Different Read Alouds for Different Classes

For the first time ever, I abandoned a read aloud with some of my classes.  I’ve always persevered through the ups and downs of read alouds, knowing that the payoff would be worth it in the end.  Some books do take longer to get into than others and I think it is important for my students to understand that you can’t quit a book after 10-15 pages.

But all of that changed last month.  I started out reading Also Known As Harper to all four of my classes. My morning classes were flying through it and really got into the story after about 50 pages. My two afternoon classes were an entirely different story- after 3 weeks we were only 60 pages into the book. I don’t think it had anything to do with the storyline- The kids were just not connecting with the story for one reason or another. I still haven’t determined why- maybe the fact both classes are at the end of the day, or the makeup of the classes themselves (my afternoon classes lean very heavily towards the male end). But for the first time I set the book aside and started a completely different read aloud with those classes.

I began reading All The Broken Pieces to those afternoon classes and it was a completely different mood! All of a sudden, they were engaged and begging me to read more. I have students who are looking up more information on the Vietnam War and bringing their research to class, just because they are interested in it.  I really agonized over abandoning a read aloud but now I am so glad that I did.  It was not worth dragging them through the rest of the book while they were disengaged- that would only accomplish the exact opposite of what my read alouds aim to accomplish.

It’s funny, because my morning classes loved Also Known As Harper.  I loved Also Known As Harper.  It’s a great book and one I really wanted to share it with my classes.  But I’m glad that I practiced what I preach and allowed us to abandon a book that just wasn’t clicking with the classes I teach in the afternoon.  I discussed the abandonment with the class and we hypothesized why it might not have been working.  A few students did ask to finish the book so they borrowed my copy and are reading the remainder of the story independently.  It was definitely a learning experience, but a positive one.  So don’t be afraid to abandon a read aloud that is not working!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Poetry

In honor of Poetry Friday, here are some of the most popular poetry anthologies in my class this year!

Where the Sidewalk Ends 30th Anniversary Edition: Poems and Drawings- Shel Silverstein is always a winner with my 6th graders! Where the Sidewalk Ends is his most popular book with my students year in and year out. Inevitably, I end up with a few students who can recite some of the poems word for word.

During our poetry study I always use Poetry Speaks to Children (Book & CD) during our listening center. The anthology includes a variety of poems from poets like Nikki Grimes, Langston Hughes. Robert Frost, Roald Dahl, and many more. The CD includes the poets reading many of the poems and it is beautiful to listen to.

Another popular poet is Jack Prelutsky. I don’t think I have seen my copy of A Pizza the Size of the Sun in months! Every so often I catch a glimpse of it being moved from one student’s backpack to another.

And while it is not strictly a poetry book, I have a soft spot for William Carlos Williams. Jen Bryant’s A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams is one of my favorite picture books. The illustrations by Melissa Sweet are gorgeous and Bryant’s text is lyrical!  I love reading this one aloud.  It’s perfect for all ages.

Do you have any favorite poetry books?

Positively by Courtney Sheinmel

Emerson Price, more commonly known as Emmy, isn’t a typical kid.  Nothing about her life is normal.  She can’t remember a time when she didn’t take numerous prescriptions, when she didn’t stand out from the crowd as the odd one out.  When she was four years old she and her mother were diagnosed as HIV-positive.  When she was eight, her parents divorced.  She and her mom are best friends and their greatest support systems.  But when Emmy is thirteen her mother succumbs to AIDs.  Emmy must go live with her father and pregnant stepmother.  She feels like no one understands her the she way her mother did- no one else needs to take awful medicine everyday, no one else knows what it is like to be the girl with HIV.  Her life is already in upheaval and she starts acting out.  When her father signs her up for a summer camp for HIV-positive girls, she refuses to go.  She already knows she will hate it.  But it turns out to be just what she needed.

When I was in 8th grade I was a member of my school’s forensic team.  (Yes, I was that dorky).  We each chose an oral piece to memorize and perform at the regional competition.  That year, I memorized and performed Elizabeth Glaser’s speech from the 1992 Democratic Convention (read it here).  I had not thought of that speech in years but this book immediately brought it to mind.  It was an extremely inspiring speech and I am grateful that Courtney Sheinmel has memorialized her own experiences with Glaser through the writing of this book.

Positively is an extremely powerful book and one I am glad I read.  It’s so strange for me to look back and think that a girl like Emmy would have had a completely different life if she was my age.  We have come such a long way in the last two decades.  But Scheinmel will make you laugh and cry in Positively. I felt like I knew Emmy and I wanted to stay with her way after the story ended.  I think my students are going to love this one.  It deals with a tough issue that most tweens and teens aren’t even aware of.  Sheinmel deals with it realistically but also appropriately for the age level she is writing for….be prepared with some tissues when you read this one!

