Middle School Books

All posts tagged Middle School Books

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Published April 12, 2014 by Dagmar

giverThe Giver, is a book that has stayed with me since I first read it years ago.  It made an equally big impact on my son when I read it to him.  The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal.

I read aloud to my sixth graders each week and decided to read them The Giver. I wondered what our students would make of the society Lois Lowry created.  In the Giver, Jonas is a boy living in a society that protects its people from all pain, horror, sadness and loneliness, but also doesn’t allow them to feel happiness, love or excitement.  Everyone exists in a comfortable, unchanging environment. There is one person, however, who is able to feel everything.  His name is the Giver, and he serves the community by holding all of its memories for them, both painful and joyful.  He alone knows the history of the community before it changed to protect its citizens.  When issues arise in the community, the Giver is called upon for advice on how to address the issue, using his knowledge of the past.

Jonas, as a 12 year old, is ready to receive his life’s assignment in the community.  Some children are assigned to care for the elderly, some become lawyers or teachers. Jonas receives the most prestigious job of all, Receiver.  Every day, Jonas goes to meet with The Giver, to receive the memories of the community.  He learns about war, sickness and disappointment but also about colors, the warmth of sunshine, the cold of snow and the excitement of riding a sled.  He is told that he cannot speak of his experiences with everyone.  He soon feels isolated from his former life and his community.

Jonas’ father is a Nurturer.  His job is to care for infants and toddlers before they are assigned to their family units.  Jonas’ father is troubled by a baby, Newchild 36, who doesn’t seem to be able to fit in.  The baby cries at night and is not adjusting to his environment as the other children are.  As a result, 36 is not able to be assigned to a family unit.  Jonas’ father convinces his bosses to let him bring the child home at night, thinking that it might help him.  Although they are only supposed to know the child’s birth number, Jonas’ family learn that the child’s name is Gabriel.  Despite all Jonas’ family’s efforts, Gabriel doesn’t improve.  Jonas’ father informs Jonas that Gabriel will be “released”.  When he discovers what will happen to Gabriel, Jonas makes a fateful decision that will change not only his own destiny, but the destiny of his community.

This book is perfect for tweens and middle school readers.  My students loved the book and many went on to read the entire Giver series.  The entire series, in order: The Giver, Gathering Blue, The Messenger, and Son, published in 2012.

In case you’re interested in sharing this book with students, here is a link to Lois Lowry’s interview, on Scholastic.com, answering questions submitted by students about The Giver.

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/lois-lowry-interview-transcript

Here’s another link I found that with interesting discussion questions:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDUQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.christina.k12.de.us%2FLiteracyLinks%2F2008%2520Units%2FUnit%25208_Appendix%2520E_Journal%2520Topics_The%2520Giver.doc&ei=RxiqUoKYDs32oASJ34CgAg&usg=AFQjCNFxHhCFTB3wSAsxRnOg_FeCcGDhbQ&bvm=bv.57967247,d.cGU

 

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, by Nathan Hale

Published March 12, 2013 by Dagmar

nathan haleI’m so happy to see that graphic novels are expanding to include history, mythology, and adaptations of classics.  I have a few readers who will not read anything unless it’s in graphic novel format.  They’re big readers and are in the library always looking for new books.  They are really excited about this series.  I’m excited, because they’re reading American History!

This new series, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales is a funny recounting of the story of Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary War spy who famously said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”  In this version, Nathan Hale and the hangman are discussing “last words” and the fact that Nathan Hale should say something memorable before he is hanged.  Nathan Hale not only thinks of his last words, but then delays his hanging by recounting the story of the seige of Boston, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and General Howe’s invasion of New York.

This is real American history but presented in a funny and engaging way. I laughed out loud several times at the cleverness of the book.  There are two books in the series so far, One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad and more to come.  (Thank goodness!)  My only regret… is that the pages are not full-color. I think it would add a lot to the book if the illustrations were more attractive.  That said, it’s a great series and kids love it.

So B. It, by Sarah Weeks

Published March 10, 2013 by Dagmar

sobitIf you haven’t read my review of One for the Murphys, please do.  This book might be tied with One for the Murphys for my favorite book of the year.  I closed it and thought “That was a great book.”  I have a wonderful fifth grade reader who looked at me and said exactly the same thing.

Heidi was a baby when her neighbor Bernadette found her outside in the hallway with her mother.  Her mother is mentally disabled.  Heidi’s mom knows only 23 words, most of the common, but there is one that only Heidi’s mom says, “Soof”. Bernadette is agoraphobic.  Luckily, Bernie’s apartment has a connecting door with Heidi’s apartment.  Together, they survive.  Bernie manages everything, including teaching Heidi, while Heidi and her mom go out to do the shopping. Heidi wonders about her past, but her mother cannot give her any clues about it nor can Bernie.  One day, Heidi finds an old camera with undeveloped film.  She takes it in to be developed and finds a picture of her mother at a home for the mentally disabled in New York State.  Heidi is determined to find out about her mother’s past.  Her search, and the answers she finds, including the meaning of “Soof” make this book incredible.  Highly recommended for middle readers.

