OLDIES BUT GOODIES: TEN GREAT OLD BOOKS FOR TWEENS AND TEENS By Teri S. Lesesne
It pains me sometimes, but the music that colored my adolescent experience is now played on the Oldies but Goodies stations on the radio. It still does not deter me, though, from singing along at the top of my lungs much to the dismay of anyone else in the car. I love revisiting old songs; I feel the same way about books. There are some books that are like old friends: they bear repeated readings. They are still books I recommend to teachers and to kids in booktalks. I suspect many of the following titles might well be languishing on the shelves of your school and/or public library waiting to find a new generation of readers. Check out a few and bring them back to life by sharing them in a booktalk or read aloud.
ACTING NATURAL (Meriwether, 1991) by Peg Kehret is a collection of one act plays for tweens and teens to perform. Topics for these monologues, dialogues, and playlets cover bad hair days, problems and parents, and other familiar territory. Tie this one to Don Gallo’s collection, CENTER STAGE, one act plays by YA authors to cover some of the speaking aspects of CCSS.
Before there were Orca Soundings or other Hi-Lo books, Jay Bennett was writing mysteries for readers who might otherwise struggle with text. In COVERUP, (Fawcett Juniper, 1991) Bennett explores the world of a teen who is certain his friend was responsible for a hit and run accident. Short chapters, fast pacing, and easy readability make this a perfect book to share with struggling readers. Tie this to Paul Flesichman’s WHIRLIGIG and Todd Strasser’s THE ACCIDENT and even IZZY WILLY-NILLY by Cynthia Voigt.
HARRIS AND ME (Harcourt, 1993) by Gary Paulsen is perhaps one of the easiest books ever to booktalk. It is one of my go-to books when faced with less than enthusiastic readers. I set it up by talking about all of the cruel tricks Harris plays on his cousin, Gary. Gary slides down a haystack and encounters the handle of a pitchfork; he ends up face down in a pig sty. After taking all the abuse he can muster, he dares his cousin Harris to pee on an electric fence. I read abut 3 sentences from that scene, show kids that there it occurs about halfway through the book and then put it aside. Pair this with other Paulsen titles such as THE SCHERNOFF DISCOVERIES and HOW ANGEL PETERSON GOT HIS NAME.
HOMECOMING by Cynthia Voigt (Atheneum, 1981), introduces readers to the Tillerman Family. Abandoned by their mentally ill mother, Dicey leads her siblings on a journey to find their grandmother in hopes she will help keep the family intact. Finding a place to call home is a recurring theme in YA literature. Partner this with KEEPER, THE HUMMING ROOM, and TOUCH BLUE. Also point readers to other books in the Tillerman saga including A SOLITARY BLUE.
JOHNNY CHESTHAIR (HarperCollins, 1997) by Chris Lynch is Book #1 in the HE MAN WOMAN HATERS CLUB series. Many readers may know Lynch for his edgy and dark YA novels. His sly sense of humor is right on target in the series as he explores pubescence in all of its angst in the character of 13 year old Steven and his eccentric group of friends. Possible connections include CRUSH and even the Origami Yoda series by Angleberger.
MOVES MAKE THE MAN (HarperTrophy, 1984) by Bruce Brook was a Newbery Honor Medal winner. One look at the structure of the book should demonstrate why it achieved this prestigious accolade. Jerome, AKA Jayfox, is the token African American in his school. Life is certainly not easy for him, and it is about to become more complicated when he meets Bix, a gifted athlete who is hiding a terrible secret. An interesting text recommendation would be Lynn Rae Perkins’ EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (Scholastic, 1991) by Avi was one of the first books that turned storytelling in a different direction. Subtitled, A DOCUMENTARY NOVEL, Avi relays the narrative through conversations in school hallways, newspaper clippings, and other non-linear conventions. The story of Philip, who hums during the morning pledge of allegiance to get on the nerves of his homeroom teacher, is a prime example of how one tiny un-truth can lead to horrific circumstances. Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL might make an interesting follow up recommendation.
THE PRINCESS DIARIES (HarperCollins, 2000) by Meg Cabot will make you forget the movie with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway from the first chapter on. Mia has just learned that her late father was the prince of a kingdom. As his heir, she is now a princess. Trouble is, she is nothing like any princess she has ever seen in books or movies. A ROYAL PAIN by Ellen Conford, another blast from the past, would be a terrific companion to this book.
WHISPERS FROM THE DEAD (Dell, 1989) by Joan Lowey Nixon is another of my go to books when working with large groups of students in a booktalk. Sarah relocates with her parents to Houston following her near-drowning. The new home and neighborhood should be a welcome relief but instead whispers from the previous occupants of the house, where a double murder occurred in the past, disrupt her return to normal. A fine mystery with ghosts and blood spatter and red herrings make this a terrific read aloud or choice for independent reading. Nixon write many mysteries which could be recommended for those who love the genre: THE WEEKEND WAS MURDER, THE SÉANCE, THE DARK AND DEADLY POOL, and many more are sure to please readers.
WINTER ROOM (Scholastic 1989) is one of Gary Paulsen’s neglected classics. Just the introduction to the novel is enough to demonstrate the wordsmithery of Paulsen who won a Newbery Honor Medal for this book. A series of connected vignettes about growing up on a farm in Minnesota celebrate family, story, and nature. DOGSONG is a logical tie-in. For something a little different, try WOLVES, BOYS, AND OTHER THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL ME.
Teri Lesesne a proud member of the #nerdybookclub. She no longer has to apologize for holing up in her room with a book or burying her nose in a book. You can visit her book blog at: http://professornana.livejournal.com You can find her on Twitter as @ProfessorNana.