to enjoy viewing the story.

Below is the ultimate list of books with films for grades 4-6 that I have used with my students over the last 10 years.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a great text for grades 4-6 and is a classic piece of children’s literature. The film version (Mr. Toad) was created by Disney in 1949 and is in a set with The Adventures of Ichabod.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Personally, I LOVE this series. It’s great for grades 4-8 (and beyond) and the movies really bring to light the message of the story.

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. This text is typically used in 6th grade during mythology units, but it’s a great fantasy series for students in grades 4-8.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. I really love using this text in 6th grade to help teach students about figurative language. This quick story is jam packed with rich language, and centers around important themes. I would suggest this book for grades 4-6. The film version, I will admit, is not my favorite. It’s way more of a love story than the text shows, and it’s a little much. However, I love showing students the pond scene because it highlights the main ideas and quotes that are important in the book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline Le’Engle. I fell in love with this book in sixth grade and still use my personal copy from middle school when I read this with my students. Due to the complex vocabulary, I would suggest reading this book with students in grades 6-8. Disney actually created two movie versions of this text, a made for TV movie and the latest with a star studded cast. I have only used the TV movie with students.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. There are a few different versions of this text. The one I linked is one of my favorites because of the illustrations. This is also another classic piece of children’s literature and many textbooks have included the short story version in their books. I recommend this one for grades 4-6. The film is a 20 minute version from Disney feature Mickey Mouse (click here for the Youtube link).

Mulan. This text also comes in a variety of forms. It can be found as a ballad (as seen in the link) and there is a short story version that I can’t seem to find online. The film version is by Disney, so there is some fun and humor added. This is a great piece to use with students in grades 4-7, especially since it’s a cross curricular piece with social studies.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. To me, this will always be the original YA dystopian text. This work is best for grades 6-8 (there are mentions of some mature thoughts known as “stirrings”). I found the film version to be very engaging, and while it is a little different than the text, it’s been modernized to attract present day students.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Similar to The Giver, this YA dystopian book made a statement when it came out. In my opinion, it sparked the YA dystopian movement over the last 10 years. This trilogy is best for grades 6-8. The movies are pretty true to the text and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book has turned struggling and non-readers into readers without fail over the last 10 years. It’s the perfect middle school (grades 6-8) novel. It’s action packed, a little violent, honest, and creative. I will admit that I have never seen the film versions because I don’t want to ruin the movie I’ve created in my head with this amazing text.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I’ve spent most of my teaching career with 6th grade students who are starting middle school for the first time. This is such a perfect book for students in grades 4-6. It’s realistic, charming and heart warming. The movie does a great job making the story come to life.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If you’re looking for a novel to suck in middle school boys, this one is perfect. I recommend it for grades 7-8 because it is a little violent. The movie also has a great cast.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Even though I’m not a huge fan of this book personally for some reason, students love it. This book for grades 4-6 and it’s filled with humor that will make your kids chuckle. The Disney movie, that’s not an animated film, does a great job capturing the story.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Another classic children’s story that is one of my personal faves. This fantasy story is packed with imagination and rich symbolism. It’s great for students in grades 4-6. There are a few film versions for this piece. My personal favorite is the cartoon version from 1979 (click here for the Youtube link) and Disney did create a non-animated version.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. I have always been a Roald Dahl fan and this is one of my favorites because I always wanted to be like Matilda (I know, I’m a nerd). This novel is great for grades 4-6. The movie is also spectacular and is perfect for the whole family to enjoy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the character development, which makes the text humorous and enjoyable. It’s ideal for grades 4-6. The film version with Johnny Depp is a little dark, so I prefer to use the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory version.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. In all honesty, I love the clay animation look of this film version to help distinguish the different phases of the plot. It’s super fun and engaging for young readers in grades 4-6.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. This is my personal fave Roald Dahl novel. My first grade teacher read it aloud and I’ve re-read it countless times since then. The film version is equally as captivating as the text and is great fore grades 4-6.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This American classic  is a very popular in 8th grade English. The text complexity, language and themes are more mature, so I recommend this for 8th grade and up. The film version is also a classic and is shot without color.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. For fans of vampires and romance this series is perfect. This is one of those guilty pleasure books that even adults still enjoy. I recommend this for grades 6-8. The film versions closely mirror the books.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I was first introduced to the movie version of this text when we visited my aunt down the shore growing up. It wasn’t until I saw the book sitting in a classroom that I realized the movie was based on a book. This is a mysterious and action filled story for grades 4-6.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This book is perfect for kids who love dogs! It’s all about the bond between a boy and his dog and is ideal for grades 4-6. The movie version is equally adorable and can be shared with the whole family.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anna Brashares. This book is perfect for teen girls, so I recommend it for students in 8th grade and above. It dives into the lives of four friends and the personal experiences they have while wearing a par of thrift store jeans. The film also has a star-studded cast and is highly enjoyable for teens.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. An absolute classic piece of children’s literature and cinema. The story and the film are great for all members of the family, especially those who love music and theater.