Heat, by Mike Lupica

Published January 28, 2013 by Dagmar

heatI have been looking for sports books for my avid sports fans and was so happy to find Mike Lupica’s book, Heat.  If you’re a sports fan, particularly a baseball fan, this book may be for you.  This book is about a 12 year old boy, Michael, who is a Cuban refugee.  He, his brother and his father came over on a boat to Florida and are now living in the Bronx.  Michael’s father was a baseball player in Cuba and dreams that Michael’s gift as a pitcher will lead him to play in the Little League World Series. But, all is not right in Michael’s world.  His father has passed away, and his brother Carlos, 17, is afraid that the boys will be separated if they enter foster care.  So, they hide their secret with the help of their elderly neighbor and Michael’s best friend, Manny.  This book is full of great characters.   Carlos, who is working two jobs to try to pay the rent and bills is the older brother trying to do the right thing and protect his little brother.  Manny, Michael’s best friend is funny and loyal.  Ellie, the very pretty girl who is also a big baseball fan is a mysterious character.  Their neighbor, Mrs. Cora, is very warm and comforting.  I found the writing believable and felt that my middle school son would be able to relate to the characters.  Although this isn’t typically a genre I’d read, I couldn’t put it down.

Bomb! The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Published December 28, 2012 by Dagmar

BombMoving from the recruitment of Robert Oppenheimer to the building of Los Alamos to the testing of the bombs and Hiroshima and the eventual arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, this excellent non-fiction book cleverly interweaves three story lines.  The first is the Americans’ attempt to build the atomic bomb.  The second is the Soviets’ attempt to steal the plans for the bomb.  The third is an attack on Germany’s heavy water plants in an attempt to prevent Hitler from building an atomic bomb.  Full of material that illuminates a period of history few middle school and high school students may be familiar with, this engaging read will keep them interested.  I’ve also recommended it to adults, because it provides real insight into the scientists that built the bomb, their motivations for building it and the motivations of some scientists to ensure that the United States wasn’t the only country in the world with this most powerful weapon.  Photographs are included.

Winner of YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-fiction for Young Adults, the Silbert Medal, a Newbery honor and a National Book Award finalist.

Son, by Lois Lowry

Published December 11, 2012 by Dagmar

sonFor your kids that love dystopian novels.  Son, is the fourth novel in The Giver series.  The Giver is one of the original dystopian novels without all the violence.  Son can be read on its own, but definitely has more meaning if you’ve read the Giver and is better yet if you’ve read books two and three, Gathering Blue and Messenger.  I loved this book.  There was just the right amount of suspense, the characters were really beautifully drawn and there the element of “creepiness” that dystopian readers crave.  For those who have read the previous books, it’s fun to try to trace where this book intersects with the previous books in the Giver series.

Synopsis: Claire is assigned to be a birthmother at her 12 ceremony.  She and other girls are to give birth to “products”.  Once they’ve given birth to three products, they move on to another job in society.  Claire has difficulty with her first birth and is quickly reassigned to another job. So quickly, that those in charge forget to give her her daily pills.  Slowly her feelings for her son awaken.  Claire imagines running away with her son.  Her son, a difficult baby and toddler has been chosen for “release”.  That’s when Claire discovers that her son is missing, taken away by a boy from the community.  So begins Claire’s desperate search for her son.

Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai

Published December 5, 2012 by Dagmar

insideoutRecently, there have been a lot of novels written in verse.  I like the format and found a few books that I really enjoyed.  Here is one that I loved.  I thought the diary format and verse helped lighten the difficult issues the main character faces.  Short chapters also make it very attractive to reluctant readers.  One such reader in my library returned it to me, then promptly checked it out again, because she loved it so much.

Synopsis: This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of Ha, a 10 year old girl living with her family in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  Her father is a member of the South Vietnamese navy and is missing in action.  Ha lives alone with her mother and brothers.  Ha longs for the papayas to ripen on her papaya tree and hopes that her father will return from his mission so that her mother can smile.  The family reluctantly leaves South Vietnam with their uncle on a South Vietnamese navy ship.  Conditions are terrible on the ship.  Everyone is hungry until a U.S. Navy ship arrives, providing food and a tow to a refugee camp in Guam.  The family is asked to choose a country where they would like to live.  Ha’s mother chooses the United States.  Sponsored by a family in Alabama, and dependent on the charity of others, Ha deals with being different  struggles learning English.

This book won a Newbery Honor in 2012.