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?

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- 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?

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Verse Novels

My students love verse novels.  Whether they are dormant readers or voracious ones, my students pick them up and sing their praises.  It’s one of the easiest ways to get my students to read some of their least favorite genres.  If it’s a verse novel, they will read it!

Sonya Sones writes fantastic verse novels, and One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies is one of the most popular among my girls. I’ve already had a few run out and buy their own copies of her other novels after reading this first.

Another popular author in my classes is Wendy Mass, and her Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall is never on the shelf anymore. Many of my girls read this novel first and then fall in love with Mass, moving on to her numerous other (non-verse) novels. I refer to Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall as a “gateway book”.

Historical fiction can sometimes be a tough sell for 6th graders. Thank goodness for Jen Bryant and her The Trial. Set in NJ, this verse novel follows the story of the Lindbergh baby trial and my readers usually set off to research even more about Lindbergh after reading this novel.

The Holocaust and WWII are two topics with no end of novels written about them. However, they can be heavy and overwhelming topics for some of my students. For those who are interested in the time period but don’t want the burden of a long, prose novel there is T4 a novel. Paula, a deaf 13-year-old, learns about Hitler’s T4 program, which states that doctors euthanize the mentally ill and the disabled. Because her deafness means she is a target, Paula is forced into hiding. This is a portion of history that most social studies books do not touch on and it always hits home with my students.

Brushing Mom’s Hair (a Cybils nominee this year) also focuses on a tough topic- breast cancer. Ann’s mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her recovery from surgery and her chemo treatments are by Ann, her youngest daughter. It’s a heartbreaking book but my students love it.

One of my most successful read alouds last year was Diamond Willow. This novel is an exciting mix of survival adventure and tween girl’s discovery of family roots and secrets. Willow loves her dogs and when an accident means one of them might have to be put down, she is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.

What great verse novels do you and your students love?

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Sports Fanatics

Do you have a sports fan in your life? Check out some of these recommendations from my sixth graders!

The Contender sat on the shelf in my classroom library collecting dust for the last few years. In the early part of this school year one of my boys picked it up and it still hasn’t made its way back to the shelf. I see a different student reading it every few weeks and then they pass it to someone else. All of them are raving about this classic novel that tells the story of a seventeen year old boy from Harlem who dreams of becoming a champion boxer.

Every sports fan should pick up Mike Lupica’s books. Lupica is a sportswriter and his children’s novels are an inside look at sports and families. His latest novel, Million-Dollar Throw, was released last month.

Mention that a children’s author also played in the NFL and you’ll see any middle schooler’s eyes light up. For that reason, Tim Green’s books are always popular with my students. When I shared an ARC of Baseball Great last spring, I had a waiting list a page long. Now, all of my Tim Green novels are constantly moving off the shelf.

Finally, Dairy Queen has found a few new fans among my students this year. This story about a high school girl who decides to tryout for her high school football team brings laughter and tears to its readers!

What sports books do you recommend?

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?

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!

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