My quick summary – Mr. Zachary Kermit is beginning his very last year of teaching. He has worked the numbers and he can claim early retirement at the completion of this year. He’s in for a surprise at the beginning of the year when he is told he is teaching the “self-contained” classroom. (Side note – as a public school teacher, the way this classroom is described hopefully does not exist.) The classroom has been labeled by the staff and the district as “The Unteachables”, and no teacher lasts. Mr. Kermit doesn’t fight the placement. He’s been pushed around from class to class, and he knows this is the superintendent’s way of getting him to quit. However, Mr. Kermit is not going to quit. He’s got one more year, and he can do anything for one year.
This was my third Gordon Korman novel. Only three! From someone who has written over 80 books. I cannot even imagine writing that many books. From a quick glance at his website, he writes mainly middle grade/teen books. The three I have read are all more for middle grade, maybe even upper elementary.
The Unteachables was definitely my favorite of the ones I have read by Korman. The book is written from multiple different perspectives. While there have been a lot of novels published over the last couple years from dual perspectives, this novel dedicates at least a chapter to nearly every character in the book. I’m torn about this writing technique. It’s nice to see the story from different view points, but I also feel that I’m sometimes not getting enough character development. I didn’t feel like that with this book.
The book is really funny. There were plenty of times that I laughed out loud which drew looks from my daughters as I disrupted their video gaming. I do think that even though this book is clearly written for middle schoolers that many adults (especially teachers) will really enjoy it. I will probably purchase it for my classroom library, and I could see using it at a whole class read to discuss point of view.
Okay, so I set a pretty lofty goal for myself in terms of books to read this year. In all honesty, with the shut downs and stay at home orders, I should already be done with my goal. But! This is not a time to hold ourselves to “should-haves”. It is what it is, and there was a good month or so that I didn’t want to pick up another book.
About two weeks ago, I peeked at my Goodreads reading goal and saw that I was 15 books behind schedule. I hadn’t quite reached 50 books, and I set my goal for 75. In past years, I would have just changed my goal on Goodreads – I know, that’s totally cheating – but this year, I decided to figure out how I could still reach my goal.
Hello, middle grade novels! Now, I do mainly ready YA and middle grade novels because this is the age I teach, but I made a point to reach for books in verse and graphic novels.
I’ve read 8 books (nearly done with number 9) in the last 10 days. Here are my quick blurbs and recommendations.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Graphic novel – fully colored. Target audience is definitely upper elementary/early middle school. I still think the 8th grade/9th grade crowd would enjoy this book. Emmie is a very quiet girl who loves art and expresses herself well that way. However, standing up for herself and speaking up are not her thing. I felt this book would be perfect for 6th graders.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Written in verse. Some black/white sketches throughout. If you want a book to give you some feels, this is it. It tells of a family and their run in with ICE and detention facilities. I think this books could be used in the middle school when studying stories of immigration. I know our 6th graders read Refugee by Alan Gratz, and this could be a good companion piece.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Graphic novel – fully colored. Cute story with a lesson of meeting people where they are and helping when and how we can. The main character learns a valuable lesson about not listening to rumors and making your own opinions about who does or does not make a good friend. This would be a good classroom library book for upper elementary/ early middle school.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Written in verse. This book shocked me in the first couple pages. I have gotten to where I don’t read the back covers of books just to go in without any preconceived thoughts. I was not expecting this book to be about abuse. The front cover is yellow and bright blue, usually colors associated with happiness. This book was TOUGH for me. I tried to read it at school between classes and during my lunch, and ended up having to put it down for after school. Lots of tears. BUT I do think this is a good book to have available at a middle school. It is not graphic in it’s depiction of what happened, and deals a lot with the internal conflicts the victim goes through.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Written in verse with dual-narrators. Redwood and Ponytail are nicknames of the two main characters. The way this book is written took me a minute to figure out. The two main characters have their own section, but there are conversations within the verse and the formatting was different than I had ever seen before. After I got used to it, it was fine. The two girls meet at the beginning of their 7th grade year and hit it off as friends, but there seems to be more there. The book does a great job of showing the internal conflicts of both girls. A great coming-of-age type novel. Fits well within the middle grade books.