Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Romantics

So many of my girls are romantics at heart. They love reading love stories and I spend a lot of time finding appropriate teen romance novels.

Shug is a perennial favorite. Annemarie, nicknamed Shug, has a pretty tough life. She has a beautiful, popular older sister who gets all the attention, an alcoholic mother, and a father who’s always on business trips. On top of all of that, she has developed a huge crush on Mark, her best friend. My girls have fallen in love with this one!

Stargirl is another popular choice (and one of my personal favorites!) Stargirl reminds me a lot of Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. More than just a first love story, it deals with nonconformity and the perils of popularity. There’s even a Stargirl Journal!

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows has slowly been gaining ground with my girls. The story of three lifelong best friends who are beginning to grow apart in 8th grade, they are spending the summer apart dealing with divorce, new surroundings, and, of course, boys!

Sarah Dessen is practically sacred among my girls. One of her most popular novels is The Truth About Forever. Macy has suddenly turned into the good girl- straight A’s, punctual, helpful. She’s trying to convince herself and the world that she ok even though her Dad died. Then she gets a job at Wish Catering. It’s run by pregnant, forgetful Delia with help from her nephews, Bert and Wes, and her neighbors Kristy and Monica. Macy falls in love with gorgeous Wes…..and her perfect life is changed forever.

The Indigo Notebook is part adventure, part romance. Zeeta’s mother loves moving and they have lived all over the world. When she moves the family to Ecuador, Zeeta is determined to make her settle down. She enlists the help of some vendors in the market to set her mother up on dates but ends up meeting an intriguing boy herself.

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian

I am a dystopian fiction fanatic.  Hand me a dystopian book or a post apocalyptic novel and I am forever in your debt. My students always fall in love with these dystopian/post apocalyptic novels!

Life As We Knew It and the dead and the gone never fail to hook my most dormant readers. Both books tell the tale of two teens whose lives are forever altered when an asteroid crashes into the moon, moving it closer to the earth.  Because of this, every conceivable natural disaster occurs. Life as we knew it forever gone and the dead are piling up all over the world.  Soon, humanity begins turning on itself!

Maybe you know a tween who has read Lois Lowry’s The Giver? Did you know there are two companion novels? Gathering Blue and Messenger wrap up the story of Jonas and Gabe. They are a must-read for anyone who read The Giver and couldn’t wait to find out what really happened to both of them.

Hasn’t every teen and tween wished away their parents at some point? But what if everyone over the age of 14 disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving behind only kids to run the world? Gone explores this “dream” scenario with frightening results!

What if your parents lied to you, under the guise of protecting you? In a moment of panic over a nuclear attack, Eli, and his family rush into an underground bunker built by Eli’s eccentric father. Unfortunately, his grandmother and twin brother don’t make it into the bunker. For the past six years, life has been fairly routine. But with 9 years left, some things just aren’t adding up. Eli is starting to have doubts about his father’s motives, explanations, and sanity. The Compound is a fast-paced must read for dystopian/post apocalyptic fans!

Finally, what if all of the adults in your life were brainwashing you? Candor is a model community, but Oscar knows that parents bring their teenagers to Candor to make them “better”–through subliminal Messages that carefully control their behavior. Can he give up the girl of his dreams to escape the Messages?

Finally, there is the ever popular The Hunger Games. Talk about a page-turner!

What are some of your favorite dystopian or post apocalyptic tween/teen books?

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Mythology Buffs

Mythology is huge in my classroom.  I imagine it will only get crazier with the upcoming February release of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief movie.  But there are lots of other mythology books out there for tween readers.  If you are looking for some great mythology-based books for your favorite tween, here are some of my favorites…..

We have to start with one of my all-time favorites- Percy Jackson.  I read the first book in the series aloud to my students each year and they love it.  Percy is funny, always getting in trouble, and easy to identify with.  I’m sure when the movie is released there will be a second wave of Percy Jackson fans running around my hallways at school.  The entire series has been released and there is an awesome boxed set available: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Hardcover Boxed Set: Books 1 – 5.

Maryrose Woods’s Why I Let My Hair Grow Out is a fantastic romp through Celtic mythology.  It’s a different culture and very different from the typical Greek and Roman mythology typically seen in middle grade/YA literature.  Plus, I’m Irish and I love seeing Irish mythology/literature in mainstream middle grade/YA books!

Irish mythology not what your tween is looking for?  How about some Egyptian mythology? Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos is the first book in a series that focuses on the ever-popular Egyptian mythology. Theo is like a combination of Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones. While not focused solely on Egyptian mythology, the story deals with ancient Egypt and evil curses. How can that not be fun?

The Seven Serpents Trilogy is a reissuing of Scott O’Dells fantastic epic based on Mayan culture and mythology. It includes all three books in the original series, repackaged into a single book.