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher.  This is a Cybils nominated title and all opinions are my own.

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Gift Ideas

I am not the only blogger who is creating a holiday book gift-giving guide. There are many talented bloggers out there sharing their favorite books and ideas. Looking for some more ideas? Check out these great lists from my blogging friends!

Please link to any of your favorite blogger lists in the comments!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Short Stories

This year I have a lot of students who love to read short stories. This is new for me, as I haven’t had a lot of students who connected with this type of writing before. But they are clamoring for more short story collections and here are some of their favorites:

I love Gary Soto and I am thrilled that he is popular with my students this year. His most popular book right now is Facts of Life: Stories, a collection of short stories about a group of middle school students.

If you are looking for funny, then look no further than Jon Scieszka’s Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka. This collection of memoir small moments will leave you in stitches. Scieszka grew up as the second of six sons and each short story tells the tale of some crazy escapade the boys got into growing up!

My animal lovers have been passing around Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant. Each of the twelve stories focuses on the interaction between a person and an animal. They are gorgeous and I love to use them as mentor texts, too!

Maybe you have a real man’s man in your house. Well, hand them a copy of Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys. More than 80 authors and illustrated contributed anecdotes about their boyhood and my boys can’t get enough of this book!

Finally, all of my students love 13: Thirteen Stories That Capture the Agony and Ecstasy of Being Thirteen. Middle grade and YA authors contributed to this collection of stories about 13 year old characters. These realistic fiction stories always ring true for my students.

I am always on the lookout for more great short story collections, so please leave any other suggestions in the comments!

Gone From These Woods by Donny Seagraves

Eleven-year old Daniel, or D-man, doesn’t have the best dad.  In fact, his dad is pretty mean.  But that’s ok, because Daniel has his Uncle Clay.  Clay is only twelve years older than Daniel and they do everything together.  They fish, play cards, and hang out together all the time.  When his dad is angry and being mean, he can go to Clay’s house just down the road.

Clay can’t wait to take Daniel hunting for the first time in their Georgia woods.  But when Daniel tragically shoots his uncle after missing his first rabbit, his life is forever changed.  The fatal accident rocks his family and their small town, but Daniel is forever changed.  How can he possibly go on living when Clay will never laugh again, never hunt again, never make Daniel feel good again?

This is a heartbreaking book that I could not put down.  Daniel’s pain is palpable but realistic.  Obviously having never been in his situation, I still felt like I was right there with him.  How does an 11-year old deal with the overbearing guilt of fatally shooting his uncle? I found myself unable to stop reading because I needed to know that he would be ok, that he would be able to go on with his life.  There were times when I wasn’t sure he would do it.  The pain he experiences is too much for an adult, let alone a child.

I booktalked this one in my classes today and immediately had five or six students begging for it.  I also think this would make a great read aloud.  The themes of love and loss, sadness and hope, plus the ideas about gun ownership and children vs. adults would make for some great classroom discussions.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher.  This is a Cybils nominee and all opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel as a whole.

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Series Books

I love when I can hook kids with a series.  That way, they always know what book they want to read next and can continue reading the series over an extended period of time.  Here are some of the big series in my classroom right now:

The 39 Clues Book 1:The Maze of Bones is the first book in the 39 Clues series. When their favorite Aunt Grace dies, Dan and Amy (along with all their relatives, near and far) are faced with an unusual choice: inherit one million dollars and walk away or join in a dangerous treasure hunt. No pressure or anything- the outcome will only effect all of humanity!

Many of my girls have fallen in love with Worst Enemies/Best Friends, the first book in the Beacon Street Girls series. Focused on four girls in middle school, this realistic fiction series hits all the right notes for my girls- middle school drama, friendship, and ambitious girls!

Within the past few weeks a new series has been making the rounds, one I don’t have on my shelves. I am hearing nothing but raves about Leven Thumps And The Gateway To Foo, the first book in the Leven Thumps series. Somehow, this one slipped under my radar but I have a persistent group of students who are begging me to read this one as soon as I am done my Cybils reading.

I adored Nancy Drew when I was a tween and it thrills me to see that Keene’s books are still popular. Many of my students read and love Nancy Drew, too and can’t believe she has been around since my own mother was a kid!

Finally, the most popular series in my room year in and year out is Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series.  Set in a dystopian society where families are only permitted to have two children, Luke is third child who is forced into hiding.  If he is found, the Population Police can and most likely will have him killed.  Full of suspense, this series hooks even my most dormant readers and has them begging to read the rest of the books!

What are some of your favorite series for middle schoolers?

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