Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays

The holidays will be upon us shortly.  That means it is gift-giving season!  What is the best gift for any age group?  Books!

Sure, it’s easy to brush off books in the gift-giving category.  How do you know that recipient hasn’t already read the book(s) in question?  How do you know what genre or authors they like? What if the recipient doesn’t even like to read?  And where do you even begin?  That bookstore is huge and intimidating, right?  But you can do it, I promise!

When it comes to the tweens and middle schoolers in your life, I’m here to help this holiday season.  For the next few weeks I will be posting lists to help you find that perfect book or book gift for the 10-13 year old in your life.  Lists will be categorized according to trends I see in my classroom, so you can count on the fact that the books I recommend will be kid-tested and approved.  

Do the tweens in your life a favor.  Give them the gift of reading this holiday season.  Books are the gifts that you can open again and again, and stories are the gifts that keep giving.  So stay tuned from December 1-12 to find that perfect gift for the middle schooler in your life.  Whether they are are avid readers or only skim their summer reading when forced to, there is something out there for everyone.



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39 Clues Live Webcast December 1st!

While checking out my Scholastic Book Clubs order, I saw the following ad for a live webcast with Gordon Korman, author of the next 39 Clues book, 39 Clues: One False Note .

Watch the Live Webcast with Author Gordon Korman!
Tune in as Whoopi Goldberg interviews Gordon Korman, author of The 39 Clues Book 2: One False Note, in a LIVE webcast on Monday, December 1, at 1 pm ET.

Kids from around the world submitted questions for Gordon Korman . . . VOTE ON THE FINAL 5! 

After the webcast, continue the conversation with Korman in an online chat. Tune in here to join: December 1, 3–4 pm ET. (To participate, you’ll need a STACKS account. Register now.)!


I know my students will be thrilled!  We are 39 Clues-a-holics in my classroom, so this will be great.  As most of my students will be in math during the live webcast, I am hoping that Scholastic puts the recording up online later in the day.

M.T. Anderson Defends Teen Intelligence

Today’s Washington Post has a wonderful profile of YA author M.T. Anderson.  As I was reading the article I found myself (mentally) cheering, “Hoo-rah!”.  

“It’s insulting to believe that teens should have a different kind of book than an adult should,” says the author of “Feed” and, most recently, “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.” Teens like challenges, he says. They know the world is complicated, and “they can tell when a book is simplifying life.”

Thank you, M.T. Anderson!  While he is specifically speaking about teens, in my experience this quote applies to all young readers, tween and teen alike.  Kids hate to be talked down to, preached at, and treated like babies.  All too often, publishers choose to market books that do all of these things.  My 6th graders want to think, they want to argue, and they want to learn.  They just don’t want to feel like they are being explicitly taught in a fiction book.  And to be honest, the same goes for me.  And I would assume most adults feel the same way.  We want a great story, awesome characters, and ideas we would not have thought of on our own.  Why do so many publishers and authors think that kids should  be treated any differently?  

So Mr. Anderson?  Please keep writing.  And keep treating kids like the intelligent beings that they are!  My 6th graders will someday graduate to your books, and I can’t wait until they do.  


Oh, and the best part of this article?  It finally pushed me to order The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves .

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

I have been a huge fan of Wendy Mass since I first read A Mango-Shaped Space a few years ago.  When I saw that Mass’ newest middle grade novel was nominated for a Cybil, I was looking forward to reading it.  While November is always a hectic month as a teacher (convention, report cards, Thanksgiving, conferences, Election Day, and too many days off), I made sure that Cybil reading didn’t fall by the wayside.  Boy am I glad I picked this one up!

Every Soul A Star is about three very different tweens.  Ally, Bree, and Jack are brought together by one of nature’s most phenomenal acts- a total solar eclipse.  RIght off the bat, I love that Mass has written this story from three different points of view in first person.  More importantly, she succeeded in making each kid’s voice distinct and realistic – a tall order for any author!

The three main characters are very different but realistic.  I felt like I knew all three, like that could be in my class.  Ally has lived at the Moon Shadow campground for almost her whole life and is a science geek (and proud of it!).  She is passionate about nature and space, but her life at Moon Shadow is sheltered and she is naive in the ways of the tween world. Bree is beautiful, popular,  and wants to be a model when she grows up. She reminded me a bit of the main characters in the oh-so-popular The Clique novels.   Jack is a bit overweight, a loner, and loves drawing and reading science fiction, when he isn’t practicing lucid dreaming as an escape from his life. The book alternates between these three points-of-view.  I loved having the chance to view a gorgeous location like the Moon Shadow through three completely different sets of eyes, each with their own bias and perspective.  And Mass’ descriptions of the campground and the eclipse are stunning and breathtaking.

This is a book that will make kids think, but without being preachy or heavy-handed.  I think every kid will identify in some way with one of the three main characters and will enjoy the transformation each one goes through.  And if anyone can read this book without becoming fascinated by solar eclipses, I would love to meet them!  What a fascinating topic that very few tweens ever have a chance to think about and even fewer get to experience!  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Mass has turned more than a few reluctant citizen scientists into amateur astronomers!

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite books of the year.  I can’t wait to booktalk this and see how my kids react. Mass has crafted a fascinating story that will resonate with tweens.  


*This review reflects my opinion and not those of the Cybils Middle Grade panel as a whole.

Poetry Friday

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I am still recovering from a wonderful meal with family and plenty of shopping today.  A quick poem for Poetry Friday is definitely in order, especially one for the season.


