One2One Programming

When founder Stefan Van Voorst started One2One 10 years ago he had one goal in mind, facilitating intentional relationships. One2One is founded upon the belief that intentional relationships create change, and build communities “research shows that nearly every aspect of health and well-being improves for individuals and communities that are connected” (One2one.org). With this in mind, One2One began as a school-based mentor program that matched college students with 5th-9th graders in Brooklyn Park schools as a way to facilitate intentional one-on-one relationships and build connection.

Treasure & Joy
Naseeb & Anggi

While we had considerable success with our mentor-to-mentee model and the goal to facilitate intentional relationships remains the same, the Covid-19 pandemic and social injustices occurring in our communities has had a major impact on us all but especially on our youth. Because of this, One2One thought that we should adapt our model to better meet the expanding needs of our youth. We began this transition when we brought in our five Changemakers over the summer and provided them with the tools and resources to successfully facilitate conversations and cultivate intentional relationships with their peers. With the knowledge they gained, our changemakers helped us facilitate several consensus workshops with their peers from various Minneapolis / St. Paul neighborhoods on the topics of public safety and community values.

Workshop with students from Bethel University on Community Values

The overwhelming positive response from our summer workshop participants on their experiences encouraged us to head into the 2021-22 school year with a new peer-to-peer model. This model focuses on building intentional relationships between the youth and their peers and within their communities. We noticed that when we focus on building and strengthening the relationships the younger generations have with one another, their connections have real power to dismantle the barriers that divide us.

Now, One2One is currently in the process of implementing a program using the new peer-to-peer model at one school that we’ve consistently worked with in the past, North View Middle School. This program will prioritize facilitating intentional relationships between the students at North View because we believe they are the ones capable of creating the school culture and community they desire. To assist in facilitating the program, we kept on two of our changemakers who will utilize the skills and tools they learned over the summer. Through the use of our ERIC model, fun daily activities, interactive consensus workshops, in-depth conversations, leadership development and more, One2One aims to facilitate intentional relationships, prioritize the needs of the students, and empower and magnify their voices within their school and communities.

I hope you enjoyed this spotlight. If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

A Spotlight on English Language Arts

At North View Middle School we believe that teaching and learning approaches should accommodate the diverse skills, abilities, and prior knowledge of young adolescents, cultivate multiple intelligences, draw upon students’ individual learning styles, and utilize digital tools. When learning experiences capitalize on students’ cultural, experiential, and personal backgrounds, new concepts are built on knowledge students already possess. To ensure this happens, we use the nature of young adolescents to guide our instructional decision-making.

Because of this belief, our teachers spend a considerable creating engaging learning opportunities. These opportunities occur in all classes and today I would like to use this post to highlight science.

Grade 6
6th graders are enjoying a book together, Ghetto Cowboy, a story about the unlikely circumstances of Black Cowboys, kids, and horses set in a North Philly urban neighborhood. In addition, students are collaborating in multiple experiences with Reader’s Theater and Repeating Readings to improve confidence and execution of reading fluency. Lastly, 6th graders have been independently reading and journaling since school started. We have been busy!!

Grade 7
7th graders have been working on personal speeches as an introduction to our “Who Am I?” unit, working on fluency through repeated reading every week, and reading in class daily.

Grade 8

In eighth grade, students learned about the many book genres. By knowing the different types of genres, students can identify what types of books they like the best and expand their reading horizons as well. It’s important to have favorite genres and read those genres; reading other genres, though, helps students step outside their comfort zones, which helps in making new discoveries and shifting perspectives.

8th graders also participated in Book Speed Dating in North View’s Media Center, where they found the love of their lives – in a book! We continue to read daily in class, and it is the expectation that students read at home for 30 minutes a day

Currently, 8th-grade students are working on the unit “Defining America.” Students are learning new vocabulary words, how to figure out the meaning of words they don’t know, analyzing different perspectives on the American experience, and learning to work collaboratively.

I hope you enjoyed this spotlight. If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

Need a Good Book to Read?

At North View Middle School we believe that our student’s education does not end when the school bell rings. Because of this belief, I would like to use this post to recommend books for your middle-level learner to engage with at home. Please read the information provided by Allison Sirovy, an 8th grade English teacher at North View Middle School, below to put a great book in your student’s hands.

