Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reading for the Classroom: YA Books Off My Classroom Shelves

If you read the blog with any regularity, you will have realized by now that school starting means I post less. The nature of the education beast is that we teachers are in full throttle mode in August and September. By October, we usually have a routine established, and life gets a little easier.

I spent the end of July and beginning of August working from home and at school to prepare for the start of the new school year. I made things from Pinterest (a different post, and one I hope to have for you in the future), I worked on lesson plans from various places around the internet and from books I've inherited or purchased, and -- my favorite -- I purchased new books to include on my classroom library shelves.

I only started my classroom library last school year, and it's grown to close to 350 books. Not a mountain of them yet, but a good number given that they've all been purchased by me or given to me by students or other teachers. The best place to go in my area of the country (middle Tennessee) is McKay's Used Books. With stores in Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, I am able to go pretty much anytime I'm in a big city that's close to home.

One book my mom purchased for me, which I have since treated like my own personal reading teacher's Bible, is Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. It has guided my reading instruction this year more than any other single piece of education literature has before. One of her best pieces of advice is to read all of the books in your classroom library, so that you can better make recommendations to your students. I've been trying to choose at least one book a week from my classroom shelves in an effort to follow this advice. Here are some of the titles I've read so far this year:

Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher Main character Cliff, at twelve, is the oldest of three children. With that comes both responsibilities and annoyances -- and many responsibilities that are annoyances. When a tragedy changes the dynamic of Cliff's family, he and his fellow siblings have to learn to adjust. That, of course, is a task easier said than done.

Fletcher tells a heart-warming story about a family dealing with issues similar to those many students face. It is a sad tale that may just cause tears among more sensitive students, especially those with younger siblings, like Cliff. I enjoyed the book, but felt it to be a fairly simple tale for my middle grade students. I would recommend it to my younger students, but would hesitate to recommend it to my older, more mature eighth-graders.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor Part soccer tale, part mystery, and partially the story of a middle school student with a handicap, Bloor's Tangerine was amazing in more ways than one. Bloor does an excellent job of building suspense. When twelve-year-old Paul and his family move to Tangerine, Florida, everything seems a little off. From the muck fires to the mostly-missing actual tangerines, Tangerine is a strange place.

Beyond the setting, the novel also includes deeper mysteries. Namely, what happened to Paul's eyesight? Told one story for years, Paul struggles to remember the day of his "accident." And his brother Erik, a high school football star, has a mean streak a mile wide; is there a link between the two? I would highly recommend this to male readers, especially those interested in sports. However, I feel that both girls and boys would enjoy the novel, as well.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass Mass actually made it onto my radar because so many teacher bloggers recommended her novel Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. I found both it and Every Soul a Star at McKay's, and snapped them both up. The novel is perfect for almost any reader because Mass has three main characters who are decidedly different. As a result, almost any student would be able to identify with one of them.

The characters are Jack, who is slightly overweight and academically challenged; Ally, an astronomy geek who lives with her family on an isolated campground; and Bree, who loves fashion and dreams of becoming a model. Their lives intersect in a perfectly orchestrated alignment of the stars. Each of them is undergoing changes (as are most adolescents) and struggling to find their places in the world. One thing I loved about this novel is the amount I learned. It just goes to show that fiction can sometimes be just as educational as nonfiction!

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick This is by far my favorite from my classroom shelves so far. That being said, it is also deeply sad; there were times that I was unsure if (in my eight-months-pregnant state) I would be able to continue reading it. But Sonnenblick captured my attention and my heart, and I couldn't put the book down until I'd read every last word. It's a simple story: one family, two kids, one cancer that affects them all.

In Sonnenblick's artful hands, however, this is so much more than a book about illness. It is also the story of thirteen-year-old Steven, a drummer in his school's band with a crush on the head cheerleader. It is the story of every boy at that age, constantly annoyed with and embarrassed by his parents and his little brother, who is hoping to just make it through each day. Although the themes are heavy, the book is not all doom and gloom. It's magical, to put it simply. Highly recommend for almost anyone.


  1. Love this post! I will have to check out some of those books! I am currently reading the Harry Potter series and loving it. I've had the whole series in my classroom library forever and just recently decided it was time to start reading what my students are reading. I also have The Book Whisperer in my nightstand waiting to be read:)

  2. Sounds like some great books. Thanks for your thoughts and the review. Hope you have a great weekend!

    Diane :O)

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