The Harvest Moon  
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It is the Harvest Moon!  On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Point-of-View Twilight Lesson

This year I have a lot Twilight fans in my class.  Always one to try and rope the kids into a lesson by using something they are interested in, today I gave a mini-lesson on point-of-view using Twilight and Midnight Sun.

For the past few days my class has been immersed in an exploration of persuasive texts.  We have read a variety of persuasive texts and learned about propaganda techniques, learning to debate and hold conversations about the texts we read, and annotating nonfiction texts.  While trying to figure out the best way to present point-of-view and bias to them, I remembered an idea I had a few months ago.  Seeing as the Twilight movie was released just last week, this seemed like the perfect occasion to try out a new mini-lesson.  Below you will find an abbreviated version of the lesson.  

Teaching Point:  Writers apply their knowledge and understanding of point of view by writing a story from the perspective of the main characters.

Materials: Copies of the cafeteria scene from Ch. 1 of Twilight and copies of the same scene from Midnight Sun., writing notebooks, assignment sheet

Connection:  Over the last few days, we have been exploring various types of persuasive writing.  We have read about a lot of controversial topics and we have defended out positions using evidence from the text.  However, something we haven’t talked about is point-of view.  

Have you ever gotten into a fight with your brother or sister?  I bet your mom or dad broke it up and then asked what happened.  You probably blamed your sister and she probably blamed you.  And your mom ended up hearing two completely different stories about the same event!  Today I want to teach about point-of-view and how it influences an author’s writing, just like it influences the explanation you give your mom.

Teaching:   When you read a text, you always need to remember that the author is writing from their point-of-view,  or with their own bias. This should always be in the back of your mind while you read any text.  Even fiction is told from the point-of-view of the character telling the story!  

I am going to share with you one of my favorite examples of point-of-view.  I’m sure most of you have heard about Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, the main characters of “Twilight”.  What you may not know is that Stephenie Meyer is working on a new book, called “Midnight Sun”, which will tell the same story as “Twilight”, but from Edward’s perspective.  Together, we are going to read one scene from Bella’s perspective, as she spends her first lunch in the cafeteria at her new school.  Then we will read the same scene from Edward’s point-of-view.

(Read scenes with class)

Did you notice how the story was completely different, even though both characters were in the same place and experiencing the same situation?  That is the difference that perspective can give!

Link:  So readers and writers, today and everyday, you should remember that every story and text is written from a specific point-of-view.  That perspective can be biased and you need to remember this!  

To practice, tonight I want to you imagine that you are one of the characters in “Little Red Riding Hood”.  You will choose three of the characters (Little Red Riding Hood, woodcutter, Grandma, the wolf) and write one scene from each of their perspectives.  Put yourself in their shoes and write in their voice, from their viewpoint.  How would the wolf see the scene when Little Red Riding Hood first knocks on Grandma’s door?  How would Little Red Riding Hood see it?  Have fun, and tomorrow we will share!

-This lesson was inspired by Twisting Arms: Teaching Students How to Write to Persuade 

National Book Awards on C-SPAN2

I apologize for the late notice, but the National Book Awards are currently airing on C-SPAN2.  It began at 10:00pm and will apparently be airing for 90 minutes.  I am so excited that I will be able to hear the wonderful speeches and see some of my favorite authors.  

I do have to admit that this is the first time I think I have ever tuned my TV to C-SPAN2.  I am a political junkie, so I occasionally watch C-SPAN.  But C-SPAN2?  It’s amazing what books can get you to do. 🙂

Busy as a Bee

It’s been a crazy last 36 hours and the insanity continues for the rest of this week.  I am loving the constant NCTE updates from those attending and can not wait to go to Philly for the convention next year!  Right now I am exhausted but just want to share some news I have gathered from the blogosphere today:


Franki shares the news of a new Georgia Heard poetry book!  I need this yesterday!  Georgia Heard is one of my mentor writers and I can not wait to get my hands on this one. 

-Love Meg Cabot?  Well, for the next 30 days you can read The Princess Diaries online!

Personal Essay Publishing Party

This week we celebrated publishing our personal essays.  I am so proud of the work my students did!  Enjoy some pictures of our celebration.  🙂

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Should Tuck Everlasting Have Won the Newbery Medal?

Recently, we finished reading Tuck Everlasting and my students took their novel test.  As a class, we read three whole class novels each year, which are novels that my students wouldn’t normally read on their own. The novels are treated as more formal read-alouds, with mini-lessons tied to each reading.  My students take quizzes in preparation for middle and high school and they respond to their reading.  They also complete a novel test so that they are prepared for standardized testing, middle school language arts, and high school English classes.  

This year, on the novel test for Tuck Everlasting I added a new essay question.  The question asked the students to state in an essay whether they felt that Tuck Everlasting should have received a Newbery Medal when it was published.  We have only briefly touched on the Newbery in class (they know of my quest to read the Newbery each year before it is chosen) and I was hesitant to ask them a question that required so much higher level thinking on their first novel test this year.  Well, I was thrilled when I read over their answers last week!  My students not only showed me that they were able to use the strategies we were learning in writing workshop but also that they can articulate their thoughts about books and reading!

Some of my favorite quotes from a few of the essays:

“I think Tuck Everlasting should have won a Newbery Award because it was outstanding.  To me outstanding means great, entertaining, what a book should be.”


“Also because it shows that you have to make a lot of hard decisions to make a good life for yourself.”


“My first reason that Tuck Everlasting should get a Newbery Award was that the book treats children like an adult.  This book makes children make decisions.  Should Winnie drink from the spring?  From being a child I know that kids like to be treated like and adult instead of being babied.”


How awesome are those answers?  My students gave deep thought to their reasoning and with no prompting were able to write me well-thought out essay.  I am so proud of them!