Finally- I have many tweens who want to know every.single.thing. about Greek mythology. I’ve recently discovered the Mythlopedia series from Scholastic and I can not keep it on my library bookshelves. The books include: All in the Family: A Look-it-Up Guide to the In-laws, Outlaws, and Offspring of Mythology (Mythlopedia), Oh My Gods!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Gods of Mythology (Mythlopedia), She’s All That!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Goddesses of Mythology (Mythlopedia), and What a Beast!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Monsters and Mutants of Mythology (Mythlopedia).  Each book is set-up like Facebook profiles which really appeals to my students.  Plus, I’ve even learned a lot while reading!

This is just a taste of some of the mythology books out there for tweens.  Do you have any favorites I forgot?  Please leave them in the comments!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Pairing Fiction and Nonfiction

I find that a lot of my more reluctant readers love informational books, even if they do not consider themselves readers.  One of the ways that I help turn those students into readers is by finding fiction books that pair well with the informational books they enjoy reading.  It’s also a great way to get tweens to try out historical fiction, a genre many of my students avoid at all costs.  Here are some of my favorite pairings.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. is a fantastic middle grade realistic fiction novel. It pairs well with Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide), an informational book that will help readers identify trees in their neighborhood and town. (And while it is not nonfiction, Swinger of Birches: Poems of Robert Frost for Young People is a great book to give with Gianna Z., too!).

Operation Redwood is a realistic eco-adventure that made me want to learn more about redwood trees. It would make a fantastic companion to The Ever-Living Tree: The Life and Times of a Coast Redwood.

Moon: Science, History, And Mystery is a popular nonfiction book in my classroom right now. I love to pair it with Shooting the Moon, a historical fiction novel that takes place during the Vietnam War. It also makes a great companion to Every Soul A Star. And all of these books work well with another popular nonfiction book, Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream.

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 is a recent favorite of mine and I use it all the time in my “Journeys: The Monarch Butterfly” class when we talk about MesoAmerica. A few of my students have become very interested in ancient Mesoamerica and have gone on to read fiction set in that time period. Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow is a very popular companion to the book, as is The Seven Serpents Trilogy. Both deal with the Incan and Mayan cultures during the conquering of the New World.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer has slowly been building steam in my room. This narrative nonfiction book is being passed from student to student and they are raving about it. Many of those who finish it come to me looking for more books about Lincoln, before his death, and I have been handing them Lincoln and His Boys.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum is a fantastic biography of the legendary P.T. Barnum. I would pair this with Tony Abbott’s great middle grade/YA mystery The Postcard.

I love dolphins and so do many of my students. Thus, Face to Face with Dolphins (Face to Face with Animals) is always a popular choice when it comes to independent reading. Lately, I have had a lot of luck pairing it with A Ring of Endless Light, a personal favorite of mine.

These are just a few suggestions for nonfiction/fiction pairings. Really, you can find a fiction companion to almost any nonfiction middle grade/YA book.  (And it works just as well the other way around!)  Do you have any favorite fiction/nonfiction pairings?  Please share them in the comments!

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Wow.  That is all I can say about Ann E. Burg’s All The Broken Pieces. I picked this off my pile of Cybils nominees and began reading without looking at the flap cover. I was caught completely off guard by how amazing this verse novel is!

Matt Pin is haunted by his memories of Vietnam. He was born a bui doi, the dust of life, son of an American GI and Vietnamese mother during the Vietnam War. He has nightmares of falling bombs, land mines, and the awful secret he left behind in Vietnam. He was airlifted out of Vietnam at ten years old, leaving behind his mother and brother.

Through the course of the book Matt is forced to come to terms with his with his horrifying past and his American present. Unsure if he can exist in both worlds, or if he even should, he comes face to face with the effects of the Vietnam War on American soil.

This is an extremely powerful novel. As a huge Miss Saigon fan, my middle school self would have loved this book.  I found myself humming Bui Doi throughout the novel.    However, I don’t think reading the novel requires any previous knowledge of the Vietnam War. Even readers with no knowledge of the Vietnam War will close this book understanding the ramifications of war. The book explores its effects on soldiers, civilians, parents, sons, daughters, and those left behind.

The verse format of this novel also works exceptionally well. The verse is spare yet you can not breeze through it. Being in Matt’s head connects you to him more than a standard 1st person perspective. I know many of my students look for verse novels because they are less intimidating than prose novels. However, this novel is a perfect example of how deeply evocative verse novels can be.  I can’t wait to recommend this to all of my sixth graders.  It will connect with boys and girls, I think.


*Review copy courtesy of the publisher, via the Cybils. All opinions are my own and not necessarily shared by the panel as a whole.


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