books, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

The Best Books for Middle School According to My Students 2019

This is the fourth year that my students have gathered what they deem the very best books that they read this year and shared their recommendations with the world. As always we have favorites that seem to pop up every year, but this year we also had a lot of new titles join the mix.

As always, I loved seeing what made the cut because I simply could not do the work I do without the help of these incredible books.   Some of these are fine for all 7th graders, some are more mature, I am including them all so that you can make your own decision.    All parents are informed of the range of books that are present in our classroom library so that students can choose something that speaks to them.  Not all of these books are in my library but are books that the students have found and read independently.

It was interesting to see just how many of these books I myself had read and book-talked, as well as how many have been favorites two or more years in a row.  There were also many of these books that were book-talked by more than one student such as Until Friday Night, Yummy, Scythe, and the Mortal Instruments.  Yet this also seemed to be the year where students continued to read about stories that they may not be familiar with themselves, however, despite my book talks, there are still certain gaps in what our students are loving. I hope you find their recommendations helpful. This year, they created a slide to speak about their choice. Scroll down to see the list.

Other things I noticed were:

  • The most requested book was Long Way down by Jason Reynolds, followed closely byUntil Friday Night by Abbi Glines and Scythe by Neal Shusterman.
  • High school drama books that had a romantic twist were in heavy rotation.
  • So were free verse books and graphic novels.
  • Social justice books continue to carry a deep impact and are passed from hand to hand

To see the list from 2016 go here

To see the list from 2017 go here

To see the list from 2018, go here

To see the Google Slides better, go here

To see the list on Amazon, go here

Yummy – The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

Eleven-year old Roger is trying to make sense of his classmate Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s death, but first he has to make sense of Yummy’s life. Yummy could be as tough as a pit bull sometimes. Other times he was as sweet as the sugary treats he loved to eat. Was Yummy some sort of monster, or just another kid? As Roger searches for the truth, he finds more and more questions. How did Yummy end up in so much trouble? Did he really kill someone? And why do all the answers seem to lead back to a gang-the same gang to which Roger’s older brother belongs?

Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Warcross by Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

The Program by Suzanne Young

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in.

And The Program is coming for them.

Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz    

Infiltrate. Befriend. Sabotage.


World War II is raging. Michael O’Shaunessey, originally from Ireland, now lives in Nazi Germany with his parents. Like the other boys in his school, Michael is a member of the Hitler Youth.But Michael has a secret. He and his parents are spies.Michael despises everything the Nazis stand for. But he joins in the Hitler Youth’s horrific games and book burnings, playing the part so he can gain insider knowledge.When Michael learns about Projekt 1065, a secret Nazi war mission, things get even more complicated. He must prove his loyalty to the Hitler Youth at all costs — even if it means risking everything he cares about.Including… his own life.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Eleven by Tom Rogers – Four years on the list

Alex Douglas always wanted to be a hero. But nothing heroic ever happened to Alex. Nothing, that is, until his eleventh birthday. When Alex rescues a stray dog as a birthday gift to himself, he doesn’t think his life can get much better. Radar, his new dog, pretty much feels the same way. But this day has bigger things in store for both of them.

This is a story about bullies and heroes. About tragedy and hope. About enemies with two legs and friends with four, and pesky little sisters and cranky old men, and an unexpected lesson in kindness delivered with a slice of pizza. This is Eleven: the journey of a boy turning eleven on 9/11.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Author)

From Amazon:You can’t stop the future. 
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. 

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines

To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.

As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.

West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…

Image result for house arrest ka holt

House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Timothy is on probation. It’s a strange word—something that happens to other kids, to delinquents, not to kids like him. And yet, he is under house arrest for the next year. He must check in weekly with a probation officer and a therapist, and keep a journal for an entire year. And mostly, he has to stay out of trouble. But when he must take drastic measures to help his struggling family, staying out of trouble proves more difficult than Timothy ever thought it would be.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare


When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Need by Joelle Charbonneau

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s still would be open.

High school sophomore Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when an asteroid knocks the moon closer to Earth, like “one marble hits another.” The result is catastrophic. How can her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis are wiping out the coasts, earthquakes are rocking the continents, and volcanic ash is blocking out the sun?

As August turns dark and wintery in northeastern Pennsylvania, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

How do you give a eulogy when you can’t think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake weren’t uncomfortable enough, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction. As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

Redwood and Ponytail by Ka Holt – note this book is not released until October 1, 2019

Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way. This novel in verse about two girls discovering their feelings for each other is a universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin.


The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he’s got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends—true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up on “greasers” like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect—until the night someone takes things too far.

Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy

It is The Campus. Secretly created under the administration of President Jack Ryan, its sole purpose is to eliminate terrorists and those who protect them. Officially, it has no connection to the American government—a necessity in a time when those in power consider themselves above such arcane ideals as loyalty, justice, and right or wrong. 