My Favorites (from the past six months)

Hey, friends!I’ve written a few blog posts over the past six months but haven’t shared what I’ve been reading, and I have read some fabulous books since late last winter. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorites since last February. 
What I Carry 
by Jennifer Longo  
* Young adult – 7th grade and up

Growing up in foster care, Muir has lived in many houses. And if she’s learned one thing, it is to Pack. Light.Carry only what fits in a suitcase.
Toothbrush? Yes.
Socks? Yes.
Emotional attachment to friends? foster families? a boyfriend? Nope!
There’s no room for any additional baggage.
Muir has just one year left before she ages out of the system. One year before she’s free. One year to avoid anything–or anyone–that could get in her way.

Then she meets Francine. And Kira. And Sean.

And everything changes. 
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf* Young adult – 8th grade and up


A music-loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey     * Adult Book – okay for 8th grade and up


At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia     * Young adult – 8th grade and up

An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism.

This astonishing novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.

1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s indifference, to sit for a portrait.

But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. Stories that span generations, from the big house to out in the fields, of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved. 
Middletown by Sarah Moon     * Middle grade – 6th grade and up

Thirteen-year-old Eli likes baggy clothes, baseball caps, and one girl in particular. Her seventeen-year-old sister Anna is more traditionally feminine; she loves boys and staying out late. They are sisters, and they are also the only family each can count on. Their dad has long been out of the picture, and their mom lives at the mercy of her next drink. When their mom lands herself in enforced rehab, Anna and Eli are left to fend for themselves. With no legal guardian to keep them out of foster care, they take matters into their own hands: Anna masquerades as Aunt Lisa, and together she and Eli hoard whatever money they can find. But their plans begin to unravel as quickly as they were made, and they are always way too close to getting caught.

Eli and Anna have each gotten used to telling lies as a means of survival, but as they navigate a world without their mother, they must learn how to accept help, and let other people in.
Linked by Gordon Korman* Middle grade – 6th grade and up

Link, Michael, and Dana live in a quiet town. But it’s woken up very quickly when someone sneaks into school and vandalizes it with a swastika. Nobody can believe it. How could such a symbol of hate end up in the middle of their school? Who would do such a thing?

Because Michael was the first person to see it, he’s the first suspect. Because Link is one of the most popular guys in school, everyone’s looking to him to figure it out. And because Dana’s the only Jewish girl in the whole town, everyone’s treating her more like an outsider than ever.

The mystery deepens as more swastikas begin to appear. Some students decide to fight back and start a project to bring people together instead of dividing them further. The closer Link, Michael, and Dana get to the truth, the more there is to face-not just the crimes of the present, but the crimes of the past.
My Vanishing Country by Bakari Sellers     * Adult book – but 8th grade and up is fine

Part memoir, part historical and cultural analysis, My Vanishing Country is an eye-opening journey through the South’s past, present, and future.

Anchored in in Bakari Sellers’ hometown of Denmark, South Carolina, Country illuminates the pride and pain that continues to fertilize the soil of one of the poorest states in the nation. He traces his father’s rise to become a friend of Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King, a civil rights hero, and a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), to explore the plight of the South’s dwindling rural, black working class―many of whom can trace their ancestry back for seven generations.

In his poetic personal history, we are awakened to the crisis affecting the other “Forgotten Men & Women,” who the media seldom acknowledges. For Sellers, these are his family members, neighbors, and friends. He humanizes the struggles that shape their lives: to gain access to healthcare as rural hospitals disappear; to make ends meet as the factories they have relied on shut down and move overseas; to hold on to precious traditions as their towns erode; to forge a path forward without succumbing to despair.

My Vanishing Country is also a love letter to fatherhood―to Sellers’ father, his lodestar, whose life lessons have shaped him, and to his newborn twins, who he hopes will embrace the Sellers family name and honor its legacy.

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan, adapted by Hilary Beard for young adults     * Young adult – 7th grade and up


One of the worst acts of racial violence in American history took place in 1921, when a White mob numbering in the thousands decimated the thriving Black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Burning recreates Greenwood at the height of its prosperity, explores the currents of hatred, racism, and mistrust between its Black residents and Tulsa’s White population, narrates events leading up to and including Greenwood’s devastation, and documents the subsequent silence that surrounded this tragedy. Delving into history that’s long been pushed aside, this is the true story of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre, with updates that connect the historical significance of the massacre to the ongoing struggle for racial justice in America.

