Contributed by Brooks Spencer
GWRC Fauquier County Liaison
VA Reader’s Choice Committee – Middle School
If you are looking for great books to use in your classroom, add to your classroom library, or recommend to your students, here is your list for Middle School. Twice a year, 40 devoted reading teachers and librarians meet to select some of the best books available for Primary, Elementary, Middle School and High School. The MS list for 2013/14 was one of the best in the country. This year’s list is also a winner. I can say that because I helped choose both of those lists! All of the lists are now posted on the VSRA website.
Here is your extra special preview of the 2014/15 Middle School list:
How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
Modern science, not available to the 19 Big Names in this quirky, disgusting peek at their last days, now looks back to explain the mysteries and bizarre circumstances surrounding their deaths. It’s a real life tell-all, if you have the stomach for it! The illustrations and additional facts are not to be missed.
Excellence in Nonfiction Notable
(I’ve used this with two classes, 6th and 7th graders, as a read aloud and they love it. It really does have some disgusting, almost gagging, information. The author also writes in a snarky, sarcastic tone which the kids also enjoy. The entries about each person are relatively short – four or five pages – and the illustrations and related facts are ripe for discussions.)
On the Day I Died by Candace Fleming
Speeding down a lonely dark road after midnight, Mike encounters a mysterious marble white girl who leads him to a cemetery for teenagers. Nine ghostly apparitions appear and share their nine deathly tales of lives cut short. Mike is not allowed to leave the graveyard until each creepy, cautionary tale is told.
Kirkus Starred Best of 2012
(I can’t wait to use this as a read aloud. Each story is perfect for a class period. Could easily have been a HS pick, but works for MS because there are no language issues.)
Spy School by Stuart Gibbs
Twelve year old Ben Ripley dreams of becoming a spy and is thrilled when he is invited to the Academy of Espionage where CIA agents are trained. His time at the Academy includes a hot junior agent, a double cross, night-time ninjas, real bullets, kidnapping, plus a mad dash through secret passages inside a major Washington monument.
2013 Edgar Award Finalist
(Great for our area because it’s set in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding suburbs. Good recommendation for boys, lots of action, female character is smart and independent. Sequel is out – Spy Camp.
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
When Mom’s abusive boyfriend goes too far, Carley lands in a foster home with the Murphy family. As she gets to know the family, they make her feel like she belongs and the wall she has built around her heart begins to crumble. Then, she’s faced with a difficult decision when her mother wants her back – should she return to live with her mother, or stay with the family she’s come to love? Have tissues on hand!
Tassy Walden Award, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award
(When I was reading this for the nominations, I made every teacher I knew read it and they all loved it, too. Everyone on the committee loved it.)
New Author – can’t wait for more!
Ungifted by Gordon Korman
Donovan Curtis is a middle school student of average intelligence, but above average ability when it comes to causing mayhem. An especially disastrous prank lands his name on the superintendent’s list, but then a major mix-up occurs and Donovan is mistakenly placed in the Gifted Program. As he tries to fit in and go unnoticed, he unintentionally creates a bridge of understanding between academia and the “regular” kids in middle school. Korman once again delivers a nicely layered story about real kids.
Junior Library Guild selection.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Ten year old Ha, forced to leave war-torn Vietnam, escapes with her mother and three brothers to the foreign land of Alabama. Faced with the task of learning English piece by piece, rule by rule, she also faces the daily struggle of being the strange kid. This novel in verse explores the complications and celebrations of adapting to new surroundings and how the strength of family, old and new, make everything possible.
Newberry Honor Book, National Book Award.
(I plan on using this as a read-aloud in 6th and 7th grade. 260 pages go by quickly in verse. Diversity, bullying, historical significance.)
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
A futuristic retelling of the Cinderella story complete with earthlings, lunar beings, cyborgs, androids and, of course, a handsome prince. A deadly plague has everyone terrified and the hopes for a cure could possibly rest on a young cyborg named Cinder. How did Cinder become a cyborg anyway? Will she survive and save earth or will the Lunar Queen take over the planet? The sequel is Scarlet.
Best Teen Books of 2012
(More of a chick book so I’m not planning on using it as a classroom read. This Cinderella is smart and talented, and the prince would be lucky to get HER.)
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
The latest violence in the Congo becomes personal as Sophie is thrust into an unforgettable adventure. On her way to spend the summer with her mother who runs a Bonobo Refuge, she sees a baby bonobo on the street. She can’t bear to see it sold for food, but her mother has told her not to buy them, it only encourages more mistreatment and capture. When the Bonobo Refuge is taken over by rebel soldiers, Sophie escapes with her little charge into the jungle and the survival begins.
2012 National Book Award Finalist
I like this cover because it shows Sophie as a bi-racial teen. There was a lot of discussion over this one and it could easily have been on the HS list. Personal danger to Sophie by a young soldier is inferred but subtly. After reading this book, I adopted a bonobo through World Wildlife Fund. This would make a great read aloud project for World Geography class or a science class.
Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
When the news leaks that uranium can split atoms in two, every major world leader is desperate to be the first one to possess an atomic bomb. In the midst of WW II, spies target scientists and even infiltrate government sites. Bomb reveals all the hard work, trials and failures, plus the espionage, treason and theft of information among the allies and others. Numerous awards, nonfiction. Can be very complicated, tons of facts. Excerpts would be well used in a science or social studies class.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Graphic Novel)
Callie is a set designer for her school play. Despite a lack of funds, skills and organization, she is determined to make it a success. The drama escalates when two cute brothers enter the production and Callie’s life. Diverse characters, friendships, crushes and all the normal Middle School drama ensue. Booklist notes that by addressing issues such as homosexuality, Drama is more teen oriented than Telgemeier’s elementary-school-friendly Smile (2010).
Top 10 Teen Graphic Novel 2013, Stonewall Book Award Honor Book.
Tips for promoting the Virginia Reader’s Choice voting activities in your school:
- Have a big reveal at the beginning of the year with book talks.
- Ensure that book titles are available in the Library Media Center.
- Have classroom sets of books on hand to share.
- Students and teachers can keep track of reading titles on progress charts.
- Arrange for book talks on the school’s morning news announcements, in classrooms, and in the library.
- Voting – students vote for 4 or more titles that they have heard read aloud or that they have read independently.
- Celebrate student choices in some way (special lunch, snacks, author Skyping, etc.).
- Look at other Readers’ Choice Lists – Primary, Elementary, HS
One of the very best books, The One and Only Ivan, was chosen last year by both elementary and middle school, and elementary won.
How are the titles chosen?
The pool of 30 + nominated books, three by each committee member, is narrowed to 10 plus 2 alternates, (anyone can nominate a book). There are many great books that don’t make the list for various reasons e.g. too much like a book from the year before, too many of the same genre, gender reasons, readability issues, etc.
The alternates are chosen in case a publisher of one of the top 10 cannot guarantee there will be enough copies available. Alternate titles this year are: Four Mile by Watt Key (this one is worth recommending) and The Final Four by Paul Volponi (honestly, too HS for me).