Now covert intelligence expert Jack Ryan Jr. and his compatriots at The Campus—joined by black ops warriors John Clark and “Ding” Chavez—have come up against their greatest foe: a sadistic killer known as the Emir. Mastermind of countless horrific attacks, the Emir has eluded capture by every law enforcement agency in the world. But his greatest devastation is yet to be unleashed as he plans a monumental strike at the heart of America. 

On the trail of the Emir, Jack Ryan Jr. will find himself following in his legendary father’s footsteps on a manhunt that will take him and his allies across the globe, into the shadowy arenas of political gamesmanship, and back onto U.S. soil in a race to prevent the possible fall of the West…

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet. 

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for? 

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

The Fourth Closet by Scott Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley

What really happened to Charlie? It’s the question that John can’t seem to shake, along with the nightmares of Charlie’s seeming death and miraculous reappearance. John just wants to forget the whole terrifying saga of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, but the past isn’t so easily buried.Meanwhile, there’s a new animatronic pizzeria opening in Hurricane, along with a new rash of kidnappings that feel all too familiar. Bound together by their childhood loss, John reluctantly teams up with Jessica, Marla, and Carlton to solve the case and find the missing children. Along the way, they’ll unravel the twisted mystery of what really happened to Charlie, and the haunting legacy of her father’s creations.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry

“Take her out back and finish her off.”

She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know where she is, or why. All she knows when she comes to in a ransacked cabin is that there are two men arguing over whether or not to kill her.

And that she must run.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.
Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Imposters by Scott Westerfield

Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But only one of them is ever seen in public.

Frey is Rafi’s twin sister-and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must. 

When her father sends Frey in Rafi’s place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her . . . . 

Asylum series by Madeleine Roux

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, the New Hampshire College Prep program is the chance of a lifetime. Except that when Dan arrives, he finds that the usual summer housing has been closed, forcing students to stay in the crumbling Brookline Dorm—formerly a psychiatric hospital. As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan start exploring Brookline’s twisty halls and hidden basement, they uncover disturbing secrets about what really went on here . . . secrets that link Dan and his friends to the asylum’s dark past. Because Brookline was no ordinary mental hospital, and there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.

Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.

Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price―and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. 

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.


Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Isabella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn.

Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife-between desire and danger.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka

In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.

Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what’s going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

Can an undercover nerd become a superstar agent? Ben Ripley sure hopes so—and his life may depend on it!

Ben Ripley may only be in middle school, but he’s already pegged his dream job: C.I.A. or bust. Unfortunately for him, his personality doesn’t exactly scream “secret agent.” In fact, Ben is so awkward, he can barely get to school and back without a mishap. Because of his innate nerdiness, Ben is not surprised when he is recruited for a magnet school with a focus on science—but he’s entirely shocked to discover that the school is actually a front for a junior C.I.A. academy. Could the C.I.A. really want him?

Actually, no. There’s been a case of mistaken identity—but that doesn’t stop Ben from trying to morph into a supercool undercover agent, the kind that always gets the girl. And through a series of hilarious misadventures, Ben realizes he might actually be a halfway decent spy…if he can survive all the attempts being made on his life!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt – 4 years on the list

The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world.I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. 

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

A Dog’s Way Home by W. Bruce Cameron

With four hundred miles of dangerous Colorado wilderness separating one brave dog from her beloved person, Bella sets off on a seemingly impossible and completely unforgettable adventure home.

A Dog’s Way Home is a beautifully told, charming tale that explores the unbreakable bond between us and those we love. This is a fantastic and exhilarating journey of the heart that brilliantly speaks to the incredible power of love and resilience of spirit that tie us together.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Since their mother’s death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. 

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a “research experiment” at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. 

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them–Set–has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe–a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family, and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

Trinity – A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

The power of the atom was harnessed in a top-secret government compound in Los Alamos, New Mexico, by a group of brilliant scientists led by the enigmatic wunderkind J. Robert Oppenheimer. Focused from the start on the monumentally difficult task of building an atomic weapon, these men and women soon began to wrestle with the moral implications of actually succeeding. When they detonated the first bomb at a test site code-named Trinity, they recognized that they had irreversibly thrust the world into a new and terrifying age.

By Your Side by Kasie West

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her.

Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye.

As he and Autumn at first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy―giddy, even―by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

One touch is all it takes. One touch, and Juliette Ferrars can leave a fully grown man gasping for air. One touch, and she can kill.

No one knows why Juliette has such incredible power. It feels like a curse, a burden that one person alone could never bear. But The Reestablishment sees it as a gift, sees her as an opportunity. An opportunity for a deadly weapon.

Juliette has never fought for herself before. But when she’s reunited with the one person who ever cared about her, she finds a strength she never knew she had.

The Bully by Paul Langan

A new life. A new school. A new bully. That’s what Darrell Mercer faces when he and his mother move from Philadelphia to California. After spending months living in fear, Darrell is faced with a big decision. He can either keep on running from this bully or find some way to fight back.

The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia

She used to care about being the good girl.

Haunted by the memory of her boyfriend’s death, Frankie Devereux lives her life by one dangerous rule: nothing matters. But she crosses the line with a reckless choice that forces her to move in with her dad―an overprotective cop―and transfer to a new school. When Frankie meets Marco, a tough street racer who is risking everything for his family, things get complicated.