This adaptation is for ages 12-18.
List of Ten by Halli Gomez     * Young adult – 7th grade and up

A harrowing yet hopeful account of a teen living with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder . . . and contemplating his own mortality.

Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. No big deal, right? But for Troy Hayes, a 16-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number ten dictates his life, forcing him to do everything by its exacting rhythm. Finally, fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain he endures, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a smart, beautiful classmate who has her own troubled history. Khory unwittingly helps Troy cross off items on his list, moving him ever closer to his grand finale, even as she shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. This is a dark, intense story, but it’s also realistic, hopeful, and deeply authentic. 
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna     * Young adult – 7th grade and up

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed     * Middle grade – 6th grade and up

Heartbreak and hope exist together in this remarkable graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.

Omar and his little brother, Hassan, arrived in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, seven years ago. Their father was killed the day they left home, and they haven’t seen their mother since they joined their neighbors who were fleeing to Dadaab. Now Omar is eleven and Hassan is nine, and Omar has quit school to look after his brother, who has an intellectual disability.

When Omar is given the opportunity to return to school and carve out a future for himself and Hassan, he feels torn. He loves school and could have the opportunity to earn a coveted scholarship to a North American university–and with it a visa for himself and Hassan. But is it worth the risk and heartache of leaving his vulnerable brother for hours each day?

Told in Victoria Jamieson’s engaging and accessible graphic-novel style and based on Omar Mohamed’s gripping true story, this book is an intimate, important look at day-to-day life in a refugee camp. 

The Brave by James Bird     * Middle grade – 6th grade and up

The Brave is about a boy with an OCD issue and his move to a reservation to live with his biological mother.

Collin can’t help himself—he has a unique condition that finds him counting every letter spoken to him. It’s a quirk that makes him a prime target for bullies, and a continual frustration to the adults around him, including his father.

When Collin asked to leave yet another school, his dad decides to send him to live in Minnesota with the mother he’s never met. She is Ojibwe, and lives on a reservation. Collin arrives in Duluth with his loyal dog, Seven, and quickly finds his mom and his new home to be warm, welcoming, and accepting of his condition.

Collin’s quirk is matched by that of his neighbor, Orenda, girl who lives mostly in her treehouse and believes she is turning into a butterfly. With Orenda’s help, Collin works hard to overcome his challenges. His real test comes when he must step up for his new friend and trust his new family.

You can learn more about great books for middle school students and connect with Alison Sirovy here.


If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

School Spotlight

You can see read the full CCX article by clicking here!

Need a Good Book to Read?

At North View Middle School we believe that our student’s education does not end when the school bell rings. Because of this belief, I would like to use this post to recommend books for your middle-level learner to engage with at home. Please read the information provided by Allison Sirovy, an 8th grade English teacher at North View Middle School, below to put a great book in your student’s hands.

When All of Us Need to Be Seen and Heard

I teach eighth grade and have taught middle school for over 20 years, so I’ve had the blessing of working with many diverse students in my classroom – different races, different religions, different socioeconomic classes, different countries, different languages, and different sexualities and genders. All of my students have wanted to be seen and heard, and being an English teacher, I have the privilege of sharing “windows and mirror” books with my students. The “windows and mirrors” concept comes from Rudine Sims Bishop. 

From Reading is Fundamental (rif.org)  

Most books used to be written by and for straight white people. That is changing – although publishers don’t publish as many diverse authors yet, but that is a subject for another time. With this change comes a much better selection for my students to read books that are windows and mirrors, yet my students who identify as LGBTQ+ can have difficulties finding books to which they can relate and my students who don’t identify as LGBTQ+ don’t have as many opportunities to read perspectives different from theirs. 

So, to celebrate PRIDE month, this blog post is dedicated to all of my wonderful LGBTQ+ students past and present. I love you for you. 


Here are some of the books I have read recently (or have read in the past but loved) and recommend. Thanks for reading!

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever. 

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead 
After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.

When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”

As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy. 

The Henna Wars by Adiba JaigirdarNishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender 
Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy—that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family. 

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda goes to Italy in Arvin Ahmadi’s newest incisive look at identity and what it means to find yourself by running away.

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew coming out to his Muslim family would be messy–he just didn’t think it would end in an airport interrogation room. But when faced with a failed relationship, bullies, and blackmail, running away to Rome is his only option. Right?

