Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Struggling Reader

Sometimes the hardest tweens to shop for are those who read below grade-level.  They long to read the books that their peers are reading but the fact is they have note reached that level yet.  And they don’t want to read “baby” books.  Below are a few books that my struggling 6th grade readers are really enjoying this year.


  • Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford- Moxy Maxwell is a procrastinator (much like my students). She was assigned Stuart Little for summer reading, but it is still unread on the last day before the first day of school. Sound familiar? Moxy won’t be allowed to play the eighth daisy petal in the water ballet at the local pool if she hasn’t finished the book by the time Mom returns home. Moxy is trying to read. Or start to read. But things keep getting in the way! First, Moxy’s room must be cleaned, Then the dog has to be trained. She also takes time to ponder the idea of inventing a hammock that automatically stops swinging when the person gets off. She decides to plant a peach orchard). And all of her procrastinations are documented by her brother, a budding photographer. The book has great photos and a lot of white space, perfect for struggling readers! Plus, it’s hysterical.


  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker- Clementine will remind older readers of Ramona and Junie B. Jones. Always getting into scrapes, she only has the best of intentions. For example, who hasn’t cut their friend’s hair in order to get glue out of it? Clementine takes it a step further (and better) by drawing hair back on her friend’s scalp. In flaming red marker! Readers will be laughing out loud while reading this book!


  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick- Last year’s Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a gorgeous and stunning book. It’s also perfect for struggling readers. The story is told in words and pictures. Flipping through the book is almost like watching a movie. The illustrations sometimes go on for 50 pages and if you don’t read the pictures, you won’t understand the story. The perfect cross between a novel and a graphic novel, this 544 page book is just perfect for older readers who struggle with typical novels. And the heavy tome makes them fit right in with their peers.


  • Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper- Just Grace is in class with three other Graces. Hence the “Just Grace” moniker. Her adventures are reminiscent of Ramona and Moxy, with plenty of laughs and scrapes to get into (and out of).  This is the beginning of a great series that readers won’t want to put down!


  • The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick- Ten-year-old Victor has no success trying to do the same tricks as his hero, Harry Houdini; no matter how hard or often he tries, he just can’t escape from a locked trunk, or hold his breath underwater, or run through walls. Then he meets the magician himself in a crowded train station, and some time later receives a mysterious locked box engraved with the initials “E. W.” Victor can’t figure out who E. W. is and, annoyed, puts the box away without a second thought. Many years later, after he grows up and has a son of his own, he learns that Houdini’s real name was Ehrich Weiss. Remembering the box, he rushes home, opens it, and that night, he locks himself in the trunk–and escapes in less than 20 seconds. The book includes a small biography of Houdini and is perfect for magic-lovers.

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Writing Letter-essays

One of my favorite reading units is Letter-essays.  Based on Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, letter-essays are letters that students write to me on a rotating basis about the book they are reading or have just finished reading.  I love the interaction that the letter-essays breed and the growth I see in them across the school year is phenomenal.

This year I started my letter-essay unit about 3 weeks later than last year.  My students need more scaffolding this year and I felt it would go better if I had a little more time to work up to it with them.  I am also altering my unit a bit.  For the first time I am using Lucy Calkins’ Literary Essay unit of study to guide the unit.  While my students won’t be writing literary essays, the unit of study provides a perfect backdrop for the letter-essays.  It does a great job of getting students to think about their reading and start responding to it deeply; something they haven’t done much of until now.  

It’s always a struggle in the beginning because students are used to answering straight comprehension questions about their reading.  Thinking deeply is difficult, but the results are always awesome!  At the end of this week I will introduce an example letter-essay from a former student and have students begin writing a rough draft of their first letter-essay.  By Winter Break the students will have a schedule of due dates and the first letter-essays will be due in mid-January.  After that, they will write me a letter once a month, which I will respond to.  

For the first time I am considering having students write letter-essays to a classmate also, on the alternate weeks.  I think it is so important for students to see the social connections books bring us, and letter-essays are a non-threatening way to do this.

Summit and Catherine Hardwicke Part Ways for Twilight Sequels

I know I have a lot of Twilight fans reading the blog feed.  I was very surprised when I opened my favorite Hollywood gossip page and read  that  Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight, has been fired.  Deadline Hollywood ( updating page with new announcements as they come) says “Summit Entertainment Co-Chairman/CEO Rob Friedman just phoned me to say: ‘Catherine and Summit have agreed to part ways on the sequel because our visions are different.’”    Within minutes of reading the gossip online, Summit made an official announcement.  

I still haven’t seen the movie, but I find this news fascinating.  I know that Nikki Reed and Kristen Stewart made it quite clear that Hardwicke was the reason they signed on for the movie in the first place.  I wonder how they are taking this news?  

As Harry Potter fans know, different directors don’t necessarily effect box office results when a movie/series already has a rabid following.  But if any of the actors choose to leave, that might make a bigger difference to the tween fans.  Honestly though, my students are obsessed with the character and the stories- not the actors and actresses on the screen.  I doubt they would even notice!

Still, interesting news…