He wasn’t always the bad boy.

Everyone says Marco Leone is trouble. But at Frankie’s new school, where fistfights in the halls don’t faze anyone and illegal street racing is more popular than football, Marco is also the fastest (and hottest) guy around. As their attraction grows, Frankie can’t seem to stay away from him―until she discovers Marco’s dangerous secret.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by an uncle he barely knows-a man his mother claimed was dangerous. Uncle Randolph tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die . . .

Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice

Emily Lonergan’s best friend died last year.

And Emily hasn’t stopped grieving. Lizzie Porter was lively, loud, and fun — Emily’s better half. Emily can’t accept that she’s gone.

When Lizzie’s parents and her sister come back to town to visit, Emily’s heartened to see them. The Porters understand her pain. They miss Lizzie desperately, too.

Desperately enough to do something crazy.

Something unthinkable.

Suddenly, Emily’s life is hurtling toward a very dark place — and she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to return to what she once knew was real.

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disoriented, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favor.

But Apollo has many enemies-gods, monsters, and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go . . . an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess by Akira Himekawa

Link must defeat evil at every turn in his perilous quest to help Princess Zelda!

Once upon a time, wizards tried to conquer the Sacred Realm of Hyrule. The Spirits of Light sealed the wizards’ power within the Shadow Crystal and banished them to the Twilight Realm beyond the Mirror of Twilight. Now, an evil menace is trying to find Midna, Princess of the Twilight Realm, and the fragments of the Shadow Crystal to gain the power to rule over both the Twilight Realm and the World of Light.

Link once trained in swordsmanship, hoping to protect the world of Hyrule. After a fateful meeting, he sought out the anonymity and peace of life in a small village. But danger and adventure always find heroes to set things right, and when the dark minions of the King of Shadows threaten his new home, Link answers the call!

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

On the Come up by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.  

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace

From Amanda Lovelace, a poetry collection in four parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, and you. The first three sections piece together the life of the author while the final section serves as a note to the reader. This moving book explores love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, and inspiration.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben… who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey

They sound like bad guys, they look like bad guys . . . and they even smell like bad guys. But Mr. Wolf, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Shark are about to change all of that…

Mr. Wolf has a daring plan for the Bad Guys’ first good mission. They are going to break two hundred dogs out of the Maximum Security City Dog Pound. Will Operation Dog Pound go smoothly? Will the Bad Guys become the Good Guys? And will Mr. Snake please stop swallowing Mr. Piranha?!

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
AndSimon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.


   Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda Panitch 

Some choices change everything. Scarlett chose to run. And the consequences will be deadly.

Stolen from her family as a young girl, Scarlett was lucky enough to eventually escape her captor. Now a teen, she’s starting a summer job at an amusement park. There are cute boys, new friends, and the chance to finally have a normal life.Her first day on the job, Scarlett is shocked to discover that a girl from the park has gone missing. Old memories come rushing back. And now as she meets her new coworkers, one of the girls seems strangely familiar. When Scarlett chose to run all those years ago, what did she set into motion? And when push comes to shove, how far will she go to uncover the truth . . . before it’s too late?

A few other books that have been heavily checked out in our library this year:

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

Can you love someone you can never touch?

Stella Grant likes to be in control—even though her totally out of control lungs have sent her in and out of the hospital most of her life. At this point, what Stella needs to control most is keeping herself away from anyone or anything that might pass along an infection and jeopardize the possibility of a lung transplant. Six feet apart. No exceptions.

The only thing Will Newman wants to be in control of is getting out of this hospital. He couldn’t care less about his treatments, or a fancy new clinical drug trial. Soon, he’ll turn eighteen and then he’ll be able to unplug all these machines and actually go see the world, not just its hospitals.

Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment.

What if they could steal back just a little bit of the space their broken lungs have stolen from them? Would five feet apart really be so dangerous if it stops their hearts from breaking too?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – 2 years on the list

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt. 
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

Internment by Samira Ahmed

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Speak the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Emily Carroll

“Speak up for yourself―we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless―an outcast―because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.

assessment, Be the change, testing

Dear STAR Test, We Need to Talk Again…

Three years ago, almost to this date, I wrote my first blog post about the STAR test, a test sold by Renaissance Learning and employed in thousands of districts across the United States. That post started a discussion with the people behind STAR and while I wish I could say that it created change, isn’t that after all what we always hope for, it didn’t. Three years later, on the eve of my final STAR reading test of the year, I return to those same questions, once again hoping for some clarity, some light to be shed on how this test can be sold as a valid assessment tool.

Because, dear STAR test, it just doesn’t seem like you have evolved much from when we first started together. That in the three years since I last wrote to you hoping for some answers, that you have changed much. I guess, I could count your fancy new interface as change, but really all that has done is cause me to spend more time searching for the things I need in order to try to figure out what my students’ results supposedly are and what they may mean. But the essence of you, a comprehensive reading test that will quickly give me an elaborate understanding of 46 reading skills in 11 different domains remains the same. And much like so many of your cousins, all of the other computer tests who are supposed to be useful in our instruction, I keep feeling like I get the short end of the stick. Like a fool when I tell my students to show off their knowledge, to prove to the computer what we already know; just how much they have grown, just how much stronger they are.

