Teaching middle school has its advantages. I never tie shoes or wipe noses. Handwriting is rarely an issue. Parents don’t follow their children into the classroom and temper tantrums are infrequent (although often more disturbing). One of the special advantages of being a reading teacher is keeping up with the latest trends in young adult books. Seeing a novel passed from student to student, being selected over and over again for free choice selection, and having it pressed upon my stack of ungraded papers by an eager reader prods me to remember why I chose this profession in the first place.

This summer I plan to read those books that my middle schoolers gobbled up all year. Titles like Ungifted by Gordon Korman, Brotherhood by Anne Westrick, Salt by Helen Frost, After by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Eds., and Peace Warriors by Andrea Pinkney were shared among boys and girls, 7th and 8th graders, siblings and parents at my school. The wide variety of titles reflects the diverse interests of my students. Although all share a pretty common background, underneath their school uniforms beat hearts that yearn to learn about civil rights or the frightening aftermath of an imagined society-crumbling event. Themes of war and its battles featuring young heroes are never out of fashion; learning about the realities of conflict through an engaging narrative can be a nonthreatening and often comforting lesson. A humorous story, witty dialogue and ridiculous antics of a goofball protagonist are a sure-fire combination of ingredients for a popular classroom title.


Ungifted by Gordon KormanUngifted Teacher Resources Button Brotherhood by Anne WestrickBrotherhood Teacher Resources Button Salt by Helen FrostSalt Teacher Resources Button


Knowing what my students are reading enables me to understand how they view the world. I’ve already read several of these popular books. For Kids Worldexample, Dennis, one of my 7th graders, has a wicked sense of humor and mischievous gleam in his eyes. After observing his interest in dystopian stories and graphic novels, I read After, an anthology of stories about a post-apocalyptic world. Sharing a moment with him about one of my favorite characters in an especially dark story made his eyes light up! A connection was made and still endures.

There is so much pressure on students to achieve top grades, be star athletes and dress like fashionistas. Of course a book like Ungifted would appeal to them with its troublemaker protagonist, erroneously sent to a gifted and talented school rather than receiving a major detention for a serious prank. How can the brilliant kids tolerate his obnoxious behavior? How can an average student compete with all the nerdy brains? This is a book everyone in the class enjoyed, and after reading it, I can see why-all of them can relate to it.


After (Nineteen Stories Of Apocalypse And Dystopia) by Ellen Datlow and Eds. Terri WindlingAfter Teacher Resources Button Peace Warriors by Andrea Davis PinkneyPeace Warriors Teacher Resources Button


It’s funny how teachers continue thinking about their students all summer long. When I discover a new title perfect for a certain student, I tuck it away in my neglected schoolbag, saving it for my return to that land of adolescents in late August. I’m also anxious to see the new titles that will peek out of the stacks of fresh notebooks and texts carried by my students. So this summer, along with a couple of professional development articles and books I’ve been “saving” and a few absorbing reads gleaned from a dedicated friend whose book club has been together for over twenty years (oh, the glorious commitment!), I’ll be reading my student recommendations. Gobbling them up, you could say.