See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Grab a box of tissues, find a comfy chair, turn off the cell phone and the computer, and settle down to read Jo Knowles’ See You at Harry’s. When Kate Messner advised me to search for an ARC at NCTE, she warned me that the book would make me cry.  I was thrilled to

get an ARC and when I sat down to read, I figured it would be sad but that I wouldn’t cry because it was probably just another sad middle grade book.

This is not a book that’s about what you think it will be about.  It is a book, though, that will take your heart and run it through the equivalent of a paper shredder over and over again.  You will find yourself stifling gasping sobs and weeping on the pages in front of you.  This book will break your heart but you will love it anyway.Oh readers.  How wrong I was.


See You at Harry’s is a conversation book.  You will need to talk about it when you are finished.  I passed my ARC to a student reader who came to me the next day raving about how unpredictable the book was.  Today she told me she is going out to buy her own finished copy because even though she already read it, she needs to own her own copy.  It’s just that good.

Highly, highly recommended for middle grade and high school readers.  This one crosses the fence, folks.  Pass it on to the readers in your life and they will be grateful.



*ARC courtesy of publisher, via NCTE Annual

Final Four by Paul Volponi

Despite working on my National Board portfolio almost non-stop during March, I did make time to read a few books and watch March Madness.  March Madness is my favorite time of year and I love rooting for the Cinderella teams, the underdogs, the surprises.  When I received a copy of Paul Volponi’s The Final Four from the publisher, I made sure that I put on top of my TBR pile.  I read it between the second and third rounds and it was better than any game I watched on TV.  This is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries.  I also think it will appeal to middle school readers.

The book is told over the course of overtime in a single Final Four game.  The reader sees the game through the eyes of four individual players, with snippets shared from the announcers and newspaper articles.  Malcolm is a boy from the inner city whose sister was killed in a drive-by shooting. He is only interested in looking out for himself and he is a one-and-done player, leaving for the NBA as soon as the season ends. MJ, Michael Jordan (the most unfortunate name for a boy who likes basketbal, who is trying to do well in school and make a better life for himself. Roko, a Croatian teen whose uncle was killed by the mafia in his home country, is trying to honor his uncle’s memory. Crispin is from Louisiana and is engaged to the head cheerleader, but suddenly isn’t sure it’s what either of them should be doing.  All four players come with baggage and they all have to contribute in the final moments of the most important game of their life.

The set-up is spot-on.  I felt like I was watching the game and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the book.  All four players ring true and the background information is great.  And this isn’t just an action-packed story about a basketball game.  Volponi forces the reader to think about the money and prestige that come along with NCAA basketball.  Is it enough to “pay” college athletes with a free education when their school is potentially making millions off of their work on the court? Should college players be allowed to play a single season and then move into the NBA at 18 or 19 years old?

Volponi is a great realistic fiction writer and all of his novels are must-haves for high school libraries.  The Final Four is another slam dunk from Volponi and I can’t recommend it enough.  Even those who don’t particularly like basketball will find themselves pulled into the world that is NCAA March Madness.


Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Realistic Fiction Fan

Realistic fiction is always the most popular genre in my classroom.  Middle schoolers love to read about other middle schoolers!  Some of the most popular choices in my classroom would invariably make great gifts!

  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big-time , Millicent Min, Girl Genius, and So Totally Emily Ebers by Lisa Yee- This series by Lisa Yee is always popular.  Everyone can identify with one of the main characters, whether it’s Millicent, Emily, or Stanford.  And kids love that the same story is told, but from the perspective of each character.  It makes each book just different enough from the last one while still retaining that familiarity that is so important for a lot of my readers.  Plus, Lisa Yee is hysterical!


  • Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis- A personal favorite, Emma Jean represents that kid everyone remembers from middle school- lacking certain social skills, reveling in being different, and getting into everyone’s business. And her classmate, Colleen, is the girl who just wants to be popular, even if some of the “popular” ways go against her sweet and compassionate personality. A gentle read, this novel is perfect for fans of realistic fiction about middle school.


  • The Graduation of Jake Moon by Barbara Park- A word of warning- this is a sad book! However, it’s always a popular choice for boys and girls alike. This short novel deals with Jake’s relationship with his grandfather as his Alzheimer’s slowly worsens. You meet Jake when he is in third grade and follow him through eighth grade. He starts out looking after his grandfather an hour a day, a job that becomes more and more burdensom. He is embarrassed by his grandfather’s increasingly erratic (and sometimes crazy) behavior. Looking after his grandfather slowly alienates him from his friends, as he is embarrassed to have them see his grandfather. This is an issue a lot of kids deal with these days, and this slim novel is heavy-hitting.


  • Rules by Cynthia Lord- This is a powerful story about a young girl whose brother is autistic. Twelve-year old Catherine tries her best to help David get along in the world, developing lists of rules for him to follow. However, while she loves her brother, she is trying to live her own life, too. When a new girl moves in next door, Catherine isn’t sure she wants her to know about David. A great novel to introduce autism and special needs to tweens, this isn’t a preachy story and my students love it!


  • The Landry News by Andrew Clements- Andrew Clements is probably the most popular author in my 6th grade classroom. While all of his novels are a hit, this one is particularly popular this year. Mr. Larson has taught for 20 years and he’s burned out. So he decides to let his fifth graders do a project on their own while he sits back and relaxes. So when a student, Cara Landry, writes a newspaper with an editorial about the lack of teaching going on in room 145, the former “Teacher of the Year” gets very upset. Realizing that the girl is stating the truth, he starts a unit on journalism and the class enthusiastically begins a newspaper. The newspaper is a huge success. However, when she allows a very personal story about divorce to be printed, the principal sees it as an opportunity to get rid of Mr. Larson. A great story about the First Amendment, kids can’t put this down!



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