Because according to the tests today, I have pretty much made all of my students worse readers than when they started. Or amazing super readers whose results are so incredible I want to cry tears of joy. It happens every year it seems. That the computer test tells us that they exploded, or that they didn’t grow or in fact reversed their abilities, but the face-to-face tests tell us a different story. The conversations we assess in their book clubs that show deep critical analysis and understanding. The written depth of their knowledge as they explore what it means to think about others’ stories and how it may affect them. How we see them share books, read books, recommend books.

And so that old letter stands the test of time, which is why I am reposting it, because honestly, now three years later into this relationship, I am still wondering why I bother. Why I get my hopes up for reliable, useable date? Why I tell my students to try their hardest? Why we take the time to try to do it right? Because I want to believe in you, STAR, I really do, but at this point, I am just not sure you are worth my time.

So Dear STAR test, we need to talk…again

We first met five years ago, I was fresh out of a relationship with MAP, that stalwart older brother of yours that had taken up hours of my 5th graders time.  They took their time and the results were ok; sometimes, at least we thought so but we were not sure.  But oh the time MAP and I spent together that could have been used for so many better things.

So when I heard about you, STAR, and how you would give me 46 reading skills in 11 different domains in just 30 or so questions, I was intrigued.  After all, 34 timed questions meant that most of my students would spend about 20 or so minutes with you.  You promised me flexibility and adaptation to my students with your fancy language where you said you “…combine computer-adaptive technology with a specialized psychometric test design.”  While I am not totally sure what psychometric means, I was always a sucker for fancy words.   Game on.

With your fast-paced questions, I thought of all the time we would save.  After all, tests should be quick and painless so we can get on with things, right?  Except giving my students only 90 seconds to read a question and answer it correctly meant they got awfully good at skimming, skipping lines, and in general being more worried about timing out than being able to read the whole text.

In fact, every year I have a child in tears who tell me that the timer popped up when they were still reading, that their anxiety is peeking because of that timer.  (Fun fact, if a child times out of a question it is treated as incorrect).  For vocabulary, all they get is 45 seconds because either they know it or they don’t, never mind that some of my kids try to sound words out and double-check their answer all within those precious seconds, just like I have taught them to do.  I watched in horror as students’ anxiety grew.  In fact, your 90 second time limit on reading passages meant that students started to believe that being a great reader was all about speed.  Nevermind, that Thomas Newkirk’s research into reading pace tells us that we should strive for a comfortable pace and not a fast one.  So yes, being a slow reader= bad reader.  

And sure, we could just turn the time off except that is not a decision I am allowed to make as an educator because that is a power given to the administration level, not the individual. On a larger scale, the fact that the product even comes with a time limit should be debated further; what does time have to do with reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge besides the selling point of being able to administer it quickly or as you say “there are time limits for individual items intended to keep the test moving and maintain test security?” What does that do to bolster the validity of our test? How is that supported by best practice?

And so for some reason, year after year, I keep hoping that this will be the year where the data will truly be useful. Where I will gain knowledge that I can use to shape my teaching, isn’t that, after all, what the whole purpose of collecting data on our students is? But much like previous years, the results are a kaleidoscope of fragmented stories that refuse to fit together into a valid picture.  Students whose scores dropped 4 grade levels and students whose scores jumped 4 grade levels.  Students who made no growth at all.  Once again, I spend the day questioning my capabilities as a teacher because I don’t know what to take credit for.  Is it possible that I am the worst teacher ever to have taught 7th grade ELA or perhaps the best?  You confuse me, STAR, on so many occasions.  

As in previous year, students whose score differences are significant sometimes get to re-test, after all, perhaps they are just having a bad day?  And sure, sometimes they have gone up more than 250 points, all in the span of 24 hours, but other times they have dropped that amount as well.  That is a lot of unmotivated or “bad day” students apparently.   And yet, you tell me that your scores are reliable, and you’re not alone, many studies say you are too, yet that is simply not what we see every day in our classroom.  Although, this study (sponsored by you_did point out that you are most reliable between 1st and 4th grade, so where does that leave my 7th graders?

And last time I dug around your reports, I found that according to your own research at the 7th-grade reading level you only got a score of 0.73 retest reliability which you say is really good but to me doesn’t sound that way (page 54) 0.73 – shouldn’t it be closer to 1.0? If we look at the Cronbach’s Alpha Reliability that is only acceptable. And I guess that’s what I keep coming back to. Is your reliability simply measured as compared to other tests who are also problematic in their assessment methods and who we also know do not give us overly valid results?   Who knows, you would need a math degree to dig through your technical manual to make sense of all of the numbers.