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Graphic novel – lots of color. It took me about half-way through this book to go, “Hmmm, I wonder if this is a true story.” Maybe I should start reading the backs of books again, because it definitely says “In this memoir” on the back of the book. I really enjoyed this book, and felt very connected to the main character and his grandparents. With the language, drug references, and other things that go along with addiction, I think this is best in a high school classroom library. Maybe an 8th grade classroom library could be okay. I think the 6th grade parents would probably say something if their kid brought this one home.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Regular novel – as regular as a Jason Reynolds’ book can be. Jason Reynolds is the king of middle school literature. He also writes pretty amazing YA books as well. But this book was something special. Each chapter (section?) tells a completely different story, but they are all connected. The way Reynolds weaves these stories together is genius. I wrote my middle school ELA coordinator and told her that I think we should use this book for our short story unit and teach each chapter as it’s own individual story. It is definitely good for all middle school grades, and I think upper elementary as well.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Regular novel. Yes, another Jason Reynolds book made it to my book blitz this week. This one is the 4th book in the Track series. And again, not reading the side cover/back cover hurt me with this one. I had it in my head that the Track series books were all stand alone novels where the same characters existed. I do feel like you can read these out of order and not give away too much of the other stories. I read Ghost, which is the first in the series, and this one did not give away too much of that story. But, for my students, I would recommend going in order because they do build off each other. I love the way Reynolds wrote this book as if Lu is talking directly to the reader. It felt like a conversation. This series is perfect for upper elementary throughout middle school.
Now I find myself with 57 books read so far this year, 9 behind schedule, and 18 left to go before December 31, 2020. It doesn’t seem impossible, but I am also teaching full time and trying to write my own novel. Only time will tell.
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Quick Summary: Molly attends 8th grade at Fisher Middle School, and she, along with many of the girls at her school, is getting annoyed with the school’s dress code. Girls are getting singled out more than the boys, and the principal has even hired someone specifically to monitor the dress code. Molly takes the matters into her own hands, starts a podcast, and begins a protest against the dress code.
This book is a great middle school book. The format was easy to read, and the text messages and podcasts were a good break to the regular novel format. The author did a good job of keeping the action moving throughout the book, which is vital to a good middle grade novel.
The main character, Molly, is a believable middle school student. She isn’t perfect, has family drama, and has to navigate bullies and friend drama. I appreciated the variety of characters within the story, even the older brother Danny who is the main cause of Molly’s family drama.
As a teacher, dealing with dress code is one of my least favorite things to do. In fact, most of the time, I just don’t say anything…except for hoods and hats, but that’s more for so we can see who they are. Most dress codes are unfairly focused on females, and I liked that this book tackled that subject.
As far as students who will like this book, I am thinking the 6th and 7th graders will like it more than the 8th graders. There is a little crush/romance, but it is a minute part of the book, but it does cause a little bit of friend drama.
My only complaint with this book is that most of the friendships are very surface level. Of course, that does seem to be the case with a lot of middle schoolers. The littlest thing can disrupt a friendship. Other than that, it is a good book that I think a lot of students will enjoy…especially those who hate their school’s dress codes.
This was a very quick read. I believe I finished it in under 2 hours, and I consider myself a slow reader. Graphic novels have become super popular over the last few years, and I am really glad about it. My struggling students are more willing to pick up a book with pictures, especially at the beginning of the year when they are about 99.9% against reading. (By the end of the year, we have turned most of them into at least willing-to-read readers, if not *fingers crossed* lifelong readers!)
Quick Summary: This book follows 7th grader Jordan Banks as he (if you couldn’t guess by the title) goes to a new school. His new school is a private school of some sort. It isn’t a religious private school, but a highly academic one that encourages *mandates* student after school participation in sports or theater. From the very beginning, Jordan and his dad worry that the school is lacking in diversity. And…it definitely is. There are a handful of minority students, but definitely not what Jordan was used to. He faces microaggression from fellow students and teachers and has to decide whether or not he is going to point out this “subtle” racism or not make waves.
I know this book is written for middle schoolers, but whew…I think there are plenty of adults who could learn a thing or two from these pages. This will definitely be a book I add to my classroom library, and I can even see us doing it in a small group or maybe even the whole class.
