The Kind of Friends We Used to Be by Frances O’Roark Dowell

The Kind of Friends We Used to Be is one of those quiet, unassuming books that is constantly circulating in my classroom library. It is the sequel to The Secret Language of Girls, but it’s one of those sequels you can pick up and fall right into the story even without readind the first book.

Kate and Marylin were best friends, until they grew apart and had a falling out in 6th grade. Now in 7th grade, Marylin’s a middle school cheerleader on the bring of popularity and Kate is the artist, writing songs, playing guitar, and wearing combat boots around school. The two former best friends aren’t quite sure what they are now; they aren’t all-the-time best friends but they also don’t want to completely abandon each other.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a quiet book, the best kind of realistic fiction in the eyes of many of my girls.  There is no huge fight, no major drama, no over-the-topness in this book.  Instead, Marylin and Kate are slowly figuring out their place in middle school while also determining who they want to be as they grow up.  I identified with both characters because they just seemed so real.  Marylin isn’t some caricature of middle school popularity- she is a girl who wants to be popular but also realizes the pitfalls of that popularity.  Kate isn’t some crazy rebel- she is a quiet girl unsure of her writing talent and aware that popularity isn’t for her.

Both girls also have family issues and they are beginning to grapple with boys.  They find themselves at times drawn to the familiarity of their friendship with each other while at other times sure they are not longer meant to be friends.  I really enjoyed this book and as I read at (during reading workshop), many of my girls commented about their love for it, too.  It definitely resonates with my 6th graders!

*My own purchased copy.  This is a Cybils nominee but all opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the panel.

Tween Book Buying Guide- Adventure Seekers

Action. Survival. Danger. All three traits my students are always looking for in their books.  I can never have enough adventure books in our classroom library!

Escape Under the Forever Sky is the newest addition to our class and the waiting list is a page long. My students are tearing through this story of an American teenager kidnapped in Ethiopia. It’s a great mix of survival, action, and interesting information about Ethiopia.

Last year’s Newbery Award winner has plenty of new fans in my class. The Graveyard Book attracts readers looking for a fantastic adventure that involves stretching their imagination. Bod, or Nobody Owens, lives in the graveyard. He has been raised by ghosts since the night his parents and sister were murdered in their beds, and he has learned a few tricks of the trade. He can walk through walls in the graveyard, Fade so that humans can’t see him, and even dreamwalk. But he can’t leave the graveyard because the man who killed his family is still looking for him.

Sometimes my students want an adventure that’s real- something that actually happened. After browsing our non-fiction books they usually come back with The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir. When Cylin Busby, now a a writer for young readers and former Teen editor, was nine years old she lived a normal live on Cape Cod. Then, overnight, her family’s life changed forever. A policeman in smalltown Falmouth, Massachusetts, her father is shot in the face on his way to work the overnight shift for the local department. The point-blank shots tear off John’s jaw, leaving it laying on the passenger seat of his car. While John is fighting for his life, he is also fighting to bring the perpetrators to justice. He knows that local small town arsonist Raymond Meyer is to blame. However, Meyer holds the town and police department in the palm of his hand, and the investigation goes nowhere. Meanwhile, the family is placed under 24-hr surveillance while doctors struggle to repair his face. He can no longer speak or eat and is forced to spend months in the hopsital. Cylin and her brothers must live with constant police presence, including escorts to school, police officers guarding their classrooms, and a high-tech security system. This eventually leads to no contact with friends, as most of them are too scared to even speak to the family anymore. Worst of all, the shooter is still on the loose.

Do you have your own little Alex Rider? Be sure to get them a copy of the newest book in the series- Crocodile Tears: An Alex Rider Novel.  This one has been making its way around the classroom and it is getting rave reviews from Alex Rider fans.

Finally, if you have readers desperately awaiting the release of the next Hunger Games book (August 24, 2010!), hand them a copy of The Maze Runner . is an action-packed story about a group of teenage boys who are trapped in a strange and mysterious place called The Glade. Just outside The Glade is a massive maze that seems to be impossible to solve. Thomas has just arrived, with no memories other than his name. While he is trying to adjust to his predicament he discovers that there are horrifying creatures that attack the boys in the maze at night. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat!

What are some of your favorite adventure novels?

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