Yet through all of this, you have dazzled me with your data, even know when I dig into your research I keep getting tripped up in your promises of reliable test scores, of comparable rest results, of scores that mean something, but what it is they actually mean, I am not quite sure of.  With all of the reports that I could print out and pour over.  Perhaps you were not accurate for all of my students, but certainly, you had to be for some.  It wasn’t until a long night spent pondering why some of my students’ scores were so low that I realized that in your 0.73 reliability lies my 0.27 insecurity.  After all, who are those kids whose scores are not reliable?   I could certainly guess but the whole point of having an accurate assessment means that I shouldn’t have to.  So it doesn’t feel like you are keeping up your end of the deal anymore, STAR test.  In fact, I am pretty sure that my own child will never make your acquaintance, at least not if we, her parents, have anything to say about it.

So dear STAR test, I love data as much as the next person.  I love reliable, accurate data that doesn’t stress my students out.  That doesn’t make them really quiet when they realize that perhaps they didn’t make the growth.  I love data that I can rely on and it turns out STAR, I just don’t think you fit that description, despite the efforts of those who take you.  Perhaps I should have realized that sooner when I saw your familial relationship with Accelerated Reader.  Don’t even get me started on that killer of reading joy.  You even mention it yourself in your technical manual that there may be measurements errors.  You said,  Measurement error causes students’ scores to fluctuate around their “true scores”. About half of all observed scores are smaller than the students’ true scores; the result is that some students’ capabilities are underestimated to some extent.”  Granted it wasn’t until page 81.  So you can wow me with all of your data reports.  With all of your breakdowns and your fancy graphs.  You can even try to woo me with your trend scores, your anticipated rate of growth and your national percentile rankings.  Your comparability scores to other state testing. But it is not enough, because none of that matters if I can’t count on you to provide me with accurate results. It doesn’t matter if I can’t trust what you tell me about my students.

So I wish  I could break up with you, but it seems we have been matched for the long run for now.  All I can be thankful for is that I work for a district that sees my students for more than just one test, for more than just their points because does anyone actually know what those points mean?  I can be so thankful that I work in a district that encourages us to use STAR as only one piece of the data puzzle, that chooses to see beyond it so we can actually figure out a child’s needs.   But I know I am lucky, not everyone that is with you has that same environment. So dear STAR, I wish you actually lived up to all of your fancy promises, but from this tired educator to you; it turns out I don’t need you to see if my students are reading better because I can just ask them, watch them, and see them grow as they pick up more and more books.  So that’s what I plan on doing rather than staring at your reports, because in the end, it’s not really you, it’s me.  I am only sorry it took me so long to realize it.

Best,

Pernille

PS: In case it needs to be spelled out, this post does not reflect the official view of my employer.

being a student, student choice, Student dreams, writing

A Few Ideas for Better Peer Editing

I became disillusioned with traditional peer editing a few years back after I had once again spent a long time coming up with a specific checklist for students to work through in order to help them strengthen their writing. I think this was my 10th version of said checklist, a list that was specific in its purpose, supposedly easy to follow, and exactly what we were working on. Almost every single student pairing blasted through the list and turned to me proudly to tell me that it all looked good, that they had now produced their very best draft, and that surely, there was nothing else they needed to fix.

And yet…when I inevitably peered over their shoulder, I saw the same mistakes. The same missed opportunities for discussion about their writing. Depsite the checklist. Despite all of my careful planning.

Move to 7th grade and I mention peer editing and all I am met with is groans. “Please not that, Mrs. Ripp…” and so as always, i would ask students to tell me more about their reaction and what they told me was the final nail in the coffin for my traditional way of doing peer editing.

We don’t trust our editors and writing is personal.

They just tell us it’s all good.

We don’t know how to help.

They don’t want my help.

I knew then that not only was I past the checklist days, but I had to change the whole writing community we had established in order to help them grow together as writers, a dream I am still working on year after year.

So in the past few years, we haven’t had a peer editing process per say, what we have done instead is focus on creating a writing community that is established early. A writing community that celebrates our writing, a writing community that (at times, because let’s be realistic here) doesn’t hate to write.

While this is still major work in progress for us, there are a few things we are proud of. These include:

  • The choice of who you work with in your writing. This way students start to see who can naturally help them with their writing rather than the constant forced pairings of years passed.
  • The choice of whether to continue revising/editing or to be done. Students know that when they see work as done, it often is, they then choose to either start a new piece or continue to work on the current one.
  • The understanding of the need for others’ eyes on your writing at times. The students we teach often ask each other naturally to look at their writing because they know that if they don’t, they will miss opportunities for growth. This is encouraged with built in time and conversation about what it means to be with fellow writers. Students are encouraged to share, read, and comment on each other’s writing when it makes sense to them. This is huge for ownership and lens of what they need.
  • The choice of whether to share or not. While students are expected to share some of their writing with the community, not all writing is for others. This has been a part of our foundation as it is important that students see their writing as theirs to own, not mine.
  • The choice to write poorly. It has been important for our students to understand that not all writing is going to be great. That sometimes what we are writing is not working, is not great, is not something we want to share. What we work on is getting past that feeling whether by abandoning a piece or working through it.

