Spring Into a Good Book!
After this arduous Minnesota winter, signs of spring abound: birds are singing, snow is melting, the temperature tops 40 degrees, and kids are out riding their bikes while dodging the snow and the puddles. This time of year always makes me hopeful. My students have grown tremendously – academically, socially, and emotionally – and will transition to the high school next year. I am proud to have been a part of their journey, especially their reading journey. Many of my students ask me for book recommendations, which I love, yet many others now have books in mind for what they want to read next. Several of my students will read anything I put in front of them because they trust me. Others need me to coax them a bit. No matter what, I love putting great books into the hands of my students. To make that work, I need to be a reader of middle grade and young adult books myself, so here are the latest books I have read since the beginning of February.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Although this is an adult book, I have a few eighth grade students who can handle the tough topics in this book. The kids who have read it have thoughtfully read it.
Blurb: In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.
Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist series, Book # 1) by Renee Ahdieh
A fun read!
Blurb: The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place–she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort–a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love–a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.
Lu (Track series, Book #4) by Jason Reynolds
Although the first two books in this series are my favorite, the last book, Lu, is a winner, too!
Blurb: Lu was born to be cocaptain of the Defenders. Well, actually, he was born albino, but that’s got nothing to do with being a track star. Lu has swagger, plus the talent to back it up, and with all that—not to mention the gold chains and diamond earrings—no one’s gonna outshine him.
Lu knows he can lead Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and the team to victory at the championships, but it might not be as easy as it seems. Suddenly, there are hurdles in Lu’s way—literally and not-so-literally—and Lu needs to figure out, fast, what winning the gold really means.
Expect the unexpected in this final event in Jason Reynold’s award-winning and bestselling Track series.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Okay, I loved Ms. Thomas’s first book, The Hate U Give, but I love her sophomore book even more!
Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.
On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
This is the second book of Mr. Gansworth’s that I’ve read, and it is similar to the first in that it took me a while to get used to his writing style and it took me almost 100 pages to start connecting with the characters. It’s worth it. Keep going.
Blurb: Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?
Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock ‘n’ roll.
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Historical fiction has become my favorite type of fiction lately. I can’t get enough of it. This book will teach you much about the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 – even though it was more of a massacre.
Blurb: Some bodies won’t stay buried. Some stories need to be told.
When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.
One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.
A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier
Again, another historical fiction book and while I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Dreamland Burning, it was still a solid book about the Spanish Influenza.
Blurb: A deadly pandemic, a budding romance, and the heartache of loss make for a stunning coming-of-age teen debut about the struggle to survive during the 1918 flu.
For Cleo Berry, the people dying of the Spanish Influenza in cities like New York and Philadelphia may as well be in another country–that’s how far away they feel from the safety of Portland, Oregon. And then cases start being reported in the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode–and into a panic. Headstrong and foolish, seventeen-year-old Cleo is determined to ride out the pandemic in the comfort of her own home, rather than in her quarantined boarding school dorms. But when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can’t ignore the call. As Cleo struggles to navigate the world around her, she is surprised by how much she finds herself caring about near-strangers. Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student and war vet. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies begin to pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?
Riveting and well-researched, A Death-Struck Year is based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history. Readers will be captured by the suspenseful storytelling and the lingering questions of: what would I do for a neighbor? At what risk to myself?
An afterword explains the Spanish flu phenomenon, placing it within the historical context of the early 20th century. Source notes are extensive and interesting.
Tight by Torrey Maldonado
Fantastic read for middle school kids! You won’t be disappointed in this one!
Blurb: Tight: Lately, Bryan’s been feeling it in all kinds of ways . . .
Bryan knows what’s tight for him–reading comics, drawing superheroes, and hanging out with no drama. But drama is every day where he’s from, and that gets him tight, wound up.
And now Bryan’s friend Mike pressures him with ideas of fun that are crazy risky. At first, it’s a rush following Mike, hopping turnstiles, subway surfing, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But Bryan never really feels right acting so wrong, and drama really isn’t him. So which way will he go, especially when his dad tells him it’s better to be hard and feared than liked?
But if there’s one thing Bryan’s gotten from his comic heroes, it’s that he has power–to stand up for what he feels . . .
Torrey Maldonado delivers a fast-paced, insightful, dynamic story capturing urban community life. Readers will connect with Bryan’s journey as he navigates a tough world with a heartfelt desire for a different life.
From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon
I enjoyed this book and think that the growing up Twinkle has to do will connect with teenagers.
“Utterly charming.” —NPR
“Cinematic.” —Teen Vogue
“Funny and sweet.” —Buzzfeed
Three starred reviews for this charming romantic comedy about an aspiring teen filmmaker who finds her voice and falls in love, from the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi.
Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.
When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.
Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?
Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Oh, this book captivated me! Everyone should read this book! I wish we knew more about the children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings after the children were adults.
Blurb: The untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s slave children
Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston are Thomas Jefferson’s children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and while they do get special treatment – better work, better shoes, even violin lessons – they are still slaves, and are never to mention who their father is. The lighter-skinned children have been promised a chance to escape into white society, but what does this mean for the children who look more like their mother? As each child grows up, their questions about slavery and freedom become tougher, calling into question the real meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Told in three parts from the points of view of three of Jefferson’s slaves – Beverly, Madison, and a third boy close to the Hemings family – these engaging and poignant voices shed light on what life was like as one of Jefferson’s invisible offspring.
You can learn more about great books for middle school students and connect with Alison Sirovy here.