Tag Archives: middle school

Middle Grade Gets Real – 25 Titles About Tough Topics

3 Mar

Tough Topics.png

There are arguments that kids shouldn’t read about tough topics – topics that include death, adoption/foster care, childhood illness, substance abuse, disability and more. But, how do kids learn about these topics if they don’t see them in their daily life? Or, how to kids feel less alone if they are dealing with these issues at home? Middle grades authors, for the most part, are very careful when dealing with tough topics when writing for their audience. Not, that they sugar coat these issues, but they provide a close look at a tough topic at an age appropriate level.

I love these types of books because it allows kids to really open up, ask questions and discuss topics that are often seen as taboo. But, how are kids supposed to learn? We’ve used at least a few of these titles during our middle school book discussion and the kids are always very insightful and full of questions which they feel comfortable enough to ask. Many students share their own experiences or discuss what they might do if they were in a certain situation. This open communication fills my heart and makes me so happy to hear because I truly believe that books and discussion can truly help educate young people about tough topics and how to react or what they can do when something happens in their own life.

#MGGetsReal is a collaboration of authors reaching out to kids about tough topics. And although the blog doesn’t look like much is happening, Kerry O’Malley Cerra, middle grade author, has an absolutely amazing list of titles on her website about all different types of tough topics.

Take a look at some of these amazing titles below and search for more online or by asking your local librarian. There are many more titles that I could have included and the only reason I didn’t was to make a prettier graphic, so what other titles would you offer for this booklist?

  1. George by Alex Gino
  2. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
  3. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  4. Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  5. Booked by Kwame Alexander
  6. Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  7. Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar
  8. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
  9. See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles
  10. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
  11. Ruby On the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  12. One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt
  13. Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
  14. The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
  15. Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  16. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer & Matthew Holm
  17. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
  18. Lost In the Sun by Lisa Graff
  19. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  20. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
  21. The Girl In the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers
  22. Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
  23. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
  24. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  25. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Maker Monday: Coding

28 Jun

Our first Maker Monday was a lot of fun!  Our program is geared toward children entering 3rd – 6th grade in the fall.  We only register 20 kids for the program because we only have 10 iPads and with technology and science programs, less is more.  I’m always a little anxious before starting these types of programs because I honestly don’t know a lot about these topics and fewer kids means we can focus on individual attention as some will need more help than others when trying something brand new, we’re also lucky enough to have 10 iPads in the library which allows for kids to work in pairs when we use the iPads.

I start some, if not all of my programs with a conversation with the kids.  I want the kids to share with the group what they know about whatever topic we’re working on during the program.  I usually have a few questions to pull information from the kids as needed, but the kids usually need very little prompting to share information.  After we share the information, we dove into our coding for the afternoon.

Our first activity involved a grid of paper lying on the floor, I think I was able to fit a grid of 10 x 8 sheets of paper.  We used a plastic gold coin as our “treasure”  One of the kids volunteered to take directions from the group and I explained that you can move volunteer in four directions – forward, backward, left and right.  (Make sure your volunteer faces the same direction throughout the activity)  Then the kids took turns giving directions.  A few times the kids gave bad directions which help showed what happens when your code is incorrect.  After we tried a few times, I removed a few of the papers which created blocks and made the “programming” more difficult.

After we finished working on our large version of the grid, I gave the kids a piece of graph paper to create their own maze or partner with friends to repeat the exercise above by hand.  I like offering these coding activities that don’t require technology because it helps the kids understand how coding works and what happens when the directions are incorrect.

Finally, the kids paired up to use the iPads and got the chance to spend about 20-30 minutes playing with a few coding apps including Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch and Scratch Jr.  I like offering a few options as the kids are at very different levels in their understanding of coding and their experience in coding as well.  The kids did a great job of working together and sharing the iPads, no one wandered off task and started using other apps and I only had one instance where two boys were giggling and clearly up to no good.  I had them delete the project they were working on and gave them a stern talking to and had no other problems.

Overall, I’m really happy with how the program worked out and the kids seemed to really enjoy themselves.  Our next program is going to be a stop motion animation program which I’m pretty nervous about because it’s not something I’ve done before, but that’s part of the fun too.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 5/30/16

30 May

23203254I’m so proud of myself this week!  I read all three books that were on my list from last week.  Nothing But Trouble by Jacqueline Davies is a fun story about two girls who couldn’t be more opposite and yet become friends and co-conspirators to increase class spirit in a small town with a school falling down around the sixth grade class.  Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance felt a little too long for me – and I was really excited to read it!  Claudia learns that there exists an entire world behind the canvas of her favorite paintings that she must enter in order to save her new friend, Pim.  I really enjoyed Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson.  Benjamin’s golf-loving father died last month and ever since Benjamin has felt a lump in his throat that he’s convinced is a golf ball.  When he begins hearing his father’s voice he knows what he has to do – scatter his father’s ashes in Augusta at the Master’s Tournament.  Benjamin’s journey as he begins to heal is a touching story that I truly enjoyed.