I know when I started writing books and realized what editing and writing communities really did for my writing, I know I wanted to emulate that in my classroom and yet for many of my students, they don’t see a purpose in their writing beyond the teacher telling them to get it done. This is why it has been such a long process for me because not only am I trying to get them to write better, but also to see power in their writing. This is also why I don’t write about our writing work very often because it is such a huge work in progress and I doubt my own ideas a lot, despite the growth I see.

So, the other day as we were finishing our This I Believe scripts, I turned to my learning community to see what else is out there for ideas in better writing partnerships, especially with an eye on revision, and I was not disappointed. There were so many great ideas and opportunities for growth shared that are helping me go further in my journey. So wherever you are in yours, perhaps some of these ideas will help you further develop your writing community as well. I know I have a lot of work to do with my current and incoming students as we continue to try to make our writing more meaningful.

This is yet another reason why I love social media so much, thank you so much to everyone who shared. There is a wealth of ideas here, many of them centered around the individual child’s identity as a writer and the vulnerability that is naturally involved when it comes to sharing what we have written with the world. And that for me is always the biggest piece; how will my students feel after they have shared their writing? Will they feel empowered or will they feel taken apart? Will it truly have transformed their writing or will it just be one more reason that they think they cannot write?

I know I have much to learn!

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being me

Dear @Pink

Dear Pink, or should I call you Alecia?

You don’t really know me, not much any way, not unless you count the few minutes last night that we met in a back hallway in the Fiserv Forum as you hugged my little girl, Thea, who is not so little any more, and told her about your own experiences with bullying and how we could not let them win.

I was Mama, the woman who stood there with tears in her eyes, not quite sure that the scene that unfolded in front of her was real. Not quite sure how we went from sitting in a seat waiting for you to come onstage, fulfilling one of our bucket list items together, to standing here in your presence. Trying to decide in that moment whether we deserved to be here with you, you who have given so much of yourself to the world already. You who fight for the under dog. You who say the words that so many of us want to but sometimes don’t have the courage to. Yet here we were, living out a dream, neither one of us had ever contemplated.

You saw my tweet celebrating that the bullies had not won. That we were going to use your concert as a way to celebrate that no matter what words they flung at Thea, no matter how hard they pushed, how hard they hit, how many times they chanted all of those ugly things, they would not win. That they did not win.

And so you gave us the most valuable thing you have; your time, and for those few minutes, you changed our lives, cementing a course we had already begun, but gave us the push to keep going. You saw us in our quietest but biggest moment of reclaiming. You saw us face those words that had kept us awake for so many nights. You saw the tears of what it feels like as a parent to not be able to defend your child, to not be able to make your child believe what you shout loudly all the time, you saw the love that we have for our children and how we would do anything to build them up.

But what you didn’t see last night after you gave us your time, was how Thea reacted. How at first, she couldn’t believe it. Neither of us could. After all, who would think that a tweet would lead us to hugs and talks to you? How we kept telling ourselves that this was real, that this had happened, that you were exactly what we thought you would be – passionate, caring, real.

But what you didn’t see last night, was my little girl, who like I said is not so little anymore, feel like she was truly somebody worthy. Feel like the past year, with all of its anger and tears was no longer her year, was no longer her defining moment. Was no longer the story she was writing.

What you didn’t see last night was when you talked about Thea on stage and then sang the song we had yelled at the top of our lungs so many times at home, that Thea had tears in her eyes. My girl, who does not cry unless she is hurt badly or very tired, stood their singing along with you from section 116, row 14, seat 1, screaming your words back at you, telling you that she believed it too.

Because that’s what meeting you did for her. It allowed her to believe that the words were meant for her. That all those times we sang “…change the voices in your head, make them like you instead…” we meant it. That those words were real and true and everything I , as her mother, wanted her to believe.

So when you sang, “Pretty, pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel, you are less than, less than perfect…” Thea reached for my hand, squeezed and then turned toward the world and sang. She knew the words were hers but sang loudly for the rest of the world to hear them as well. For all those kids who need those words. For all of the adults, including me, her mama, who needs them too.

So dear Pink, thank you. Not just for making the embers of what Thea is turn into a fire. Not just for giving us your time. Not just for being you and fighting for us all. But for telling Thea that what the bullies had tried to make her believe was simply not true. For allowing Thea to take a moment to tell you how she admires you. For telling Thea that she was beautiful.

And for giving me the reminder that we can all be more like you. That as a teacher, I get to tell the kids that are in my care every day, how amazing they are. How much they matter to the world. How with every moment I am with them, I can be like you, and help them see the beauty within themselves.

This morning as I drove Thea to school, she was unusually quiet. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she was so sad it was all over. That the night before had ended. But I realized that in that moment that she was wrong and I told her so.

I told her, “This is not the end, this is the beginning, your journey forward has just begun.”

And her smile came back and I dropped her off and I swear she floated as she walked.