Soon, late nights with new friends and dates in the Sistine Chapel start to feel like second nature… until his old life comes knocking on his door. Now, Amir has to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a U.S. Customs officer, or risk losing his hard-won freedom.

At turns uplifting and devastating, How It All Blew Up is Arvin Ahmadi’s most powerful novel yet, a celebration of how life’s most painful moments can live alongside the riotous, life-changing joys of discovering who you are. 
Other books by Adam Silvera: http://www.adamsilvera.com/

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship–the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

You can learn more about great books for middle school students and connect with Alison Sirovy here.


If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

A Spotlight on Science

At North View Middle School we believe that teaching and learning approaches should accommodate the diverse skills, abilities, and prior knowledge of young adolescents, cultivate multiple intelligences, draw upon students’ individual learning styles, and utilize digital tools. When learning experiences capitalize on students’ cultural, experiential, and personal backgrounds, new concepts are built on knowledge students already possess. To ensure this happens, we use the nature of young adolescents to guide our instructional decision-making.

Because of this belief, our teachers spend a considerable creating engaging learning opportunities. These opportunities occur in all classes and today I would like to use this post to highlight science.

6th and 8th grade Earth Science:

At the end of April, students embarked on a mission  to create an emergency response plan for a community living near an active volcano.  This plan included the completion of a brochure that outlined the precautions and preparations the community should take before, during and after a volcanic eruption. Creativity was encouraged.  Many of our students went above and beyond when creating their brochures.  They were beautiful. A few examples are below. Be sure to click each photo for a closer look.

Bruce: 

Jady:

7th Grade Life Science

At the beginning of May, students started their last unit on Ecology. Ecology is the study of how living things interact with their environment. We studied the Levels of Ecology, the 6 major Biomes found around the world, Symbiotic Relationships between animals and how Energy Flows within an ecosystem. See the animal brochures for more information on all of these topics!

Lucas:

Eily:

Musa:

I hope you enjoyed this spotlight. If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

Need a Good Book to Read?

At North View Middle School we believe that our student’s education does not end when the school bell rings. Because of this belief, I would like to use this post to recommend books for your middle-level learner to engage with at home. Please read the information provided by Allison Sirovy, an 8th grade English teacher at North View Middle School, below to put a great book in your student’s hands.

Reading Quiets the Mind; Reading Opens the Mind

We are slowly coming out the other side of this awful pandemic after 14 months of being cooped up in our homes, wearing masks when we are out and about, and staying away from our family and friends. Back on March 14, I thought we’d be dealing with this virus for a few weeks and then moving on. That was not the case, and the virus led us humans to become suspicious of each other, fearful of each other, and unkind to one another. The virus fueled a hate that had be simmering below the surface for many years. 

At the start of the pandemic, I could not read a book. I didn’t have the mental capacity or stamina for it, yet I knew that books would be my saving grace if I could let myself back into their wonders. I allowed myself time to slowly begin engaging with books last spring, and those books quieted my mind. Those books allowed me to leave the world we were currently living. Those books gave me back my sanity in a world filled with news about the virus. Those books were my lifeline. It wasn’t easy reading during that time, but I made myself read knowing that’s what my heart and mind needed.

Although the summer seemed a little better in terms of the virus, it wasn’t gone (or soon-to-be gone), and Americans distrust and fear toward one another only spiraled into hate and scapegoating. To be honest, I didn’t know how we would make it as a country with such vitriol, too many hate-crimes (one is too much), and the racism our country has never figured out how to deal with. Again, I kept my nose buried in books. I read books about different races, different political viewpoints, different religions, different sexualities, different everything, so I could share with others what I was reading and to help them understand that reading also opens our minds. My one goal in life is to get people to read more and to read more diverse books. I truly believe people can read their way out of ignorance. (Maybe that’s a bit idealistic, but that’s me.)

In honor of books quieting the mind and opening minds, here are the books I have read since the end of February (in order of oldest to most-recently read).

Written in Starlight (Woven in Moonlight #2) by Isabel Ibañez

If the jungle wants you, it will have you…

Catalina Quiroga is a Condesa without a country. She’s lost the Inkasisa throne, the loyalty of her people, and her best friend. Banished to the perilous Yanu Jungle, Catalina knows her chances of survival are slim, but that won’t stop her from trying to escape. It’s her duty to reclaim the throne.