This week might be interesting as far as reading goes – I have off on Monday and Tuesday and although I’d love to spend both days reading, I’ll most likely be trying to get a lot of things done around the house because I never seem to have enough time during the work week!  My mom is also coming to visit this coming weekend which means I’ll be spending my quality time with her and most likely will have little time to read.  Nevertheless, I have a few books, I’d love to read this week, including:

  • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
  • The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blackemore
  • Marked by Laura Williams McCaffrey


Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read. It’s the best way to discover what to read next.

School Visits… Or Why I No Longer Have a Voice

25 May

School visits invariably exhaust me and crack me up!  We don’t get into the schools as often as I’d like, but we are able to see the kids for about 30 minutes in May to promote the summer’s upcoming reading program.  How do you entertain, educate and encourage 80+ kids of any given grade to sign up for summer reading?  We’ve created a somewhat foolproof trivia games that excites the kids about summer reading.  Each spring I create a PowerPoint presentation, that along with the typical here’s how you sign up, has a bunch of trivia questions for the kids.  Also, we never fail to mention that all the programs and your library card is free!  There are so many kids who don’t know this and we want as many people as possible to use our library.  Today when we asked the kids how much it costs to attend the programs this summer, we had answers ranging for “a couple bucks” to “$100.”  So it’s not only about having fun (which we love to do), it’s also about teaching the kids about the library!  I create a few different presentations – an easier version for Kindergarten – 2nd grade, a medium skill level for 3rd and 4th graders and a more difficult one for the middle school kids (5th – 8th grades).

In the assembly we select a few students to compete against each other in front of their peers.  I’m always surprised as soon as kids hear, “We need some volunteers.” Their hands are in the air!  I was one of those kids who hated being in front of people (even just answering a question or reading aloud) and these kids volunteer before they even know what they’re volunteering for.  For the little ones, we leave it here – a couple kids competing against each other.  Sometimes I have audience questions which allow the kids to yell out the answers.  But for the 3rd – 8th graders, I also throw in True/False questions for the audience.  These questions go along with the theme and are always fun.  This allows everyone to participate by standing up if they believe the statement to be true and staying seated if they believe the statement to be false.  This gets everyone moving and excited and LOUD (which usually terrifies the teachers), but I love to see the kids interacting with us.  I’d much rather it be a little too loud, than to see the kids disinterested and bored.

This year, each trivia game starts with some sports stars the kids have to name, followed by up close photographs of sports equipment the kids have to figure out.  We have a large Indian population, so I had to include cricket – which so many of the kids knew.  Plus, I included a wheelchair racing wheelchair and a picture of an athlete playing goalball (a sport for athletes with visual impairments) to talk to the kids a little bit about the Paralympics and about sports for people with disabilities.  I err on the side of too easy to make sure the kids feel accomplished, but always like to throw in a couple tricky questions to teach the kids something new.  We have just a few more school visits to go and it has been so fun to see the kids at school and makes me excited for summer reading!  What do you do when you visit the schools about summer reading?

Norse Mythology for Tweens

25 Feb

15724396.jpgWith the popularity of Rick Riordan’s books, I was sure that the new series Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard would be a HUGE hit, but I think I jumped the gun a little too quickly because most of the kids I know have had the chance to read it yet!  But, I’ve learned a lot about Norse mythology because of this program and I hope the kids learned a little bit too!

We started off the evening with talking about mythology and where “Norse” is geographically speaking.  I like to start a lot of my programs sharing information to see what level the kids are on.  Afterward our discussion, we created Norse runes on Shrinky Dink paper – why?  Because Shrinky Dinks are awesome and I thought the runes were a really cool concept that was incorporated into The Sword of summer.  A lot of the kids wrote their names or created runes with cool runes and decorated around them.  They love watching the Shrinky Dinks shrink in the toaster oven.

After Shrinky Dinks, I gave each of the kids a trivia page with 15 questions about Norse mythology.  Some of the questions were easier than others, but most of the kids had to do some research to answer the questions.  And for that, I pulled a bunch of books about Norse mythology for them to use.  It was interesting to see how adept the kids were at doing research and how many of them were truly interested in learning the answers.

It was a small group of kids that participated, but some of them were especially interested – others were merely there to hang out with friends, but either way, I learned a lot and we had a good time!  And if you’re looking for a place to get some basic information about Norse mythology – check out the Treasury of Norse mythology: Stories of Intrigue, Trickery, Love, and Revenge by Donna Jo Napoli and be prepared to be amazed, confused, and educated about a mythology that I didn’t know too much about.  Now, when is Rick Riordan going to a Chinese mythology series…

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