**Many of these books can be shared with younger readers as well as the age groups listed. If you’re worried about content, feel free to check out Common Sense Media .

For more information about online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12 click here.

 

 

Songs & Books for Tweens/Teens About Moving

Moving has got to be one of the most stressful life situations. While it can be very difficult for adults to handle all of these changes at once, it is even more challenging for tweens and teens.

Many of us read or  listen to music to relate to circumstances that are happening in our lives. Below is a list of resources for middle and high school students to help with the transition of moving.

Songs

“Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch. This one definitely takes me back to high school and break ups, but in looking at the lyrics it’s truly a great song to address saying goodbye to someone who has made an impact.

“The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert. During my first year teaching, one of my students told me about this song when we read House on Mango Street. It’s a great reflection song for tweens/teens to remember the different memories of their childhood in the house they grew up in.

“Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot. Sometimes tweens/teens need a little pick me up and motivation to make it through big life changes. This song encourages listeners to keep it going.

“Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel. This classic, fun song is great for packing and lightening the mood.

“Where Are You Going?” by Dave Matthews. Ever get in a mood where you just want a slower song? Dave Matthews has got tweens/teens in that mood covered with this song.

Books

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements. For readers who love Frindle, this book is perfect to help with the transition of moving. Sixth grade twins are about to start a new school and things don’t go as planned. I would recommend this book for fifth and sixth grade readers.

Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry. If your kids love Number the Stars and The Giver, this is a perfect book to help cope with the struggles of moving. The twelve year old main character moves from an apartment to the suburbs. I would recommend this this book for grades 5-7.

The Kid in the Red Jacket by Barbara Park. For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this humorous middle school text is perfect. Howard believes that his parents have ruined his life by moving across the country. This story is all about making friends. I recommend it for readers in grades 5-7.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Behind all of the vampireness of this text, a component of the plot in the beginning is Bella moving from Florida to Washington. Not only does she deal with moving to a new state, she is also adjusting to living with a father she has only visited in the past. I recommend this book for readers in grades 6-12.

Swimming Sideways by CL Walters. This is the perfect YA novel for high school students who move. It tells the story of Abby adjusting to life after a move from Hawaii as she maneuvers friendships and relationships, while learning that the past does not always stay in the past. This book has been featured on My 10 Favorite YA Novels, 6 Favorite Indie YA Novels, and reviewed here.

 

 

 

6 Favorite Indie YA Novels

Last week I shared What’s So Special About YA? and My Favorite 10 YA Novels. Today I want to share my favorite indie YA novels by some absolutely incredible authors. I have had the privilege to work with these ladies when I reviewed their works. The indie community is extremely supportive of one another, and it’s an honor to be friends with these incredible individuals. Here are my faves in no particular order.

Swimming Sideways by CL Walters. As I discuss in my review, this novel dives into the true realities that teenagers deal with today. This is book one of the Cantos Chronicles, a YA trilogy, told from three different perspectives, which makes it relatable to all readers. The plot does not sugar coat the struggles that Abby endures with social media, friendships, and family, making readers wish they could hug this character.

Twisted Games by Brenda Felber. Not only did I review this book, but I had the privilege of doing a virtual author visit with Brenda. Not only is this novel a mystery that takes place in Michigan, where most of my virtual students live, it’s also historical fiction, with a little bit of fantasy. In my opinion, this text is in a category all of its own because it is so unique and will captivate middle school readers. The plot is not super obvious, which I enjoyed, and it will leave readers wanting to read more.