When Manuel, the son of her former general, rescues Catalina from a jaguar, a plan forms. Deep in the jungle, the city of gold is hidden, home to the fierce Illari people, who she could strike an alliance with.

But the elusive Illari are fighting a battle of their own—a mysterious blight is corrupting the jungle, laying waste to everything they hold dear. As a seer, Catalina should be able to help, but her ability to read the future in the stars is as feeble as her survival instincts. While searching for the Illari, Catalina must reckon with her duty and her heart to find her true calling, which could be the key to stopping the corruption before it destroys the jungle completely.

(Grade 6 and up)

The Brave by James Bird 

Collin can’t help himself—he has a unique condition that finds him counting every letter spoken to him. It’s a quirk that makes him a prime target for bullies, and a continual frustration to the adults around him, including his father.

When Collin asked to leave yet another school, his dad decides to send him to live in Minnesota with the mother he’s never met. She is Ojibwe, and lives on a reservation. Collin arrives in Duluth with his loyal dog, Seven, and quickly finds his mom and his new home to be warm, welcoming, and accepting of his condition.

Collin’s quirk is matched by that of his neighbor, Orenda, girl who lives mostly in her treehouse and believes she is turning into a butterfly. With Orenda’s help, Collin works hard to overcome his challenges. His real test comes when he must step up for his new friend and trust his new family.

(Grade 6 and up)

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed 

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

(Grade 6 and up)

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey 

For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind. 

(Grade 7 and up)

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward 

‘…And then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and when we came to get the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.’ Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth–and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue high education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity.

(Adult book but accessible for high school and up)

The Truth Project by Dante Medema 

Seventeen-year-old Cordelia Koenig was sure of many things going into her last year of high school. For one, she wasn’t going to stress over the senior project all her peers were dreading—she’d just use the same find-your-roots genealogy idea that her older sister used for hers. Secondly, she’d put all that time spent not worrying about the project toward getting reacquainted with former best friend and longtime crush Kodiak Jones who, conveniently, gets assigned as Cordelia’s partner.

All she has to do is mail in her DNA sample, write about her ancestry results and breeze through the rest of senior year. Done, done and done.

But when Cordelia’s GeneQuest results reveal that her father is not the man she thought he was but a stranger who lives thousands of miles away, Cordelia realizes she isn’t sure of anything anymore—not the mother who lied, the life she was born into or the girl staring back at her in the mirror.

If your life began with a lie, how can you ever be sure of what’s true? 

(Grade 7 and up)

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #2) by Holly Jackson

The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder! More dark secrets are exposed in this addictive, true-crime fueled mystery.

Pip is not a detective anymore.

With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared, on the very same night the town hosted a memorial for the sixth-year anniversary of the deaths of Andie Bell and Sal Singh.

The police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time everyone is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late? 

(Grade 7 and up)

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar 

Fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson will identify with this powerful story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship.

Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time. 

(Mature Grade 8 and up)

Once Upon a Quinceañara by Monica Gomez-Hira

Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently “happily ever after” for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship! All she has to do is perform! In a ball gown! During the summer. In Miami.

Fine. Except that Carmen’s company is hired for her spoiled cousin Ariana’s over the top quinceañera.

And of course, her new dance partner at work is none other than Mauro Reyes, Carmen’s most deeply regrettable ex.

If Carmen is going to move into the future she wants, she needs to leave the past behind. And if she can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off Mauro’s texts, and stopping Ariana from ruining her own quinceañera Carmen might just get that happily ever after after all.

(Grade 7 and up)

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le 

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

(Grade 7 and up)

Neighborhood Girls by Jessie Ann Foley

When Wendy Boychuck’s father, a Chicago cop, was escorted from their property in handcuffs for his shady criminal practices, she knew her life would never be the same. Her father gets a years-long jail sentence, her family falls on hard times, and the whispers around town are impossible to ignore. If that wasn’t bad enough, she gets jumped walking home from a party one night. Wendy quickly realizes that in order to survive her father’s reputation, she’ll have to make one for herself.

Then Wendy meets Kenzie Quintana—a cigarette-smoking, Catholic-school-uniform-skirt-hiking alpha—and she knows that she’s met her savior. Kenzie can provide Wendy with the kind of armor a girl needs when she’s trying to outrun her father’s past. Add two more mean girls to the mix—Sapphire and Emily—and Wendy has found herself in Academy of the Sacred Heart’s most feared and revered clique. Makeover complete.