I’m definitely looking forward to Jerry Craft’s next graphic novel 🙂
Quarantine has given me a lot of free time. Even while I was teaching from home, I found myself with time where I was just waiting around to answer students’ questions, so I started looking for people to follow on social media.
First person I started following was Jason Reynolds. I have a serious author crush on him, and I love everything that I’ve read that he has written. From his page, I found Nic Stone. At this point, I had only read Dear Martin which I loved, so I decided to follow her. If you’re looking for people to follow that will make you love life and want to be a better person, follow her. She’s friends with so many other awesome authors, and I have been introduced to many people and things from following her.
One thing was Project Lit (click the link to learn more, especially if you’re a teacher!). The basic gist is this English teacher decided to start having his students read books that better represented them, and over the years it has turned into a multi-country book club for students. I’m late to this party since it’s been going on since 2017, but I signed up to be a Project Lit leader, and I am looking forward to starting a book club in our school whenever we can go back.
Okay, alllllll that to say, I found Clean Getaway from following Project Lit and Nic Stone on social media 🙂
Now to the review. This book is great. I didn’t expect anything less from Nic Stone since I loved Dear Martin so much. From my understanding, this is her first middle grade novel (but definitely not her last). The book is everything a middle grade book needs to be: accessible, funny, fast-paced, easy-to-read, interesting characters, and adventure.
The book begins with Scoob (nickname – real name is William Lamar) and his grandma in an RV heading on an adventure. The reader finds out pretty quickly that Scoob was supposed to be on spring break, but had gotten in trouble at school and was on punishment with his father. No fun spring break for him. However, this all changes when his grandma shows up with an Winnebago and a promise of adventure if Scoob wants to go. Of course he goes, who would choose punishment over adventure? Scoob conveniently leaves his phone at home so his dad wouldn’t call him, and Grandma doesn’t tell him much about the adventure, just that they have a long way to go.
What I loved about this book is that it definitely talks about racism in a way that will allow teachers to talk to younger students. William is black, and his grandmother is white. We see early on some subtle racism (is there such a thing???) on their first stop to get food. Lots of strange and disapproving looks from the other customers. The book also talks about The Green Book. This book allowed Black Americans to navigate the country by highlighting Black-friendly businesses. I can definitely see using this as a talking point with my students. I also loved the relationship between Scoob and his grandma.
There is definitely more to the book than what I have written, but too much more will give away some of the surprising aspects to the book. I would recommend this to any lower-middle school grade kids, and probably 4th and 5th graders as well.
The last fiction book I finished was Four Days of You and Me which you can read about here. In that review I made the comment that adults would not enjoy the book. A few days later, I saw a different YA author tweet about getting the negative review that “adults wouldn’t like this book” and her reply was, “duh, it wasn’t written for you.”
Now, I know this is probably a common thought among YA authors, but good books, well-written books, books with good stories can and should be enjoyed by a wide range of people. I greatly enjoy many of my 5 year old’s picture books and early reader books she gets from the library, and I enjoy reading educational theories which are written at a much higher level than I probably am. YA authors should know that many of the books teens read are because a teacher and/or librarian recommended it. The list of books that make it to the top 10 lists or the different state’s award lists are determined by adults.
We adults that read YA know the books are not written for us, but we definitely will not recommend a book that has no plot, no great characters, and too much focus on what is not important to the teens in our lives.
My 6th grader read Fish in a Tree this year in her ELA class. She told me that I should read it, and that it was a really great book. After finishing it this morning, I can tell you she is 100% right.
The book follows Ally as she navigates school. She knows that she can’t read and writing is difficult for her, but she doesn’t know why. Instead of asking for help, during times when reading/writing is required she avoids class. Sometimes she tries, but even during those times, her teacher and principal think that she is just trying to make a scene, and she ends up in trouble.
It isn’t until her regular teacher leaves for maternity leave and a long term substitute teacher arrives that things start to change for Ally. Mr. Daniels, who we learn is getting a degree in special education, sees Ally’s behavior as something more than just acting out. He begins to form a relationship with Ally, and she finds herself trusting a teacher and looking them in the eyes for the first time.
This book beautifully shows how difficult life can be for students struggling with a learning difference. It examines friendships, family, and bullies, and does so very well. This book will definitely be a book that I recommend to students, but it is more for upper elementary and early middle school.