Blood by Kirsten Krueger. I get so excited to talk about this author because we grew up in the same town. She was amazing and came to one of my teen writing club meetings last year and talk about her first novel, which I was excited to review. Kirsten does an incredible job of diving into her characters and making them come alive for readers. Since this novel is Harry Potter fan fiction, you get all of those incredible elements of Hogwarts and friendship.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth by Samantha Benjamin. When I read this book to write my review, I was immediately amazed at how raw the plot was. This text jumps into the world of teenage girls, bullying, family issues, and teenage sexuality. It is without a doubt a scary world, but it enlightens readers about the complexities of being a teenage girl in today’s world.

Bound in Silver by Marie Grace. As I stated in my review, this book is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel. I really can’t think of a better way to describe this text. As a total fangirl, this book got me super excited as I made connections to so many of my fave YA novels. The feel of this book is more mature, so I would recommend this one for students in eighth grade and up. This is book one in The Clock Keeper Chronicles, so I’m looking forward to what is to come for the characters.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson. In my review, I mention that this YA dystopian book is about the potential end of life in the US. This quick read has a fast moving plot that focuses on survival with a hint of mystery as the characters question their changes in life more and more. Recently, I reviewed the second book, Project Dandelion Reentryand still can’t wait to hear what happens next.

What’s So Special About YA?

When we often think of children’s literature we immediately think of classics like The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc. Yet, as many educators and parents know, a children’s section of a library does not just mean picture books.

When a child feels they have outgrown the “baby” books, but they are too young for the adult section, they are ready to enter the young adult (YA) section of a library.

But, what exactly is YA? What makes it so special? This genre is much more than just an in-between one for readers who are usually in middle and high school.

YA tends to focus on main characters who are between the ages of 12-18. Why? Because this is the main demographic of readers. Tween/teen readers want to read about characters who are around their age, so it makes sense that main characters in YA are on the younger side.

YA also tends to focus on plot points that deal with family, friendship, love, authority, leadership and growing up. While the YA genre can be broken down into subcategories such as sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to realize that these same ideas are present regardless of the sub genre. Tween/teen readers are going through a lot at this stage of life. They are constantly dealing with bullying, social media, dating, family issues, puberty, and more. It’s not wonder they turn to YA novels to seek answers they may not even know they are looking for. While they probably won’t read a self help book, they may look at how Percy Jackson dealt with learning the truth about his family in The Lightning Thief, and see him as a role model.

YA novels are extremely powerful tools to help readers cope with reality.

Truthfully, any reader will tell you they read to escape reality, even if it’s just to relax at night before bed. The same happens to adolescent readers. If you were to Google popular YA novels, quite a few of them are sci-fi or fantasy based. Why? These types allow readers to completely forget about their reality. For just a little bit they can be a participant in The Hunger Games and watch Katniss kick some major butt.

There is also a sense of maturity in reading YA. Oftentimes the content can be more suggestive, gritty, and real. Gone are the G rated books, and readers can step into worlds where they mention sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence, etc. This is where parents usually get nervous about YA. In truth, when I have read YA books aloud to my students I have omitted words, sentences, or whole sections of a chapter. We need to remember that these books are meant to draw in readers from ages 12-18, so of course there’s going to be some things not meant for sixth grade students.

However, with the aid of technology, it’s easy for a parent to check to see if a book is appropriate for a tween. My personal go to checker is CommonSenseMedia.org, which can be used as a guide for parents, educators and advocates.

Personally, I also find that YA is raw on an emotional level. Characters take us on an emotional journey with them as they make decisions and live through experiences. One of my favorite YA novels is Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it in middle school and have returned to it a few times since then. We see the main character, Caitlin, go through the shock of dealing with her runaway sister, and how that emotional trauma led her down a dangerous path of drugs and a physically abusive relationship. Caitlin expresses why she stays with Rogerson and isolates herself from her friends and family, which is truly an emotional journey filled with anger, sadness, and love.

As an adult reader, I am still drawn to YA because of these factors. The writing is incredible, and the characters are truly real people to readers.