I eat, breathe, sleep middle-grade and YA lit. I just do. I don’t read adult books, simply because I’m in love with lit for students. I inhale books, and thank goodness for Goodreads because it’s such an easy way to keep track of everything I read – both online and on the app (add me if you’d like!). According to Goodreads, I read 122 books this school year, which is a record for me (I think). Before you’re completely shocked, know that includes all novels, picture books, graphic novels and nonfiction – and I can plow through quite a few picture books and/or graphic novels in one shot. I haven’t done any book reviews or book lists yet on this blog, so the end of this school year seems like a good time to start.
Below are my top books of the school year, as well as a few that are on my to-read summer list. Each title is hyperlinked to its Goodreads page, if you want more details. Enjoy!
Top Books of 2016-2017
Ghost, by Jason Reynolds (MG)
This was one of my very first reads of the school year, and it instantly became one of my favorites (and it was a National Book Award Finalist!). Reynolds never fails to impress me. I appreciate how authentic his characters feel and the realism of their situations. His humor, dialogue, and story crafting make him one of the best writers right now. This book was so easy to booktalk to my students – great for reluctant readers and sports enthusiasts. I ordered more copies for next year because this title was never on the shelf. The second book in this series, Patina, comes out in August. He has my reader heart, for sure!
The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks (MG, Graphic Novel)
Absolutely outstanding middle grade graphic novel. Sometimes middle school students rely heavily on younger graphic novels, but this one is exceptionally strong for the middle grade audience. The art, the premise, and both male and female main characters are unique and engaging for all readers. The plot covers important themes like government, conquered vs. conquerors – living in peace, discrimination, and tolerance. A perfect addition to any MS graphic novel collection. First of a series! Looking forward to reading book 2, The Stone Heart (it’s already out, I just haven’t read it yet).
The Friendship Experiment, by Erin Teagan (MG)
Cute story about Maddie who starts sixth grade dealing with family and friendship issues. The mixture of her being a budding scientist, along with an annoying but loveable sister is perfect for MG readers today. An easy one to booktalk and recommend to girls coping with similar issues or enjoy science. This book is a great answer to “What should I read next?” for readers of The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm and The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. Another book that never stays on my library’s shelves!
The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi (MG)
Hands down my favorite book of the school year! Released from Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Salaam Reads, 12 year old Farah and her two best friends (and her brother) get stuck inside a board game and they are tasked with completing several challenges to defeat the game in order to go back to reality. Full of action & suspense, it was a quick read that was worth every page. Absolutely perfect for middle schoolers! Purchased at the end of the school year, I can’t wait to booktalk this one, especially to my girls.
Teen Incarceration: From Cell Bars to Ankle Bracelets, by Patrick Jones (YA, Nonfiction)
While this doesn’t relate to many standards, this is a powerful and brilliant resource for adults and teens alike on the history of teenage incarceration and its progression throughout US history. Easy to understand with ample color and personal stories of teens, this is an essential for all secondary collections. This would be a great resource for those students who enjoy reading nonfiction, have personal connections to the topic, or to add some modernity to your 300s section. I particularly appreciated the Further Reading section with suggestions for fiction, nonfiction, film, and website resources. Excellent and well researched. Highly recommended.
A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers (Picture book)
I’m so sad that this book wasn’t eligible for the Caldecott (Jeffers is from Ireland), because the illustrations were absolutely worthy. Designed for adult and child bookworms alike, this book recreates the joy and wonder of imagination, wonder, and whimsy when reading and would be the perfect gift for someone who loves to read. I could go back and look at the typographical art over and over, especially the wave, cave, and monster. Not at all for plot, characterization, or theme, this look is just about enjoying classic works – over 40 of them are referenced. This book would be good for all levels of reading, as well as creative writing and art class in middle school!
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, by Carmen Agra Deedy
Beautifully done tale of a rooster who brings a community back to life, despite the mayor’s attempts to stop him. Excellent for the elements of plot, characterization, theme, and even cause and effect! The pictures and visual creativity is outstanding. I appreciate the various layers to this book. On the surface, it’s about a rooster bothering a community. However, it also symbolizes what’s going on in government, standing up for change, and doing what’s right. I can’t wait to use this with students (and teachers) next year!
On My Summer List
Many times (like this year) I don’t have a plan for my summer reading. The ultimate goal is to make a dent in my never-ending to-read list. Here’s what I’m looking forward to most:
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (YA)
I know, I know. I’m getting there. Everyone I have talked to who has read this book said I have to put it to the top of my to-read list. While I won’t be picking it up this afternoon, it is definitely on the priority list. Promise!
When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon (YA)
I subscribe to an awesome YA book-a-month service called ParnassusNext, part of Parnassus Books, an independent book store in Nashville, Tennessee. I receive a signed copy of a newly released book each month in the mail, and this is the June selection. Supposed to be a great story of two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged their marriage – and while they both attend the same summer camp one year, they are complete opposites. 3,600+ reviews on Goodreads give it an average rating of over 4 stars. It’s got to be good!
See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng (MG)
From Goodreads: “A space-obsessed boy and his dog, Carl Sagan, take a journey toward family, love, hope, and awe in this funny and moving novel for fans of Counting by 7s and Walk Two Moons.” It looks great, and since I have quite a few boys who love science, I’m looking forward to adding this to my booktalk list.
The Warden’s Daughter, by Jerry Spinelli (MG)
Everything Jerry Spinelli does is outstanding, and this is supposed to continue in those tracks. The main character, Cammie, lives above a prison because she is quite literally, the daughter of the warden. All she wants for her 13th birthday is a mother, so she makes friends with some of the women in the prison. Hailed as full of hope and impeccable storytelling, I’m really looking forward to this one.
As a final thought…
Staying up on the literature geared for our students helps us be great at our jobs, putting the right books into (and keeping the junk out of) their hands. It helps us relate to our students more and continue on the quest to find that perfect book for those students who claim they don’t like to read. I get excited about reading middle grade and YA lit, because I never know what I’ll love – and won’t love, which book is going to be *that* book I can’t wait to buy and get in my kids’ hands, and what is going to change me, as an adult. I’m a reader, but I also want to help develop that in my students, too. That is why I read.
What have you read lately that you have just loved? What are you reading this summer? Summer is always my hope to reduce – at least somewhat – what’s on the to-read list and recap what I’ve read over the school year.
As a “programming note,” I’m hoping to continue posting on this blog over the summer. So stay tuned, and stay safe, friends!