(Grade 7 and up)

Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf 

Rachel died at two a.m . . . Three hours after Skyler kissed me for the first time. Forty-five minutes after she sent me her last text.

Jaycee and Rachel were best friends. But that was before. . .before that terrible night at the old house. Before Rachel shut Jaycee out. Before Jaycee chose Skyler over Rachel. Then Rachel is found dead. The police blame a growing gang problem in their small town, but Jaycee is sure it has to do with that night at the old house. Rachel’s text is the first clue—starting Jaycee on a search that leads to a shocking secret. Rachel’s death was no random crime, and Jaycee must figure out who to trust before she can expose the truth.

In the follow-up to her powerful debut, Jennifer Shaw Wolf keeps readers on their toes in another dark, romantic story of murder and secrets.
But complete is far from what Wendy feels. Instead, she faces the highs and lows of a vapid, toxic friendship, the exhaustion that comes with keeping up appearances, and the only loss that could hurt more than losing herself. 

(Grade 8 and up)

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity. 

(Adult book but easy to understand: High school and up)

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna 

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

(Grade 7 and up)

Angry Management by Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher fills these three stories with raw emotion. They are about insecurity, anger, and prejudice. But they are also about love, freedom, and power. About surviving. And hope.

Every kid in this group wants to fly. Every kid in this group has too much ballast.

Mr. Nak’s Angry Management group is a place for misfits. A place for stories. And, man, does this crew have stories.

There’s Angus Bethune and Sarah Byrnes, who can hide from everyone but each other. Together, they will embark on a road trip full of haunting endings and glimmering beginnings.

And Montana West, who doesn’t step down from a challenge. Not even when the challenge comes from her adoptive dad, who’s leading the school board to censor the article she wrote for the school paper.

And straightlaced Matt Miller, who had never been friends with outspoken genius Marcus James. Until one tragic week—a week they’d do anything to change—brings them closer than Matt could have ever imagined. 

(Grade 7 and up)

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland 

A Mexican American teen discovers profound connections between immigration, folklore, and alien life.

It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”

Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.

Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.

As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous. 

(Grade 7 and up)

List of Ten by Halli Gomez

A harrowing yet hopeful account of a teen living with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder . . . and contemplating his own mortality.

Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. No big deal, right? But for Troy Hayes, a 16-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number ten dictates his life, forcing him to do everything by its exacting rhythm. Finally, fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain he endures, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a smart, beautiful classmate who has her own troubled history. Khory unwittingly helps Troy cross off items on his list, moving him ever closer to his grand finale, even as she shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. This is a dark, intense story, but it’s also realistic, hopeful, and deeply authentic. 

(Grade 7 and up)

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Known amongst the locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie Moraine wants more out of life than The Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her conscience, her loyalties, and her darkest fears. Caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld, Josie must choose — between who she is now and who she longs to become, between when to hold on and how to let go.

With characters and atmosphere reminiscent of the great Southern novels, Ruta Sepetys creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that our decisions shape our destiny. 

(Grade 8 and up)

You can learn more about great books for middle school students and connect with Alison Sirovy here.


If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

Need a Good Book to Read?

At North View Middle School we believe that our student’s education does not end when the school bell rings. Because of this belief, I would like to use this post to recommend books for your middle-level learner to engage with at home. Please read the information provided by Allison Sirovy, an 8th grade English teacher at North View Middle School, below to put a great book in your student’s hands.

Don’t Get It

This post has me heavy-hearted. I’m not writing much in the beginning of this post because this post isn’t about me. It’s about Asian Americans. It’s about Black Americans. It’s about Latino Americans. It’s about all the groups in our country that still continue to bear too much – too much hate, too much racism, too much everything. As I was speaking to my husband this morning after reading a story about a white woman who yelled racist comments to Asian American families at a school bus stop in St. Paul yesterday, I told him, “I just don’t get it.” I don’t understand how people can be so hateful and filled with such animosity. I don’t understand how a white man can enter a business and gun down Asian Americans, mostly women. I don’t get it. At. All. 

You may be thinking, “I would never do those things, so I’m not racist.” But what private thoughts do you have when you encounter someone different from you? Someone who dresses in a different fashion? Someone who speaks another language? Someone whose culture is different from yours? Someone whose religion is different from yours? Someone whose hair is different from yours? Someone who you just consider different? 