So dear Pink, thank you. From one mama to another, thank you for what you did last night. Thank you for fighting for us all. Thank you for putting yourself out there so little girls, and not so little girls, can remember what it means to be unapologetically amazing. And for us who have been around a while to remember it too. We can be the light that shines on others. We can be the arms that reach out. We can keep going even when it burns because like we sang with you just last night, “…just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try…”

So that’s what we will do, keep trying. Keep believing. Keep living. Keep knowing that we are not broken, just bent…

Love,

Thea’s Mom

books, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement

So You’re in a Reading Slump, Now What?

Perhaps this has happened to you..

You know those books staring at you from your to-be-read list or reading shelf sounded good at some point, but right now, they just seem like work. Yet, you know that you should be reading, especially if you are someone who teaches reading and so you grab one, read a few pages and pretty quickly lose interest. You grab another one, only to lose interest again. The story repeats until your phone pleasantly dings and you find yourself surfing mindlessly, doing everything but reading longer texts, feeling the guilt build up.

Or perhaps you finished the most incredible book and now every other book pales in comparison.

Or perhaps you started an amazing series where the first book was thrilling but now on the second, or third, or fourth, it just seems to be dragging on.

Or perhaps you see that book that is okay staring at you, but you just can’t seem to find the time to actually read it and as the days drag on so does your memory of what actually happened.

Whatever the case, if you have found yourself in one of these situations (or many of them as I have), you have found yourself in a reading slump.

Perhaps life has gotten in the way.

Perhaps your energy level is just not there.

Perhaps it just doesn’t seem like there are any great books out there.

Whatever the case may be, this slump is one that you can get out of, it just may take a few tries.

First things first; identify what is causing the slump. Is it work getting in the way? Is it lack of energy? Is it that you cannot seem to find another great book? Finding the cause can help you navigate out because it involves identifying your own habits. What is causing you to dread or want to skip out on reading? What is making it seem like a chore rather than something you enjoy? If you are not sure what caused it, fear not, you can still try any of these ideas.

Try a different genre. I often fall into reading slumps when I have been reading the same thing for too long and it all seems really formulaic. This is a great time to make sure you don’t pick up another book like the last few you have tried and try something else. So what have you not been reading?

Try a new genre. Now is also a great time to try a genre that you don’t often read. Perhaps it has been a while since you last read historical fiction, or sports books, or a book about mermaids (yup, totally me) so now would be a great time to try exactly that. Do some research for the “best” book within a certain genre of the past year so that you can see what you have been missing out on and give it an honest go.

Try a new format. Perhaps now would be a great time to pull out audio books for your commute. Go to the library, download Overdrive or Audible and stack up on new reads. I recommend stacking up on a bunch of new audio cd’s and just trying them out as you are driving. Also, graphic novels and novels in verse are a great tool to get out of a slump, when life seems a bit overwhelming, I love to pull out a stack of them because I feel accomplished in my reading when I can get through one or two. Sometimes we need to boost our own self esteem as readers too.

Try a professional development book. At times, I need something that engages my brain in a different way which is why I always have a stack of professional development books ready to read or simply books that will teach me something. The change in pace and what I am getting from it is helpful as I try to restart my reading and the bonus is that it leaves me inspired.

Read outside of your field. I just read the book Keep Going by Austin Kleon which is meant for artists and yet as an educator, I loved the book’s simple message of self care and preservation of creative strengths. Even though the book was not necessarily geared toward me in my life, it was still a meaningful read. Don’t let your own interests and limits narrow your choices.

Give it 20 minutes. When I don’t feel particularly inspired to read, I set a timer. If I read for 20 minutes then I can decide whether I want to read the book some more or let it go. While this doesn’t always pull me out of my slump, it does help me stay in the habit of reading and at least my to-be-read shelf gets smaller as I pick up new books to try.

Commit to something. Joining a book club, whether virtually or live, is a great way to get excited about books again, and once again, it doesn’t have to be for serious reasons. There is something super fun in coming together with other adults who are purposefully seeking out enjoyable reads.

Ask your students what you should read. I share my book slumps proudly with students and ask them for their best recommendations to get me out of the slump. I love how some of them get invested in trying to convince me that the book they are recommending is the best book to read, they also add a layer of accountability to keep me reading, even when I would rather watch The Office reruns.

I asked educators what other tips they had for this and boy was I not disappointed. Here are some of the many tips that I received, some that I will for sure be trying out myself. Thank you to everyone who responded.

Amanda Potts wrote, “Sometimes I return to an old fave, something where I can take a dip or a deep dive; or I switch genres, read along w/a student or my kids, allow myself to start book after book until I (inevitably) get hooked. Library holds => pressure to finish before they are due, that helps.”

Alice Faye Duncan wrote, “I visit museums. During the exploration, I will encounter intriguing and unknown (to me) artists that send me off on a trail of discovery. This is how I unearthed books about Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas, and Kerry James Marshall. Museums are my gateway drug to intoxicating books.”

