Last year when I taught 4th and 5th graders, I began to really dig into the books in that level. I usually like to know what the kids are currently reading, and as a 7th and 8th grade teacher, I read Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, and the Divergent series with them. The issue though, for me, was that these YA books began to feel like cotton candy. They were really fun to read, but after a while.. they felt overly saccharine. I actually finally finished The Brothers Karamazov after a long stint of YA. I just craved something.. substantial.
Interestingly, that didn’t happen when I began reading these “children’s novels.” And it made me remember reading an interview or article with/about Katherine Patterson (or was it Lois Lowry) where someone said that they love children’s books because they stick with you forever. Or basically, these children’s books are written for children who will grow up to become adults who will still read and remember these books from their childhood.
I really believe that to be true. There are so many books that I read as a kid whose themes stick to my bones even now. There were so many books that helped me navigate situations… And even though I wasn’t a little white boy with a dog, I really appreciated the lessons that followed me through the years.
Anyway since last year, I’ve gotten to read old authors that I’d never experienced, new authors that are hitting the scene, and old books that I enjoyed in the past, and new books from old authors … (Did I hit every category)?
Usually, after reading a lot, I tend to get desensitized to quality so then when something really good died happen, it totally pops out!! With that said, after literally reading over 50 middle grade (NOT YA books) in 2017, these are the books and folks who definitely out to me:
Current Books/Authors (authors are alive and still writing):
- TRENTON LEE STEWART!!!!!! (The Mysterious Benedict Society series is so great. The Secret Keepers also was really well done – there was a point where I was frightened and had to speed up my reading because I couldn’t figure out how the protagonists were going to get out of their predicament)
- Great read-aloud or independent book for kids who like puzzle and mysteries.
- KATE DICAMILLO – how she can write on themes of loss, death, poverty… in a way that is quiet, solemn, and yet doesn’t “baby” her young readers is beyond me. Her books are lovely and so different. Each one.
- Think: Katherine Paterson type books
- Rebecca Stead – impressed by her different stories, protagonists, and the real way she addresses real middle-school conflict.
- One of her books is a throwback to A Wrinkle in Time!!! She plays a bit with some sci-fi and there’s always some mystery.
- Jacqueline Woodson – I love books written in prose poetry. Her books allow kids to experience books that help you feel, books that describe, books that “show”. She also highlights experiences that are usually pushed aside.
- Think: Sandra Cisneros (House on Mango Street). Lots of protagonists of color!
- Richard Peck – I think he’s still writing, and he’s been writing a LONG time about books that are set in the early 1900s in rural areas and I love them I love them I love them. [I liked his books so much that it warranted a run-on sentence]. They’re short and perfect for 3rd-5th graders, I think. I don’t know how I’ve never read his books, but I’m making up for lost time at the age of 30.
- many different protagonists all set in earlier times. Kind of your precursor to Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie.. or Old Yeller. Those kinds of books. But a LOT easier to read.
- Sharon G. Flake – books may be for kids 4th grade and up. The way she writes REALLY rings true for so many of my students of color. Her authentic voice and situations (and not watering down facts) but still acknowledging the difficulties of childhood is really wonderful.
- Set in urban areas – and realistic without sensationalizing anything.
- Neil Gaiman – He writes books that ranges – from funny kids picture books to intense adult novels. This man has so much talent.
- Coraline, The Graveyard Book .. are for kids. Other ones might be a little more adult
- Grace Lin – One of her series (geared towards a 2nd-4th grade audience) is a typical Ramona Quimby or Junie B. Jones type of chapter book except her main character is Taiwanese-American girl. It’s nice! Then she has books for older readers that are beautiful and weave in folktales. Lovely.
- Catherynne M. Valente – Magickal with a K! More for older readers, I think BUT a great/fun read aloud. Great for those who enjoyed Phantom Tolbooth or Alice in Wonderland – type stories.
- Jason Reynolds – Raw, stories that are unapologetic and real. His books really captured my male students of color.
- Sarah Pennypacker – I haven’t actually read a lot of her books, but Pax is a story about a boy and a fox. And … just think of Homeward Bound, or Where the Red Fern Grows, and you’ll understand the appeal of this book. If she can write Pax, I’m sure the others are great too.
Oldies and Goodies
- Katherine Paterson (so. many.)
- Lois Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars…)
- Jerry Spinelli (so many…)
- Sandra Cisneros (poetic prose. Lovely)
- Roald Dahl (everything!)
- Beverly Cleary (Ramona Quimby!!)
- Judy Blume (her Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, Fudge, etc.. are hilario)
- Oh and of course: Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time series, Chronicles of Narnia, Percy Jackson, Dear America, Encyclopedia Brown, Ender’s Game, and Pony Pals. 🙂 🙂 🙂
I’m sure there’s many more… I try to review almost everything I read on Goodreads but if I’m missing something, definitely drop a comment.
PS: There is something to be said for comics and graphic novels. I think authors are doing amazing things with that cartoon medium, and kids can learn a lot about rhetorical devices from those genres as well. I’d always encourage diverse reading with kids (and if it takes reading books out loud to a kid to sell it to them, why not? Or get an audio-book for them to read along to!) … but I am totally not opposed to comics even if that means that’s all a kid reads for a season.
Some graphic novels and comics (or authors of them) that I recommend:
- The Arrival by Shaun Tan (no words at all — lots to ponder though)
- Persepolis (definitely for older audiences — talks about life in Iran before and during the Islamic revolution)
- Raina Telgemeier has books that were super popular with my 4th/5th graders.
- Amelia’s Notebooks, Dork Diaries and Big Nate are both popular series for students who are reluctant readers.
- Brian Selznick has interesting gray illustrations that are a big part of the plot. (He wrote Hugo)
- Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese is wonderful)
- Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book