One way to counteract this hate is to read, read, and read some more. Read perspectives that are different from yours. Have an open mind. Try to walk in someone else’s shoes. Open your eyes to your privilege. For the love of god, stop hating!

Here are some books that will help you and your children along the journey.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang (8th grade and up, mature) 

Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.

Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.

Front Desk (and sequel Three Keys) by Kelly Yang (middle school and up)

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (7th grade and up) 

“All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.

We are not free.
But we are not alone.” 

We Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.
Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.
Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.
In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (adult book, high school and up)

‘…And then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling; and when we came to get the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.’ Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life, to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth–and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue high education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. 

Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri (middle school and up)

At the front of a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, a boy named Khosrou (whom everyone calls “Daniel”) stands, trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. To them he is a dark-skinned, hairy-armed boy with a big butt whose lunch smells funny; who makes things up and talks about poop too much.

But Khosrou’s stories, stretching back years, and decades, and centuries, are beautiful, and terrifying, from the moment he, his mother, and sister fled Iran in the middle of the night, stretching all the way back to family tales set in the jasmine-scented city of Isfahan, the palaces of semi-ancient kings, and even the land of stories.

We bounce between a school bus of kids armed with paper clip missiles and spitballs, to the heroines and heroes of Kosrou’s family’s past, who ate pastries that made them weep, and touched carpets woven with precious gems.

Like Scheherazade in a hostile classroom, author Daniel Nayeri weaves a tale of Khosrou trying to save his own life: to stake his claim to the truth. And it is (a true story).

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (graphic novel, middle school and up)

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day.

Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (adult book, 11th grade and up) 

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez (8th grade and up)

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pulga has his dreams.
Chico has his grief.
Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home.
Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.
In this powerful story inspired by current events, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to painful, poignant, vivid life. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

This Is My America by Kim Johnson (7th grade and up) 

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (8th grade and up, mature)

“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti (8th grade and up, mature) 

Each step in Annabelle’s 2,700-mile cross-country run brings her closer to facing a trauma from her past in National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti’s novel about the heart, all the ways it breaks, and its journey to healing. Because sometimes against our will, against all odds, we go forward.

Then…
Annabelle’s life wasn’t perfect, but it was full—full of friends, family, love. And a boy…whose attention Annabelle found flattering and unsettling all at once.

Until that attention intensified.

Now…
Annabelle is running. Running from the pain and the tragedy from the past year. With only Grandpa Ed and the journal she fills with words she can’t speak out loud, Annabelle runs from Seattle to Washington, DC and toward a destination she doesn’t understand but is determined to reach. With every beat of her heart, every stride of her feet, Annabelle steps closer to healing—and the strength she discovers within herself to let love and hope back into her life.

Annabelle’s journey is the ultimate testament to the human heart, and how it goes on after being broken. 

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (middle school and up)

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward. 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (adult book, young adult book available)

An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.

Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.

One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.

A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin (adult, 8th grade and up) 

Essays that challenge, discomfort, disorient, galvanize, and inspire all of us to evolve now, for our shared future.

You can learn more about great books for middle school students and connect with Alison Sirovy here.


If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal. 

A Spotlight On Counseling

North View Middle School has become one of the first schools in Minnesota to be recognized by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) for their delivery of exemplary school counseling programs! RAMP honorees are awarded for aligning their programs with nationally recognized criteria that include demonstrating best practices, creating a data-driven program and closing the achievement gap. An emphasis is placed on all students having access to comprehensive academic, social/emotional and college/career counseling.

In a school year like no other, school counselors have seen the demand for their support rise. “With everything going on in the world right now, including COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and racial injustices in our community, the need for more school counselors and better counselor-to-student ratios is more apparent than ever,” says North View school counselor Kaylee Herlofsky. Despite this demand across all grade levels, it can be easy to underestimate the pivotal role counselors play in a school community.

“It’s challenging to show the larger community what kind of an impact school counselors have because of the confidential and sensitive nature of our jobs,” explains North View Counselor Shanna Schroeder. “Having the RAMP designation pushes us to make our work more visible and highlights the benefits of students having access to a comprehensive school counseling program.” 

North View Middle School will be honored at a recognition ceremony at ASCA’s annual conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 13, 2021. The designation is valid for five years. Congratulations!

I hope you enjoyed this spotlight. If you have any questions about this or anything else related to North View Middle School please connect with me here or follow me at @NVMSPrincipal.