Scott Fillner wrote, “What has worked for me before, is to go to a library and hang out in the picture books. Finding new treasures, reading old favorites, and thinking about people who could use these stories. #SlumpBuster”

L. Suzanne Shanks wrote, “Simply fun “Junk Food” books, especially audiobooks, to get the relaxation, escape & joy back. Also, reading when I am tired is pure frustration so the rare gift of reading when refreshed works for me.”

Ariel Jankord wrote, “Carrying a book with me everywhere I go is huge! Instead of whipping out my phone to pass the time, I pull out a book!”

Trish Richardson wrote, “I set a goal of reading the short list of the Canada Reads recommendations. Also, every time I wanted to reach for my phone to check Twitter, Instagram or Facebook I would make myself read for 15 minutes before. The books took over.”

Beth Shaum wrote, “Read a book WITH someone so you have someone to talk to about it. I enacted bookclubs with my 6th graders this year because they were NOT having silent reading, so I worked with their natural curiosity and chattiness.”

Dr. Shari Daniels wrote, “I use @donalynbooks strategies – set reachable small goals, carry a book with me everywhere I go, read in the edges of time to keep my head in the story. Often, for me, it’s getting my “reading brain” back.”

Jay Nickerson wrote, “For me, it’s often a matter of a comfort book, like a Jack Reacher, or licensed property. Other times, I grab what someone else is reading. Poetry collections, comics, short stories, magazines are all nice bridges between books.”

Jaymie Dieterle, “I usually pick up an old favorite and re-read – or I let the slump be. I do other things for a couple days – Tv, movies, etc – and then try again. I try to take the pressure off the slump and be okay with not reading for a couple days.”

And the amazing Donalyn Miller wrote this great post with even more ideas.

What did we miss?

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

books, Literacy, motivation, Reading, Reading Identity, student driven, Student Engagement

On Being Demanding Readers

“Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.” (Kamil, 2003 via ASCD).

These words have traveled the world with me for the past few years and yet every time I come to this slide in my presentation on helping students become and remain passionate readers, it still stops me. No matter how many times I see it, it still strikes me as vital, as something that we often skim over when the content piles up, when the year gets rolling, when our plates get full. And yet, if there is something that teaching middle schoolers has taught me, it is that if I ignore their innate sense of purposeful reading (or purposeful learning overall), then I will never be successful in convincing many of them that reading is worthwhile.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I know that students also need to be taught the specific skills of reading in order to be successful readers, yet I have continued to remind myself and others that skills will never be enough. That if we do not carve out time to work on the motivation of reading, to work on what it means to find a book that speaks to you in a new way, on what it means to select a book that entices us with possibility, then all the skills teaching in the world will never be enough.

And so, we teach our students to be demanding readers. For those who seem to never find success within their book selection, to first take the time it takes to throughly bookshop, not because they cannot wait to dismiss all of the books, but because so often they pick up a random book with no investment, no recognition of themselves as a reader within its pages. When students don’t know how to select a book for themselves we often hand them stacks, I do this often, yet if we don’t also engage them in a conversation about who they are as a reader, then we rob them of the chance of discovering the answer to that question. We keep them in a cycle of reliance on others. This means that students must take the time it sometimes takes to properly browse through books coupled with a continued reflection on themselves, yet often, my students who don’t like reading much would rather rush.

We also teach our students that demanding excellence from their choice of books is not something to be ashamed of. That they deserve to find a book that speaks to them. That yes, they should take a chance on a book that they perhaps never considered, but they should also be okay with letting a book go, in order to continue shopping. This delicate balance is one we work through. Some kids end up stuck in the book shopping loop and so we change the conversation surrounding them ,whereas others continue to just grab and go and then wonder why that book didn’t work.

So we tell our students, our children, that they should want to read the book they select, but in order to get there, they first need to know themselves. They should see this reading year as a reading journey meant to uncover their likes and dislikes, their quirks and their strengths. That they should see this reading year as a continuation of the journey they have already been on, one where they should want to become something more than they were before. That they need to figure out the tools they can use for when they leave us.

I do this through continued reflection on who they are as a reader. We do this as we continue to share book recommendations. They do this as they continue to rank books in order to reflect on what made a book “amazing” versus a book that was just “ok.” We keep the conversation going in order for them to see when they are motivated to read and when they are not.

It takes time.

It takes patience.

It takes thought.

It takes reflection.

And it takes persistence that they demand excellence out of their books. That they should be able to recognize when a book does not get them more motivated to read. That they should be okay with saying this book is not for me, in order to find something that will be for them. That they should not settle into the dangerous habit of finding only ok books in order to keep themselves reading and the adults off their backs.

It works, perhaps not for all (after all, what does?) but for many, who for whatever reason had yet to have this very conversation, this very experience.

So if I want our readers to continue to be motivated to read beyond our days together, then that has to come from them. It has to be intrinsic. Not because I told them they had to read, after all, what power does my voice really have, but because they have seen the value of reading and want to invest in it. That they leave our year together or the years in their lives spent in school, knowing that there are incredible books waiting to be discovered by them if only they keep searching. I want our students to be hungry for more when they leave. I want them to demand excellence.

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.